I grew up in India, Tanzania, and little of the Middle East at a time and generation before the advent of canned foods. Foods sealed in a tin were pretty much limited to milk powder, juice concentrates or something non-consequential. Everything else was fresh. Even when I moved to Delhi and lived there close to ten years till 2006, the only thing I remember was buying coconut milk.
The last five years (after moving to the US) has kind of changed the playing field…. canned foods have made a foray into our lives. I still remember the first time I went to a US grocery store in Davis, CA in 2005. I came out of the store with a headache that rivaled the one I had after watching the movie “The Last Airbender”. But over the years, as much as I am still intrigued and skeptical of some of the bright tins, I have made an effort to learn and make the best of their use. Nowadays we pick up mostly organic canned beans (Chickpeas, Red kidney and Black), tomatoes, coconut milk, some exotic fruits, and lastly to my chagrin and amusement – canned sardines!!
The canned beans in particular are our saviors on days when we get back from work and all we want is a simple hot meal. Churn up something quick and accompanied with rice and some pickles – it is Mission Accomplished.
The dish here – except for the onions, ginger, chillies and spices is solely made with ingredients from cans.
1. 3 cans of chickpeas (garbanzo/chana)
2. 1 can diced tomatoes
3. 1 can stewed tomatoes
4. 1/2 cup fine diced onions
5. 1 teaspoon (tsp) diced ginger
6. 5-6 red dry chillies
7. 2-3 bay leaves
8. 1 tsp cumin seeds
9. 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
10. 1 tsp mild chilli powder/paprika
11. 2-3 tsp chana masala powder (most Indian grocery stores will have it in the spice section)
13. 3-4 tsp of oil (grapeseed/vegetable)
Place the chickpeas in a colander and rinse away all the gunky liquid. I also discard half of the liquid in the stewed tomatoes (It is too briny for my taste).
Heat 2 tsp of oil in a frying pan and add cumin seeds. Lower the heat and add bay leaves, ginger and dry chillies. Stir-fry for about a minute till ginger turns crispy on the edges. Add the diced onions and continue frying till onions turn golden brown. Add turmeric powder and paprika and continue cooking for another minute. Add the diced and stewed tomatoes. (I sometimes caramelize sugar before adding the tomatoes to cut the acidity). Simmer on medium heat for about 10 minutes to reduce the sauce.
Meanwhile heat 2 tsp oil in a second frying pan and add the chickpeas to it. Add the chana masala powder and stir fry continuously for about 3-4 minutes, till the chickpeas start getting a crispy skin. Add the tomatoes. Mix well and continue cooking for another 2-3 minutes.
NOTE – I generally don’t salt to the dish because between the tomatoes and the chana powder mix I find it salty enough for our tastes.
The finished dish is generally dry , a tiny crunch to the chickpeas, a good kick from the chillies and spices, and overall a slight tangy taste from the tomatoes. Serve with rice or rotis.
For a southern/Kerala version of the curry incorporating coconut milk read my earlier post of “Puttu and Kadala Curry”