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Eric Akis: Caribbean-style curry elevates chickpeas, potatoes

Aromatic, flavourful chana aloo curry can be served with rice or roti — and be as spicy or mild as you like
Chana Aloo Curry, a Caribbean-style dish rich with chickpeas, potatoes and bold seasonings. ERIC AKIS

Chickpeas and potatoes are pretty humble on their own. But that deliciously changes when you season and simmer them in a Caribbean-style dish called chana aloo curry.

Chana and aloo are, respectively, Hindi terms for chickpeas and potatoes. Curries made with these staple Indian ingredients, and other ones, were introduced to the Caribbean in the early/mid-1800s

Around that time the British Empire abolished slavery and many formerly enslaved Africans left the Caribbean sugar cane plantations where they had been forced to work. Indentured (contracted) labourers from India and surrounding countries were then brought in to work and with them came their culinary traditions.

Making and eating curry was one of them. And in places such as Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Jamaica and other tropical locales, those curries would become an important and much loved part of their cuisines as well.

Curries made in the Caribbean incorporate local ingredients and taste preferences, why they vary in taste from Island to Island and differ from curries made in other parts of the world.

When researching Caribbean recipes for chana aloo curry I noticed that no two seemed exactly the same. But most used a generous amount of curry powder and other individual spices, which were awakened in hot oil before the other ingredients were added. The latter, in my version of the dish, included onions, canned chickpeas, cubes of potato, vegetable stock and green seasoning.

Green seasoning is a flavourful, Caribbean-style, sauce-like mixture that blends such things as herbs, vegetables and ginger. It can be used as a marinade for meat and other things, and as flavouring for curries and other dishes.

As with those for chana aloo curry, green seasoning recipes vary. My version blends together such things as cilantro, parsley, celery, onions, green onions, ginger, thyme and spicy red pepper flakes.

In many recipes for chana aloo curry and green seasoning, scotch bonnet peppers are added. And in my recipes, if you like things very spicy, I give you the option to do that. Be sure to wear rubber gloves when chopping and handling these fiery hot peppers and be careful not to put your fingers near your eyes or skin.

Chana Aloo Curry

This aromatic, very flavourful, Caribbean-style curry is rich with chickpeas (chana) and potatoes (aloo). Serve the curry with rice and roti or other flatbread. You’ll find roti for sale at some grocery stores, often in the deli department.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: about 25 to 30 minutes

Makes: three to four servings

2 Tbsp vegetable oil

2 Tbsp Madras curry powder or mild to medium curry powder

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/8 tsp ground turmeric

1 medium onion, diced (about 1 cup)

1 (19 oz./540 mL) can chickpeas, drained well, rinsed and drained again (see Eric’s options)

2 cups peeled, yellow-fleshed potatoes, cut into 3/4- to 1-inch cubes (about 3 to 4 medium potatoes)

1 1/2 cups vegetable stock, plus more, if needed

4 to 5 Tbsp green seasoning (divided; see recipe below)

• salt to taste

Pour oil into a medium pot set over medium, medium-high heat (my pot was eight inches wide and four inches tall). Mix in the curry powder, cumin and turmeric and cook until very aromatic, about 30 seconds. Mix in the onion and cook and stir two minutes more. Add the chickpeas and potatoes and cook and stir another one to two minutes.

Pour in the stock, and then mix in 3 Tbsp of the green seasoning. Bring the curry to a gentle simmer (smalls bubbles should just break on the surface). Now adjust heat, as needed, to maintain that gently simmer.

Simmer curry, uncovered, until potatoes are very tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Mix in a bit more stock, if you find the curry too thick. Mix in 1 to 2 Tbsp more of the green seasoning. Taste the curry and season with salt, as needed, and serve.

Eric’s options: If you like things very spicy, add 1/4 to one small scotch bonnet pepper, or 1/4 to 1 small habanero pepper, seeds removed and finely chopped, to the curry when mixing in the chickpeas and potatoes. If you want to use dried chickpeas for the curry instead of canned, set 2/3 cup dried chickpeas in a bowl, cover with a generous amount of cold water and soak eight hours, or overnight. Drain soaked chickpeas, then set in a pot. Add six cups of fresh cold water, set pot over medium-high heat and bring chickpeas to a boil. Reduce heat until chickpeas gently simmer. Simmer chickpeas for 60 to 70 minutes, or until they are tender, but still nicely holding their shape. Drain chickpeas well and they are ready to use.

Green Seasoning

This fresh, vibrant green Caribbean-style seasoning blends together herbs, vegetables, ginger and hot pepper flakes. Use it to boldly bolster the flavour of curries, stews, soups and other dishes needing a lift.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: None

Makes: about one cup

1 cup packed cilantro leaves

1/2 cup packed parsley leaves

1/2 cup thinly sliced celery with some leaves

2 green onions, sliced

4 large garlic cloves, sliced

1/2 cup diced red or yellow onion

1 1/2 tsp chopped fresh ginger

1/2 tsp dried thyme

• pinch or two red pepper flakes (see Eric’s options)

1/2 tsp salt

1 to 3 Tbsp water

Place all ingredients, except water, in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Now pour in 1 to 3 Tbsp water and pulse to combine and create a thick green sauce.

Transfer green seasoning to a jar, seal and refrigerate until needed. It will keep several days in the refrigerator (see Eric’s options).

Eric’s options: If you like things very spicy, add 1/4 to one small scotch bonnet pepper, or 1/4 to 1 small habanero pepper, seeds removed and sliced, to the green seasoning before blending it. The leftover green seasoning you have after using some in chana aloo curry could be frozen, as you would pesto, to thaw and use at another time.

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Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.