30-minute Chana Masala and some blabber

Ever since I heard that a renowned Indian food personality was going to be answering home-cook's and reader's questions on preparing Indian food at home in the New York Time's dining blog, I was looking forward to the Q&A. Afterall, she is an author of various Indian cookbooks and she also hosts an Indian cooking class so I was interested to hear what advice she would give to the home-cooks worldwide.

Unfortunately though I was disappointed. Why? Well, I felt her views were a lot rigid for my taste. For example, she says that store bought spice blends like garam masala (or even cumin powder) have 100% loss of flavor compared to roasting and grinding spices at home and hence one should never buy store-bought blends but instead make our own every 3-4 months. On a question about improvising Indian spices in various dishes, she answers that the spices can not and should not be improvised in Indian dishes; there is a logic to which spice should go in which dish and the logic should be followed.

Now, on face value, I agree with everything she said. Yes, we know that home-made spice blends made from toasting and griding whole spices is much better than store bought ones; yes, there is a logic in which spices go in which Indian dishes, and yes, home-made paneer (like home-made cheese) can not compare with store-bought one.

But, this is where I disagree: I disagree that one should never buy store-bought garam masala; I disagree that it lacks 100% in flavor. Yes, there is logic in spice combinations, but I disagree that you need to always follow the logic rigidly and not improvise or adapt spices to what suits you.

Indian cooking to me is not about slogging in the kitchen for hours at end following rigid rules. It is instead about incorporating all these fragrant spices, each with unique colors and flavors in your cooking, in your own way, in what suits you and your family the best. It is about making these spices your own! I don't think Indian cooking should be considered as a collection of rigid rules of spice combinations and recipes that should be followed by heart; but instead, our food, like us is unique to each and every one of us and thats where lies the beauty of it!

If you have time then you should definitely make home-made garam masala and roast and grind whole cumin for cumin powder and make home-made paneer everytime you crave saag paneer, but here is the thing, life happens.. Most of the home cooks today are juggling various roles: some of us are professional individuals, some of us are busy parents of toddlers and teens, some of us have many other responsibilities and some of us have all of the above. 

It is not always possible to make home-made spice blends every 3-4 months and it is not always possible to make home-made paneer everytime you want to cook paneer. I don't think that should ever be a deterrent for anyone wanting to cook more Indian food. Indian food for me. In this world of obesity, fast-food and takeouts we got to encourage more people to cook at home and share a healthy home-made meal on dinner table, if the cost is that they use short cuts like canned and store-bought, I don't think there is any reason to discourage that.

Yes, we all agree what the best is -- but don't let not reaching the best, deter you from attempting something good, may not be the best but its still good! Don't let best be the enemy of good... what do you think about this topic??

Okay, now, I stop my blabber right here and go straight to the recipe. Today's recipe makes the same point in case. On many days when I come home dead-tired this chana masala has saved the day. It uses all the short-cuts of all sorts but it is sure to bring a very tasty dish to your table in less than 30-minutes!

1Tbsp vegetable or canola oil
1 onion - chopped
2 small green chilis - chopped (more or less to adjust the heat)
3 medium cloves of garlic - smashed
1/2in piece of ginger - chopped
2 tomatoes - chopped
1 can chickpeas/garbanzo beans
1C water
1/4tsp mustard seeds
1/4tsp cumin powder
1/4tsp garam masala
1/2tsp coriander powder
1tsp tamarind paste
chopped cilantro for garnish

  1. Heat oil in a large pot. When hot, add mustard seeds and wait for them to pop.
  2. Add chopped chilis and onions. Sauté on medium-high heat until onions start to brown.
  3. Add ginger & garlic and sauté for a couple of minutes until aromatic.
  4. Add rest of the spices (cumin, coriander powder and garam masala) and sauté for a minute or two.
  5. Add chopped tomatoes and cook until oil starts to separate from the tomatoes. (Add a bit of water if the tomatoes start to stick to the pan).
  6. Drain and rinse the chickpeas and add them to the pan. Add 1C water and cook covered for 10-15mins or so.
  7. Then using a potato masher mash the chickpeas in the pot itself to break a few of them so that the end dish has a more thick consistency.
  8. Remove from heat. Add tamarind paste and taste. Adjust the seasonings per taste.
  9. Add chopped cilantro and serve with some chapati or naan.
Serve with some hot chapati or naan or some pita breads and a yogurt raita (simplest one would be some yogurt, chopped mint or cilantro, salt, vinegar and a bit of black pepper).