Thanksgiving was not a holiday I really remember celebrating with my grandparents. I mean, we must have at some point but I have zero memories of it. What I do remember doing on Thanksgiving is going to New York with my mother, cousin and aunt. The cousin and aunt lived in D.C. so we’d meet in NYC for 3-4 days of theater and hotel adventures. We’d sometimes get there in time to see the Macy’s parade and we’d always see three or four Broadway or Off Broadway shows. We’d eat Thanksgiving Dinner at the hotel- for many years we’d stay at the Lowe’s Summit which is no longer there, I think. I remember their dinning room the best.
As we got older and moved out to go to college, we’d continue to meet in NYC. Sometimes it would be all four of us, once in a while we’d add others into the mix and sometimes it would be just me and Mum. It’s something Mum and I still do today and, if I may digress even more, my most treasured NYC trip was the one I took with my mother and my grandmother before she died. We stayed at the Plaza, had tea in the lobby near the portrait of Eloise and just enjoyed a three-generation girls’ trip.
My mother and I travel well together. We’re pretty similar in tastes and we’re both almost always willing to eat just about anything, anywhere. We’ve had fabulous meals in Chinatown, gourmet pizza in Chelsea, French food at Chez Josephine and roasted chestnuts on the street. There is one cuisine that we don’t eat much of, my mother and I, and that’s Indian. I’m not sure why- it’s just one of those things that we don’t think of very often. Neither one of us is able to eat really spicy things and I think the few times I’ve had Indian food I’ve had some, let’s call it gastrointestinal distress, afterwards. Mum too.
But on one NYC trip we decided to give it a shot. We ate at an expensive, very beautiful, very swanky Indian restaurant. It was on the top floor of a hotel so the view was amazing and the decor was like a movie set- lots of dim but colorful lights, pillows, gauzy materials and beautiful women in saris. We had a really nice waitress who helped us choose what to eat- nothing too spicy, nothing too likely to cause, ahem, distress later. And it was delicious. Mum and I both couldn’t believe it. We ate with gusto and enjoyed every bite.
We did not enjoy the distress a few hours later.
So much for Indian food.
Over the years, I’ve found that I actually do like things like curries (especially Thai curries) and some of the flavors and spices that are native to Indian cuisine. I’ve also found that if I make the food at home, I don’t experience the unpleasant aftereffects. Maybe there’s something about small batches. Maybe it’s psychological. Who can tell? All I know is that I will always remember the fancy Indian restaurant in NYC because while there was some yucky time afterwards, the hour or so we were eating was heavenly. And it made me want to try those flavors again.
My current favorite recipe of Indian-type food is from Orangette. It’s Chana Masala and this is the link to her recipe. I’ll post how I make it here, with my photos but it’s definitely not too far off from how she (or her husband, actually) makes it. It’s delicious served with Na’an and it’s just the thing for a cool, crisp fall night or for a freezing cold winter’s night.
Orangette’s Chana Masala
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp cumin
¼ tsp ground ginger
1 tsp garam masala
3 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
1 28-ounce can whole crushed tomatos
1 tsp kosher salt, or to taste
A pinch of cayenne, or to taste
2 15-ounce cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Heat a heavy-bottomed (Just don’t use non-stick) pan over medium heat and add enough olive oil to nicely cover the bottom- probably about 1-3 Tablespoons, depending on the size of your pot. Toss in the onion and let it brown up and even get sort of burned looking in some spots. Stir often but be patient- the longer you let the onions cook, the better the flavor will be.
Reduce the heat to low. Add the garlic, stirring, and add a bit more oil if the pan seems dry. Add the cumin, ginger, garam masala, and cardamom pods, and let them get sort of toasty by stirring them around for about 30 seconds. Add ¼ cup water, and stir to scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook until the water has evaporated away completely.
Add the tomatos. Because the original recipe called for whole tomatos and the juice, I always add about a half a cup of water at this point, just to thin it out a little bit. Add the salt. Bring the heat back to medium and let it all boil. Reduce the heat to low and then add the cayenne pepper.
Add the chickpeas and cook over low heat for about ten minutes.
Stir in 2 Tablespoons of water, and cook for five to ten minutes. Add another 2 Tablespoons of water, and cook until the water is absorbed, a few minutes more. According to Orangette, this helps build up the flavor of the sauce by concentrating it and also helps to make the chickpeas the right texture (insert one of my favorite cooking adjectives here: toothsome.). Taste, and adjust the seasoning as necessary.
I serve mine in bowls with some Na’an on the side (you can buy Na’an at Trader Joe’s or http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/ or sometimes Star Market/Shaws– just brush it with a little olive oil and put in the oven for about 5- 10 minutes to heat up. Delish!) and with a dollop of plain greek yogurt or sour cream mixed into it. The dairy adds a nice tang and a smoothness that offsets the tart-sweet-spicy tomato-spice mixture. Apparently you could skip the dairy and just squeeze some lemon over it but I’ve not tried it that way. I like my dairy.