Sunday, October 18, 2009

Cranberry Beans go Indian

Chana Bazi with Poori is a very traditional Indian dish, chickpeas in a tomato-ish gravy with a piece of big puffy bread on top. I love it. I've have been eating it ever since I came to New York and used to go for very cheap Indian food on First Avenue around the corner from 6th street at a place called Milon.

My friend Ansell first took me there in 1986. We were both vegetarian at the time and the chickpeas were an appetizer, if I remember correctly, and only cost a couple of bucks. They easily made a meal and with the cheap beer you could bring yourself from the corner deli this quickly became one of my favorite places to eat. The thing I liked most about this dish at Milon was how buttery the sauce was and how soft the chick peas where. I also am a big fan of poori. It still seems kind of mysterious to me how they manage to get to puff up like that, it's like the bread version of a puffer fisher.

Things certainly have changed on 6th street and at Milon. After a while we started to feel more flush and ate downstairs at the larger and somewhat fancier Royal India. Now in order to go to Milon you have to pass the dueling door men - right next store is another, competing Indian restaurant, but you have to climb the same set of stairs to reach them both.

Then there is the jungle of hanging lights, truly it's a wonder there is anywhere to sit there are so many lights. When I used to go it was very third world bleak, which I have to say, I preferred, it seems a more authentic experience then the one you get now.

Just last week I was wandering down 6th street and realized that when I first came here and went to Taj Mahal with my friend, the dear and sorely missed friend Peter McGhee, all the restaurants on 6th street where Indian. Now there are 3 Japanese restaurants - sushi, home cooking and macrobiotic, a southern food place, an Ethiopian place and a new European pub looking place. Little India is giving way to restaurant row.

Speaking of change here is my version of this venerable dish, made with local ingredients in a more assertive manner then what you used to get at Milon, and I don't make the poori. I find a thick slab of homemade whole wheat or white bread does just fine. Homemade pear chutney and some Hawthorne Farm yogurt make wonderful accompaniments.

Spicy Indian Stewed Cranberry Beans

Cook in a pot of lightly salted water 1 1/2 pounds of cranberry beans, about 2 1/2 cups (remember when you buy these in the shell you need to double the weight so to get 1 1/2 pounds of beans you need to buy 3 pounds of beans) until tender about 10 minutes, drain the beans and reserve cooking water for later use. Set the beans aside in a bowl covered.

In a large cast iron frying pan or a heavy bottomed pot heat 2 T of Canola oil and 2 T unsalted butter until hot, but not smoking, add 2 T grated fresh ginger, 2-4 (I used 3) jalapeno peppers, stemmed seeded and finely chopped, 2 teaspoons cumin seeds, 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds and fry for a few minutes, when the cumin seeds have turned a darker shade and have become aromatic add 2 large roughly chopped tomatoes, 1 teaspoon of Tumeric, 1 heaping teaspoon of both Chat Masala and of Garam Masala.

Cook over medium heat until the tomato has broken down - about 10 minutes. Add 2 T chopped parsley, 2 T chopped Cilantro, 1 teaspoon of sea salt, the beans and 1/2 cup of the reserved cooking water, turn the heat down and let simmer for about 15 minutes.

Taste and season with salt and freshly grated black pepper, more chopped fresh herb (another 2 Tablespoons each), serve in a big bowl with lots of good bread and a chutney. A great meal for the cold months ahead that tastes better after sitting in the fridge a couple of days.

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