Today I bring you possibly the world’s most expensive vegetarian curry. Expensive because it’s topped with a generous shaving of white truffle? Nope. Perhaps it’s flavoured with a heap of saffron? No, not so much as a strand. Is it cooked in a concentration of Hawaiian Koni Nigari Water sourced 2,000 feet under the sea? No, not that either.
So why so pricey? Let me explain.
I wanted to give that chana masala I mentioned a post or two ago another run out. My teen is having a bit of a love affair with the chickpea at the moment so obviously I intend to take full advantage. The first time I made this curry, I used Meera Sodha’s recipe from Made in India, Cooked in Britain which, like many of the recipes in the book, was an absolute cinch to make, but because she doesn’t fry off her spices – she adds them towards the end of the cooking time – the end result tasted a bit harsh with raw spice. So I thought I’d give it another go, making a few tweaks of my own along the way. Trouble is, I’d run out of chickpeas.
I’ve come to understand, after many years of chickpea adoration, that all chickpeas are not created equal. The most perfect chickpea, or so I’ve read, is one that you have soaked overnight and then cooked for an hour or so yourself. Like that’s ever going to happen in my house. The second best option is a chickpea you find in a jar. Unlike the tinned variety, which definitely have their uses but can be as hard as shotgun pellets, the jarred ones are soft and creamy. Heaven knows why, but it’s true.
But here’s the thing. The jars are quite hard to come by and if you’re lucky enough to have a supermarket that stocks or delivers them, they are usually the big blousy Spanish ones costing the best part of three quid a jar. Call me tight, but that’s a bit goey for a humble pulse – this is supposed to be peasant food after all.
So I was delighted (disproportionately so because I am very sad) to find that the local Turkish Food Centre, a couple of miles from me, stocks large jars of chickpeas at 59p a pop. There are about a dozen of these supermarkets scattered around London and they are brilliant for, among other things, Turkish bread, feta, dates, brik pastry, pomegranates and big bags of spices – oh and many delicious variations on the baklava theme. They may look a little grotty around the edges, but once you venture in you realise that you could actually complete an entire Ottolenghi recipe without leaving out a single ingredient or throwing the book across the room, so comprehensive is their Middle Eastern stock. Sorry I digress, where was I? Ah yes, chickpeas. So every few months, I drive down to TFC in lovely Lewisham High Street and stock up. At five jars for the price of one from Ocado, I’d be a fool not to.
Except when I went this week, I didn’t park in my usual spot due to Lewisham’s never-ending roadworks, opting instead to use a local car park. I parked up, paid and displayed and off I trotted. What I hadn’t appreciated because my mind was already fixated on baklava, was that I hadn’t parked in an actual space, but in one that – for reasons I still can’t fathom – had cross-hatching all over it. So when I returned to my car, all pleased with myself and my booty of Turkish delights, there was a fucking parking ticket flapping about on my windscreen.
So, if you take into account the price of the original parking ticket together with the £65 penalty fine and the cost of the ingredients, this, as it turns out rather successful second attempt at chana masala, worked out at £17.50 per head (but on the assumption that you are not a total chump like me it could be yours for under a pound). ‘The chickpeas are really good,’ praised my husband, ‘even though they did cost £2 each.’
Next time I think I might soak and boil my own.
Chana masala with minty yogurt
The teen’s current obsession with chickpeas began a couple of weeks ago when we took him and his brother to Dishoom in Shoreditch for his birthday (if you get a chance, go, and make sure you order the revelatory okra fries and black daal while you’re at it). We ordered chole bhatura – their version of chana masala – and he ate nearly the whole bowl, despite mistaking a whole chilli for a green bean and consequently weeping into a hanky fashioned out of a naan bread for 10 minutes. My version isn’t quite as fiery, but still has a kick about it, so halve the amounts of fresh and powdered chilli if you prefer things a little milder.
- 400g cooked chickpeas
- 2tbsp ghee or flavourless oil
- 1 large or 2 small onions, sliced
- thumb-sized piece of ginger, roughly chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic roughly chopped
- 1 green chilli, deseeded and roughly chopped
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 2 tsp coriander seeds, roughly crushed in a pestle and mortar or spice grinder*
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1/4-1/2 tsp chilli powder
- 1/4 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 tbsp tomato puree
- 250g tomato passata
- 1-2 tsp brown sugar
- 1 heaped tbsp creme fraiche (totally inauthentic, but if you use yogurt there is a danger it will split upon reheating and you don’t want that do you?)
- 1/2 small bunch fresh coriander, roughly chopped
- 1/2 tsp salt
- In a spice grinder*, blender or pestle and mortar, make a paste out of the ginger, chilli and garlic (you can help it on it’s way with a splash of oil).
- Fry the onion in the ghee or oil until soft – about 10 mins.
- Add the whole cumin seeds, crushed coriander, garam masala, chilli powder and turmeric and fry gently for a minute or so, until fragrant.
- Add the ginger/garlic/chilli paste to the pan and fry gently for a further 2 minutes. Stir so it doesn’t burn.
- Squeeze in the tomato puree, cook for a minute, then add the drained chickpeas. Stir to coat.
- Slosh in the passata with the salt and sugar, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. If it’s a bit claggy, add a couple of tablespoons of water. Taste and add more salt or sugar if required.
- Stir in the creme fraiche and half the chopped coriander. Serve in bowls with the rest of the coriander sprinkled on top, with flatbreads/rotis (the Nishaan parathas and rotis available from Ocado are vg) and this delicious mint yogurt on the side…
Minty yogurt sauce
Just like that stuff you get with your chicken tikka at the local curry house.
- handful of fresh mint leaves
- 1 heaped tbsp natural yogurt (I used Greek)
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1 tsp caster sugar
- pinch salt
- Whizz all the ingredients up in a blender or spice grinder*. Taste and adjust seasoning and lemon juice if necessary. Add a little water to loosen if it’s a bit thick.
*If you make a lot of curry pastes or grind your own spices, I highly recommend a wet and dry spice grinder. I use one made by Revel (about £30) and it’s brilliant – I wouldn’t be without it. Just don’t use it to grind your coffee beans as well – unless you like your coffee to have a garlicky tang.