Pindi Chole/Chana (Ek)

December 4, 2007 at 6:24 PM (channa/ gram, dishes by cuisine, dishes by main ingredient, India, legumes/pulses- whole or split, Pakistan, Punjab, Rawalpindi)

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    Yes, I know I ought to be blogging about pecan pie, mashed potatoes, Lithuanian mushrooms and beets, Hungarian lima beans, or…uh…..mole poblano…but, after all the leftover turkey (which was subsequently made into soup and turkey salad sandwiches) and, in short, the slew of western food which has totally thrown my system out of whack, I’m back to cooking food that I crave and enjoy on a daily basis…for a bit at least, so bear with me if you’re hanging on for one of those aforementioned recipes!

    I had never heard of Pindi chana until a few months ago, when a locally-owned-and-extremely-large grocery store had a sale on packs of Kitchens of India convenience food for $1.50 each. No biggie really, except each one also contained a free CD of Indian classical music- a possibility of four different ones! Wowee!!! Well, I thought it would be fun to try and get all four, and in the process I tried every dish in their line. I wasn’t terribly impressed with any of them (kind of bland), but one of them wasn’t too bad after I “doctor’d it up” with some garam masala and extra ground chiles…anyway, I eventually managed to find all four CDs (you can sleep easy now my readers), and then I made a point of doing some research on this dish called Pindi chana

    Or Rawalpindi chanaRawalpindi is a city in the Punjabi province of present-day Pakistan, with an extremely long history of several invasions and changes in power. The city contains many fine examples of architecture- ancient Buddshist, Hindu, and impressive Moghul shrines, two lively bazaars to wander about, as well as countless restaurants, food-stalls, and street-vendors from which to sample the local fare.  

    And I imagine that the variation in chana recipes is endless…which is what I discovered when I went Pindi-chana-recipe-hunting. Some said that kala (black) chana should be used, others said kabuli (white)…some said that it should be made with amla (Indian gooseberries) for souring and to achieve a dark colour, some said tea bags are the thing. Some used tomatoes, some stated that tomatoes shouldn’t be used at all. And then, there is a dispute over onions: only raw to accompany the final dish, and then no…browned as part of the masala, as well as raw for a final sparkle. Oh, it just goes on and on….the only thing I know for certain is that I won’t know anything until I visit this city, which I would really like to do someday. And when I get there, I’ll be sure to try every offering of chana I see and report to you here what I find out. But, I couldn’t possibly believe that just ONE recipe is being prepared all across a city of 3 million….can you?

    I decided to try a recipe which Ashwini of Food for Thought stumbled upon in a most unlikely place: the booklet that accompanied her new pressure-cooker!  I chose to try it first because it was the most different from all the others that I had read. After the first whirl, I found that it also tastes absolutely different from any other chana/chole recipes I have ever tried, and I like it very much, so much so that I’ve made it four times now! That’s blog-worthy I think.

    Over the course of these recipe-runs, I found myself making a few changes in method- nothing that compromises the original intention of the recipe, no- namely a way to do both a brief oil-extraction of the masala while avoiding the overcooking of the chickpeas, and waiting until the end of the cooking to add the garam masala to avoid evaporating off all of the precious (and volatile) oils of elaichi…

Pindi (Rawalpindi) Chole (Chana)

2 C dried Kabuli chana (white chickpeas)
2 heaping teaspoons of black tea, coarsely powdered*
2 badi/moti/kala elaichi
5 cloves, ground**
3 small sticks of cinnamon (I use about 3-4 inches of cinnamon- like a finger-length)
3 T ghee and/or peanut oil (the original recipe uses 8 T…use any amount you prefer)
4 green chiles
1/2″ of fresh ginger
1 T whole cumin
1 1/2 T whole anardana
1 1/2 T coriander seeds, ground
1 T amchoor
1 1/2 t black pepper, ground
salt to taste
1-2 t garam masala
coriander leaves
sliced onions

1)Soak the chickpeas for 24 hours; drain, rinse once and drain again; place these, along with the tea, kala elaichi, cloves, cinnamon, and water to cover 1-2″ in a pressure-cooker; cook for 12 minutes at 15 PSI; remove from heat and allow to cool and pressure to fall (or cook in a large saucepan until tender). Drain, reserving liquid. Remove and discard kala elaichi and cinnamon.

2)Meanwhile: halve the chiles, de-seed, then quarter lengthwise; cut across into 1/8″ strips. Peel the ginger, then slice into thin rounds; stack the rounds and cut into fine shreds. Dry-roast, separately, the cumin and anardana seeds; grind and combine with the other dried spices, reserving the garam masala alone in another bowl.

3)Heat the oil to smoking, then add green chiles and ginger; stir once and add the ground spices; stir once again and add the reserved liquid from chana; keep at a slow boil, stirring frequently as it reduces and lowering heat as you go, until thick enough to coat the stirring-spoon.

4)Add the drained chickpeas and salt to taste; stir carefully over gentle heat until fully-hot. Remove from heat and stir in the garam masala.

5)Serve topped with sliced raw onions and coriander leaves. What is this served with? I don’t know…I usually eat it with rice. And I must say that the flavour is even better the day after it is made!

*The original recipe calls for 1 tea bag. I thought it should be darker still, plus I mostly buy loose tea so that I can pretend to read fortunes in a cup. The extra fiber doesn’t hurt either, and I do recall reading about a tea-leaf salad somewhere

**The original recipe calls for 5 whole cloves to be cooked with the chana and then fished out afterwards. I got tired of trying to find them and decided to grind them up.

P.S. You may be wondering (or not) if I’ll be trying other Pindi chana recipes in the future and blogging about them? You bet! But the story will always go from free CDs to Ashwini’s complimentary booklet from a pressure-cooker, and then onwards…

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