Dishes of spiced chickpeas can be found under many names, with many variants, across all of India. Variously known as channa masala or channay, it is probably most recognised in its Punjabi form, known as chole.
This dish is a very common street food, served with bhatura, a fried bread. It is also a family meal and has been seen at breakfast.
If you are serving it as a snack, or to be eaten with a bhatura then you should keep the dish quite dry. A moister chole is better for other uses, but it should never be soupy or thin.
The unusual step in the recipe is the cooking of the chickpeas in tea. This gives the characteristic dark look to the chickpeas, and gives a slightly bitter, tannin layer of flavour to the dish. Instead of using teabags, you could use strong brewed tea to cook the chickpeas.
Of course, some versions of the recipe do not use tea at all, and produce a lighter coloured dish.
The fruit salts used in the recipe are important to help tenderise the chickpeas. Fruit salt is discussed here, and is readily available under the brand name Eno.
This is a dish that benefits from slow cooking, as do many of the dal dishes in this book.
If the cooking times are a problem, then you can completely escape the chickpea preparation by using canned chickpeas. This will mean you do not get the subtle underlying tea flavour, but it reduces the cooking by two hours, and obviates the need for overnight soaking.
You could use a pressure cooker. I strongly advocate that you do not turn this into a one-pot dish, but use the pressure cooker just to prepare the chickpeas, then follow the rest of the recipe as written. If doing so, you will need to pressure cook the chickpeas for 15-20 minutes.
The traditional accompaniment to this is a fried bread called a chole bhatura. This is leavened bread, fried until it puffs up. A good bhatura will be the size of a football, but very light and delicate. Cooked properly they absorb very little oil.
At home we eat this with puri, which are similar, but smaller. Puris are not leavened, but are cooked in a similar way. A good puri would be the size of a mango when cooked, and again, should not absorb a lot of oil.
Because of the soaking time required for the chickpeas, you need to start this recipe the day before you want to serve it.
for the chole masala
- Rinse chickpeas, then leave to soak in five cups of water, at least overnight. Drain and rinse when ready.
- Place drained chickpeas in a large saucepan with fresh water, salt and mineral salt. Add the tea bags and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, to very low, cover, and simmer for two hours, or until the chickpeas are tender. Scoop off any foam that may appear.
- Once tender, drain the chickpeas, reserving the cooking water. Discard the teabags. Mash one quarter of the chickpeas with a potato masher, then set aside.
to make the dish
- Dry roast the wholes spices for the chole masala for a few minutes until aromatic. Allow to cool, then grind to a coarse powder. Mix the dried mango powder into the ground spices and set aside.
- Blend the ginger and green chilli to a fine paste using a little water. Set aside.
- In a heavy bottom saucepan, heat the oil. Add the sliced onions and cook on a medium heat for 10 minutes, or until they turn golden.
- Add the sliced garlic and stir for two minutes, or until it just changes colour.
- Add the ginger and chilli paste, mix well and cook for one minute.
- Add the pureed tomato and turmeric, mix well and cook for five minutes or until the ingredients start to combine to create a thick masala.
- Pour in the cooked chickpeas and stir to combine with the masala.
- Sprinkle in the ground chole masala and mix well. If the consistency is dry, add a little of the reserved cooking water. Bring to a low simmer and cook for about 20 minutes, stirring every five minutes. Add more liquid if required, but be careful not to add too much at once. This dish should be thick, not thin or soupy.
- Check the seasoning and adjust if required. Make sure the chickpeas are tender and the sauce is thick.
- Sprinkle with the garam masala, then top the dish with the sliced red onions and the julienned ginger. Sprinkle with chopped coriander and serve with the lime wedges.
- You need to start this recipe the day before you want to serve to allow for the overnight soaking of the chickpeas.
- Fruit salt is marketed under the brand name Eno. It is best obtained from a pharmacist, as supermarkets seem to only stock flavoured variants. It can be substituted with baking soda - not baking powder.