Cooking Indian food at home needn't always require a couple of hours and pricey trip to the nearest supermarket spice section. The dishes below are simple, fast, delicious served together with basmati rice or individually as a side to any Western-style entree. Tea-simmered chickpeas make an excellent vegetarian meal when combined with breads and a salad. Both recipes were lightly adapted from Madhur Jaffrey's excellent cookbook Quick and Easy Indian Cooking.
TEA-SIMMERED CHICKPEAS (DHABAY KAY CHANAY)
2 cans chickpeas / 1/4 cup vegetable oil / 1 t. cumin seeds / 1 chopped onion / 3 cloves chopped garlic / 1/2 cup canned and chopped tomatoes / about 1 T. grated ginger / 1 1/4 cups black tea ( Cafe Drake likes lapsang souchong for its smoky flavor) / 2-3 minced green chilies / 1 t. salt or more to taste / 2 t. ground cumin / 1 t. garam masala / 1 T. fresh lemon juice
Drain the chickpeas in a colander, rinse well and drain again.
Heat oil in a LARGE skillet over a medium-high flame and when hot, add cumin seeds. Now add the onion and fry until it browns without burning. Throw in the garlic and a few seconds later, the tomatoes. Cook until they thicken, a matter of a minute or two.
Stir in all the remaining ingredients except for the lemon juice and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Re-season as necessary and remove from heat. Sprinkle all with lemon juice and serve hot, garnished as you wish with chopped cilantro, shaved red onions, etc.
TURNIPS WITH CUMIN ( SHORVEDAR SHALJAM)
Also incredible with peeled and thickly sliced daikon; proportions and cooking times remain roughly the same.
1 lb. medium-sized turnips, each one peeled and cut into 4 wedges / 2 T. chickpea flour / 5 canned plum tomatoes, chopped + juice from can / 2 T. vegetable oil / 1/2 t. cumin seeds / 3-4 dried red chilies / 1/4 t. ground turmeric / 1 t. salt or more to taste
Mix the chickpea flour in a bowl with 2 t. of water, whisking with a fork to make as smooth as possible. Avoid lumping! Now mix in the chopped tomatoes, about 1/4 cup water and at least half of the liquid from the can. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a large, deep skillet till quite hot. Add the cumin seeds and stir for 15 seconds. Toss in the red chiles, turnips and turmeric. Stir well to coat the vegetables with the seasoned oil then add 1/2 cup water, the flour mixture and salt.
Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a mere simmer. Cover the pan and cook gently for 20 minutes or until the turnips are very tender. Serve hot.