One of the things I am incredibly grateful for is the fact that my parents really taught me to love food from an early age. Growing up in an area with a very large Hindu community we were lucky enough to be surrounded by brilliant Indian shops and vegetarian restaurants, the kind that cater to the local community, as opposed to British people or tourists. I have been taken to Indian restaurants since I was about 4 years old, which has given me a really strong understanding of their food culture, and I can translate a menu pretty well. The dish that has been my absolute favourite since I was small is chana masala – chickpea curry. I recently found this recipe for chana masala by The Gluttonous Vegan, via the channel 4 website, and its pretty fantastic. It isn’t particularly authentic as it uses canned chickpeas, pre-ground spices and coconut milk, but it is delicious. And as I have now made it 3 times, foolproof (not that you should ever underestimate a fool). If you were the kind of clever person that always has fresh ginger in the freezer (I sadly, am not) – this curry is basically completely store-cupboard. It is also much quicker and easier to prepare than a traditional curry. Normally I am pretty militant when it comes to freshly toasted and ground spices, but for this one, I will make an exception.
The Gluttonous Vegan: "You know when you have a great lunch, and then you have it for dinner too because it was so good? And then even the next day you might just have it once more? That's what this is. So creamy and rich, a bit spicy but you can always cut down the spice if you're not into that. I'm pretty sure that traditionally chana masala doesn't have coconut milk in it. It's so worth it I promise, doesn't even taste of coconut at the end, just super creamy. It might seem like you need a lot of spices but most of them you'll probably have at the back of the cupboard. If you also just happen to have some canned chickpeas, tomatoes and coconut milk, it's chana masala party time, my friend."
Serves 2 hungry people on its own, 3-4 with rice. This recipe easily doubles, triples, and quadruples – believe me I have tried – although I did not increase the coconut milk as much (and was then happily eating chickpeas for a solid week).
2 red onions, sliced
1 tbsp sunflower oil
2.5cm piece fresh ginger, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
400g can chopped tomatoes
1 tsp dried chilli flakes (or a couple of crumbled birds eye chillies – wash your hands very well afterwards or bad things will happen).
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp fennel seeds
2 x 400g cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
400g can coconut milk
Handful of fresh coriander
¼ tsp garam masala (this I do recommend you grind yourself, you can buy garam masala whole spice mixes – Hannah made some up a while back and it’s a million times better than the pre-ground).
Juice of ½ lemon
Slice the onions and put into a wok or a deep-ish frying pan with the oil. Place over a medium heat and leave them to cook down a bit.
Add the ginger and garlic and cook for a few more minutes. Tip in the tomatoes, chilli flakes, cumin, ground coriander, turmeric and fennel seeds. Let that simmer for a minute or so, then add the chickpeas. Stir them in and then pour on the coconut milk.
Once that's all stirred together you can leave it for about 45 minutes. On a medium-ish heat, let it simmer away and the liquid reduce. Read your newest cookbook or watch some Great British Menu, Band of Brothers or Homeland (I never know if I should be trusting Damian Lewis or not, its very confusing) or something. Be sure to give it a stir every 10 minutes or so, just so nothing sticks.
Once most of the liquid has bubbled away, chop your coriander and add that with the garam masala. Squeeze over the juice from the lemon and some salt to taste and serve immediately with some rice or flatbread, or as part of an epic Indian feast, with a cucumber, mint, yogurt raita and plenty of Cobra beer.