Recipe for Kaala Chana - North Indian black chick peas curry

I have been tinkering with my blog template and have got some of the desired results. So please don't be surprised at the new look - wanted to surprise you with the cute reindeer wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a wonderful new year ahead. This will be my last recipe for you before I leave for holidays.

Black chick peas - Dry

I have learnt of this recipe from a dear friend who is relocating to Riyadh this week. She learnt it from her friend. And that's how traditional family recipes go around from a Punjabi kitchen into a Tamilian kitchen. S had a tough time explaining to me what Kaala chana - the base ingredient was. I asked her if it was Sundal chana and she said NO. It is just kala chana.

I take pride in the fact that I have a fair knowledge of most Indian and quite a few global ingredients. And that I couldn't place this bean was just not an easily digestible fact. On my way back from her house, I stopped by at a local 'kirana' (grocery) store and asked for 250 g of 'Kaala chana' - the bigger variety. There are two sizes of the same beans.

I also bought two of the other main spices that go into this uniquely Punjabi recipe. My friend's mom also brought to light the fact that it is this chana that is served on the way to Vaishno Devi temple before the crack of dawn. The piping hot chana on a dark cold morning is indeed a welcome treat. That too when offered as a prasad, it is relished even more.

The recipe will come up in a while, but until then can you guess which are the two all important spices - in fact the only two whole spices that will be used in this one.

Folks - this is one such time, no one's guessed right. The two magical spices are black cardamom and Shah Jeera.
More about black cardamom here with the pictures of this camphor like spice. Shah Jeera or Caraway seeds are used here along with black cardamom to give this chana a distinct flavour.

Kaala Chana (Black Chick peas)

Time taken - Overnight soaking plus 1 hour cooking time
Category - Beans & peas, Indian curry, North Indian cuisine
Serves 2 people

1/2 cup dry kaala chana (black chickpeas) - around 100 g
Pinch of baking soda
Pinch of asafoetida (optional)
2 black cardamoms
1/2 tsp of Shah jeera (Caraway seeds)
1 tsp ginger garlic paste - roughly ground in mortar pestle would be best
2 medium sized onions - very finely chopped
Water 2 cups
2 green chillies slit
1 tbsp oil
Salt to taste
Mint sprigs or coriander leaves and slices of a tomato for garnish
Special Equipment:
A small pressue cooker is almost a must-have for this recipe, or else these tough beans could take almost 2 hours of boiling to get cooked. A slow cooker would be the other best option.
In a large pot, fill lots of water. Put in the dry chick peas with a pinch of baking soda. Soak overnight. They will swell up to almost 3 times their original size by morning. Drain and keep aside.
1. Place the drained chick peas in a pressure cooker and cover with 5-6 cups of water with a pinch of baking soda and asafoetida. After 4 whistles, keep the flame at Sim for around 10 minutes and remove cooker from flame. Open after 1/2 hour after the cooker has cooled off.
2. In a heavy bottom cast iron pan / kadai (Don't use non-stick pan here if you want the best results) - heat a tbsp of oil. Throw in the black cardamom and shah jeera. After 30 seconds, put in the ginger garlic paste and saute till golden in colour. Put in the finely chopped onions.
3. Now comes the call for patience. Keep the flame between medium-high. Let the onions get brown and as they just start sticking to the bottom, add a few tsp of water to 'deglaze' the pan or loosen up the burnt bits. Let the flame be on medium high and keep repeating this procedure of letting the water evaporate, onions starting to stick to the pan and deglazing with water some 5-6 times. You would be using roughly 1/2 cup of water during the entire process which will take upto 20 minutes.
The result of this process will be blackish brown caramelized onions, turned extremely soft and superbly RICH in flavour - both from its own caramelization and infusing the flavours of the spices used. Using a non-stick pan will not give you the depth of flavour that is the cornerstone of this recipe.
4. By this time, the chana in the cooker would have cooled off. Open the cooker lid and check if the Chana are cooked to a soft consistency. They should crush easily between your thumb and index finger with a slight pressure. Black chickpeas are quite thick skinned so they will never cook to a mush, which is why you can safely overcook them in a pressure cooker without expecting a slush in the end.
Drain the cooked chana. Reserve the liquid. Add the cooked chana to the onions. Also put in the slit green chillies and salt. Keep the flame on medium high and let the chickpeas cook some more with the onion mix. Add the reserved liquid little by little if you find the curry going too dry. In all, let them all simmer together happily for some 15 minutes. If by chance the chickpeas were old and they didn't succumb to pressure cooking, you can do one more round of the whole curry in the cooker for around 5 minutes.
5. Remove from flame. Garnish with some fresh mint leaves. Serve hot with fresh tomato slices and some puris or phulkas or any bread you choose. Anita says you must have halva by the side too. I take her word for it.
A few more words:
Shammi of Food in the main has also blogged about her version of the Kaala Chana curry here.

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