Chana Masala

Life’s been hectic! I constantly feel as if there are not enough hours in the day, even on weekends. Especially on weekends. I’m busy at work and in my personal life. Work intruded upon personal life this evening when I got home late. Waiting for me was an unhungry Smark, who confessed he’d filled up on tomato sandwiches all day. (We love tomato season in this household!) When Mark is not hungry or eating elsewhere, that ordinarily means Indian food, yay! But I was hungry and it was late, so I didn’t want to spend a long time making some authentic, perfectly spiced, slow cooked meal just for myself. What I did want to do, however, was use up the cooked chickpeas I had in the refrigerator, so I decided to make an easy, low-stress chana masala, which is Fortinbras’ favorite Indian meal. The “easy” part is that I didn’t measure any of the spices, although I’ve tried to estimate the amounts. Interestingly, midway through my meal, Mark showed up exclaiming, “that smells good; can I have some?” He then proceeded to have two servings, which he does every time I make Indian food. So how he can go around saying he doesn’t like Indian food is beyond me. Anyway, here’s what I did:

Chana Masala

3/4 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp asafoetida (this doesn’t usually go in channa masala, but I love the taste and even the smell of it; you can omit it)
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 small onion, chopped
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp (or to taste) cayenne pepper
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 Tbsp amchoor (dried mango powder; can substitute lemon juice, which you would add at the end of the cooking time)
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground ginger (I was too lazy to use fresh, which I would ordinarily do)
1 tsp (or to taste) salt
4 cups cooked chickpeas
1/2 cup frozen peas, optional (I like to have at least a bit of green in everything I make)

Heat some oil in a pot, like a Dutch oven, over medium high heat. Add the mustard seeds and cook until they begin to pop, then turn the heat down and add the fenugreek and cook for a few seconds or so. Then add the cumin seeds, garlic, and asafoetida (if using) and cook about a minute. Next, turn the heat back up a bit and add the onions, turmeric, and cayenne and cook for about 7 or 8 minutes, or until the onions are well-cooked. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, amchoor, garam masala, paprika, ginger, and salt, and about half a (tomato) can of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes or until the tomatoes are starting to break down. Add the chickpeas and cook for about 30 minutes, adding a half-cup or so of water if it gets too dry. Adjust the seasonings. If using, add the peas and cook until they are heated through. If you don’t have amchoor, add some lemon juice for tang.

I served it with roti.

Wow, I feel I’ve posted so infrequently this busy summer that we need to catch up! I made my first batch of beer and it was really good! So good I wish I’d made a lot more than a gallon. I’ve also been baking bread from the spent grains, which I’ve been dying to do ever since Peter Reinhart raved about it in Whole Grain Breads. I tried nagging the few people I know who have made beer before to make some more so I could have the grains, but finally I decided to just make my own damn beer! I can’t wait to make more. Any fellow brewers out there?

I got my copy of Papa Tofu Loves Ethiopian Food and I can’t wait to make everything in it! If I use it half as frequently as I use the original Papa Tofu, it’ll be worth far more than I spent on it. If you love Ethiopian food, you will love this zine. If you’ve never had Ethiopian food, now’s the time to find out what you’ve been missing!.

Mark has taken an interest in cooking and been making our Sunday meals for a couple of weeks now, which is nice because I’ve been so busy, especially on Sundays. He kept declining my requests to do a post until he surprised himself with his awesome summer roll-making skills yesterday and announced he may do a post after all. He submitted what he described as “the first chapter” of his upcoming post to me today and all I can say is, um, prepare yourselves. I’m not sure what you should do to prepare yourselves, but you may want to brew your own batch of beer and drink a few before attempting to read Mark’s manifesto theory of the universe science fiction novel recipe for summer rolls. In the meantime, here is his first Sunday meal: nutloaf.

Torticia is fat! She doesn’t overeat, so I’ve been trying to make her exercise more, with varying degrees of success. One thing I do is play “the food game” with them. The rules of this game are I throw pieces of dry food across the floor and they have to run after it and eat it. Their little chomping of each tiny bit of kibble reminds me of Pac-Man. They love this game and demand to play it several times a day. I try to get Tortilla Chip to run up and down the stairs as much as I can.

