A while ago I noticed this (scroll down to Oct 2004): Lee Chase, vegan and former brewmaster at Stone Brewing Co., preparing a Chana Masala dish with Stone IPA. India Pale Ale as an ingredient in an Indian dish – this seems like a perfect match. Through personal experience and some research I’ve found that hoppy beers intensify the heat in spicy foods, which works very well for me as Indian cuisine is my absolute favorite and I’m a self-proclaimed “hop head.”
I decided to get creative with the chana. Instead of using store bought curry powder or pre-mixed garam masala, I made my own spice mix. It was mostly based off of a recipe I found in Flavors of India. I changed a few of the ingredients, but I still found this to be much more authentic than any store-bought stuff (especially better than the stuff from the supermarket – seriously, how many Indians do you know named McCormick ??) So, the first step in this recipe is to make the garam masala. I suggest doing so, but if you don’t feel it’s worth the trouble, at least try to get your pre-mixed garam masala from a local Indian grocery store.
Making the garam masala mix:
The most time-consuming part of this entire recipe is getting the cardamom seeds out of the pods. A huge pain in the ass, but trust me, you do not want to bite into the pod. Often, Indian restaurants leave the seeds in the pods, which is a very unpleasant surprise. It tastes like poison. You can speed things up using a good mortar and pestle. Crush a small handful of pods, then dig out the seeds from the crushed shells. After that, the rest is simple.
Garam masala spice mix:
1/8 cup cardamom seeds
1/8 cup whole cloves
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon white peppercorns
1 piece star anise, broken into pieces (or 1/2 tsp. fennel seeds)
1 teaspoon cumin powder (or 2 tsp. seeds)
2 teaspoons cinnamon
Toast everything but the cinnamon in heavy frying pan (I used a cast iron dutch oven) until the spices begin to smoke (10-15 minutes), stirring frequently. You can also roast them in an oven at 200 for about 15 minutes. When toasted, add to a coffee grinder with the cinnamon and crush into a powder. If you don’t have a coffee grinder, you can use a mortar and pestle.
Making the Chana Masala
4 (or more) dried red chillies
1 tablespoon black mustard seeds
2-3 tablespoons Earth Balance
1 onion, chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon diced ginger
1 tablespoon garam masala
2 teaspoons cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
4 cups cooked chickpeas
2 cups crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon soy lecithin
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup IPA or Double IPA
1/2 onion, chopped and cilantro for garnish
Toast the mustard seeds and chilies in a heavy pan (I used the same dutch oven I toasted the garam masala spices in). When the seeds start to pop, remove and set aside. Add 2 tablespoons of Earth Balance to the pan and saute the onions and garlic for 5 minutes. Add the ginger, cumin, garam masala, turmeric, mustard seeds, chilies and chickpeas (note: I soaked mine over night and cooked in the pressure cooker, but I’m guessing it’s about two cans worth). Stir to coat the onions and chickpeas in the spices. Cook for a few minutes, then add tomatoes, another tablespoon of Earth Balance (optional), lecithin (for a buttery flavor) and salt. Cook until the tomato liquid is nearly gone – about 20 minutes. Add in the beer and cook for another 5-10 minutes. Serve with rice (I used organic gaba brown basmati – excellent!) Garnish with the chopped onions (this is not an optional step! The raw onions make it so much better) and cilantro.
I used a bottle of the unfiltered version of Weyerbacher’s Double Simcoe. I’m a huge fan of the regular Double Simcoe and had picked up a 750ml bottle of the special release a few days before making the chana. I expected it to be a perfect hop-bomb, but have to say I was very disappointed. The beer is way too carbonated and the hops seems significantly muted by the loads of yeast in the bottle. More hop bitterness than floral/citrus hop flavors. Nonetheless, I’ve read that high carbonation and bitterness are two of the main factors in the hop-spice reaction. I felt the chana got an extra kick from the beer, but I think standard Double SImoce or a nice regular IPA like Stone’s, Southern Tier ‘s, or Yard’s IPA would have been far superior.
Anyway, the chana was great. My best attempt at Indian food so far. I think the trick is lots of spice and oil, to the point where you begin to question whether you’re overdoing it. Also, I’ve been burned a few times at Indian restaurants when I learn there is “a little bit of dairy” in something. The Earth Balance and lecithin give it that you’ve-been-lied-to flavor you come to expect. The spices paired very will with the unfiltered Double SImcoe, but don’t be afraid to add even more heat or more hops. I think this recipe is far from the limit in both respects. Enjoy.