Month of September: “660 Curries” Recipe: Chana Masala

“Everything comes to us that belongs to us if we create the capacity to receive it.” Rabindranath Tagore

Hello India. 660 Curries is a voluminous collection of Indian eats compiled into one whopping book of every kind of imaginable curry. I could literally devote the entire year of grief cooking from this one book. It’s overwhelming close to a thousand pages of a multi thousands year old cuisine. A curry is any dish that is covered in a sauce or gravy that is “redolent with any number of freshly ground and very fragrant spices and/or herbs.” A curry is not a spice blend made by McCormick. This cookbook was my son Sean’s but I basically “borrowed” it indefinitely from him years ago and he didn’t object too much. Friday was his 34th birthday and ironically I am making this dish today to share with him. So it’s true then, in this case, that what goes around comes around. This curry of chickpeas with a spicy tomato sauce is as common in Indian kitchens as macaroni and cheese is to ours.

I know a little something about India. The photograph below is of an overwhelmed me volunteering as a nurse at the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta in 2006. I am on the balcony of Mother Teresa’s facility for the dying which is called Kalighat, home of the pure heart, home of the Kali temple. A few yards from my left is hand washed laundry hanging very still on multiple clotheslines in the equatorial heat and polluted diesel air. In front of me are all the volunteers on a sweet tea break and I am photographing the crowded streets below. Here, in this space I am about 250 miles from the Bangladesh border, not that far from where Abby’s second husband Jahan was born and raised. It’s strange to reflect now, that even half way around the world at a time when we were not communicating, our story was still connected. But we both were unaware of it at the time.

Ingredients: 2 tablespoons of ghee or canola oil, 2 teaspoons of cumin seeds (1 whole and 1 ground), 2 tablespoons ginger paste, 1 tablespoon garlic paste, 2 tablespoons tomato paste, 1 tablespoon ground coriander seeds, 1 tablespoon mango powder or lime juice, 1 teaspoon cayenne (I used less), 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, 4 cups chickpeas, 4 tablespoons cilantro, 1.5 teaspoons coarse salt, 1/2 cup chopped red onion.

1.Heat ghee in large saucepan over medium high heat. Sprinkle in whole cumin seeds and cook until they sizzle and turn reddish brown and smell nutty about 5 to 10 seconds. Immediately lower the heat to medium and carefully stir in the ginger and garlic pastes. Stir fry until paste turns light brown about 2 minutes.

2.Stir in 1 cup water and tomato paste, coriander, mango powder or lime juice, cayenne, turmeric and ground cumin. Simmer partially covered, stirring occasionally, until the water evaporates from the reddish brown sauce about 5 to 10 minutes.

3. Pour in 2 cups of water with the chickpeas and 2 tablespoons of cilantro and salt. Raise the heat to medium high and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally until the sauce thickens, 15 to 18 minutes. Sprinkle the remaining cilantro and onion over the curry and serve with naan or rice.

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