September 22, 2021. One of you kids started on the road to vegetarianism many years ago as a young teen. It took some time at the start to get you to understand that eating mostly pasta wasn’t the best game plan when it came to nutrition, but after some “talks” and your middle school report on meatless eating, you were soon on the right track. As we started to figure out just what you would eat as a vegetarian, I wondered how long or if you would ever have a new favorite dinner to replace the Dad barbequed pork ribs for which you and your sibling would constantly clamour. It took some time for me to get the feel for vegetarian cooking, relying heavily on mass produced veggie burgers and the fake chicken product we lovely called “Fuggets”, while I worked on meatless versions of shepherd’s pie and a few other family favorites that met with mixed reviews. Then, one day, I stepped out of my comfort zone to explore the Indian flavors that your Mom and GM introduced to me not too many years before. From that, came a Dad take on the renowned, and not only vegetarian, but vegan, dish of chickpeas in a tomato sauce known as chana masala that quickly became your favorite. For many years, we simply called it “Chana”, but since it’s technically not chana masala, I now call it Saucy Bengaluru Beans as a nod to the many wonderful Indian vegetarian and vegan dishes epitomized by Bengaluru, formerly Bangalore (until 2014), India’s third most populous city (close to 9M) and recently recognized by PETA as one of Asia’s most vegan friendly cities. .
Even though it took me a while to get Indian flavors and techniques into the Dad Kitchen, Mom actually grew up eating curries and kebabs at a time when the family table was more likely to be filled with Hamburger Helper and Shake and Bake chicken, which were often the “exotic” flavors found on my childhood plate. So the seeds of international culinary curiosity were planted early in your family history and this is thanks to your GM who, after bravely leaving her small hometown for the first time ever to travel the world as a young newlywed with your Poppies, went forward with an open mind and heart to develop an appreciation of many cultures that she brought back to her family that benefits their table and many other aspect of their lives to this day. Honestly, I really don’t know why it took me, and many others in this country, so long to appreciate the Indian flavors that now can be found at your neighborhood market- it’s not like anyone ever risked their lives or fought a war over them- oh wait, they actually did.
So there you have it, a short family history and even shorter world history of Indian spices that ultimately led to this inexpensive and simple, vegan, one pot meal full of dynamic spices that’s perfect for the Young Adult and most other kitchens.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
GET YOUR STUFF OUT
- 1-2 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 large yellow or red onion, minced
- kosher salt, to taste
- 1 jalapeño or serrano (hotter), trimmed (ribs and seeds removed if you prefer less heat) and minced
- 1-2 tablespoons of an Indian spice blend, like curry powder or garam masala
- 4 or more garlic cloves, grated or minced
- 1” piece of ginger, peeled, grated or minced
- 28 ounce can of whole tomatoes, crushed with your clean, bare hands
- 18 ounces (2 cans) cooked chickpeas or another cooked bean you like
- vegetable broth, as needed or not needed (I didn’t need it)
- 1/4 cup minced cilantro
- 1 lemon or lime cut into wedges
- yogurt, for topping, optional
- 4 cups of cook basmati or other long grain, white rice, optional
- 4 pieces of naan, optional
COOK AND PLAY
Play “Aap Jaiso Koi” by Nazia Hassan, from the 1980 Indian film,“Qurbani”, whose London based producer, Biddu, was born in Bangalore. BTW Biddu also produced the classic, 1970s disco, one hit wonder, “Kung Fu Fighting”, which would also be fun to play while you’re cooking.
1. No Surprises To Start- Golden Brown Onions. Add oil to a large pot, like a Dutch oven, over medium heat and once it’s hot, add the onion to cook until golden brown, about 8 minutes.
2. Add Some Pop. Stir in jalapeño and spice blend and cook a few minutes to soften peppers and toast spices.
3. Add Some More Pop. Stir in garlic and ginger and cook for a hot minute.
4. The Big Finish. If you are serving rice, now would be the time to get it to a simmer and cover so it will be done when the beans are done. Add tomatoes and beans to spiced vegetables and simmer to blend flavors, about 15-20 minutes- coincidentally the amount of time it will take to cook the rice. If your saucy beans are too thick, add a bit of vegetable broth to thin out.