Gomez waits patiently.

She’s fat, but she can run.

And now, for your enjoyment, here are some pictures of raccoons, who are responsible for taking up a lot of my precious time, not that I’m complaining:

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Chickpeas in a Spicy Cilantro Sauce, and BABY RACCOONS!!

This is my adaption of Madhur Jaffrey’s chickpeas in a mint sauce recipe from World Vegetarian. (I’ve linked to a blog that has the original recipe, but I got it from the book itself and I highly recommend it.) I adapted it mostly because I didn’t have any mint, and anyway, I was a bit skeptical about getting Mark – who claims not to like Indian food – to eat anything that tasted too minty. I also made substitutions for other ingredients I didn’t have.

Chickpeas in a Spicy Cilantro Sauce

1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked (if you have a pressure cooker, you can use non-soaked if you must)
1/2 cup toor dal (the original recipe called for chana dal, which I thought I had but didn’t; you can also substitute yellow split peas)
1 large onion, chopped finely
1 large tomato, chopped
fistful of tamarind, or a few tablespoons tamarind paste
1-2 Tbsp chopped ginger
5-6 cloves garlic, smashed
1 jalapeno, chopped
3/4 cup fresh cilantro, or, in my case 2 cubes frozen cilantro (from Trader Joe’s)
1/4 cup water
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp garam masala (I used the version in World Vegetarian)
1/4 tsp ground cumin

I actually soaked chickpeas when I left for work this morning, but managed to somehow overcook them when I started making this dish (I saved those for hummus), so I ended up using non-soaked chickpeas. So my time in the pressure cooker may be different than yours. Try just 5 minutes if pressure cooking soaked chickpeas, in water to just cover. I pressure cooked my non-soaked ones for 15 minutes in water to cover by about an inch. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, cook the soaked chickpeas in about 5 cups of water for an hour.

Measure the toor dal (or chana dal, or yellow split peas).

When the chickpeas are just barely tender, release pressure if pressure cooking, and open the cooker. Add the toor or chana dal and about a cup and a half of water. Bring back up to pressure and cook for another 15 minutes. (If you don’t have a pressure cooker, cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until both are tender.)

Meanwhile…

If you are using tamarind in non-paste form, place it in a glass and cover with hot water, and set aside. (These Luminarc glasses are a great size for this; they are kind of wide, which will later allow you to stick your hand in there.)

Hmm, that looks a little disturbing, but it’s really quite awesome.

Measure out the curry powder, ground coriander, garam masala, ground cumin, and salt.

I used Bolst’s curry powder.

Place the cilantro, garlic, ginger, jalapeno, and 1/4 cup water in a spice grinder or food processor.

Process until smooth.

Finely chop the onions.

Chop the tomato.

Stick your hand in the glass of tamarind and squish all around until it forms a paste.

Strain.

When the chickpeas are done, set them aside. (You can boil off extra liquid first if you need to.)

Heat some oil in a wok over medium high heat and add the onions.

Cook until browned.

Add the tomatoes and cook until they start to break down.

Add the cilantro mixture and cook for 5 minutes.

Add the chickpea and toor/chana dal mixture. If necessary, add some water to make it kind of – but not overly – soupy. Add the spices, then the tamarind paste to taste. (By the ratio of the original recipe, this would be a bit more than 2 Tbsp, but I like a lot of tamarind in mine so I added about 1/4 cup.)

Bring to a simmer, reduce heat, cover, and cook for half an hour.

Remember how I said Mark thinks he doesn’t like Indian food? Guess who had two large servings of this? Guess who said these were the greatest chickpeas in the universe?! Smark, that’s who!

In other news…

So we’ve been visited by a couple of raccoons for a while now; I call them Rocky and Rachel. They used to enjoy overturning our recycle bin. I was always excited to see them because I love raccoons. When Brachtune was alive, though, she HATED the raccoons. She would scream like a banshee! You never heard such terrible noises come from a cat. Gomez and Torticia are more accepting – when a raccoon peers into one of our sunroom windows, they just silently stare back.

