Indian food is one of my absolute favorites, and while it’s basically easy to just make up an approximation of a curry by stirfrying some vegetables with curry powder and coconut milk, I feel like every time I try to make Indian food for myself and my friends that it always has this kind of amateur-ish, illegit quality to it, analogous to that fruity yeast-y taste that homebrewed beer can have. This, on the other hand, is nothing of the sort.
My friend Scott (the one whose birthday cake and toy dinosaur were pictured in the recipe-less post I made a couple weeks ago) has a great book of Indian recipes that his dad and colleagues compiled. His dad worked with some Indians and traveled there on more than a few occasions, and it was Scott that really turned me on to Indian spices and stuff when we lived together during our undergrad years.
When I was at his apartment in Rochester a couple weekends ago we made a red lentil soup from this cookbook that was absolutely out of this world (look for that in a post in the future), and while we were making that, Scott and I shared the leftovers from a huge batch of chickpeas in tomato yogurt that he had made earlier that week, and it blew my freaking mind. This is the closest to restaurant Indian food I have ever tasted from a white home cook. Thankfully, Scott let me copy the recipe down, and only a couple days after I got home I made this for myself to eat during the week. There are few things more satisfying to me than drawing dirty looks from undergrad engineering majors that are taking up the computers and generally just getting in the way with my tupperware dish full of spicy, smelly Indian food.
I’m not normally one to cook strictly from recipes, but I’m honestly not sure what it is about this dish that makes it taste (to me anyways) so authentic. One of the things that really set this dish apart is the whole cumin seeds. Every once in a while you will bite down on one and just get a mouthful of wonderful cumin flavor. When I did this, I made my own garam masala, but you could easily substitute the pre-mixed stuff. Don’t cheat yourself by not getting whole cumin seeds though. I will definitely say that my confidence in my ability to make great Indian food at home is restored now. I can’t wait to start experimenting.
Chickpeas in Tomato Yogurt
1 1/2 T vegetable oil or ghee
2 medium onions, sliced
5 cloves garlic
6 green chillis
2 t coriander
2 t cumin seeds
1 t turmeric
1 T garam masala
14 oz. crushed tomatoes (1/2 a can)
1 c stock or water
1 can or 3 cups cooked chickpeas, drained
1/2 c half and half
1/2 c plain yogurt
If you’re making your own garam masala, you want to do that first. There are a hundred thousand recipes for this spice mix online, so I’m not going to go too in depth with it (Here is a nicely photographed one from a site I love). Get as many of the whole spices as you can and toast them up in a dry pan before grinding them up. You can use them in any proportion you want; play around and see what you like. Below is a picture of the spices that I used in this recipe for my masala. As a side note, there is some cardamom in there two from probably 4 green pods that I smashed like garlic cloves and emptied the contents into the pan. Also, I used powdered coriander and cinnamon, as I had those on hand and it didn’t make sense to get more of the whole stuff.
Once you’ve got your garam masala all made up, get all your aromatics chopped; this is a really quick recipe if you want it to be. I like to halve the onions and then cut them into slices like you see below for this recipe but, as always, it’s up to you what you really want to do.
Heat up the oil or ghee in the pan over medium heat and just add all the veggies in. Hit them with a little bit of salt and sweat them until they start to get soft.
Once the onions start to soften up and you can smell the chillies, add in all the spices. If you count the garam masala, coriander and cumin are listed twice in this recipe. Using my inductive logic skills, I would say that that’s because this recipe wants you to go a little heavy on the coriander and wants you to have whole cumin seeds. If you made your masala with a lot of coriander in the first place, you can probably skip the second addition. DON’T SKIP THE CUMIN SEEDS THOUGH. I’M TELLING YOU. IT’S AWESOME.
After a couple minutes, add your tomatoes and stock or water. In this particular iteration I used turkey stock, but that’s just what I had on hand. Obviously you can use whatever you want, and you can easily make a vegetarian version of this dish by using vegetable stock.
Reduce this mixture just a little bit, until it starts to thicken up nicely and has a little less gravy than you’d want the final version to, then take it off the heat and slowly stir in your half and half and yogurt. That’s it!
Obviously, this is great served over jasmine or basmati rice. You can use more or less chillies if you want to. I like things face-meltingly spicy, so I used all six that I called for here (the original recipe called for two) and then stirred in a bunch of Sriracha before I ate it. As good as it is hot, this tastes even better the next day. I’ve had leftovers reheated and cold and they’re both just great.
Beer recommendation: Although I’m sure that I come off as a beer snob in most posts, the best way to enjoy this is a refrigerator-cold Genesee…from a can. You can pour it into a glass, that’ll do nicely. Actually, if you can get Koch’s Golden Anniversary, I love that even better. It’s brewed by the same people nowadays. Also, I’m sure any IPA would stand up to the heat and complement this dish well.
Music recommendation: “In Time” by Sly & the Family Stone. You need something funky to get your head bopping and butt twitching while you make and eat this dish. This is the opener from their 1973 album, Fresh, and you would be well served just to put the record on and let it play all the way through. The opening drums and keyboards on this song are just irresistible and I can’t think of better kitchen music for sipping a chilly beer and toasting up some hot spices in preparation for a funky spicy dinner (read: I am a tool).