Chandani Chowk,one of the busiest area in Old Delhi has been around for more than three centuries. Wiki tells me that all the merchants & invaders who ever crossed the walled city flocked past it,thus speaking volumes about its popularity and worth. The congested lanes dotted with shops selling linen,clothing, jewellery, books, electronics, footwear and what not turn so busy after noon,the peak time when the wholesale dealings begin that you could skip a breath trying to carve your way past them. Being in hurry is a way of life in this part of the city which is eternally teeming with people but has something to offer to everybody who lands here.
For me, the area is one of the best places to shop and eat if you happen to be in Delhi. It has a charm, a retro yet modern feel which is missing inside the food courts & malls.However, it is quite unfortunate that I caught on to the magnificence of the area quite late. I remember my first time there with dad and how claustrophobic I felt. In an effort to catch the glimpse of the sky, I looked up and all I saw were a cacophony of electric wires and the countless birds sitting on them, the rows of laundry sun drying and dilapidated balconies of houses, spaced at arm’s length from one another.
It was again during school years that I visited the place for our book hunting and chaat (street food) tasting hangout with friends. In those years, the Delhi Metro was still in the works and reaching Chandani Chowk from my home meant commuting through a couple of buses to a central point & then either hopping on to a rickshaw or walking down to your destination.It took effort, a whole lot of it.
I thronged the area much more during my pre wedding months, the place is a heaven for women interested in shopping for bridal gear and mom and me really looked forward to our Saturday shopping trips.We used to catch the morning metro as early as possible to get there and finish by noon before the shopper frenzy started.
For obvious reasons I skipped breakfast on those days.The food choices were unlimited and dreamy.We ate a different thing at a different eatery each time. It was on one of those trips that I discovered Chole Paneer from a street side eatery, served with ribbon thin onion rings and puffy bhaturas (fried flatbread) and hot, really hot pickle. It is fit to be the best chickpeas dish I have eaten in a long long time.Oily, spicy and creamy from soft melt in the mouth chunks of paneer, I am already salivating as I write this after so many years, so you can imagine what I mean here.
Over the years, I have come up with a recipe which (sort of) caters to the needs & tastes of my family – the husband doesnt want the ‘yellow’ from turmeric and if he had his way he would pick out the paneer too. I like how the lightly mashed chickpeas pick up the milky richness from paneer and would not give up on that ever! Although in the real world, I serve it with naan or kulcha,I bet they are no comparison to those oil drenched soft bhaturas!
For the chickpeas
(Skip this step if using canned chickpeas however I insist on starting with dry chickpeas and boiling them for the most delicious stock ever)
- 1 cup chole (chickpeas)
- 1/8 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 tsp oil
- 2.5-3 cups water
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1/2 tsp chaat masala
- 1/4 tsp roasted cumin powder
- 1 tsp ginger, freshly grated
- 1-2 Thai green chilies (adjust to tolerance)
For the Sauce
- 4 tbsp oil
- 2 cloves
- 1-2 green cardamom, split open
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
- 1 fat garlic clove, finely chopped
- 3/4 cup tomatoes, finely chopped
- 1/4 tsp cumin seeds
- 3/4 tsp red chili powder (adjust to tolerance)
- Salt to taste
- 3 oz paneer, cut into cubes
- Lime juice to taste
Garnishes – Chopped Cilantro, Onion Rings, Sev (Fried Chickpea flour Sprinkles), Lime Wedges
Soak the chickpeas overnight in enough water.Drain and discard the water and transfer the chickpeas to your pressure cooker. Add salt,soda, oil and water and pressure cook for 4-5 whistles or till 95% cooked. Please adjust the cooking time & number of whistles depending on your variety of chickpeas. Once cooked, drain the chickpeas, and reserve the stock. While the stock is still warm, mix the chaat masala , garam masala, cumin powder & grated ginger with the chickpeas.Also add the green chilies and set aside.
In a pot, heat up the oil on high heat. Take off the stove and add the cloves, green cardamom and bay leaf.Wait till the whole spices crackle.Return to stove and add the chopped onion and garlic. Saute on medium heat till onions begin to brown, about 3-5 minutes.Add the chopped tomatoes next along with cumin seeds and red chili powder. Cook on medium heat till the tomatoes soften and you see oil separating on sides of the pot. At this point, add the chickpeas to the pot along with the stock. Taste and adjust the salt. Cover and let the chickpeas cook on medium low heat for 30-35 minutes or till they are completely soft. At this point, with the back of the spoon, lightly mash the chickpeas once they are soft. Add the paneer cubes to the pot and cook for another 5-8 minutes till the paneer softens and the sauce thickens. If you want, you can add little water to thin out the sauce.
Squirt lime juice and let sit for 1-2 hours before serving. When ready to serve, reheat and if you feel that they are too dry, add little bit of water, simmer again and serve. Garnish with cilantro, onion ring, sev or lime wedges.
Enjoy & Thanks for stopping by!