Sunday, March 1, 2015

Punjabi Chole - vibrant colors, bold flavors, everything that reminds you of Punjab

Hope everyone had a great weekend and getting ready to the week day routine. Weather Gods seem to have developed an unusual love for Seattle folks and it has been warm, sunny, bright this entire weekend while the neighboring ever sunny California is flooded with rains, hails and storms. I am not sure if this is a good sign of things to come but the optimist in me tells me to be grateful in the present. Beautiful Pacific Northwest is waking up from hibernation to show its colors. We went to visit some blooming daffodils yesterday, miles & miles of happy, sunny, yellow colored blooms had lit up the valley and it was gorgeous. Had a great couple of hours walking around in the open air, sitting down next to rows of daffodils and ofcourse taking pictures. The early spring is doing its magic and flowers are blooming earlier than usual.
All those rows of yellow flowers brought me memories of my all time favorite 'Dilwale Duhaniya Le Jayenge' :-) and I had to cook something from my Punjabi menu to feel totally satisfied. So it was all about a Punjabi brunch in our South Indian kitchen today.

Garbanzo beans are hearty, healthy and very satisfying whether you put them in a curry or a salad or a hummus. There is something very earthy about these beans that brings instant gratification and cheer. We have a couple of Punjabi joints in our area which we frequent and one thing that stands out is how creatively they use this bean in different dishes. From curries like saag-chole (greens cooked with garbanzo) to chats like Ragda patties, these beans take on a very key role. While I love them, I prefer my dry green peas in chats, they seem lighter than garbanzo beans.

I come from a state longitudinally opposite to Punjab and have been there only a couple of times as a visitor. So all my knowledge about Punjabi food is acquired. When a recipe is not something I have grown up with, I use my deductive tasting abilities to try and break down as many recipes as I can get my hands on and decide which one I like. Some of the recipes call for cooking garbanzo beans with tea bags to get that authentic color while some swear by making a potli (small bag made of muslin cloth) of spices and immersing it in beans as they cook to infuse flavor. Some recipes claim to be authentic pindi chole while some claim they are the best combos for Bhatura (deep fried, leavened bread made using flour & yeast). For a South Indian like me, this is all confusing and when it gets too much, I just stay away from the propaganda and let my own brain & heart (and ofcourse tongue) tell me what to do :-).
But the quest to get an authentic recipe never leaves my side. Authentic is defined as 'homely' in my dictionary and I pester folks to part with recipes from their private kitchen. I had seen this recipe on one of the foodie groups I happen to be a member of, while I make chole at home with my own spices and also using store bought powder, what drew me to this recipe was the title of the post which said, "mom's jagat famous chana masala". Like most of you, I am a sucker for something that comes from a mom's kitchen. So I had book marked this recipe for trying out and did that a couple months back. The flavor of the spice powder turned out far superior to any store bought masala I had used and it dished out a very authentic looking and authentic tasting chole when I cooked with it. I am completely hooked to this home made powder now and have already made it twice.

The first time I made the spice powder, I had a very fine anardana (pomegranate) powder in my pantry which kind of semi dissolved on heating and further liquified in my blender jar. The spice powder though lumpy (and totally un-photogenic) was extremely tasty :-). I had followed the proportions in the original recipe and had enough masala for 4 uses. When it got over recently, I went to the store to buy a better quality anadana powder (coarser) which stood strong to the heat. All is well and I have not only a good looking spice powder but totally delicious which makes taking pictures a pleasurable activity :-).
I will show you how to make a much simpler, tangy, tomatoey chole another day which has lot more gravy and is perfect with pooris or rice. I roast spices fresh and grind it along with onions & tomatoes in that recipe. But today, it is all about Punjabi chole from a Punjabi mom, so enjoy this succulent, spicy chole with your favorite roti or naan.

What do you need to make chole masala? 
Recipe source: http://www.foodfellas4you.com/chana-masala/
1/2 cup dhania seeds
8-10 dry red chilies
2 Tsp cloves
5 bay leaves (medium sized)
10 black cardamom (Badi elaichi)
10 pieces of 1 inch cinnamon
5 green cardamom
1/4 cup cumin seeds
1 Tbsp black pepper corns
1 cup anardana (pomogranate) powder
1/2 cup kasoori methi (dry fenugreek leaves)
How do you make chole masala? 
  • Heat a heavy bottom pan on medium heat and add the first 9 ingredients listed above. 
  • Roast until fragrant (takes about 5-7 minutes) stirring frequently for even distribution of heat. 
  • Once a heavy aroma of the spices fill the air, add anardana powder & kasoori methi, mix well and roast for 1 minute. 
  • Switch off and let the spices cool down in the pan. 
  • Once completely cool, grind to a fine powder, store in air tight jar until ready to use. 
What do you need to make chole? 
2 cups dry garbanzo beans or 2 can cooked garbanzo beans
1 Tsp kala namak or black salt
1 Tbsp salt (adjust to taste)
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 inch piece ginger - julienned
1 medium sized ripe tomato - chopped into chunks
2 Tbsp chole masala (adjust according to your spice tolerance)
1 Tbsp oil
pinch of asafoetida
pinch of turmeric powder
1/2 Tsp cumin
1/2 Tsp sugar 
1 Tbsp fresh cilantro - finely chopped
How do you make chole? 
  • If using dry beans, soak them in plenty of water overnight. 
  • Next morning, wash the soaked chole, cook it in pressure cooker along with 3 cups water, black salt and 1 tsp salt until soft. 
  • If using canned garbanzo, rinse them thoroughly under running water until the preservatives and the liquid runs off. 
  • Put the cleaned garbanzo in a bowl, add 1 Tsp salt and 1 tsp black salt, mix well and let it stand until you are ready to use (atleast 15 minutes marination is recommended)
  • Heat oil in a heavy bottom pan (kadai), add asafoetida, turmeric powder and cumin seeds
  • Once cumin starts to sizzle, add finely chopped onion and 1/2 Tsp salt. 
  • Cook until onion turns translucent. 
  • Add the tomato chunks and cook until it becomes a mush. 
  • Add the chole masala and mix well. 
  • Add the cooked garbanzo along with the water it is cooked in (if using canned, add a cup of water), mix everything together. 
  • Taste test, add more masala powder or salt to taste and adjust the consistency to your liking with water. 
  • Add chopped cilantro on top, sugar, cover and let it cook on low heat for atleast 30-40 minutes for the flavors to develop. If you have a slow cooker, take it out and use, you can dump the prepared chole in to it, switch it on low and let it come to a slow boil. 
  • Open cooking works too if you are using a heavy bottom pan and stir it once every 15 minutes or so. 
  • Serve hot chole with a wedge of lemon, sliced onions and oil roasted green chilies as a side dish to naan, roti or Batura. Perfect meal and a sure ticket to siesta :-)
Notes: 
  • I use anardana powder as I don't easily get the dry seeds here. Buy the coarse variety since the fine powder becomes sticky on heat and spoils the powder (lesson learnt by mishap :-))
  • Adding a bit of sugar brings a soft touch to the spices and enhances the taste, skip it if you like the spice flavors as they are. 
  • I don't personally like the bay leaves flavor to overpower so have mentioned medium sized leaves, original recipe specifies big sized leaves
  • The amount of ingredients makes about a cup & half of masala powder, store it in airtight container and use as needed. 
  • You can make this chole with gravy or almost dry depending on your preference - adjust water
  • If you make the drier version of chole, turn it into a yummy snack/chat by serving with a few roasted potatoes, chopped onions, tomatoes, topped with sev :-)