[Food] The legend of Delhi chole bhature/Garbanzo/Chickpea curry
Delhi summers in 2003 were so great. The streets were nice. Not that hot in the summers. Less noisy and less polluted. People were nicer. It was a utopia considering what we have made of it now.
I remember Summer vacations during those years. My father would wake me up at 6:00am in morning so we could go swimming in the local municipal pool. My uncle, who is quite a good swimmer would join us there. He taught me how to swim, or how not to drown. Swimming never excited me. I mean, I am closer to the highest peak on the planet than to the closest beach. What really excited me was Chole Bhature which we would have on random days and a glass of refreshing Lassi. I could smell it while I was swimming. That spiced, rejuvenating, depression-resistant Chole with fluffy, soft, steamy, and stretchy Bhature. I could eat a lot of them.
For my western readers, Chole Bhature is a typical Delhi Street food. Chole is basically Garbanzo and Bhatura is a fluffy, fermented, and fried bread. Bhature is the plural of Bhatura. If you go to New Delhi and do not have them, I will personally call the Indian Embassy to not grant you a Visa again on grounds of disrespectful behavior to sacred cultural elements.
The bhatura would stretch and try hard not to break and then once the bhatura bonds give up you have a piece of it which you dip and scoop in curry. Then place it in your mouth and see the whole thing melt in your soul.
Never order take away. The Bhatura bread ages fast. Its expected life span is only 5-10 minutes. It becomes a sorry piece of lumped dough. Always eat them hot. Preferred with carrot pickles.
There was a great family shop near the Municipal sports facility — Nagpal Chole Bhature. Delhites from around Ashok Vihar might know this place. The shop was in a mad rush once we came back from swimming. The scene there is still fresh in my memory. I would be in the line, while my father and uncle would chat.
The line was quite huge and it was a Delhi Queue. In a Delhi queue, the visual representation of the queue is anything that is not a line. People are spread out and they remember who is ahead of them and they keep an eye on them. It is a social linked list. Standing in the queue, I would come up with folk stories on why does my name not get called. It is all very Larry David.
Maybe, I am just a kid? So my order is not important.
The big chap there is a friend of the owner, so he gets his order first
Did I order too less? Maybe small orders are low priority
Then eventually, someone before me gets the order, and I get excited to get my order. Then he misses me and all of a sudden gives me three plates of bustling hot Chole Bhature. My father saw me and helped me with the plates at our standing table.
Let us make today exciting today. There are hardly any good Indian Restaurants in Spain. The ones here are British Indian Restaurants. It is because perceptually that is what Spanish people think of as Indian food. Hence, the market serves the demand.
Yada yada! and I miss Chole Bhature here.
So, I decided to dedicate a whole series of experiments to trying to come up with my own recipe for Delhi Chole. What you are about to read now is the result of several months of careful experimentation and eating. Lets get garbanzoing!
What do we need
- Bhuna Masala from the Bhuna Masala Recipe
- Cardamom (Black/Bengal one preferred but Flying tiger - green- ones work too)
- Baking Soda
- Chole Masala (I prefer National one. Other brands like Everest, MDH will work fine too. Available in most Indian stores)
If you cannot source it, do not worry. Use cinnamon, lemon juice, nutmeg, a bit more garlic, and clove in your cooking. Too complicated? Write to me, and I will send you a packet. 😃
- Potatoes (optional)
The most important ingredient of this dish. Do not mess it up. Go for big and pale types. If you live in Spain or Southern Europe, you should go for Garbanzo Lechoso. Otherwise, go to the nearest Indian store to get a pack of them. Try not to buy the canned or jar ones. Of course, if you live in Greenland or Antarctica, you may! Also thanks for reading.
Soak the garbanzos overnight. Add a pinch of salt to the water when soaking. One cup is good for one meal for one person. Do not keep them in your bedroom. They make haunting creaky explosion sounds when the water is absorbed by the seeds. A fridge is the best place to avoid them going bad.
Wash the garbanzos you soaked overnight. They might have been double the size.
I use a pressure cooker. It saves a lot of energy, especially important now. You can use a pot too. Add the washed garbanzos to the vessel and add water. If you are using a pressure cooker - add 2-3x water to Garbanzo (1 cup garbanzo=2-3cups water). Double this if you are using a pot.
Cook it at medium heat. You can smell how the Garbanzo changes after every whistle. First, it is very bland, then it smells slightly like a garbage can (due to amino acids breaking down probably), then the smell neutralizes and becomes pleasant. Turn the heat off now. It is usually 5-6 whistles. Let the garbanzos cool. Open the cooker and remove 1/3-1/4 of the garbanzos. Do not throw them. Keep them aside. This is trick #1 to achieve dynamic contrast in the final output like old boy Nagpal used to do.
Now, we have a pot/cooker of 2/3 of garbanzos and 1/3 of garbanzos in a saucer.
Put the cooker back on the heat and add the Bhuna Masala to taste. Mix it up. See the vessel is heated up. The garbanzos are hustly bustly, summer saluting with the bhuna masala. Become darker. Now add chole masala (1-2 tablespoons for every cup of garbanzo). DO NOT MIX. We want to achieve the Maillard reaction here. This is trick #2. Now add crushed cardamom. If you are using small green ones, one is enough for two cups of garbanzos. Cardamom has quite a strong note and we do not want it to take over everything.
Now add 1/2 tablespoon of baking soda in a spreading manner like you feed your pigeons. You will see the foam form and it instantly smells delicious. The vessel has to be hot for this to work. You may now mix and close the lid. Wait for one whistle or 10-15 mins. Lightly mash the garbanzos. Do not worry, they won't resist.
Now add the earlier 1/3 cup of Garbanzos back in. Mix it and let it cook for a few minutes. So, we have garbanzo in a garbanzo curry. The addition of precooked garbanzos provides the characteristic dynamic contrast that Delhi chole bhature has. There is now a bite-ness or a crunch.
The Pros can add some potato wedges to the thing too.
This amazing curry can be served with rice, parathas, or the original bhatura.
Let me know how did it go! My name is Rohit and I hope you enjoy the recipe as I did.