Chana Dal

Sabera is one of my very favorite bloggers. Over on One Life to Eat, she shares simple recipes from her homeland, India. Sabera has taught me a few of the subtle techniques in Indian cooking that really make the spice combinations sing. Like dropping black mustard seeds in hot oil to hear them crackle and pop before sauteeing the onions. The aroma of the spiced oil is amazing and immediately reminds me of my favorite chana masala dish at the small Indian cafe in our neighborhood.

A couple weeks ago, there was a beautiful 60 degree, sunny day…seems like ages ago now, as we’ve been stuck back in the high 30s with gale-force winds for days on end. I took advantage of the good weather and got my bike out for my first ride of the season. I went down to the Indian/Pakistani area on Devon Avenue in Chicago to stock up on spices and lentils so I could make a few of Sabera’s recipes. Biking down Devon is a sensory experience. As you coast down the small hill into the Indian corridor, the smell of spices wafts from open shop doors and the aroma of roasting meats from the Kebab houses makes your stomach rumble. Biking also allows you to take in all the sights at a slow pace, so you can stop and wander into any shop that looks interesting – not to mention that parking a bike is MUCH easier than parking a car in this bustling neighborhood.

Patel Brothers
grocery is a spice-lover’s haven. The walls are lined floor to ceiling with cubbies full of spice packets, many of which are unfamiliar to this Midwestern woman. Luckily, Patel is well-staffed, and I had a personal guide through the shop to help locate everything on my list – and then some. Returning home, I dove into the kitchen to soak some chana dal (split chickpeas) so I could make this dish the next day. This is a really simple dal, and I loved the heartiness of the split chickpeas which retain most of their structure after the dal is made. Sauteeing the onions with the whole spices and curry leaves really made a huge flavor impact on the finished dish. I don’t often cook with curry leaves, but every time I do, I’m reminded of how important they are, adding a wonderful fragrance to any dish and a light curry flavor without a lot of heat.  If you enjoy dal, I’d encourage you to give this one a try!

What’s your favorite kind of dal, or your favorite chickpea dish? Share your chickpea obsessions in the comments below…

Chana Dal
Adapted from One Life to Eat
Serves 6

2 T olive oil + 1 T coconut oil
2 cups Channa dal (Split Chickpeas) washed well and soaked overnight in a large bowl, covered in at least 3″ of water
1 large onion chopped
1 can diced fire roasted tomatoes
3-4 curry leaves
1 T black mustard seeds (same as brown mustard seeds)
1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
4 cloves chopped garlic
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 T fresh grated ginger
3/4 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp Garam masala
Salt to taste
A large handful of chopped cilantro
Lemon wedges for garnishing

  1. Heat large dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the oil, and when it’s hot and shimmering, add the mustard, cumin seeds and curry leaves. When the seeds start to pop and splutter, add the onions and saute until the onions are translucent and soft – about 5-7 minutes.
  2. Add the ginger & garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and cook until heated throough. Add the chopped bell pepper and add all the dry spices and cook for another 5 minutes.
  3. Drain off all water from the soaked chickpeas, rinse and add to the pot. Add enough water to almost, but not quite cover the beans. Cover, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer until the beans are done, but not mushy – about 2 1/4 hours. Stir the beans occasionally as they cook. (Note: bean cooking time will vary, so it may be more or less time for you). If the beans soak up all the liquid while cooking, you can add a bit more as they cook.  Add salt to taste.
  4. Chop a big handful of cilantro and stir it in at the last moment, reserving a few leaves to garnish each bowl. Serve with brown rice, or Indian breads (roti, naan, paratha). Add a wedge of lemon with each bowl for seasoning.
300 cal per 1 cup serving, 45 cal from fat, 9g fat, 410mg sodium, 150mg potassium, 43g carbs, 8g fiber, 4g sugar, 15g protein

Basil Hummus

When I took the gluten-free plunge 8 years ago, I found parties to be particularly difficult. I LOVE food (as you may have guessed), and the sight of a party table loaded with treats that I could not eat made me so sad. At the start of my long climb back to real health, I ate a very restricted, simple diet to help heal my wounded digestive system – “snack” foods were out. As I racked my brain for ideas of what I could bring to a party to eat – my love affair with hummus began. I then arrived at every party with a platter of chopped veggies and exotically flavored hummus in hand.

Homemade hummus is worlds better than most of what you find stacked in shiny plastic tubs at your local grocery. And if you take the extra step of cooking your own chickpeas (Rancho Gordo, of course) – you’ll really have something revelatory on your hands. Once you’ve got your chickpeas cooked, all hummus takes is a few ingredients and a spin in the food processor to make a high-protein snack that satisfies.

This particular version is my summertime favorite – a hummus that is green in color from all that fresh basil whipped into the beans. While the season is currently far from summer, I did stockpile a bunch of pureed basil and olive oil in the freezer for these cold months, so I popped a couple of the thawed herb cubes into the mix.

Now that I’ve learned to eat wide and deep into the world of fresh foods, I don’t feel at all handicapped when attending parties and my dish-to-pass is likely a little more interesting than a bowl of hummus with veggies. A scoop of hummus and a bag of chopped veggies is still a favorite treat for afternoons at the office, and my friend Rachel also reports that her 2 year-old daughter loves this hummus,  so it’s a kid-approved snack too!

What’s your favorite way to enjoy hummus? Share your thoughts in the comments below…

Basil Hummus
Serves: a party

1 clove garlic
3 cups of home-cooked chickpeas
6 T tahini
2 T olive oil
1/4 cup water
juice of half a lemon
dash of cayenne
1/2 cup packed basil
salt & pepper to taste
  1. Combine the tahini and olive oil in a measuring cup and stir to combine. Set aside. Combine the water and lemon juice in a cup and set aside.
  2. Place the clove of garlic in the food processor and pulse until minced. Add the chick peas and cayenne and puree for a minute until pulverized. Scrape down the bowl. With the machine running, pour the water and lemon juice in slowy. Stop and scrape down the bowl again and add the basil leaves. With the processor running, slowly drizzle in the tahini/oil mixture. When the mixture is smooth, stop to taste it – add salt & pepper to taste. If it still needs to be thinned out a bit, add in a little more water and pulse for a few seconds to incorporate. Serve with hearty tortilla chips, crackers or veggies.
  3. Alternate variations for hummus: Instead of basil, drop in a couple of roasted red bell peppers. Or, add a hefty spoon of your favorite mild chile powder or smoked paprika for an exotic feel.

70 cal per 3T, 30 cal from fat, 3.6g fat, 75mg sodium, 80mg potassium, 7g carb, 2g fiber, 2.6g protein