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There’s an Indian restaurant around the corner from my house. In addition to having great food, they’re one of the few Indian restaurants in town that have a weekend lunch buffet — and sometimes they even have a coupon for buy one, get one free! Needless to say, we find ourselves there on Saturdays fairly often. All of the options are spectacular, but I always head straight for the chickpeas. They do them a few different way, but whenever I see “the one with the onions” I know I’ve hit the jackpot. This dish is glorious: hearty but not heavy and with the perfect amount of spice to make it noticeably hot without being too much. And the chickpeas — oh, the chickpeas. I’m always jealous of how they get their chickpeas to be so silky smooth.

So, me being me, I decided to try reproducing it at home.

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I searched for a while, but wasn’t able to figure out what exactly this dish is called. So I used a combination of recipes and memory to come up with this recipe. I’m calling it chana masala, which from what I can tell is a broad description that translates to something like “chickpeas in curry sauce.” It isn’t exactly the same as the restaurant’s, but it’s delicious nonetheless. Caramelized onions and tomatoes give the dish a great depth of flavor, and a combination of spices and cream give it a luxurious earthiness.

The trick to getting those velvety chickpeas is to start with dried beans. I have nothing against canned chickpeas. In fact, I use them all the time. But when you really think about the texture of them, they have sort of a grittiness or a sandiness to them. Dried beans take a lot longer to prepare, but the texture is entirely different — they’re soft and plump, with a smooth, creamy center that doesn’t have a trace of grittiness to it. I’ve tried making dried chickpeas a few times before but they’ve never come out quite right. You need to be patient with them. Soak them overnight in lots of water — they’ll plump up to at least double their original size. Then, simmer then slowly for at least an hour until they are tender and creamy.

If you’re in a rush, you can use canned chickpeas and have a delicious dinner in a few minutes. But if you have the time and patience to start with dried beans, you’ll be in for a real treat.

You may find chickpeas being sold under their other name — garbanzo beans.

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Chana Masala

If you want a quick meal, you can substitute canned chickpeas. Garam masala is spicy, so use less if you don’t like as much heat. If you can’t find garam masala, you can substitute a combination of cumin, cinnamon, black pepper, cayenne, crushed bay leaf, a ground clove. Serve with rice and naan or pita.

  • 1-1/2 cup dried chickpeas
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 Tbs butter
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp freshly grated ginger
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, minced
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • dash salt
  • 8 ounce can whole peeled plum tomatoes, with liquid
  • 1 tsp garam masala (use less if you don’t want it as spicy)
  • 2 Tbs heavy cream
  • Juice from 1/2 lime

Put the chickpeas in a bowl and cover with water. Let soak overnight.

Drain and rinse the chickpeas and place in a large pot of water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour, or until tender.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small pan. Turn the heat to low (level 2) and add the onion. Cover and let cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes or until soft and golden.

Heat the oil in a large pan.Add the garlic, ginger, and jalapeno and cook for 5 minutes. Add the spices and cook for another minute. Stir in the tomatoes along with any liquid from the can. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the chickpeas and the garam masala. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the cream and the lime juice. Stir in the caramelized onions.

Serves 4.