काला चना का सूप (Kala Chana ka Soop - Black Chickpea Soup)

काला चना, or black chickpeas, are among my favorite legumes. They aren't available in cans here in the US, though - so if you cook with them, you will have to buy them dried and then soak and cook them - which means that cooking requires some extra planning and time. On the upside, many grocery stores (at least here in DC) are beginning to expand their Asian foods section - just yesterday I saw kala chana at Wegmans. If your local store doesn't carry black chickpeas, however, explore the nearest Indian grocery.

This recipe uses the black chickpeas as the basis for a soup broth. You won't need all of the chickpeas after cooking - the extras can be sprinkled on salads, processed into hommous, or eaten however else you'd like - or you can keep them as a part of the soup if you prefer.

As with my previous black chickpea recipe, this requires the use of a pressure cooker - if you don't have one, you'll need to increase the cooking time for step 1 to 1-2 hours, or until the chickpeas are tender.

काला चना का सूप (black chickpea soup) (~4-6 servings)
1 cup dried black chickpeas, washed in 3-4 changes of water
6-7 cups water
2 1" sticks of cinnamon
4 black cardamom pods, lightly crushed to break the skin
1/2 tsp. salt
1 T. ginger-garlic paste (store-bought or make your own by grinding together 1-2 cloves garlic and a quarter-sized piece of ginger)
1 15 oz. can tomato sauce
2 T. vegetable oil
1 quarter-sized piece of ginger, cut into matchsticks
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 T. ground coriander
1/4 tsp. ground tumeric
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
1/4 cup fresh cilantro (including stems), chopped

1. Soak the chickpeas overnight in enough water to cover them by 2 inches. Drain and place in pressure cooker with water, cinnamon, cardamom, salt, and garlic-ginger paste. Secure lid and cook over high heat until high pressure is reached, then cook 3 minutes more. Remove from from heat and allow the pot to depressurize on its own (approx. 20 minutes). Open the lid and check to see if beans are soft. [If beans are not soft, add additional water, cover, and bring to high pressure and cook another 1 minute.]

2. Transfer the mixture to a large cast iron pan or other large pot [if there is too much liquid, remove some and save it to add as liquid evaporates during cooking]. Stir in the tomato sauce and cook over high heat for about 5 minutes, then reduce heat to medium-low and continue simmering for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

3. Heat the oil in a medium saute pan over medium high heat. Cook the ginger sticks (stirring frequently) until golden, about 1 minute. Add the cumin seeds, coriander, and tumeric in quick succession and cook about 30 seconds. Stir in diced tomato and cilantro and cook for 1-2 minutes more.

4. Set a strainer or colander atop the pressure cooker pot and pour soup mixture through in order to separate out chickpeas. Remove and discard cardamom pods and cinnamon sticks. In a food processor, combine tomato mixture and 1/2 - 1 cup of cooked chickpeas and process until smooth. Add this back to the soup, along with additional liquid and some whole chickpeas (~ 1/2 cup), if desired. Return soup to a low boil over medium heat and simmer for a few minutes until heated through.

5. Serve with fresh chapati/roti, or if you don't want to make fresh flatbreads, with crackers or a few slices of store-bought crusty french bread.

Food on the Fly - DC

Between gigantic snowstorms that shut down the nation's capital for much of early February and travel for work and fun, I've been a bit remiss in posting recently. However, I would like to mention a couple of great places that I have come across recently in my quest for good food in DC...

First, DC sweet teeth have been taken by cupcakes for a couple of years now. However, places like Georgetown Cupcake, CakeLove, Baked & Wired, etc. have one major problem - they aren't very accessible to a large fan base, most of whom are stuck in offices all day and don't have the time to sojourn to Georgetown, U St., or other locales for a cupcake. Enter DC's new favorite trend - mobile eateries that carry their food in a van or truck and drive around downtown until they find a parking spot - then using Facebook and Twitter to broadcast their location. Born of this trend is Curbside Cupcakes, which makes some of the best cupcakes I've had - not too big or too small, priced decently ($3 - it sounds steep, but is actually spot on for perennially-overpriced DC), and most importantly, open to suggestions from their fan base. A few weeks ago I suggested carrot cake, and lo and behold it was on the truck this week (although with a plain cream cheese frosting, not the ginger-infused topping I'd suggested - I guess I'll have to experiment with that on my own). Another fan requested chocolate with a minty green top for St. Patrick's Day and yesterday and this weekend the truck has pulled up at Shamrock Fest and the DC St. Patrick's Day Parade with green cupcakes in ample supply.

Another purveyor of street food that I keep my eye on is Fojol Bros. of Merlindia. They aren't active right now - their latest update says they plan to be back on the streets mid-March (coming right up!) - but last summer their truck of (mostly) Indian food delights attracted large crowds wherever it stopped. In addition to Indian-style curries (both vegetarian and meat-based) served in a range of sizes, they help DC-ites beat the heat with lassipops (frozen lassis) in flavors like ginger and mango.

If you are in the mood for tasty curries before Fojol Bros. hit the streets again, and you happen to be near McPherson Square or Farragut North, check out Spice Express Indian Bistro, with locations at 1025 Vermont Ave. NW and 1020 19th St. NW. A lunchtime plate of rice and two curries (generous portions all around) costs $6.99 + tax. I recently had their palak paneer and chana masala and found both to be excellent. The bistro also has wraps, single curry plates, and other specialties.

An added bonus if you patronize these places - both Fojol Bros. and Spice Express use primarily recycled and biodegradable materials for their carryout boxes and flatware.