All I think of at the first sight of pomegranates in the grocery stores is to fold the plump ruby jewels with sweetish velvety yogurt and pair the raita with some kind of a spicy pilaf. ToÂ me,Â pulao/pilaf is a very 'to taste' thing in indian cuisine. It is like an assortment of things with any sort of grain, mostly rice in our caseÂ - quick, one pot but hearty. On days when mom was not in much of mood to cook, she would make some kind of a pulao - withÂ vegetables,Â beans, driedÂ lentil nuggetsÂ orÂ chicken. There would be pickles, salad and raita to serveÂ along.
Come November and the knock of winter winds brought with itself a sudden rush of green and fresh produce in the vegetable bazaars of Delhi.After long, humid and harshÂ summers,the next few months presented a respite and a chance to indulge in cooking and eating.OnÂ few Saturdays I would accompany mom to the sabziÂ bazaar. WrappedÂ in my favorite pashmina shawl, we walked out of the house for an early evening stroll and later to purchase vegetables for the week.Those few hours were spent inhaling the crisp autumn air and watching how the nip in the air got people out of their homes, the pleasing sights of street food carts beaming with everybody, eating, chatting and sharing a quick snack with families.We stopped here and there to get buy and bargain fresh eggs, bread and dairy before reaching the sabziÂ bazaar.Most of the faces at the bazaar were known, for it has been a place of trade between the same set of people for decades.
Mom would patiently listen to household stories of few sabzi wallas(vendors), of theirÂ children not studying at school or the gas prices going up. Few complained about government not doing much for the poor and few praising their farms for such fine produce. In India, such is a way of life, so may day-to-day people slowly connect to your life and you do not even realize, it is how the society operates.I always loved to tag along with her for grocery trips just to observe how sheÂ would choose vegetables - touching them, sniffing a few, closely inspecting each pieceÂ below the flickering bulbsÂ on the stalls ofÂ thela-wallasÂ (street vendors with wooden wheeled carts),she took her time to select. If few of the vendors were in a mood, they would slice off a couple of apples or pluck few greens andÂ let her taste before buying.Thick,dark-skinned capsicum to yellowish cauliflower heads to fragrantÂ methiÂ (fenugreek)Â andÂ soaÂ (dill) bunches to rubyÂ kashmiriÂ anarÂ (pomegranates) and apples, each sample of produce brought with itself an opportunity for deliciousness.
The onset of winters also meant there would be lots of wholesome,hearty meals in the house full of warm spices and herbs. There would be exotic,rich curries and layered biryanis and indulgent desserts. Mom would make a lot of quick rice dishesÂ to keep our stomachs nourished & satisfied.Â The house would be enveloped in the pungentÂ aroma of mustard oil andÂ earthy fragrance ofÂ basmati riceÂ bubbling on the stove. This is one of her favorite recipes which I have changed to our liking over the years, she did not add bell peppers or potatoes, but I love the combination of both of these with chickpeas and rice so I do it more my way now. AÂ weekly regular in our house withÂ all kinds of variations each time.
Chana Pulao (Spicy Chickpeas Pilaf)
To boil Chickpeas (Skip if using canned chickpeas)
- 1 cup raw chickpeas
- 2.25 cup water
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ⅛ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon oil I use avocado oil
For the Pulao
- ¾ cup basmati rice
- 1.5 tablespoon yogurt
- ¼ teaspoon Garam Masala
- ½ teaspoon kashmiri red chilli powder or paprika, this gives the color
- 4 tablespoon cooking oil I use avocado oil
- ½ inch cinnamon stick
- 1 twig mace skip if not available
- 1 large bay leaf
- 2 cloves
- 1 small black cardamom skip if not available, or use green cardamom instead
- ½ cup onion chopped
- 2 garlic finely chopped
- 1 medium tomato ½ cup
- 1 large potato cut in quarters
- ½ cup red bell pepper
- 1 teaspoon fresh ginger julienned
- ½ teaspoon salt or to taste
- 1-2 tablespoon ghee to finish(optional
- chopped cilantro to garnish
Boil The Chickpeas
- Soak the chickpeas in enough water overnight or atleast 8-10 hours. Drain & discard the water and add the chickpeas to the pressure cooker along with baking soda, salt, water and oil.
- Pressure cook for 2-3 whistles on medium heat or till chickpeas tender. The cooking time and number of whistles will depend on quality and size of the chickpeas and also on pressure cooker. I use small variety chickpeas which pressure cook in about 20 minutes. If you do not have a pressure cooker, use a heavy bottomed pot with lid or your dutch over to cook the chickpeas for roughly 45-50 minutes or till fork tender. Once the chickpeas are cooked,drain and reserve the liquid (stock). Set aside.Skip the above steps if using canned chickpeas. Open up the can and run the chickpeas under a stream of water, drain and set aside.
- Wash the basmati rice 2-3 times under a running stream of water till the water runs clear. Soak in 1.5 cups of water for 15 minutes. (You can do this while the chickpeas are cooking).
- Mix the yogurt with garam masala and kashmiri red chill powder. Set aside. For vegan version, skip the yogurt and add these spices when you add the tomatoes.
- In a wide bottomed heavy pot with lid (I use my 3 qt dutch oven), heat up the oil on medium flame.
- Add cinnamon,mace bay leaf and cloves and cardamom. Wait till they crackle and you smell a nice aroma. 5-10 seconds.
- Add the onions next. Cook till they are light brown. About 5-6 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes and garlic next along with red chili and turmeric powder. Cook for 2-3 minutes just till the tomatoes begin to soften. Reduce heat to low and add the yogurt mixed with spices.
- Gently stir on low heat incorporate the yogurt in the masala. Cook for another 1-2 minutes on low heat till the masala starts getting shiny and turning deep reddish- brown in color.
- Add the potatoes & ginger next and cook for another 1-2 minutes.
- Drain & discard all the water from the soaking rice and add soaked rice and chickpeas to the pot. Do not stir. Measure and add the required quantity of stock (reserved from boiling chickpeas) to the pot. The quantity of stock added should be added as required by your variety of rice(My rice variety cooks in 2:1 ratio of rice to water, I add 2 tablespoon extra stock ). (In case you are using canned chickpeas, add chicken/vegetable stock or plain water).
- Once you have added the water, taste and adjust the salt of the liquid (normally it should be little extra salty at the beginning since the rice will soak up the stock).Gently stir now (else the soaked rice will break) to mix.
- Once the rice has soaked, cover the pot with a lid and bring to a boil on high heat. Once boiling, reduce heat to low and let cook covered for another 8 minutes. After 8 minutes, open the lid and add the bell peppers to the pot and very lightly mix them in with the help of a fork. Cover and let cook on low for another 2 minutes. After this, put off the stove and let sit for atleast 15 minutes.
- Open the lid and add the ghee(if using) along with cilantro and gently fluff the rice with fork. Serve.
- You could use canned chickpeas and cut down the cooking time toÂ halfÂ but I recommend starting with dried chickpeas and cooking them in water because the resultant delicious stock will flavor the rice immensely.