Whenever a simple, delicious dish — like this spicy chickpea curry — is placed next to me at the table, it doesn’t just make me happy; I become protective of it in a selfish, rabid dog sort of way.
This recipe is based on Indian khatte channe, which is grounded on good Indian home cooking — but to be fair, it could also have easily been born out of a 1970’s hippie cafe in which cheap eats and a flair for the exotic were popular. In fact, Moosewood Restaurant and its cookbooks always come to mind when I cook this stew. But no matter where it came from or how it found its way to my table, I can tell you that there is a lot to like about this pasta, from the first forkful of twisted noodles loaded with tangy sauce to the last spoonfuls of creamy chickpeas.
I could start with the fact it is vegan, but that will scare some of you off, just as if I said it was gluten-free. In this case it is both, but the good news is that after you try this dish, it won’t really matter.
What does matter is how easily it comes together and the fact it can easily come from your pantry. When I make this, I head to the pantry with a tray in hand and begin by collecting all my ingredients and equipment.
What stands out during the pantry search-and-seizure is tamarind concentrate. It is a bit of an oddball ingredient, but one I always have on hand. Unlike tamarind paste, which requires soaking and straining, this concentrate dissolves easily in water. It has the consistency of molasses, and it gives this stew its characteristic tang. A popular substitute for tamarind is equal parts lime juice and brown sugar, but this only works when a small amount of tamarind is called for in a recipe, so it probably wouldn’t work here. If you like Pad Thai and ever wanted to cook it at home, tamarind really is an essential ingredient to have on hand.
When it comes to curry powder, I prefer Madras — I like the fragrance of kari leaves — but feel free to use your favorite. For more heat, you can add more cayenne; just be sure you know how hot your curry powder is before you get too crazy.
As always, when it comes to caramelizing onions, I don’t know how long it will take for them to become a deep, dark brown. It could be 15 minutes or 45, and maybe more depending on your pan, the heat, and the sugar content of your onions. I do know, however, that you shouldn’t cheat yourself; color them deeply, as they are essenial to this dish.
Assuming you have done your prep, once the onions are caramelized, this becomes a dump-and-pour procedure followed by a short simmering period just for good measure.
Spicy Chickpea and Sour Tomato Curry with Pasta
Two 14.5-ounce cans of chickpeas, drained
1 to 2 tablespoon tamarind concentrate mixed with 1/2 cup of water (more tamarind will make the dish more sour)
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups yellow onion, julienned
1 tablespoon fresh garlic, minced
2 cups tomato sauce
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 teaspoons Madras curry powder, or your favorite kind
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, coarsely ground
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Cilantro, green onion, or both
1 pound thin long noodles: wheat or rice or gluten free, use whatever floats you boat
1. Place a 3 1/2-quart heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add 3 tablespoons of oil to the pot and then the onions. Season the onions with salt. Cook the onions, patiently, until they begin to brown and become deeply colored. Stir them often enough that the onions on top brown at the same pace as those on bottom. Don’t do this too fast; you want melted, gooey onions, not seared onions. Take your time; it takes a while.
2. Once the onions are browned to your liking, add the garlic. Once you smell the garlic, add the turmeric, curry powder, cumin, and cayenne pepper. Give it a stir then add the tamarind, tomatoes, chickpeas and ginger. Reduce the heat and let the sauce simmer. Taste the sauce for salt and adjust as necessary.
3. Cook the noodles.
4. Once the noodles are done, drain them, and put them on a platter. Top the noodles with the chickpea stew and top with green onions or cilantro or both. Serve.