Thursday, November 1, 2007

In Search of the Perfect Chole

I feel my search will never end. I make chole in at least 5 different ways, I keep experimenting, adding or removing ingredients, tweaking the procedure one way or another to get the taste that you get in the not-home-made chole. But the search continues. If you have ever tasted 'Havmor' (in Ahmedabad)'s chana-poori, you will know what kind of chole I am talking about. Chole in a dark thick gravy with some mysterious spices, each little chick-pea bursting with flavor to its seams. I know one thing - they use a barrel of fat in them! And I also know that I turn out to be a chicken when it comes to using a lot of oil in my cooking. Not that I don't love deep fried food - kachoris, pooris, my mom-in-law's deep fried farsaans like chakri, sev, farsi poori, peas kachoris, my mom's shakkarpaare, bread pakodas, bread rolls, samosas... bring it on! I'll never say no! :D

So, here we were, eating home-made chole, thinking about a plate of Havmor's, living in perpetual want for the perfect chole... and then we went to a pot-luck party where this lovely girl A (who I met for the first time) brought in some killer chole. It looked like the search had ended :) She sweetly sent me the recipe next day and I didn't waste a day in trying it out. The result - pretty good chole, but still in the same cadre as my other recipes. I just couldn't get mine to taste like hers! Most likely reason - my tendency for avoiding oil!! I then started tweaking her recipe and now we have moved a notch up. Our friends love those and so do we, but the search continues....

I just realized the above paragraph is good for nothing as this post is not about that recipe :D One week-night, it was pretty late by the time I got to the kitchen to cook. Saw these two chickpea cans, opened the freezer to find some frozen parathas. All set for a tasty meal! :)

My colleague Mr. K who is also an Indian (and from Delhi) knows what I mean when I say I need to get my chole right. He is a foodie like me :) He and his wife try several ways to make chole and he always brings me some to taste! A few days back he brought me a packet of 'Shaan Punjabi chole masala'. He said it’s a Pakistani brand and may be worth a shot for a different flavor. The ingredients for this brand of masala are quite different and include Baking soda and garlic. I wasn't sure if I wanted to try out the brand new masala when we were so hungry and this was the only thing I was cooking. So I decided to mix it up with other masalas. Armed with Shaan Chole masala, MDH chole masala and my home made mix of spices, and two chick pea cans I set out to make chole.

Here's the recipe-
1. 2 cans chickpeas, wash and drain. Or 3 (cooked) cups kabuli chana/chole/chickpeas soaked for 6 hours and pressure cooked with salt to taste.
2. 1 Medium onion (grated or minced)
3. 1 tomato sliced lengthwise
4. 2 tsp chopped green chillies
5. 1 tbsp ginger (grated/ground into a paste)
6. 2 cloves garlic ((grated/ground into a paste)
7. 1 bay leaf
8. 1 tsp cumin (jeera) seeds
9. 0.5 Tbsp Shaan chole masala
10. 1 Tbsp MDH Chole masala
11. 0.5 Tbsp mix of roasted and ground cumin, pomegranate seeds and coriander seeds (1 part of coriander, 1 of cumin and 1/2 of pomegranate seeds - I made this masala for one of my experiments and just happened to have some left over).
12. 1 tsp red chilli powder
13. Salt to taste
14. 1 Tbsp cooking oil

Heat oil, add bay leaf, cumin, let them get fragrant and a little brown and then add green chillies-ginger-garlic. Sauté and enjoy the aroma :) Now add grated onions. Sauté for about 10 minutes on medium-low heat. If the onions stick to the pan, sprinkle few drops of water once in a while. Let the onions turn golden brown. Once you feel onions are cooked (make sure they are, half cooked onions can mess things up totally) add everything from #9 to #13. Be careful with the salt, canned chickpeas already have salt. Sauté for a minute. Turn the flame to high and add the chickpeas. Mix well to make sure the chole are coated with the masala. Now add a cup of water, bring to a boil. Add half of the sliced tomatoes, lower the heat, cover and let the chole simmer. When chole get to the desired consistency, add a few thinly sliced onions, rest of the tomatoes on top, turn off the flame and cover.

