Good things really do come to those who wait.
About three weeks ago, I had the flu. By about the third day, I was going out of my mind with boredom. I wasn’t yet well enough to leave my apartment, but I had to do something productive. I had canned chickpeas and tomatoes in the pantry, a jalapeno and an onion growing elderly in my fridge. So I found a recipe for chana punjabi–Indian chickpea and tomato stew–and set about making it.
I tasted as it was cooking, and it was…fine. Spicy. Indian. Warm. Generic. I was underwhelmed, and the flu had sapped me of my appetite anyway. So into the freezer it went, to wait patiently until I was well. Now I’m finally well–and very happy. After three weeks of sitting and flavor-melding, this chana punjabi is a flavor juggernaut.
I’m sitting and eating it now, as I type. It gets better with every spoonful. The chickpeas are nutty and tender, bound lightly in an velvety orange-red sauce of tomatoes, onions and aromatics. Unlike chana masala, which is turmeric-heavy and speckled with chunky vegetables, this is rich and smooth and surprisingly subtle. I can only imagine how much more stunning it would be with home-cooked chickpeas.
I will definitely be making this again. And absolutely letting it sit for a while before touching it. It’s worth the wait, believe me.
Chana Punjabi (serves 2 generously, or 4 daintily)
1 tbsp neutral oil (canola, peanut or vegetable oil would work)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp minced or grated ginger
1 jalapeno or serrano pepper, seeded and minced OR 1 Thai bird chili, minced
1 (14 oz) can diced tomatoes
1 1/2 cups water (you may not use all of it)
1 tsp celery salt, or to taste
1 1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp ground fennel seed
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/8 tsp ground or grated nutmeg
Juice of half a lemon
3 cups cooked drained chickpeas OR 2 (15 oz) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 tbsp minced cilantro
Cooked rice for serving (optional)
In a medium saucepan, heat oil over medium-low heat. Add onion and saute for about 5 minutes, or until translucent and soft. Add garlic, ginger and chili, and saute an additional 2-3 minutes, until the garlic is golden and everything is fragrant. Add tomatoes, then cover and simmer for about 5 minutes, or until the tomatoes are completely soft and everything has started to meld.
Remove from heat, transfer to a blender or food processor, and puree until smooth. Return the pureed mixture to the pan, and turn the heat up to medium. Stir in celery salt, paprika, coriander, garam masala, fennel seed, turmeric, cumin, nutmeg, and lemon juice. Add chickpeas and bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to low.
Cover and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the sauce is thick and the chickpeas are completely tender. Every 10 minutes or so, give the mixture a stir and check to see if the sauce looks dry or in danger of burning; if it does, add a splash of water (up to 1 1/2 cups water total). What you’re looking for is a thick, orange-red tomato sauce that clings to the chickpeas; if it looks too wet at the end, uncover the pan and let it simmer for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until it’s reduced to the consistency you want. Stir in cilantro, then taste for salt and adjust the seasoning as necessary.
You can eat immediately, or (preferably) cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours to let the flavors meld, then reheat before serving. Serve over rice, or just by itself in a bowl. The chana punjabi will keep in the fridge, tightly covered, for up to a week, or in the freezer for several months.