food, farming, friends and family: a meditation on chosen simplicity and (in)voluntary complications – life.

East Meets West: Chana Masala




I know, I know – At first glance, this is not a shining example of regional seasonal fare.  The sky was clearing this evening, hinting at a cold night and my mind went straight to one of my favorite Indian meals, a spicy chana masala (tomato-y garbanzo bean curry type dish).  Look deep into the exotic spicy goodness though, and you’ll see onions and garlic from our garden, last year’s canned tomatoes, and 2 other exciting highlights, both of which I bought from Alvarez Farm at the Ballard Farmer’s Market last weekend in Seattle:

1. A ghost pepper (insert oohs and aahs here): What is a ghost pepper, you ask?  I asked the same thing, and quickly knew by the smile in the vendor’s eyes that I was in for a treat.  The ghost pepper, or Naga Jolokia (AKA the California Death Pepper), is rumored to be the hottest pepper in the world.  Hundreds of times hotter than your standard Tobasco sauce, it puts the Habañero to shame!



I brought my bright red ghost pepper home, timidly cut off a slice and tossed it in my mouth and waited for all hell to break loose.  And waited… and waited… It was sweet, with just the tiniest bit of spice – and I was being a coward.  This first slice was from the very tip of the pepper, no chance of making contact with seeds.  The second slice: holy toledo!  The ghost pepper has its newest fan.  I’ve been using it in moderation, a few quarter sized pieces in a pot of lentils, a pinch of seeds here, a pinch of seeds there.  Spicy, but certainly not lethal.

Back to the Ballard Market and my second find:

2. local garbanzo beans! I get so excited about the prospect of locally grown beans and grains.  Particularly when they taste this good – did I mention Alvarez grows peanuts too?  An incredible farm on the East side of Washington, support them any chance you get!


Ok, onto the recipe which does, admittedly, use a lot of spices you may not have readily available.  There’s a small Indian market (that also carries a wide range of VHS tapes) in the U-District in Seattle where Neil and I stock up.  If you cook Indian food frequently, it’s definitely a worthwhile investment; if not, maybe just get a couple staples: cumin seeds and curry powder, for example.  There’s a lot of room for experimentation in this recipe, and the flavor only improves as the spices meld.


Chana Masala

(another adaptation from The Smitten Kitchen)


INGREDIENTS (serves 2 hungry people)

1 Tbs Coconut Oil or Butter

1 large onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 hot pepper (1/4 ghost pepper), minced

2-3 Cups tomato puree or stewed tomatoes

2 Cups (precooked) garbanzo beans

Spice Mixture

1 tsp ground coriander

4 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp turmeric

1 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp garam masala


lemon juice

The How To:
Heat oil or butter in a skillet on medium heat.  Add the garlic, onion and hot pepper and sauté until the onions begin to brown.  Turn the heat down to medium-low and stir in the spice mixture.  Cook for a couple of minutes; this intensifies the taste of the spices and lets the onions and garlic really absorb the flavor.  Add the tomatoes and garbanzo beans and simmer for at least 10-15 minutes.  Add salt, lemon juice and any other spices to taste (my canned tomatoes were acidic enough that I didn’t need too much lemon juice, but I cooked them longer to make them taste more stewy/smoky and less fresh).  The flavors of this dish deepen and improve the longer it simmers – that said, from start to finish, this took about 40 minutes to make.

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