Several weeks ago, the cats and I heard footsteps in the attic. I knew it was a raccoon because they were heavy steps, but Mark NEVER managed to be in the room when I’d hear them, and he insisted I was insane. I also saw Rachel scaling the side of the house, but still Mark denied there was ever a raccoon in the attic. I only heard her periodically, though, so I never did anything about it. As far as I was concerned, she could stop by to visit if she wanted.

Last week, though, I started hearing the noises not just above the sunroom, but above our bedroom – which is at the opposite end of the house – as well, and I realized we probably now had a new family of raccoons. They’re mostly nocturnal, so there was a lot of creaking and thumping around right over our heads all night long, which drove us out of the bedroom and made me sleep-deprived for days. And then the chattering began. You may not know this, but baby raccoons make a kind of purring noise that could easily be mistaken for birds if you don’t know what it is. It’s actually really cute (search for “raccoon chatter” on youtube), but when it’s right over your head and you’re trying to sleep – not so much.

I know a little bit (and am gradually learning more) about wildlife laws in Virginia, and I knew that we have a really, really, really stupid law that says that if you remove a wild animal from a property, it must be “euthanized” (read: murdered). Most wildlife removal services (in this state) will kill whatever they remove from your house; sometimes they lie and say they “relocate” it, but if that’s true, they are breaking the (very stupid) law. I didn’t want that to happen, so I told our landlord I would handle everything (except paying for it! I love renting!), and called our local wildlife rehabilitation organization, who directed me to a company that will not harm the animals.

So the guy came out, went up into the attic, and very quickly snapped up three baby raccoons while the mother watched, popping them into a soft, fuzzy bag. He came back down from the attic and let me pet one. There are three of them, they are two weeks old, their eyes aren’t open yet, and I nearly passed out from the insane cuteness.

Then he climbed the roof with his bag o’ babies and tried to get them to cry for their mother, hoping to entice her to come out through the attic fan (which is how he figured she’d been coming and going) and rescue the babies. (Seriously: ridiculously cute. Look at their little tails!)

Rachel wasn’t being cooperative, however, and refused to come out. This meant extra work for the guy, but secretly I was glad because while he spent 15-20 minutes closing up holes, installing a one-way door on the attic fan, and putting together a box for the babies, my job was to play with them!

Baby raccoons are crazy cute. I mean, THE cutest. They are about 1,000 times more cute in person than these pictures show.

They have these amazingly dexterous hands, which were already gripping me. It’s easy to see how when they get older they will be able to root through my garbage and pull it apart. They are also incredible climbers, and these little guys were already trying to climb around, even though they can’t see!

When I was finished petting and cooing over them, I put them back in their fuzzy sack and sat it on my lap to keep them warm. Do you know how awesome it is to have a sack of baby raccoons on your lap?! (I’m not kidding. These were the cutest things I’ve ever seen.)

Meanwhile, the raccoon guy had put a special box on the roof, and once he was able to wrest them away from me, he put the babies in it. It has a flap the mother can use to get in and out. Raccoons have many alternate dens available at all times, so usually if they don’t come out right away, they’ll come out that night and rescue the babies. Unfortunately, our Rachel only collected one of the babies overnight and we still have two on the roof (who were at least fed while mom was around). The raccoon guy is coming back tomorrow to check on them. Hopefully the last two will be gone as well, but if not, they’ll be taken care of. If the mother ends up abandoning them, they’ll go to a rehabilitator until they are old enough to survive on their own, then they’ll be released back into the wild.

Raccoons are beautiful, fascinating, wonderful creatures. If you find yourself in the situation we were in, where they, or any other wildlife, have invaded your house, please research the laws of your state – Maryland and DC have the same awful one Virginia does – and find someone who can humanely evict them for you.

