Dishoom’s Chole : Black Tea Chickpeas

Over the years, my favorite Indian chickpea recipe has been the lemony khatte chhole, (the most popular recipe on my blog.) In the last few months I’ve attempted to break out of my rut, experimenting with other Indian chickpea recipes. None excited me until I found a used copy of the beloved Dishoom cookbook. Their chole recipe swept me away. The chickpeas simmer in strong black tea and steep for hours, which gives the dish a deep warmth and fragrance. I am hooked.

If you haven’t seen the Dishoom cookbook yet, I highly recommend it. There are many good cookbooks out there, but this is something special. It’s a love letter to old Bombay cafes, filled with vintage photos, a hand drawn map with personal landmarks, and carefully crafted recipes. I love that the book is organized by time of day, what we gravitate toward each hour. Another favorite recipe from Dishoom is a sweet-savory shortbread cookie studded with cumin seeds, designed to be paired with chai.

Back to the chole. Even though the recipe calls for canned chickpeas, be warned that it’s not a speedy dish. If you make ahead the onion-tomato masala and chickpeas steeped in tea, it can come together quickly at the end, but keep in mind those earlier key steps. The chickpeas need to steep in tea a full 8-24 hours. The first time I made the recipe, I hadn’t noticed that detail until I was in the midst of cooking dinner. I was able to steep the chickpeas for an hour before combining them with the rest of the meal, but when I cooked it a second time a week later and let them steep the full amount, I was rewarded with a richer flavor.

One interesting feature of this recipe is the onion-tomato masala sub-recipe, slow-tempered onions and tomatoes with ginger, garlic, chili, salt, and oil to make a base for various recipes. Don’t worry, it isn’t a lazy base “gravy” to make all of your curries the taste same. A few tablespoons of this masala will give depth to a dish, making it taste like it was cooked longer than it was, or as Dishoom puts it, “unparalleled depth, aroma, and flavor, the kind that can only be yielded from slow, careful cooking.” The onion-tomato masala recipe makes a big batch you can keep in your fridge or freezer. I kept mine in this big mason jar for a week in the fridge, ladling portions out when needed, and using the hot oil to fry eggs (then froze the rest in smaller portioned-out quantities).

Dishoom’s original chole recipe makes a small amount, only serving 2. I like to double the recipe to have more on hand for the rest of the week. The doubled quantities are what I typed here for you. I subbed garam masala for the “chana masala” spice mix which I couldn’t find at my local Indian grocery, and I switched green for black cardamom since that’s what I keep on hand for my morning tea. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

INGREDIENTS

800g canned chickpeas

6 English breakfast teabags (I used Ahmad)

2 medium potatoes (240g), halved

70g tomato puree or passata

1 tablespoon garam masala

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

4 green cardamom pods (or 2 black)

4 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 bay leaves

2 cinnamon sticks

150 g onion-tomato masala (Recipe below: 300ml veg oil, 1.2 kg white onions, 35g garlic paste, 30g ginger paste, 1 3/4 – 2 teaspoons chili powder, 30g tomato puree, 2 tsp fine sea salt, 600g chopped tomatoes )

1/2 teaspoon garam masala

2 tsp tamarind juice

2 tsp lime juice

FOR THE DRIED CHILIES (garnish)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

6 green chilies (or fewer if you prefer)

a pinch of fine sea salt

TO SERVE

red onion, diced (optional)

cilantro leaves, torn (optional)

ginger matchsticks

lime wedges

raita (optional)

bhature (suggested, but I serve it with basmati rice)

METHOD

  1. Tip the chickpeas and their liquid into a small saucepan and add an extra tinful of water. Place over a medium heat, add the teabags (don’t let them burst) and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook for 5 minutes, then take off the heat. Cover and leave to stand 8-24 hours.
  2. MEANWHILE MAKE THE ONION-TOMATO MASALA: Warm a deep, heavy-based frying pan over medium-high heat. Add 300 ml oil, let it warm for a few seconds, then add 1.2 kg white onions, finely and evenly diced. They should simmer quite rapidly in the oil, without sizzling too much; don’t allow them to burn. As the onions begin to cook, they will release some water, which will quickly evaporate due to the heat of the oil. Let the onions caramelize to a deep brown color, stirring very frequently and almost constantly. Add a splash of water, if needed, to prevent them burning. The onions are ready when they are soft in texture and deep brown in color, with no hints of burn or bitterness. This should take around 20-40 minutes. Prepare 35g garlic paste and 30g ginger paste, made by pureeing them in a small food processor with a little oil. Add these pastes to the onions in the skillet and sauté until light golden brown, stirring almost constantly. Add 1 3/4 – 2 teaspoons chili powder, 30g tomato puree, and 2 tsp fine seat salt. Sauté for 2 minutes. Add 600g chopped tomatoes, stir well and cook for about 20 minutes, stirring very regularly. The tomatoes need to completely break down and caramelize a little in the oil. If the pan starts to dry up before this happens, add 1-2 tablespoons water, and carry on cooking. Measure 150g of the masala for the chole recipe and reserve in a bowl. Transfer the remaining masala into a clean jar. Cover and allow to cool, then sore in the fridge and use within a week, or freeze in useful quantities.
  3. Simmer the potatoes in a small pan of salted water until just tender. Drain and leave to cool.
  4. Put the tomato puree, garam masala, cumin, and salt into a small bowl and mix nicely. Set aside. Using a pestle and mortar, give the cardamom pod a single, firm bash.
  5. Warm a large saucepan over a medium-high heat and add the oil. Add the bay leaves, crush cardamom pods and cinnamon sticks to the pan and let them crackle for 1 minutes, stirring often. Be careful, it may spit a little.
  6. Add the tomato puree mix, stir well for 1 minute, then turn the heat to low and add the onion-tomato masala. Sauté, stirring often, until you see the oil start to leave a paste around the edges, about 5-7 minutes.
  7. Drain the chickpeas, reserving the cooking liquor, discard the teabags. Add the chickpeas to the saucepan along with 300ml of the liquor. Bring to a gentle simmer and add the garam masala, tamarind paste and lime juice. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring regularly.
  8. Dice the potatoes into chickpea-sized pieces and add to the pan. Stir gently, put the lid on and turn off the heat. Set aside to let the potatoes warm through.
  9. For the fried chilies, warm the oil in a frying pan over a medium-high heat. Add the chilies and salt, and sauté 2-3 minutes until soft and lightly charred.
  10. Serve the chole in a deep bowl topped with various garnishes like ginger matchsticks, fried chilies, lime wedges, red onion, and cilantro leaves. Raita is suggested on the side, with bhature to scoop everything up. I generally serve it with rice instead of bhature.

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