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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Chole (Cholay/Chana) - Delicious Curried Garbanzo Beans

Chole/ Cholay or Masala Chana is a very tasty dish where chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans) plays the main role. It is very popular in Indian restaurants and if you can't find it under the curries section, you will definitely find it paired with the puffed, deep fried bread called "Batura/Bature". It is an easy to scale up dish too and generally finds a permanent spot in buffets, in almost all Indian restaurants (especially restaurants outside India).  Hence, it is a fantastic dish to make for a large crowd at home. When I was in college, curried garbanzo was a staple and made at least once a week. However, that was a far cry from what chole should be. It is definitely not something to be cooked in a hurry by throwing various spices in it. And I would highly recommend not using canned beans (unless it is an emergency), especially if you want the end product to be impressive. The following recipe is one that you will be proud to serve to your guests, who will be left smacking their fingers and asking for more (or even the recipe).

1 cup raw/dry garbanzo beans/chickpeas/chana/chole
water to soak the chickpeas completely
1 tea bag
3 tbsp oil
1 black cardamom/badi elaichi
3 bayleaves
1 inch cinnamon piece
10 black peppercorns
4-5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 inch ginger, finely chopped
1 cup red onion/ 1 large onion
2 tsp corriander-cumin/dhania jeera powder
1 tsp amchur powder/ dry raw mango powder
1 tomato, diced
2 tsp garam masala
red chilli powder to taste
salt to taste
1/2 cup water (for the gravy - if needed)

In a deep bowl, soak garbanzo beans. Make sure that you are covering the beans with sufficient water and have at least an inch of water above the top layer of the beans. Soak for at least 6 hours (best if done overnight). The beans will absorb the water and swell and the volume will double. Then take these in a deep pan and add a tea bag to it and cover with water and cook. You need to boil the chickpeas till they are softened. There should still be some bite or firmness to the chickpea and it should not get mushy. You can alternately use the pressure cooker (which is a faster method). Once cooked, take the tea bag out and keep this aside.

In another large and deep pan, heat oil. To this add the black cardamom, bay leaves, cinnamon and pepper corns. Let them roast in the oil for a minute till fragrant and then add the ginger and garlic and
fry for another minute. Then add the onions. Now, cook the onions till well browned. It is very important to brown the onions, to get the authentic taste. This should be done on medium heat so that the onions don't burn.

Once the onions are well browned, add the dhania-jeera powder and amchur powder and stir well and fry for a minute. Then add the red chilli powder and then the cooked chickpeas. Retain the water in which the chickpeas have been cooked. Do not add water at this stage. Mix the chickpeas well so that they get coated by the spices. Then add the tomato and about a half a cup of the retained water in which the chickpeas were cooked. Let this cook till the tomato gets cooked and softens. At this stage, add the garam masala.  If the gravy has become very thick, then add a little water and let the gravy boil for a few minutes. Add salt to taste. Serve hot with white rice or bature or naan.

You need to plan ahead when making chole as the beans need to be soaked at least for 6-8 hours before they can be cooked. The fastest method to cook chickpeas is to cook them in the pressure cooker. It takes about 8 whistles in my cooker to cook the chickpeas or I cook them in the beans mode in my Instant Pot.
I have read many recipes in which a pinch of baking soda is added to the water when it is being soaked. From what I have read, this helps the chickpeas cook faster. However, it is not necessary to do so.
Add a little salt while cooking the beans, and it will get absorbed into the chickpeas making them tasty.
If you noticed, this recipe doesn't call for any chole masala. This is an easy to make recipe which uses whole spices and only garam masala. If you want the chole to be yellow in color, then do not add the tea bag while cooking the chickpeas.
If you do use canned chickpeas, do not use the tea bag. The canned chickpeas are already pre cooked and rather soft, and if you cook them for an additional time with the teabag, they will disintegrate.
If you do happen to burn the onions a little, it will impart a slightly bitter flavor to the gravy. If you detect this, add a tsp of sugar to the gravy and mix well. This will nullify the bitterness.


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