Megan-simple, winter-friendly Chana Saag (chickpeas with spinach)

January 23 2014 | Guest post by Sunny
By: Maggie Hoffman - CC BY 2.0
By: Maggie HoffmanCC BY 2.0

The winter blues are advancing here. The holiday lights have been packed up and stored, the produce is sad and flown in from really far away, and we still face months of cold and snow. So a friend and I decided to kick the winter blues with a totally irrational midweek, co-hosted, spicy Indian meal with ten fabulous friends!

This Megan-simple recipe from our menu turns out to also be super fast, vegan, gluten-free, inexpensive, winter-friendly (frozen and canned ingredients totally fine) and yummy! This simplified recipe relies on ingredients that are easily available in a fairly well-stocked pantry, or everyday grocery store. Don't be frightened by the long list — this is actually very easy to make.

Ingredients:

Our full menu:
-Pulao with spicy ground lamb
-Brown Rice
-Chana Saag
-Vegetable Korma
-Raita
-Lots of champagne, wine, and locally crafted beers
-Random leftover holiday sweets for dessert

  • 1 12 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 4 tablespoons canola oil (or other vegetable oil. If you are not vegan, replace one tablespoon with butter)
  • 2 teaspoons black mustard seed (okay, that's the one ingredient you may not have in your pantry. If you don't have it, substitute ½ teaspoon yellow mustard powder)
  • 1 large diced onion
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • ¾ tsp dried ginger
  • 3½ teaspoons curry powder
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 10 oz. packages of frozen spinach
  • 2 cans chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
  • Cayenne pepper (optional)

Prep:

Line up your ingredients on the counter. The cooking goes super fast, so you don't want to be hunting through your cabinet for the spices. Measure your spices EXCEPT for the mustard seed and cayenne into a little bowl. Chop your onion. If you don't have a garlic press, chop your garlic. Open your can of tomatoes. Open your cans of chickpeas and rinse them in a colander. Leave them in the colander. If you want rice with your meal, pop it in the rice cooker now.

Recipe:

  1. Heat a large sauté pan or wok on medium high. Add the oil and let it heat through just until a drop of water added to the pan sizzles.
  2. Do you have black mustard seed? If not, skip this step. Add your mustard seeds to the oil. Let them sizzle in the oil for two minutes (they may begin to pop). Shake your pan to keep them from burning.
  3. Add the onions and sauté for 5-7 minutes, until the onions are getting translucent.
  4. Add the garlic and sauté for another two minutes. If anything is getting brown, turn your heat down a little.
  5. Add the spices and salt, stir constantly for one minute. (Didn't have black mustard seed? Then this is where you will be adding the yellow mustard).
  6. After a minute, pour in ½ of your tomato can and sauté for another minute. Add the remaining tomatoes and sauté for another minute.
  7. Add the chickpeas and sauté for another minute.
  8. Add one bag of spinach and sauté for another minute.
  9. Add the last bag of spinach and sauté for another minute.
  10. Taste — Would you like more heat? Add a pinch or two of cayenne pepper and stir well.
  11. If there is no liquid left in our pan at this point, add ¼ cup water. Allow to simmer for five minutes.
  12. Taste — would you like more heat? Add another pinch of cayenne pepper. More flavor? Sprinkle on more salt, curry powder, and/or garam masala.

Tips for beginning cooks:

  • Curry powders and garam masala vary dramatically in their ingredients. Try out different ones to see what you like. Some may have hot pepper added, so be cautious with adding the cayenne until you have tasted.
  • Freshness impacts flavor. So you may find that you need to add lots more curry or garam masala, or you may find that it tastes perfect with the amounts listed here.

Tips for intermediate and advanced cooks:

  • Curry powders that contain saffron are more expensive, but provide a nice flavor profile for this dish. I love Penzey's Maharajah curry powder, but I also keep my own homemade blend on hand.
  • Garam masalas often contain cumin, because it's cheap (the Laxmi brand that you can find in most Indian stores is mostly cumin). I prefer using a garam masala that has no cumin. I usually blend my own with peppercorns, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, and bay leaves. If I have to use a prepared one, I like Penzey's the best (it also has coriander and caraway), and Frontier second. If you are stuck with a cheap one, skip the cumin in the recipe and substitute more garam masala.
  1. YYYYYYYEEEEEEESSSSSSS to this recipe. I've made a different one before, but I'll try this variation for sure. Nothing takes the edge off of winter like a bowl of hot spicy veggies.

    I do not have a "sophisticated palate" so if I am missing 1 spice out of the 10-20 that go into a recipe, I don't miss it. But I do need to get some black mustard seed since it seems to be coming up a lot.

