Saturday, November 21, 2009

Chickpeas and Avocado Salad

We bonded over blogs online, and vicinity brought us together, but it was because of their dispositions that I enjoyed being with them, meeting after meeting. I am referring to a group of immensely talented, strong, independent women, who are also really fun to hang out with, and who I am happy to now call friends.

Food isn't always the focus of our conversations, but it is certainly wonderful to be able to discuss a certain cookbook, or a variation on a grandmother's recipe, or the source for an arcane ingredient.

So when I had them over for a casual lunch, the pressure was on. While on one hand I know they will politely eat anything I offer, I definitely wanted to make something that will win their approval.

As I mentally planned the menu, considering what was abundant in the market then and their dietary restrictions, one thing that I was very eager for them to try was this simple chickpeas and avocado salad. It was inspired by a side dish I ate at a lovely urban restaurant a long time ago. It was an explosion of flavors and textures, and it was one of those things that makes me wonder how something so simple can taste so voluptuous.

I tried to recreate it at home, and loved it as much as I had enjoyed it in the restaurant, and it quickly made its way into my regular repertoire. Of course I didn't have a recipe for it to begin with, so I had to go based on the quick analysis I had done of the main flavors - a bit of onion, lemon-oil vinaigrette, some finely chopped herbs, most likely parsley. The restaurant is firmly focused on seasonal, organic and local produce, and a few first rate ingredients had made all the difference.

The recipe is flexible, so adjust to suit your taste.

Chickpeas and Avocado Salad

Chickpeas and Avocado Salad


1/3 cup of dried chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
2 Tablespoons finely chopped red onion
1 firm ripe avocado

2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1-2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/8th teaspoon red chili powder (or to taste)
salt to taste
2-3 Tablespoons of chopped cilantro (or parsley)
a bit of bold paprika (optional)


Soak the garbanzo beans for 6-10 hours in plenty of water. Drain the soaking water and cook the beans until tender. (I use about 4 times water by volume, and cook the beans in a pressure cooker with my usual 3 whistle regulation.) Drain the beans completely and let them cool.

To make the dressing, whisk the lemon juice and oil till they emulsify. Add the salt, chili powder, and whisk some more. Add the cilantro.

Chop the avocado into small bite size pieces.

In a large bowl, gently toss together the chickpeas, avocado, onion, and the dressing. Sprinkle a bit of paprika on top.

Here is an amped up version with mangoes and bell peppers.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Deliciousness has no name

Just a little dal, and some spices

For over a year now, I had been working on a project that kept me more busy that ever, with little time to spare for anything else. It used to be one crazy day after another, always racing against time. The good news is that even while I was extremely busy, I did manage to cook regularly. Perhaps more regularly than I did before, because sometimes even going out to eat was out of question.

As time was scarce, most of the cooking was simple fare that did not need me to look through recipes. There were everyday sabjis, dals, common sense pastas, rice dishes, eggs, and so on, where I could play with things on hand without having to worry about botching it up. Plenty of produce focused food, salads for lunch, fruit for dessert. Simple without skimping on flavor was always the goal. Occasional treats, recipes to try, and experiments were left for the weekend, if at all.

During this period, I also lost ten pounds, went to India, gained the ten pounds back (yes, in that order), and went to India again, but with no weight changes this time around.

I managed to make a post every few months, but when it came to reading my favorite blogs, checking feeds, or participating in events, I was hopelessly out of synch. Now I am waking up from a Rip Van Vinkle-ish sleep in the blog world. And wait, what's this I find - I have followers? Wow, who knew!

With this post I commemorate a recipe that has become a favorite in the last year or two. It just came together one day when I needed a quick and satisfying solo meal, but all I had was a scant cup of leftover plain waran, one solitary roti, and very little time or energy to do much. It was so out of this world that it got made again and again, and again, to the point where I made it my own.

The starting point is the Cooker's super duper Chincha Gulaachi Aamti, which is a very typical sweet sour dal from Maharashtra. While dals of all kinds are a common part of most Indian meals, they only rarely take center stage, and even more rarely are they paired with something other than rice.

Perhaps that is why the last part of her post caught my eye
"As children, we'd also eat amti with poli. Crumble a couple of polis in a bowl, a ladle full of amti and some toop."

That is exactly what I did, for a meal that kept me going all day. Naturally, with protein from the dal, and hardly any starch, it was the perfect lunch for a working day.

Using her original recipe, I usually add a dried red chili for a kick, and some cumin seeds to the phodni. Sometimes I replace tamarind with aamsul (dried kokum) if I don't have time to soak tamarind to make the paste.

This could be considered as a shortcut version of chakolya or waran phale, in which strips of dough are cooked in dal, similar to Dal Dhokli, for those familiar with it. Or a pasta in split pea sauce deal if you must. However, at this point, I don't have a real name for it, other than 'that dal dhokli like thing with aamti and polis, which is unbelievably comforting and tasty'.

Can two plain leftovers combine to produce something that delicious? Try it for yourself and decide. I had someone declare that they could eat this every day.


Everyday Aamti with Poli

Serves 2


2 cups waran, or cooked toor dal
1 Tablespoons oil
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
pinch of asafetida powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek (methi) seeds
4-7 curry leaves
1-2 dried red chilies, broken into pieces
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoons tamarind paste or 2 pieces of aamsul
1-1/2 tsp goda masala
1 Tablespoon jaggery

2-3 polis (or rotis, chappatis, phulkas), leftover are fine

2 Tablespoons chopped cilantro (optional)
1 teaspoon of ghee (optional, but highly recommended)


Whisk the cooked dal with a fork or whisk.

Cut the polis into 2 semicircles, stack them, and cut into 1/2 inch wide strips with kitchen scissors.

In a large wide pan, heat the oil. When hot, add the mustard seeds, and as they pop, follow with methi seeds, asafetida, turmeric, curry leaves, chili, and cumin seeds.

Add the cooked daal, tamarind paste, goda masala, jaggery, and salt.

Add a little water if necessary, and bring to a boil. It needs to be somewhat liquid-y at that this point, as the dal will thicken as it cooks. Turn off the heat after boiling for a couple of minutes when it starts to thicken.

Add in the pieces of poli and cilantro and stir gently.

Serve within minutes in wide bowls, with a swirl of homemade ghee on top. The ghee is not necessary, but makes a difference!

Sending this over to the fabulous Sra, who is hosting the Legume Love Affair. Here's how the affair carries on.


I realized that I take a lot of terms in this post for granted, but might need explanation for some, so I decided to add this reference guide.

waran: plain toor dal, usually cooked with about 3-4 times water by volume and a pinch of turmeric. 1/2 cup of dried toor dal yields about 2 cups waran.

poLI: thinly rolled out chappatis, a standard component of every marathi meals, akin to whole wheat flour tortillas.

toop: ghee (in Hindi), clarified butter.

phoDNI: tempering of dry spices in hot oil.

goDA masAlA: a marathi spice blend that is usually made at home with scores of ingredients. These days it is even available in Indian stores in the US.
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