It always takes me a while to decompress from a vacation, and especially so from the beach. I made this dish the next day–and I loved it–but as I stare at the computer screen what I am really wishing I was doing is floating on my back in the surf, absorbing the warm sun and rocking with the waves. My brain is empty of words, reliving sensations instead. I know, poor me, I had to come home from a fabulous 2 weeks at the ocean.
I will admit this was a fabulous dish to come home to. It was simple, and the methodical prep work it required kept me awake but did not tax my brain (we meant to split our drive home into 2 days, but thanks to all of the storms and resultant power outages, there was literally not one single hotel room between the Outer Banks and Columbus, Ohio!!! which meant we drove the night through and arrived home in a zombie-like state of exhaustion). It was also seriously rewarding, the kind of food I do not get at the beach and which I am craving like mad after 2 weeks.
Speaking of my zombie state, I have to give thanks to my friend Donna for taking these pictures (except the beach, obviously). First, she came over to help me stay awake. And then when my excessive caffeine intake caused my hands to shake she took the photos for me.
Some notes about the recipe: it makes a ton, a fact which I do not regret as John and I have loved it every subsequent night we’ve eaten it. But if about 6 quarts of curry is overkill for you, cut it in half. And if you really love the saag in chana saag, I recommend adding 2 boxes of frozen spinach. The sad but true fact is that no one in my family, including me, really likes cooked greens much, so mixing them with loads of other veggies in our preferred method of eating them. But if you love them more power to you–they are one of nature’s miracle foods.
- 3 cups dried chickpeas
- water to cover by 2 inches, plus more as needed
- 1/2 t turmeric
- 1/2 t paprika
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 t salt
- 5 T grapeseed oil
- 1 1/2 T dark mustard seeds
- 1 T urad dal, split and skinned
- 1 T cumin seeds
- 25 curry leaves
- 3 large onions, chopped
- salt to taste
- 1 head garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup minced fresh ginger
- 1 t turmeric
- 1 t paprika
- 2 T ground coriander
- 1 1/2 T ground cumin
- 1 1/2 T amchur powder
- 3 large mangoes, peeled, pitted and chopped
- 3 large tomatoes, chopped
- 2 T tamarind concentrate
- chickpeas with cooking liquid
- 1 9-oz box of frozen chopped spinach, NOT squeezed dry
- 1 cup chopped cilantro
- 2 T garam masala, to taste
- juice of one lime, or lemon
To make the curry, heat a large pot or Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add the grapeseed oil with the mustard seeds and cover the pot. Let the seeds pop--when they slow down, add the urad dal and stir. Roast for a minute or so and then add the cumin seeds and curry leaves (be careful--the curry leaves will splatter!). Continue stirring and let roast until the cumin seeds and urad dal are a shade or 2 darker and fragrant. Do not let the cumin seeds burn.
Add the onions with a pinch of salt. Toss into the spices and caramelize for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. If the onions start to scorch or stick, add about a quarter cup of water and let it cook off, scraping the pan clean. When the onions are brown, add the ginger, garlic, turmeric, paprika, ground coriander, cumin and amchur powder. Add another pinch of salt. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring often.
Add the tomatoes, mangoes and tamarind concentrate. Stir into the onions and bring to a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes, to concentrate flavors. Add the cooked chickpeas with their cooking liquid and aromatics. Add the spinach (I don't even bother defrosting) and cilantro. Stir into the vegetables until the spinach is defrosted and mixed into the curry. Bring to a simmer and let simmer quite gently for at least 20 minutes and up to 2 hours. Before serving, add 2 tablespoons of garam masala and the juice of 1 lime. Check for more salt, lime juice or garam masala.
Serve with flatbread or basmati rice, and a dollop of plain Greek yogurt. I also serve with red chile pepper flakes on the side for those who like things hot.