A Curry Sweet Goodbye

As soon as I filed yesterday's post on hosting a Monday night dinner party, I donned a bandanna, buttoned up one of my old scruffy chef's coats and spun into action.

Chilled vanilla custard went into the freezer bowl of my ice cream maker and churned for about 30 minutes. During the last 10 minutes of churning, I added about 3 ounces of chopped dark chocolate for an extra dimension and a contrast in texture.

As I mentioned yesterday, I cooked the soaked dried chickpeas in an infused "tea" of fresh ginger, garlic and a star anise pod, which worked beautifully. Just as I had hoped, the chickpeas picked up the flavors of the aromatics and were off to a savory start. So much flavor already and not a drop of salt used yet!

"Dry" chickpeas make their debut over rice. (Kim O'Donnel)

For the next step, I pulled together spices for a masala as well as aromatics I wanted to cook in oil. One little trick I used with the onion: I grated it so that it would yield a smooth, melty texture. (This is also really useful when making potato latkes.)

The ingredients in the recipe below are a guideline; add and subtract as you deem necessary and interesting. It was fun to watch this unfold and I was quite pleased with the results: full of flavor dimension, not too wet, but draped in a thick gravy that kept the chickpeas moist.

From the chickpeas, I transitioned to all kinds of chopping for a double batch of cilantro-based chicken curry. By 5:30, everything (except for the rice) was done, but the house and the cook were a downright mess. I smelled like a stewpot.

Chickpeas and cilantro chicken curry. (Kim O'Donnel)

Within 45 minutes, I cleared the living room of detritus and made it presentable. By 7, I was showered and dressed in a much better-smelling ensemble. I actually had a few minutes to enjoy a glass of wine before the guests arrived.

By 7:30, folks began to arrive, removing their shoes at the door and bearing gifts. I now have a bottle of red zinfandel from India, which I can't wait to try!

We didn't wait long to eat and I put everything out on the dining table, buffet-style. The curry -- an old dish to me -- was new to my Indian guests, who were happy to dry "something different" from the traditional repertoire of cream and coconut-milk based curries. Conversely, the chickpeas, done in this manner, were new to me (probably not so new to them), but I loved how all the flavors popped in my mouth and the way the dried chickpeas held their form over their canned counterparts.

I was secretly thrilled that most everyone was eating "Indian style," which means using a hunk of naan or one's right hand as an eating utensil. It was a sign of their comfort level and it meant everything to me. Sangeeta, who was sitting next to me, said, "You've done us Indians proud." At that moment, all of my hard work felt like a magic carpet ride. Wow! What a compliment.

While relaxing before ice cream, we listened to one of my favorite new CDs, "Tales of Tsotsi Beat," a mix from South Africa. Pradeep received a call from his dad calling from India while Sangeeta was text-messaging in hindi to her brother-in-law. We began making plans for a reunion in India, a place I've always wanted to experience.

When it was time to say goodbye, we didn't. Soon Ravi and Sangeeta would be living in New Zealand and the idea of their being so far away was too painful. I'm hoping a chapter of the cilantro curry club will form in Auckland.

Find out more about the Indian feast or anything else culinary on your mind, during What's Cooking, my weekly live hour of kitchen Q&A, starting at noon.

"Dry" Spiced Chickpeas

Place 1 cup dried chickpeas in a pot and cover with plenty of water, for several hours or overnight.

Cook chickpeas:
Drain cookpeas and add fresh water, just enough to cover.
Add: 2-3 cloves of peeled, crushed garlic and a hunk of peeled fresh gingerroot, about 1-inch long.
Bring up to a boil; remove scum that rises with a slotted spoon. Reduce heat and cook covered, at least 1 hour. You want chickpeas to be fairly tender; taste for doneness.
Drain chickpeas and reserve cooking liquid. Chickpeas are now ready to get spiced.

Chickpea spice mixture:
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ large onion, peeled and grated
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 hunk peeled gingerroot, 1-inch long, minced
½ jalapeno, seeded and diced
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
¼ teaspoon ground cayenne
3 cardamom pods, crushed
1 teaspoon (or more to taste) tomato paste
1 cup cooked chickpeas
water as needed
1 teaspoon salt, and more to taste

Heat oil in deep skillet or medium saucepan. Add onion, garlic, ginger and jalapeno. Stir to distribute evenly and allow to soften, about 2 minutes. Add spices and stir to combine; mixture will seem somewhat pasty. Add tomato paste; stir to combine. Add chickpeas and cook over low heat. Add water, only enough to cover chickpeas halfway, and cook, covered, until desired tenderness, at least 1 hour. Check on progress and water level every 15 minutes; add water as necessary to keep mixture from getting too dry, but idea is to keep mixture from ever getting too soupy.

Serve with rice, naan, other veggies such as chard, kale or spinach. When reheating, add a small amount of water to moisten chickpeas.

By Kim ODonnel |  October 17, 2006; 11:20 AM ET Entertaining , Vegetarian/Vegan
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

At first glance of the picture, I thought "Those are the biggest chickpeas I have ever seen." Then I noticed the rice! Looks appetizing though!

Posted by: MD | October 17, 2006 12:27 PM

At the risk of sounding lazy and uninventive has this recipe been prepared using already cooked (canned) chic peas?

Posted by: Raisin Sitz | October 17, 2006 12:27 PM

Raisin: You don't sound lazy at all. I thought the same thing while cooking my chickpeas, wondering if this is something I could make during the week using canned stuff. I think, in short, the answer is yes. The flavors will not be as layered, but it would be a satisfactory alternative.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | October 17, 2006 1:20 PM

As I just had a meeting that ran through lunch, reading this has made me extra hungry. Sounds wonderful!

Posted by: daedalus | October 17, 2006 1:38 PM

The curry looks and sounds delicious. Would you be willing to post the recipe?

Posted by: CM | October 17, 2006 1:47 PM

A small correction: I'm quite sure your friend was texting in Hindi, the language, not in "hindu".

A Hindu is a follower of the religion that was literally "east of the Indus" (AKA the "Hind" river) for the Muslims who first gave the faith a name, at least so far as we know. It is believed that before that time the "Hindus" didn't even have a name for their worship; their faith was so much a part of their lives that it had no separate identity or name.

Posted by: ex-Lahori | October 17, 2006 1:50 PM

Ex-Lahori: Egads. Yes, that's a typo. Fixing that promptly! Thanks.
CM: link to curry up above in text of story. Thanks for asking.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | October 17, 2006 2:04 PM

What are you doing with the cooking liquid you reserve from the first cooking of the chickpeas? Is this the "water" you use in the second cooking, with the spices?

Posted by: JK | October 18, 2006 10:31 AM

JK: The soaking water I dicard; it's the first cooking liquid that I reserve and use in the next step with all the spices, that are part of the sauce.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | October 18, 2006 11:03 AM

I made both the chick peas and the chicken curry and they were fantastic! Will definitely make again, maybe with some spinach in the chicken as well as cilantro. My chick pea cooking water congealed slightly after it cooled. This was unexpected. I used it in the recipe, though, and it was fine.

Posted by: NW DC | November 1, 2006 5:18 PM

I just tried this out 2 days ago. I soaked the dried beans overnight. Next day covered the beans with water, cinnamon stick, ginger pieces and star anise. Put a corning plate and cooked it at full power for 20 minutes. The beans were fully cooked. Then the usual, fry the onions and ginger and add tomatoes. Add the cooked beans. I use the packet of Chana Masala available at any store :-)and fresh black pepper. yummy

Posted by: Bangles | November 1, 2006 6:34 PM

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