Indian food is a pretty common option when you’re a vegetarian. I ate a lot of it during high school and college, when I wasn’t eating meat. There was the buffet near my hometown, located in a strip mall off the highway, where I spent a number of weekend lunches because it was had some of the best Indian food around (determined by the large number of Indian people there at any given time). And then there was the buffet near my college, located who knows where because I was never the one who drove there. It was small, frequented mostly by college students because it was cheap, and the food was mediocre at best. And then there was the place near Jeff’s college, which didn’t have a buffet, or at least I never ate at it. But for all the Indian food I ate during that time in my life, I didn’t cook it much.
I did have one home cooked Indian meal in college, when a friend made dinner for a bunch of us. He’s a first generation American and his mom sent him to college with a container of Indian spices. I hung out in the kitchen while he prepared a vegetable curry, sprinkling various spices from his jars into the pan. It was intimidating. The jars were unlabeled but he confidently pinched a little of this and a little of that until he pronounced the curry just right. And then he served it over buttered-and-toasted hamburger buns, as if that were a standard way to serve Indian food. Or maybe he just knew it was a more than decent substitute for naan and much quicker than cooking rice. It blew my mind a little, both the buttered buns and the delicious curry. I’m still impressed thinking about it, although my Indian cooking chops have improved since then.
A couple of years ago I spent a month cooking out of this book and in the process learning
a lot a bit about Indian spices, cooking styles, and flavors. I wouldn’t call myself an expert, but by the end I was feeling pretty comfortable. It was a delicious month and I wish I could say that I still make dishes from that cookbook regularly but the truth is that the only Indian recipe I make with any regularity is this chana masala, which didn’t even come from the cookbook.
I started making a variation of this chana masala long before I spent that month cooking Indian food. Over the years I’ve whittled it down until it takes about 30 minutes, but sometimes I cook it for longer because I’m just enjoying the process, or waiting for the rice to be done, or just forget about it for a few minutes on the stove. And it takes mostly pantry ingredients, if you happen to be the kind of person that always has canned tomatoes and chickpeas in the pantry. And because every time I make it all the leftovers get eaten, which is pretty much the highest compliment that dinner can get.
- 1 tbs oil
- 2 medium onions, finely diced
- 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 2 15-oz cans of chickpeas
- 1 28-oz can of tomatoes, crushed
- ¼ cup chopped cilantro, plus more for serving
- Yogurt for serving
- HEAT the oil in a pan over medium heat and add the diced onion. Cook the onions over medium heat, stirring often, for about 20 minutes until they are a deep golden brown.
- ADD the garlic and spices to the pan along with 1 teaspoon of kosher salt and cook for a minute or two, until the spices are fragrant.
- ADD the tomatoes, chickpeas, and final teaspoon of salt. Stir everything together and let it simmer over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until the liquid is slightly reduced and the flavors have all come together.
- TURN OFF the heat and add the cilantro. You can add some yogurt now or serve it with yogurt and some extra cilantro on the side.
Serve the chana masala hot or warm, preferably over rice or naan or buttery toasted burger buns. Leftovers will keep for about a week in the fridge.