Sure, sure, it sounds easy enough. Truth be told, it isn’t hard. What could be difficult? Canned, yes you heard right, canned chickpeas. Canned tomatoes (I know, again with the canned!). Some onions, some spices, and Bob’s Your Uncle, Chana Masala. What isn’t spoken of is the obsessive tweaking, the endless variations, and an order of said dish in every restaurant that makes the stuff. This isn’t a life long quest for me. I fell in love with Chana Masala several years ago at a friend of friend’s pot luck, party, fund-raiser thing. Balancing glass and plate in hand, wandering the table of offerings taking a spoonful of this and a dab of that, I almost passed it over. Very unassuming, chickpeas in tomato sauce, I thought. Pass. Well, maybe not. I like chickpeas, ok, a spoonful on the plate. A few moments later, in the middle of doing the very awkward, sip from your drink, hold your plate in the same hand as the glass so you can put of bite of food in your mouth, smile, chat a bit while trying not to spill anything on the lovely carpet it happened. My first bite of Chana Masala slipped through my lips, seductively played with my taste buds, and slid away. Whoa, what was that? Another bite, the last one on my plate. Now I was eyeing the buffet table, and scouting a quiet corner where we could be alone. I inconspicuously made my way back to the table, took a another spoonful, ok, two, and backed into the corner by the bookcase. Sweet tomato, with an underlying smokiness, and a hit of tang. The meatiness of the chickpeas and the spice that started at the front of your tongue and then gently filled your mouth with heat and left a slow burn. Hooked. I was totally hooked. I started collecting and making recipes from the internet. I visited every Indian restaurant I could to taste their version. I went to the bookstore and copied recipes from cookbooks. Over the last several years I’ve been refining and adjusting the same recipe over and over again. I think I have a version that works on so many levels. But of course, those levels would be the ones I define.
That is the best thing about cooking at home. You get to decide how you want your food to taste. Sure, use a recipe, but use it as a guideline. Don’t like chickpeas? Try this recipe with cut up cauliflower, or add a bunch of different veggies and create an Indian ratatouille. Hate cilantro? Leave it out. You get to be the magician and create your own magic. So make my recipe, and then stand there, hand on hip, taking bites and deciding what you like and don’t like. Scribble your thoughts on the margin so the next time you make it, it’s already your recipe. Really, you’re gonna have to trust me, it’s so much fun!