Channa masala – dairy free and delicious!

One of the main benefits of living in India was of course picking up top tips on how to make a good curry. Before we left for Bangalore, I had eaten channa masala from an English curry house, but it was buttery and the spices harsh. I’ve since realised that harsh spices are uncooked ones, and a good channa masala can be dairy free and gorgeous!

In case you’re wondering, channa is my old favourite, chickpeas! Known a garbanzo beans in the US, this fabulous pulse is so worth incorporating into your diet wherever you can as they are incredible little nuggets of nutrition. For a start, they are a great source of protein, not complete as the essential amino acid histadine is missing, but when combined with wholegrain rice or flour pack a serious protein punch. On top of that, they have loads of fibre, so not only help to keep you full for long, but can aid in reducing cholesterol levels as well as promote a healthy gut.Chickpeas are also a great source of folate, particularly important for women of child-bearing age, iron, phosphorous, zinc and manganese, which is essential for energy production in the body. They are low in fat but still have essential fatty acids and contain other nutritional necessities such as potassium, vitamin C, calcium and other B vitamins to name a few.

From a financial point of view, chickpeas are also pretty cheap, certainly as a protein source (much more affordable than meat!). Canned are more convenient than dried, although this convenience carries a cost; financially they are more, environmentally there’s the can and nutritionally up to 45% of the folate is lost in the canning process. But then sometimes there’s just not time to soak and cook, even with a pressure cooker at hand!

My channa masala recipe is not really traditional, as it contains more than just chickpeas, tomatoes and spices. As my family will always tell you, I like to add in some extra veg in everything, especially something green!

So top tips for cooking this channa masala are:

* blend the onion, garlic and ginger into a puree before cooking – this gives a smooth sauce and reduces the amount of oil you need and reduces the chance of burning
* add the spices once the onion mix is cooked, stirring well for a minute to help them cook
* add the chickpeas near the end so they don’t over cook – the flavour is in the sauce, not the pulses
* use your nose as well as your tongue to tell when the spices are cooked – the pungent, harsh aroma softens when cooked.

So that’s about it – here’s the recipe. The spice amounts are a guideline only – use less or more depending on how flavoursome you like your curry. Serve with brown basmati rice or wholemeal roti and enjoy!

Channa masala
1 onion roughly cut
3 cloves garlic
1-2 inch cube fresh ginger
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 chilli diced – red or green, its up to you
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon chilli powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 carrots cut into small chunks
400g tin chopped tomatoes
400g tin chickpeas or 1 cup soaked and cooked
spinach or chard, chopped
Put the onion, garlic and ginger into a food processor and whizz until finely chopped/pureed. It becomes pretty smooth and watery. Then heat the oil or water in a pan and add the whole seeds, stirring occasionally. Once they start to pop, reduce the heat and add the onion mixture, stirring constantly so it doesn’t burn. Cook for about five minutes until the fluid starts to reduce, then stir in the other ground spices and salt (I use about 1/2 teaspoon) and cook for a minute or so, stirring constantly. Add the chilli and carrot, covering them with the mixture, then pour in the tinned tomatoes, mixing well, adding a little water to wash out the tin. Your mixture should be a thick stew, not too watery but not too dry. Once boiling, reduce the heat and leave to simmer for 20 minutes or so. Taste to check the flavour and if the harshness has gone, add the chickpeas and cook for 5 minutes, then add the chard or spinach and cook for a couple of minutes more. The curry should now taste rich and delicious, so serve it up and enjoy!