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Roti (Indian flatbread)

As I’ve mentioned, since I got the great cookbook Cooking at Home with Pedatha, I’ve been determined to make more Indian food at home and convince Mark to like it. To that end, I decided to learn how to make roti, which I figured would entice the carb-loving Smark. Breads aren’t covered in Pedatha, but a quick google turned up this excellent video by Manjula, who made it seem so easy. If you are fortunate enough to have a gas stove, search for some of the other roti videos as well because it looks like it’s even more fun to make them on a gas stove (you puff them directly over the flame), but being stuck with an electric stove, I feel particularly attached to Manjula’s procedure.

I was worried that having years of experience, Manjula was making it look a lot easier than it really is, but I’m happy to report it really is (almost) that easy. The hard part is not getting it to puff (though they didn’t puff as nicely as those in the videos by people with gas stoves), but finding the perfect balance of using enough flour to prevent sticking when rolling but not adding so much the extra flour burns when frying. It probably took me a bit longer than Manjula to pull the roti together, but considering it was my first time making roti AND I was photographing every step (which requiring washing my hands every 30 seconds in order to be able to touch the camera), I’d say the time it takes to make these is really negligible and it’s easily doable for a weekday meal.

Roti
This recipe is direct from Manjula’s site, and I urge you to watch her video a couple of times because she demonstrates the process far better than I can.

1 cup whole wheat flour (I used white whole wheat and ended up using 1 cup + 1 Tbsp)
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup lukewarm water

Mix all ingredients. You can do this with your hands (or a wooden spoon) or cheat like I did and use a food processor (actually, I used a Sumeet grinder, but it’s an Indian machine so I decided it was okay…in fact, I think the instruction manual came with a recipe for roti, come to think of it).

Knead until it forms a very soft, cohesive dough. The consistency you are looking for might be a little more difficult to determine for people less accustomed to working with wet bread doughs, but if you watch Manjula’s video I think you’ll get the idea.

Drizzle just a couple of drops of oil on the dough to keep it from sticking and place it into a bowl. Cover and let sit for at least 10 minutes. (I went on a 45-minute walk at this point so mine sat for a while.)

When you are ready to make the roti, heat a very heavy – preferably cast iron – skillet over medium heat. I set my burner just a tiny smidge past “medium” and it seemed perfect. Do not add oil. Divide the dough into 8 equal parts.

Prepare a workspace by sprinkling it with flour. You want to use as little flour as possible to prevent sticking when rolling, but the dough is going to stick, so don’t be too stingy either. Take one of the balls and flatten it, turning it in the flour to coat.

Roll the dough into a circle; don’t worry how rough your circle is. (Mine were awful!) Constantly turn the dough over and sprinkle with and roll in additional flour to prevent sticking. You’re striving for a 5-6″ wide circle.

Place the flattened dough into the hot skillet.

It will cook very quickly and you will see bubbles forming on the top as the edges lift up.

When the top surface changes appearance, flip the roti over with a spatula. Use the spatula to press down on the roti as it cooks; this helps it puff up.

Flip it back over and cook another few seconds.

The roti is done when it’s puffed up and has brown (but not burnt) spots on both sides. As you finish with each roti, move it to a stack with the others, keeping them covered with a tea towel. Ideally put the tea towel in a covered container to completely trap the steam, although just a towel worked fine for me.

The finished roti:

From the cookbook, I made vegetable sambhar.

it may have made more sense to serve the roti with something other than sambhar (which the cookbook suggested I serve with idli or steamed rice) but I’m not known for always making sense. And the sambhar was thick enough to scoop up with the roti anyway.

This was a SUCCESS! When I announced dinner was ready to Mark, I added, “I hope you eat it,” to which he asked, suspiciously, “why, is it Indian?” and I answered, “what it is is yummy!” “It’s basically lentil soup and bread,” I added in my most convincing manner. He poked the sambhar with a spoon and sniffed it, again, with an air of suspicion. Then he ladled a small amount into a bowl and scooped it up with a roti. “It’s good!” he said, somewhat surprised, returning to the pot to fill his bowl. His final verdict: “it may be Indian, but it’s good anyway!” There’s hope for him yet!

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