When ready to serve, mix the chole with the onions and tomatoes on top. Onions and tomatoes would have slightly cooked with the steam. Onions lend a nice aroma when you do this. Add more water if the gravy has dried out. Bring to a boil again, garnish with onions, chopped green chillies and fresh cilantro and serve with pooris/bhaturas/parathas.


I kept tasting the chole and added masalas as I thought necessary. You can use any one of the three masalas I used or even garam masala. I think the mix of roasted and ground coriander, cumin and pomegranate seeds is the most important ingredients.

I made a quick salad to go with the chole. I had bought this bunch of different colored carrots from Whole Foods. I tasted them and was disappointed, they had no flavor, just the crunch! I assumed the dark purple carrot would be the same as 'Kaali gajar' that we used to get in India sometimes. Mom would make a Kaanji out of Kaali gajar. Its a tangy drink made with mustard, red chilli powder and these carrots. Long slices of carrots are mixed with mustard, red chilli powder, salt and lots of water. This concoction is then allowed to sit in the sun for a day or two. The result is beautiful maroon colored water with a solid tangy flavor... yummm, gotta make that someday! So back to the purple carrots - When I cut them I found only the skin was purple, I felt cheated :(( Ha ha! So after lamenting for a while, I decided to make a quick salad.

Sliced 2-3 carrots in long thin slices, did the same with 1/4th cucumber and *very* little red onions. Mixed it all with salt and lime juice to taste. Warmed 1/2 tsp oil, added 1 tsp raai ki daal (split mustard seeds) to it. Added this tempering to the salad and mixed it well. I would have loved to add slit green chillies as well, but I thought the salad might get too hot for Parthiv :)

This crunchy salad made a perfect accompaniment to the hot chole and parathas.

If you read this, I would love to know how you make chole. So do leave me a comment! I will post the other recipe I talked about, soon :D



musical said...

You girlie, you really know how to tempt foodies! Lunch time approaching, i am readng here about chhole :-D and getting serious hunger pangs!! i know what you mean by "havmor" chhole, i am in love with the chhole poori from "Novelty" in Amritsar :).

i totally love this bean, and experiment with it a lot! i haven't used the chhole masala, but here are a few things that i absolutely love with chhole.

1. A combo of badi elachi (1-2), cinnamon stick (1/2) and star anise (1/2) with ginger. garlic, tomatoes and onions. Imli or anardana give a nice tangy taste, plus brown color. Brewed black tea also gives a rich brown color. Tadka of ghee is must!

2. For street style chhole, i just keep it simple: onion,garlic and imli, plus dhania and jeera powders, just a dash of hing, just a lil' speck!

and lot many more! i just love chhole in any form ;).

And the salad is looking fabulous! i love those dark carrota! they remind of the gajar di kanji :-D.

TBC said...

I made chole yesterday! don't know if it was the perfect chole though. I like a little gravy so I added a little heavy cream while cooking. It tasted pretty darn good:-)

Ruchi said...

Yeh recipe padke muh mein pani aa gaya..I hv to make it very soon..Well, I remember once I added a little dahi after onions nd masalas were cooked, and Chole turned out somewhat similar in taste as Havmors. I dont remember exactly what masalas I used but, I hv not been able to make the same chole experimenting with chole recipe continues...Keep posting yr lovely recipes..

Sia said...

LOL... in search of perfect chole... i guess everyone goes through same phase. i prepared the chole same way my amma makes but it never tastes like that. i guess its apersonal touch of every cook which makes a differance. i use Everest and MTR channa masala powder and add little bit of kasuri methi. here is the link if u r interested in seeing how i make it. :)

Laavanya said...

