From Khadija Ali of Tiffin's, Port of Spain
Potato Chana Curry
The foods of Trinidad are such an amalgam, not only of the produce and cooking styles of Africans, Amer-Indians, Indians, Syrians, Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, and French but also of different periods in the food histories of all those involved.
The Indians of Trinidad, for example, came all the way from the villages and towns of India, starting in the early nineteenth century, mostly to work in the sugar plantations as indentured farmhands. Despite back-breaking working and living conditions akin to slavery, they man aged to preserve their local food traditions. Over time, however, names of spices and dishes were half-forgotten or misremembered. New dishes, brought by Indians migrating from other regions of India, were incorporated into what was evolving into a separate Trinidadian Indian cuisine, sometimes disparagingly called "coolie food." Substitutions were made for original ingredients and new seasonings, either indigenous to the Americas or brought by Europeans, were added freely.
This chickpea dish is such an amalgam, and a glorious one at that. It has chives, thyme, and parsley (sold in fresh bundles in the markets as "seasoning'), which hint of the Mediterranean, it has culantro and hot habanero-type Scotch bonnets, which must have come from the original Amer-Indians, as well as a curry powder made with curry leaves (most unusual for a North Indian-style dish) and yet another Indianish spice mixture known locally as amchar masala, whose name and makeup I find most intriguing. (More on that spice mixture on page 711.)
The first time I had this dish was in a friend's office in Port of Spain. It was lunchtime and doubles were sent for. Doubles, it turned out, consisted of two Fry Bakes (fried bread, page 756) and these chickpeas, all packed up together for us in greaseproof paper. We devoured it with generous dollops of Trinidadian Pepper Sauce (page 771) and Mango Chutney (page 695).
If you cannot find culantro (sold as shadow beni or chadon bené in Trinidad), use fresh cilantro. Serve this dish with Fry Bakes, as suggested above, or any flatbread. At a sit-down meal, serve a green vegetable and a yogurt relish as well and perhaps the Tomato "Choka" (page 300).
1 ½ cups dried chickpeas, soaked and cooked according to the directions on page 26, with skins removed, if you wish, and the cooking liquid drained and reserved
2 tablespoons finely chopped culantro or cilantro
1 ½ tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives
2 scallions, white parts only, cut into very fine rounds
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves or 1/2 teaspoon dried
¼ finely chopped Scotch bonnet or other fresh hot chile
2 teaspoons salt
¼ cup peanut or canola oil
1 good-sized onion (6 ounces), peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and mashed to a pulp 4 teaspoons hot curry powder, such as Madras or use My Curry Powder (page 707)
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 X, 3/4-inch chunks
2 teaspoons amchar masala (page 711)
Put the drained chickpeas (not their cooking liquid) in a bowl. Add the culantro, chives, scallions, parsley, thyme, Scotch bonnet, and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Mix gently and set aside.
In a large, wide pot or deep frying pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add the onion and stir and fry for about 4 minutes, or until the onion pieces turn brown at the edges. Put in the garlic; stir and fry for another minute. Now add the curry powder and stir once or twice. Quickly add the potatoes, the chickpeas, their reserved cooking liquid, the remaining teaspoon salt, and enough water to barely cover the potatoes and chickpeas, about 11/4 cups. Bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low, cover, and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Stir in the amchar masala and cook another 5 minutes. Serve hot.
SERVES 4 TO 6