I always say, that I can cook everything. But this is only partially true. I can cook everything – if someone shows me how to do it. I find that particularly with ethnic dishes, it’s always a matter of acquiring techniques, aside from picking the right ingredients. Then you’re good to go.
My relationship with Indian food has been a long one. When I was six, my family moved to London, and I started first grade there. Prior to moving, I was incredibly excited. I remember jumping up and down on my bed in Frankfurt and telling my father that I already knew how to speak English. And then I spoke: gibberish.
When I arrived in London, I immediately wanted to turn around and go back to Germany. The place just did not seem right. The cars drove on the other side of the road. I did love the black and elegant cabs, but the drivers also sat on the wrong side of their car! Chaos!
But I wasn’t the only one to cry: on our first night in London my brother, who was two, also freaked. He banged on the door of our interim-apartment and screamed “I want to go hooooooooooome!” My mom told him that we were home, and he would then tell her that he meant the other home. While I was okay by this point, he was very upset.
Luckily our first impression didn’t last very long and my brother and I ended up having a pretty magical time in the UK. I remember day trips to the windy beaches full of rocks and steep cliffs, punks all over London (which I found both fascinating and frightening), making pudding from Bird’s and jumping over the sprinklers in our backyard in summer. I also did not speak gibberish for long, but playing with my next door neighbor Georgina, and watching TV quickly taught me English.
I don’t have a memory of any of the British food we ate, but I do remember indulging in Indian food, particularly samosas, which my mom’s friend, who was originally from somewhere in Latin America, but who had married a Pakistani would bring to parties at our house. Later, while living in Zambia, many of my teachers were from India. So it’s only logical that I continued eating food from different parts of India and that I appreciate the variety and richness of these dishes so profoundly.
Sadly, I’m not well versed in cooking Indian food, and only managed to concoct a fantastic chana masala after my friend Kai visited us here in Cologne some years ago. He suggested we cook together that evening and he brought Indian recipes from his friends in the UK. He had just returned from a semester abroad there, where he taught some very chaotic classes full of teenagers.
The food was simply amazing and I am forever grateful to Kai for bringing Indian food to my kitchen. Soon after, I tried myself at making Chana Massala (often referred to as Chickpea Curry), with this recipe. It tasted just like the one they serve at the Indian restaurant near work.
But since curry is essentially just a word everyone outside of India uses to describe a mix of non-specific ingredients, I’ve amended this recipe. I also always make this dish in my old pan, which I keep specifically for curry purposes. The turmeric really burns itself into the pan’s coat and the next thing you fry in it, will come out yellow. It doesn’t matter how hard you scrub and if you boil water in the pan in an effort to clean it out, so if you have a pan you intend to throw away, think again. You can obviously also use ginger, but since I prefer this recipe without, I’ve not included it in the list of ingredients.
one small can of chickpeas (drained)
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
300g tomatoes, chopped (and if you like also peeled)
1 tbsp ghee (or butter; for a vegan version use coconut or vegetable oil)
1 tsp whole cumin seeds
1 tbsp ground cumin
salt and pepper to taste
½ tbsp. ground turmeric (also known as curcuma)
½ tbsp. ground coriander
¼ tsp chilli powder
100ml vegetable broth
In a pan, melt the ghee and add the chopped onions and garlic. Add the cumin seeds and fry for two minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes and cook, stirring every once in a while, for about five to ten minutes.
Add the rest of the ingredients (except for the chickpeas) and work into a smooth sauce. When the tomatoes have fallen apart, add the chickpeas. My husband doesn’t like chickpeas, so I also added Quorn for his benefit. I’m sure this would also taste great with cauliflower and potatoes or any other fun combination of vegetables and pulses.Serve with a portion of steaming basmati rice and enjoy!