Smile Politely

Spicy beans and greens year round

Temperatures of ninety degrees with oppressive levels of humidity tend to put the brakes on most people’s appetites here in the Midwest. But these conditions exist for extended periods in parts of India and Vietnam. So when the heat index is on the rise, I look to what people eat where it is hot and humid for months on end.

Spiced bean dishes like rajmah and chana masala which feature kidney beans and chick peas, respectively, are common in India. Sometimes they are extended with vegetables like potatoes. Others like, sai bhaji, combine yellow split peas with greens.

Though not a traditional Indian dish, this chick pea and green combination uses the spices of chana masala with the greens of sai bhaji to make a dish that can be made year round by incorporating turnip greens, mustard, kale, or spinach. It is good served hot on cold fall day or at room temperature during the heat of summer. It travels well, is even better the next day, and it can be frozen. Best of all, it was a winner at a family picnic this weekend with my relatives who are devotees of Indian cuisine as well as those whose walks on the wild side typically are limited to chili.

The spice list may seem daunting, but many will already be in your kitchen cabinet. If it’s been a while since you bought your spices, you may want to replace them. Once ground, spices like black pepper can lose their volatile oils in just three months. If you don’t have some of the ingredients, buy them in small quantities from the bulk departments at Common Ground Food Coop in Urbana or Jerry’s IGA in Champaign. You also can buy them in small bags from World Harvest in Champaign. If you have a spice grinder, freshly ground whole spices are really the way to go.

Dried chickpeas are significantly cheaper than canned, though many people are put off by the soaking and long cooking time required. However, you can make this process less arduous with a crockpot/slow cooker. CGFC general manager Jacqueline Hannah, who developed the chana masala recipe** from which this dish draws its roots, advises soaking chickpeas overnight in a ratio of one part chick peas to two parts water. Rinse them and place in the slow cooker with enough water to cover by 1 to 2 inches. Cook the chickpeas on high for eight hours the next day. This keeps the heat out of your kitchen and allows you to finish the remaining preparation and cooking in less than an hour after you get home from work. If you are strapped for time you can use 1-2 T of garam masala in the initial toasting step and 1 T of curry powder in the final cooking.

Spiced Chickpeas and Greens

  • 3 T canola oil
  • 1 T plus 1/4 t ground coriander seed*
  • 1 T plus 1/8 t ground cumin
  • 1 to 2 t ground black pepper (2 t is more traditional, but 1 t will appeal to a broader range of palates as it packs far less heat)
  • 2 1/8 t ground cardamom
  • 1/16 t ground yellow mustard
  • 1 rounded t ground clove
  • Rounded ½ t ground cinnamon
  • Pinch ground fenugreek (optional)
  • 1 c onion or sliced green onions cut into ¼-inch pieces
  • 2-inch piece fresh ginger peeled and minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 c canned, chopped or ground tomatoes or equivalent fresh
  • 1 c water
  • 3 c cooked chickpeas (see cooking directions above or use canned)
  • 2 c blanched turnip or mustard greens, kale or spinach or combination, chopped
  • (use thawed, drained, frozen greens in winter)
  • Rounded ¼ t of tumeric
  • 1 T butter
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 T lemon juice
  • 1-2 t salt
  • Crushed red pepper flakes or several dashes of chili pepper sauce to taste

Heat a large skillet over moderate heat. Add oil. When oil is hot, add spices and stir. When spices begin to perfume, add onions, ginger, and garlic. Stir to keep garlic from coloring. When onions become translucent, add tomatoes. Be careful as the mixture may splatter. Add water, chickpeas, and turnip greens and stir. Reduce heat to simmer. Add tumeric, butter, and bay leaves. Stir until butter is melted. Cook covered for 10 minutes. Add lemon juice and salt and red pepper to taste. Cook for 5 to 10 minute longer for flavors to combine.

* If you are lucky enough to have a spice grinder, use the following amounts of whole spices:

  • 1 T plus 1/4 t coriander seed
  • 1 T plus 1/8 t cumin seed
  • 2 t black peppercorns
  • 1 rounded t of hulled/decorticated cardamom seeds
  • Rounded 1/16 t yellow mustard seeds
  • Rounded 1 ¼ t whole cloves
  • 2/3 of a 3-inch cinnamon stick
  • Pinch fenugreek seeds (optional)

**You can find Jacqueline’s chana masala recipe with the rest of the Food For All recipes at Common Ground Food Coop in Urbana.

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