    1 agrees
    • I bought black mustard seeds on a whim a few years back (before that, I just left them out or added some dry mustard). It turns out they add really fabulous flavor! If you want to amp up your rice, you can always toss in some black mustard seeds, a stick of cinnamon, some cumin seeds and a dry hot pepper (or several) while cooking. (If you want to get super fancy, toast the seeds for two minutes in a saute pan first). Remove the cinnamon stick and dried peppers after, of course.

      1 agrees
      • Great tips for the rice! I also saw on a cooking show once that you can add a couple lentils into your rice cooker along with the spices you mentioned for even more flavor too.

        Most of the recipes I make call for either curry powder or garam masala but not both, so I am intrigued by this.

        1 agrees
  2. We had a different chickpea curry last night! For those of us who don't buy chickpeas in cans (I buy them dry and cook them myself), about what volume of chickpeas is "2 cans"?

    I should see if our grocery store carries black mustard seed. I have a few other (Indian) recipes that call for it, so having some on hand wouldn't be a bad idea… (I do already have yellow mustard both as whole seeds and as dry powder, though…)

    2 agree
    • Yay for using dried beans – great flavor, and cheap! I rarely have the time and patience, unfortunately. Make sure that you have cooked them a little beyond the minimum, as they will dry up just a tad when you saute them.

      Yeah, there are lots of great variations out there. The picture you see up there appears to have coconut milk in it – I'm a big fan of adding in a can of coconut milk, though you might need to amp up the spices.

      It works out to around 1 3/4 cups of cooked beans per can.

      1 agrees
    • I also prefer to cook my own beans. I measure and freeze them 2 cups per quart bag, that's usually the right amount for us when a recipe calls for a can. I may end up adding more spices and/or liquid, but I'd probably do that anyway.

      2 agree
  3. This sounds so tasty, and a perfect substitute for a meat-meal. I love cooking with chickpeas. They are so yummy!

    2 agree
  4. Yay! I was already planning to make some sort of legume curry for dinner tonight and I'm only short one ingredient.
    Curry is on heavy rotation in our house for beating the winter blahs and avoiding the "fresh" produce section.

    3 agree
  5. I don't usually cook, though I am capable of cooking. I wouldn't mind trying out a "megan-simple" recipe like this. But I don't own most of those spices (I was not kidding when I said I don't cook). Oh, except cinnamon, which I bought to sprinkle on my apple sauce. So the purchase of spices is somewhat discouraging.

    2 agree
    • I feel ya. I STILL have like 6 or 7 completely full thingies of spices that I had to buy for the my cooking challenge. That's why I think I'm gonna try and make this one, I totally have most of the ones listed!

      3 agree
    • See if there is somewhere you can buy spices in bulk. I buy just the amount I need of certain things from the bulk spices section at my local natural foods co-op. I think some ethnic stores will let you buy spices in bulk too. That way you can buy just the amount you need to try them without spending a crazy amount for something you might end up using one and throwing away in 10 years when you can no longer remember when you purchased it and it isn't good anymore anyway.

      5 agree
      • I buy my spices from a dedicated spice shop. It's cheaper to begin with, they give me a discount when I bring my own containers (which I bought at the dollar store) and they're much fresher than spices that have sat on the grocery store shelves for God knows how long. They also have a much wider and more interesting selection. If there's one in your area it's worth it.

        2 agree
  6. Any chance of a Megan-Simple Vegetable Korma follow up? I *love* Indian food, but am intimidated by the idea of cooking it.

    3 agree
    • Sure! I didn't make it in a Megan simple method, but let me try to simplify it a little bit and submit it. Maybe I can do a Megan simple version and a slow food version 😉

      4 agree
  7. Yay Indian food! I'll definitely be making this some time.

    Also, that entire menu sounds delicious! I wouldn't mind more recipes from it, Megan-simple or not.

    3 agree
  8. I literally finished making this 5 minutes ago and am eating it right now. ZOMG. I never make food this good. Maybe I need more Megan-simple recipes. The good news is, I was out of curry powder but just dumped in the last of my garam masala and a packet of ginger teriyaki seasoning I randomly had lying around, and it worked great. Also, I second the idea for a Megan-simple veggie korma, as well as chana masala or aloo gobi. Last time I tried aloo gobi I got hot oil spatters all over my arms.

    1 agrees
  9. Made this last night. It was really good. The best thing about it though? The leftovers made an amazing hummus for today's lunch. Just puree the left overs, adding a little oil if needed and some lemon juice.

    3 agree
  10. This recipe was so good! Thanks so much for posting. I made it last night for a big dinner party for 23 ladies and also made a Nigella Lawson curry, but this one was by far the stand out. Can't wait to make it again!

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