Vegetarian Indian, two ways


We recently hosted a backyard dinner for neighborhood friends. One half of the couple has gone vegan for health reasons and, in an effort to accommodate her regimen, I created a recipe for vegan “koftas,” or meatballs.

Having overprovisioned, I had a lot of surplus ingredients, so I ended up making chana masala, a chickpea vegetarian curry, later in the week.

The flavor profile for both dishes is similar — classic Indian — but the textures and presentation are different, and the curry allows for significant variety with the addition of whatever vegetables you choose to include. I had some past-their-prime string beans, but you can be creative: Add fresh greens like spinach or kale, or frozen peas, sweet potatoes, parsnips or cauliflower.

I served brown basmati rice with both of these meals, as well as warm naan, and sliced cucumbers sprinkled with lime juice, salt, pepper and chopped cilantro. Healthy, simple and delicious.

Vegan Koftas

Makes about 12 koftas, which serves 4-6 people

These are not difficult to make, but there are several steps involved — not your average “throw it in the pot and simmer” Indian dish, but well worth the effort. They are sort of like an Indian falafel in a spicy tomato sauce.

A word on the curry powder: I used a packaged masala spice blend that was intended for chicken biryani but it worked beautifully here (brand name: Shan). Any version that you like or have on hand works, such as garam masala, red or yellow curry powder, etc.

½ onion, coarsely chopped
1-inch piece ginger, sliced in a few pieces
4 cloves garlic
½ of a jalapeno pepper (more or less, to taste)
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons curry or masala powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 14-ounce cans chickpeas, drained well
½ cup bread crumbs
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2½ cups water
Fresh cilantro and/or scallions for garnish

Puree the onion, garlic, jalapeno and oil in a blender or food processor. Remove half of this paste and put it in a skillet. Add the chickpeas and bread crumbs to a blender and puree until well mixed. Place this mixture in a bowl and refrigerate for 20 minutes to solidify.

While the chickpea mixture chills, sauté the onion mixture in the skillet until fragrant. Add the curry powder and salt, then add the tomato paste and stir until it begins to separate. Add water, stir well, scraping the bottom of the pan, and bring it to a simmer. Cook until slightly thickened, remove it from the heat and set aside.

Heat your oven to 350 degrees, and line a cooking tray with parchment. Remove the chickpea mixture from the refrigerator. With wet hands, form the mixture into golf ball-sized rounds and place them on a cooking tray. Bake for 30 minutes until crusty on the outside.

Place the cooked koftas in the tomato gravy and stir to coat. Return the dish to the oven to keep the dish warm, or serve immediately, garnished with fresh cilantro and/or scallions.

Chana Masala

Serves 6
“Chana” is the word for chickpeas and “masala” refers to a blend of spices used in Indian cooking. This dish is an Indian-style curry or stew of vegetables and chickpeas swimming in an aromatic, flavorful tomato gravy.

You can vary it with whatever vegetables you wish to use, or need to get rid of.

1 onion, chopped
1-inch piece ginger, grated
4 cloves garlic, crushed
½ of a jalapeno pepper, finely chopped (more or less, to taste)
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons curry powder
½ teaspoon salt
4 carrots, sliced
1 large or 2 medium-sized potatoes, cut in bite-sized chunks
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
½ cup water, more if needed
2 14-ounce cans chickpeas, drained well
2 cups string beans, cut in 1-inch pieces
Cilantro and scallions for garnish

Heat the oil in a large pot and add the onion, garlic, ginger, jalapeno, curry powder and salt.

Sauté until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add the carrots and potatoes, and sauté to coat. Add the crushed tomatoes and water, bring it to a simmer and lower the heat.

Add the chickpeas and simmer for 30-60 minutes. Check periodically to make sure the liquid has not cooked down too much; it should be soupy — add water in half-cup increments to keep the consistency, if needed. Add the string beans for the last 15 minutes of cooking (they will get soggy if overcooked). Serve the curry over rice, topped with chopped fresh cilantro and scallions.

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