5. Serve It Up. Portion saucy beans and rice, if serving, into bowls or rimmed plates, top with cilantro, unless you hate it (some do, like your grandmother) and serve lemon wedges and, if you like, yogurt and/or naan on the side.
Indian Spices. To me, there is no other country that celebrate spices as much as India- not only to add layers of flavor to its dishes, but good health to its eaters. I covet the Masala Dabba Spice Box- the box, that can be quite elaborate, filled with precious containers of many spices (often 7) seen in many Indian Kitchens and often passed along to future generations. While I don’t have a spice box to pass along to you, I would encourage you to experiment with your own Indian Inspired Spice Blends if you have the time, interest and money (use a good commercial spice blend until then), but start small and work your way up, since a good Indian Inspired Spice Blend needs a long list of spices, only some of which are listed below, that are likely to grow stale if you start to fast and don’t cook Indian inspired food very often. When you are ready, however, get a feel for the flavors of the spices and then add and delete to your preference. A starter kit of common Indian spices for this recipe could be 2 teaspoons of toasted and freshly ground dried coriander, 1 teaspoon of toasted and freshly ground dry cumin and a 1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon. As you move on, consider, ground turmeric, chili powder (in addition or in place of fresh chilies), cardamom pods (green husks removed and discarded), whole coriander seed, cloves, fennel seed, star anise pod, mustard seed and fenugreek to name some of the more popular spices. It’s best to buy whole spices, which stay fresher longer than ground spices (a few months vs. a year) and toast, fry and/or grind them to order. I also saw, what I thought was a genius idea in a recipe by Chitra Agrawal, who uses a black tea bag (so easy to add and pluck out at the end of cooking) to add flavor to her chickpea masala.
The Tiffin Box. Another great box idea from India that you may want to explore, since I know you two are both environmentally conscious, and which would be a great way to take a meal of Saucy Bengaluru Beans, rice and naan on the road for work, a picnic or camping, is the very cool looking and sustainable Indian “lunch box”, called a “tiffin box”. It’s typically a stack of several round, stainless steel containers to hold food on the go. Keep in mind the rules of food safety still apply, so make sure to store your food filled tiffin properly if you don’t plan on eating it soon after you pack it up. The more modern tiffin designs claim to be insulated enough to keep food warm or cold for hours without the need for additional heating or cooling out of the danger zone- but does warm or cold = safe? Be sure to do your research before you rely on such claims said the Dad. I will put it on my wish list for a future post to test these out and let you know what I think, unless you get to it before I do.
Not Bollywood Beans. I considered calling this recipe Saucy Bollywood Beans since I enjoyed the movies I knew growing up as Bollywood Movies- a phrase, combining Bombay and Hollywood, that was coined to describe a variety of wonderfully entertaining and over the top musical melodramas made in Indian. I also remember enjoying a meal at an Indian restaurant, that I think was located in Boston, adorned with flat screen TVs everywhere the eye could see, that continually played these movies as part of its dining experience. Even so, I knew enough to think this through, since you two kids are constantly “reminding” me to be more thoughtful when describing other cultures. So with this, my cultural “spidey senses” started to tingle once I recalled that Bombay no longer exists, and has been known as Mumbai since 1995. As I looked into this query, I read many arguments on both sides, paying particular attention to an article featuring the differing opinions of people in the Indian film industry, which is when I decided I needed to steer clear of the controversy- interesting reading nonetheless. So regardless of whatever term is deemed appropriate for this colorful and exuberant entertainment, with alluring music and expertly crafted choreographed dance and/or fight scenes, you should nevertheless check out a few, if you haven’t already, to see what you think- here’s a compilation of a few snippet from some of the more popular recent song and dance scenes from this genre to get you started.
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