I know what you mean.. something so ubiquitous & standard as chole can taste quite different and have so many tasty variations. When i get bored with the usual onion-tomato gravy, I make a semi-solid one which only has masalas but very flavorful - It's on my blog called 'Punjabi Chole'. See if it works for you... :). It doesn't need a whole lot of oil.

Sia said...

one more thing shweta, try adding kitchen king masala. it makes a lot of difference in taste.

bee said...

have you tried this?

i have been meaning to.

Shweta said...

Musy, Ha ha! And your comment made me hungry!! Man, I loved the food in Amritsar, those thalis in dhabas around Golden Temple, I am dying to go back!
Love both of your variations. Haven't tried using Star anise, it gets added next time! Thanks so much sweetie :)

TBC, I have used yogurt as a gravy base for chole, never tried creme, I can imagine how rich it would taste! This gets tried too :)

Ruchi, I do add dahi sometimes. Actually did that to the 'perfect' recipe that Ms. A gave me. Someday we'll get there :D I hope you can recreate the taste and so can I! In our Abd trip, lets try and convince the Havmor guys to tell us their big secret! :D

Shweta said...

Sia, Your chole look SO GOOD! I am definitely gonna try them out. The recipe is different from the ones I have tried till date. Thanks for the Kitchen King masala tip. And I totally agree, the cook's magic touch makes all the difference in the world!

Laavanya, Your Punjabi chole is so close to the authentic version! I love dry chole with parathas or pooris. The color of your chole looks awesome. Those with pooris will make a perfect weekend brunch :)

Bee, Yes I have!! And they were so good. Thanks for sharing the link! I sent it to a friend who tried it out and said, she loved it coz it gave her a break from 'bhoono onion and tomatoes till oil separates' routine :) And I happily agree.

Richa said...

i don't mind the fried stuff when eating out or someone makes it for me, but when it comes to making it at home, i chicken out, sounds familiar? ;) not used to too much oil & salt in my daily cooking!
for dark chole i add boiled tea water, rest is similar. never met a chole i did not like :)

sana said...

you made my mouth water by mentioning Havmor chana-poori.

Rajitha said...

love ur here i am reading and reading and then you drop a bomb at me at para 2...but i think you finally get it with the pakistani masala and you continue to murder me ;)...i understand ur desire for the perfect chole too....when i make mine..i love it..but..there is something missing..maybe i will juxterpose ur and my recipe and maybe we will hit the jackpot ;)

Asha said...

Me too, always in search perfect recipes. Chole looks yum. I have looking for prefect Naan recipes for a long time!:))

Asha said...

Oh, I have my chole too at FH!:))

Shweta said...

Richa, Yes that is so totally familiar :D I have been eyeing the dahi bhalle on your blog for quite a while now. Like you, I do believe they don't fall in the category of fried food :P I think I am going to give up and make them on diwali, they look delish!

Sana, I have had them at Havmor's just once and don't believe they could be better anywhere else!

Rajitha, I am bad right?? HA HA! I promise I will not let you down, will post that killer recipe very soon :) And yea, I have a feeling that with all the recipes out there, we will hit the spot someday! :)

Ashaji, I haven't even dared to enter the naan territory yet. I have been looking at all those yummy naans on your blog, you seem to have perfected them already! I will check out your chole recipe :)

Nags said...

chole looks so lovely.. i just had it for bfast in office :)

musical said...

Happy Diwali to you and your loved ones, dear :).

A kitchen scientist & a white rat hubby!!! said...

first time here, Shweta, the chole luks yummm

Shella said...

The chole looks yummy.

Anonymous said...

Mama here. there yet another method to make chhole. first step the ame, clean soak and boil chhole till done. drain and keep aside. mix all the dry masala (no onions and no tomatoes)and spinkle on the chhole. second steps is to heat about 200 gms of clarified butter ( sudh ghee) till it smokes and pour this ghee on chhole and immediately cover with tight lid. leave for 6-7 minutes and then mix well and serve with garnishes. this is PINDI chhola. try it, different taste, different and separate aromas. good with bhature or poori or even rice.