My parents used to have a blue-tick Beagle called Cubbie, after the Chicago Cubs, and also Al Qaeda, due to the destruction he wrought upon the household. This animal was entirely driven by his nose. Every day, Cubbie prowled across the lawn, nostrils scanning the earth like a metal detector, until he invariably discovered that something living had passed his way. Then he would turn his bandit-masked face to the sky and bay like the Hound of the Baskervilles.
Such a sense of smell is beyond my comprehension. I’ve heard the beagle’s sense of smell described as a radio, the canine able to tune in to one of the hundreds of chemical “wavelengths” left for his discovery. A herd of deer crossed the yard about 4 hours ago; find out more at 103.7! Tune into 88.5 to find out about what happened to the groundhog from last Tuesday! Learn about changes to the neighbor dog’s diet at 101.3!
This ability to parse out an individual scent or flavor impresses me to no end, and I’m not the only one. When I read Molly Wizenberg’s lovely cookbook-cum-memoir A Homemade Life a few years ago, a passage that stuck in my head was her description of the relative palettes of Molly and her husband.
I may be the more orderly of our couple, but next to his palate, mine is a proverbial bull in a china shop, rubbing clumsily against a rabble of spices. I chew and swallow, but he concentrates, teasing apart layers of flavor.
- read more at Orangette
This does a great job of describing Stephen and I. In addition to the palate, Stephen also has a nose like Cubbie. (Thankfully, unlike the erstwhile beagle, Scheidt is disgusted rather than fascinated by nasty smells.) He enjoys figuring out unexpected flavors in restaurant dishes and deciding which seasoning tweaks would best improve a dish at home.
The excerpt above was from an introduction to a chana masala recipe, and I’m pleased to report that the dish is as spot-on as the husband description. It’s good for a tired weeknight, if you cook it at the minimum times below, or for a lazy Sunday afternoon, when you can let it stew on the stove for hours. It requires almost no chopping. It’s delicious served with easy basmati rice and store-bought naan. And it pleases all palates: ones that want to dissect every taste, and ones that just bask in the warm, spicy glow on a dreary winter evening.
Adapted from A Homemade Life
I’ve doubled the recipe here as it makes for a fantastic and filling lunch. I’ve also considerably upped the spiciness of the original, which you can undo by halving or even omitting the cayenne pepper. I also found I didn’t need quite as much oil to get things going.
For the spice blend
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons garam masala
1 teaspoon hot curry powder (optional)
6 cardamom pods, crushed with a knife
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, or to taste
4 garlic cloves, minced
For the rest
2 tablespoons grapeseed or vegetable oil
2 medium onions or 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
2 28-ounce cans whole peeled tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
4 15-ounce cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 cup plain full-fat or 2% Greek yogurt
Combine the spices in a small bowl and set aside. Warm the oil in a large Dutch oven set over medium-low heat. Add the onions, cover the pot partially and reduce the heat to low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are brown and beginning to char in spots, 15-30 minutes. (The longer, the better!)
Fill a measuring cup with 1 cup water and set it near the stove. Add the spice blend and cook 30 seconds, stirring well, until the garlic and spices are fragrant and coat the onions evenly. Add about half the water, scraping the bottom of the pan to release any browned bits of onion. Season with salt. Cook until the water is gone.
Raise the heat to medium and add the tomatoes and all of their juices to the pot. Crush the tomatoes with a potato masher until they are loose chunks (uniformity is not an issue) and bring the pot to a low boil. Simmer for 5 minutes until the mixture begins to thicken. Return the heat to low and add the chickpeas and 3/4 of the cilantro. Simmer for 5 minutes, until the mixture begins to thicken again, then add about 1/4 more water. Repeat this process again, adding the rest of the water and simmering afterwards for as long as you like, at least 5 minutes but up to 30. Season to taste with salt.
Just before serving, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the yogurt. It may curdle a bit from the acidity of the tomatoes, but fear not, it will be delicious. Top portions with any remaining cilantro and serve with basmati rice.
Dishes you might also like:
- Another fragrantly spiced vegetarian main dish: Moroccan-Spiced Butternut Couscous
- Curry and vegetables, part 1: Curry-Roasted Cauliflower
- Curry with vegetables, part 2: Curry Carrot Soup