Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Recovery - Chana Masala

I'm currently in recovery from a meal.

It's not what you might think. Certainly nothing bad or upsetting. This is the good kind of recovery. The kind that comes from delicious food, wonderful company and a bit (just a bit) of over-indulgence.

Guilty as charged.

As a belated birthday gift, Leah and Brian gave me the gift every food-obsessed person dreams of. The gift of Thomas Kellar. A trip to his restaurant Ad Hoc in Napa. The Ad Hoc of fried chicken fame. It's a family style restaurant that specializes in comfort food. I've wanted to go for years.

We decided to make a weekend of it, squeezing in a lovely hotel and a fantastic day of wine tasting prior to dinner. I planned ahead, and did my best to keep my stomach empty (except for wine of course) on the day of the dinner. A small breakfast, some tahbouli for lunch, and that was it. I wanted to have plenty of room.

In retrospect, I should have skipped all food prior on the day of. What came to the dinner table was a salad of French Laundry garden greens with green garlic dressing, radishes and torn croutons, fresh bread, Seared Pork Belly with Tomato Marmalade and a perfectly Poached Egg, Pork Rack with figs, potatoes and jus, a cheese course of Nicasio Valley cheese with Red Pepper jelly, and Panna Cotta with macerated Strawberries and Shortbread Twill.

Oh, did I mention the wine pairing for each course?

As I said. I'm in recovery.

We left the table having consumed nearly an entire pig. Stuffed. We practically rolled back to the hotel. My stomach hasn't quite recovered.

It was an amazing meal.

As part of my recovery efforts, I'm trying to stick to a couple weeks of mainly vegetarian cooking. Whole grains, vegetables and fruits. In that vein, I decided to break out what's been a recent favorite in my kitchen. Chana Masala. Something I attempted a few weeks ago, and was amazed to discover, is incredibly easy to make. It helps that it's both healthy, and extremely flavorful.

It was the first dish I cooked in my new apartment. And now it feels like home. I serve it over rice with some cucumber mint Raita on the side. Maybe some Naan if I feel like it. It's served as a great reminder that I need to incorporate more spices into my cooking. Be a little more adventurous, and not just stick with garlic and lemon (like I most often do). Just a hint of spice can really transform a dish and seem to heighten your skills as a cook. You'll be amazed at how quickly it comes together, and how delicious it tastes.

Chana Masala
adapted from Orangette

olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3-4 medium cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp garam masala
4 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
1 28-ounce can diced or whole peeled tomatoes
1 tsp kosher salt, or to taste
1 tbs cilantro leaves, roughly torn, plus more for garnish
A pinch of cayenne, or to taste
2 15-ounce cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
6-8 tbs plain yogurt, optional
lemon wedges, optional

Coat the bottom of a saute pan or dutch oven with olive oil. Heat to medium. Add the onions and sautee slowly until they start to carmelize. Stir occassionally, but leave them alone from time to time to really set. This will take 25-30 minutes, maybe more. You're looking for a dark caramel color. The onions should even be charred in some spots. This is what will develop the flavor, so have patience and courage to let them do their thing in the pan!

Once the onions are caramelized, reduce the heat to low and add the garlic. If the pan is a bit dry, add a bit more olive oil. Sautee for 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the spices (cumin through cardamom seeds) and fry in the pan, stirring constantly for another 30 seconds. Add 1/4 cup of water to deglaze the pan and loosen any of the browning and flavor from the bottom. Sautee until the water has evaporated. Add the juice from the tomatoes, and then the tomatoes themselves. If the tomatoes are whole, crush with a fork in the pan. Add salt.

Increase the heat to medium, and let the pot come to a boil. Once it begins to boil, reduce heat to low, add the cilantro and cayenne to taste. Simmer the sauce gently, stirring occasionally until it starts to reduce and thicken. Taste, and adjust the seasoning to your preference. Add the chickpeas, stirring well and cook for low for another 5 minutes. Add 2 tbsp of water and cook another 5 minutes. Repeat once more, making sure the water is absorbed. This helps to concentrate the flavor and make the chickpeas more tender. Taste again for seasoning.

Turn off the heat. Stir in the cilantro and yogurt. Serve over rice with Raita and lemon.

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