Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Chana Masala and the Housewife

I don't know where in the line of marital progression I became a 50's housewife, but somewhere in my wedded adventure, I did. Almost every evening (unless we've other scheduled events) my husband opens the door to our condo and says, "Hi, I'm home," followed by, "Oh! The house smells amazing." He stumbles down the stairs into the kitchen where I'm waiting, spoon in hand, ready to give him a taste of whatever's bubbling away on the stove. I never thought I'd be the wife who cooks dinner for her man every night. As a child I announced to my mother, after a long scuffle over the importance of cooking for one's family, that I didn't need to cook because I was going to HAVE a cook. Let's be honest here. I proposed that as the high powered CEO I was destined to become (I've always liked to be the boss), I would not only have a cook, but a chauffeur, maid, and nanny to boot. I have no idea from where these high-falutin' ideas emerged but, from a young age, I definitely had a plan. A plan that did not include my current role as "husband feeder".

I must say, there are a few items that differentiate me from a 50's housewife (besides my disdain for jello molds) . One: I do not wear a dress and heels in the kitchen, or ever really. My man feels blessed if he can catch me in a pair of jeans and a blouse but more often than not, he arrives to find me with sweaty face and frizzy hair, wearing his 5 sizes too big sweat pants and a stained tee. Ah, marriage! Two: I don't clean. When I cook, which is always, my wonderful husband cleans every dish, pot, pan, and spatula. Sometimes he dives into cleaning mode before I'm even done making dinner. Growing up I thought men were allergic to the combination of dish soap and water because I NEVER saw my father clean a dish. Perhaps that was the impetus for my CEO dreams. My mother reared 3 children, cleaned house, and cooked every meal with little domestic help from her partner. My father came home every evening to sit in the warded off "grown-ups" room, sipping on a scotch and reading the paper, until dinner was ready. When my mother sent us in to fetch him, my father would lift his day-wearied frame out of his deep armchair, slowly walk to the table, place his napkin precisely in his lap, and wait to be served. After gorging himself on chicken and broccoli in curry sauce, turkey meatloaf or any other of my mother's dishes, he'd let out an enormous sigh as if taking in his first breathe of the entire day, thank my mother for dinner and promptly head for our overstuffed couch for a post-dining nap. He rarely took in his plate and never offered to clear the table. I soon realized that in this situation my father was most certainly the CEO, and that's exactly where I wanted to be. My eight year old mind also found their dinner interaction to be a HUGE injustice for my mother and so vowed to never be anyone's "servant".

What I didn't understand at the time was my mother actually enjoyed their dynamic. Granted she wished my father helped more with clean up but she honestly enjoyed serving him. It still gives her great pleasure to make his favorite meals, place them on his plate, and hear the resounding praise. What's completely freaky is that I too seek out the same kind of acknowledgement from Gray. He can't get past bite three without my asking, "So, how is it? Do you like your dinner? Would you say this is a favorite??" OY, I am becoming my mother!!

Honestly though, I do have the best of both worlds. I am the CEO of JAMIE|LIVING and, as part of my job, I cook delicious food for the one I love. I'm not sure how to reconcile the chauffeur, maid, and nanny bit but I'm not going to try and figure that out now.

So, here's what my 50's alter ego whipped up for last night's on-the-go dinner: Chana Masala. Gray and I had tickets to a concert and he wanted to meet at the theater. "Should I eat before I get there?", he asked. I swear I don't know how he survived before me! I told him not to worry and that I would bring something for dinner. I had just read Molly Wizenberg's husband's recipe for Chana Masala so I thought, why not? I didn't have all the spices required so I kind of fudged it. When a lovely cumin spiced cloud filled the kitchen, I knew I had a winner. At 8 pm I arrived at the Fox theater food in hand, waiting for Gray. I must have looked quite odd, like some sort of bizarre, and obviously lost, delivery person. When we finally connected, I handed Gray his food, instructing him to devour it before we walked in. He open the container, threw back a quarter-cup sized bite and exclaimed, "Babe, this is epic!" I doubt any perfectly coiffed 50's wife ever got a compliment like that.

Chana Masala
Serves 4

I know it seems like a lot of ingredients, but it's not, really. This dish comes together so quickly yet it tastes like you've been cooking for hours. If you don't have cloves or nutmeg, feel free to use 1 teaspoon of garam masala.

1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1/2 an overflowing teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 an overflowing teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 pinch ground cloves
1 pinch ground nutmeg
A few good grinds of black pepper
1-2 teaspoons sea salt, to taste
1/4 cup plus 4 tablespoons water
One 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes (I used San Marzano)
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Pinch of cayenne
2 15-ounce cans garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained

In a medium stock pot or Dutch oven, pour in the olive oil and heat up on medium. Add the onion and cook until deeply brown. This may take a bit of time but be patient and don't worry if the onions get a little black in places. It will enhance the flavor.

Reduce the heat to low and toss in the garlic, cumin, coriander, ginger, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, black pepper and salt and cook, constantly stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add 1/4 cup of water and scrape up the brown pieces from the bottom of the pan. Cook until the water evaporates. Pour in the juice of the tomatoes and then the tomatoes themselves, breaking each up with your hands as you add them.

Raise the heat to medium and bring the pot to a gentle simmer. Add the cilantro and cayenne pepper and cook gently, occasionally stirring, until the mixture reduces and thickens, about 5 minutes. Add the chickpeas, stir well, and cook for another 5 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons of water and cook for 5 minutes. Add another 2 tablespoons of water and cook for 5 minutes.

Adjust the seasoning if need and squeeze in a bit of fresh lemon juice. Serve over basmati rice and enjoy!

**According the Molly, the adding and cooking off of the water helps to concentrate the dish's flavors and softens the chickpeas.


  1. Looks great Jamie, but how many cups of Chick peas go into it?

  2. OY! For some reason the amount of beans didn't post. It's 2 cans of beans for the recipe. Thanks!

  3. you are hysterical!!!! And I have the same ideas. Maid chauffeur butler


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