When most people think of chickpeas, they think of the creamy beige beans with slippery, thin skins. These chickpeas are famous for being the foundation for hummus and for being the main ingredient in chana masala. These chickpeas are easy to find in any grocery store, both dried and canned and are an incredible pantry staple. But, my favorite chickpea is not the ubiquitous beige bean, even though I do love it. My favorite is the small, dark red chickpea–I love its thick skin, deep nutty flavor, and firm but yielding texture. It’s known by many names: bengal gram, lal chana, desi chana, black chickpea, which can make it quite confusing to find. You can find it at most Indian stores, just look for the small dark skinned chickpeas, or of course online. In my house, we call it lal chana, meaning red chickpea. We primarily use it to make delicious Indian street foods (recipes to come one day, I promise!) and this amazing dish. The nutty flavor of these chickpeas is accented by spicy chili, sweet jaggery, and sour kokum, leading to a beautifully balanced dish to celebrate this humble bean.
This dish is a marvelous pantry staple. Almost every single ingredient in this dish is shelf stable, thus, this is a great dish to throw together when there is nothing else in the house. I make this dish in a pressure cooker because it is much faster than boiling, but it can definitely be made by boiling. First, the chickpeas are soaked for several hours to hasten their cooking time. You could easily set the chickpeas to soak before leaving for work and return home to make this delicious, quick dish. The flavor base is built with by infusing oil with black mustard seeds, dried chilis, and asafoetida. This adds a spicy, pleasantly bitter, and allium like flavor to the dish. After that, add the soaked chickpeas with fresh ginger and fresh green chilis, turmeric, kokum, and jaggery. Then, allow it to cook for about 15 minutes. With that, the dish is done and absolutely delicious.
A quick word about two of the more unusual ingredients: Kokum is the dried berry of a plant in the mangosteen family. It grows all over India, and is commonly used to add a tart flavor to dishes. In certain parts of India, it’s also used to make a salty-sweet-tart beverage reminiscent of nimbu pani~lime soda that’s famous all over India. In Gujarat, we primarily use kokum in our spicy and sweet foods to add a bit of tang. It adds it’s on fruity tartness to this dish, but it can easily be substituted with tamarind paste or even lemon juice in a bind. The key in Gujarati cooking is to find the appropriate balance between spicy, salty, and sweet. So keep adjusting until it tastes right to you. Jaggery, as I’ve discussed before, is known as “gor” in Gujarati and “gud” in Hindi. It’s an unrefined sugar made from sugar cane juice and is delicious beyond words. These two ingredients are classics of the Gujarati repertoire and add much flavor and balance to our spicy faire. I hope you explore those flavors with this delicious pantry staple.
Spiced Red Chickpeas with Jaggery ~ Lal Chana
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Nutty red chickpeas accented by spicy chili, sweet jaggery, and sour kokum, leading to a beautifully balanced dish to celebrate this humble bean
- Place the red chickpeas in a large bowl, and cover with at least two inches of tepid water. Allow to soak for up to 8 hours. They will increase in size. Drain and set aside once soaked.
- Heat the canola oil in the base of a medium pressure cooker until there is a significant amount of heat radiating from the oil. Do not allow the oil to smoke. Add in the mustard seeds, and allow to pop. When the popping subsides, add the dried chilis and asafoetida and swirl until aromatic. Add the drained chickpeas. Add enough water to cover the chickpeas by about 1/4-1/2". Stir well.
- Add in the ginger, green chiis, turmeric, jaggery, kokum, and a few pinches of salt. Stir well to combine. It is okay if the jaggery is still in large chunks. It will dissolve into the broth as it cooks.
- Cover the pressure cooker, and turn the heat up to medium high. Once the pressure cooker reaches full pressure, turn the heat to low and allow to cook for 15 minutes. Turn off the pressure cooker and allow to depressurize naturally.
- Remove the lid of the pressure cooker and stir well. Taste and adjust for salt and jaggery. Garnish with cilantro and serve.
No pressure cooker?
If you don't have a pressure cooker, be sure to soak the beans in warm water for closer to 8 hours, and try to change the water 2-3 times. If you can't, no big deal. Add enough water to cover the chickpeas by about 1 inch and a large pinch of salt, bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for about 30-40 minutes, or until the chickpeas are tender. Once the chickpeas are done, add the remaining ingredients and simmer for 10 minutes to allow the flavors to meld. You could also do this in a slow cooker.
Goes well with:
Rice, pork chops, steak, Indian flatbread.
Use as a substitute for baked beans.