Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Vegan Punjabi Chanas

Last week I attended an evening cooking class here in Quincy. It was sponsored by our vibrant co-op and taught by a Feather River College art instructor. She eats vegan and married into an Indian family many years ago. She explained that her sisters-in-law took it upon themselves to "at least" teach her how to cook proper Indian food.

If I could pick one type of restaurant to add to our town's small menagerie of eating establishments it would be an Indian food place. I love the richness, the spiciness, the emphasis on vegetarian dishes, the range of flavors, and the naan. Our town is definitely lacking in the spicy ethnic food department. When we travel we always seek out what we are missing here. We love Thai and Indian especially. If you are ever in Redding, Ca try Priya Indian Cuisine at 2937 Churn Creek Road. If you are in Chico, Priya Indian Cuisine at 2574 Esplanade is not as good as its Redding namesake but still gives us our fix. I think it is just a coincidence that they have the same name but not sure. For Thai in Chico we like Sophia's Thai Cuisine at 305 Nord Avenue.

Dianne, our teacher, made a chickpea (chanascurry, Indian basmati rice, sauteed cabbage, and a coconut yogurt garnish (raita). I especially appreciated seeing how she roasted all of the spices (masala) for the curry along with onion, garlic, ginger, and tomato sauce. It is this slow, stove-top roasting that takes a bit of patience but if done properly really brings out the flavors of the masala. Once the dishes were complete we all got to have a taste.
The bowl in the foreground contains a colorful blend of fragrant spices mixed with sugar crystals that serves as an after-meal digestive aid/mouth freshener.
The chanas dish had depth of flavor and a nice heat to it. Although the coconut yogurt tasted just fine, not being a vegan myself, I think a whole cow's milk yogurt may work better to cool the spiciness and be delicious as well. While the chickpeas and potatoes stood on their own, I also couldn't help but imagine some small hunks of chicken in the curry sauce. Tonight I will make the dish at home, non-vegan style and share the results.

Vegan Punjabi Chanas
1 medium onion
7 large garlic cloves
2" x 1.5" piece of peeled fresh ginger
1 cup tomato sauce
1 t. turmeric
2 T. coriander powder
2 T. cumin powder
1/2 t. cayenne (or a full teaspoon if you like to sweat a bit)
4 1/2 cups of garbanzo beans (1.5 cups soaked overnight or use canned)
3 or 4 medium potatoes peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
coconut oil or peanut oil (can use ghee if non-vegan)

Put onion and ginger (in chunks) and garlic cloves in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped or chop finely by hand. Heat several tablespoons of coconut or peanut oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot. Add onion, garlic, and ginger and saute a few minutes until translucent. Add tomato sauce. Cook, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes. 

Add spices. This is the roasting stage. With pot on low-medium, keep cooking and stirring until the mixture has slowly dried and darkened to a reddish brown. Oil may separate out and this is fine. This process takes about 20 minutes. At this point stop the roasting by adding a half cup of water. Stir to form gravy. Then add 4 cups of water, the chickpeas, the potatoes, and a couple teaspoons of salt. Cover and cook until potatoes and chickpeas are tender. In a pressure cooker this can be as soon as 10 minutes after you come to pressure. In a regular pot on low-medium heat it will take about 40 minutes. 

Remove from heat and let cool slightly. If you like, you can pull a cup or two of the potato chickpea mixture out of the pot and blend it in a blender or food processor and then add it back to the pot to thicken the sauce of the final dish. 

Serve over rice. Garnish with chopped fresh cilantro and raita.*
Serves 6+. Even better the second day.

*To make raita simply stir together plain yogurt, chopped or grated cucumber, a squeeze of lemon, and a couple sprinkles of salt, pepper, and cumin.

Photos of the chanas coming together in my kitchen:
Ginger, garlic, and onion
Ginger, garlic, and onion mixture 
Saute then add tomato sauce 
Saute some more and then add spices
After 20 minutes of roasting
Add water chickpeas and potatoes
Pulling some out to blend to thicken dish
Served over rice with raita and sauteed bok choy
So I quickly browned a chopped chicken breast in butter and added it to the chanas in the last 20 minutes of simmering. The verdict on that was somewhat neutral. Sure, the chicken tasted good because it tasted like the piquant sauce. It added an additional texture but wouldn't be missed if it weren't there. You may as well go vegan!

I thought the bok choy was a good, slightly crunchy counterpoint to the spicy richness of the chanas. To prepare the bok choy: Wash well and chop 3 or 4 heads(?) of bok choy. Heat 1 T. coconut or peanut or olive oil in a skillet. Add 1 t. cumin seeds and 2 chopped garlic cloves to the oil and let toast for a minute or two. Add bok choy and saute until wilted (6 or 7 minutes). Sprinkle with salt and pepper while cooking. Serve immediately.



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