Black chickpeas (Kala Chana) are very common in India but not so common outside. There are two types of chickpeas – the larger light tan Kabuli chickpea, the one that is commonly used here, and the variously coloured Desi chickpea. They are green when picked early then vary through tan or beige, to speckled, dark brown and black. 75% of world production is of the smaller desi type. The larger type, also called garbanzo bean, was introduced into India in the 18th century.
Desi chana are smaller and darker with a rough coat; its other names include kala chana (black chickpea) or chholaa boot. It is this variety that is hulled and split to make chana dal.
Kala Chana have a dark and earthy taste, and aren’t quite as soft and creamy as their kabuli chana counterpart. But that makes them unique and especially delicious in Wintery dishes.
Today I bake them in a spicy tomato saucy and layered with roasted eggplant and tomatoes. Served with rice, a pickle and a herby yoghurt dish, it makes a wonderful meal. There are similar dishes made with the karbuli type of chickpeas from the Middle East and beyond – Falesten has a recipe for Musaqa’a which is also worth making. This recipe is quite similar.
Spicy Baked Black Chickpeas, Eggplants and Tomatoes | Kala Chana with Eggplants and Tomatoes
2 purple eggplants, peeled in stripes and cut into 1.5 – 2cm slices
2 Tblspn melted ghee or olive oil
1 cup black chickpeas, soaked overnight and cooked with 0.5 tspn baking soda until tender
3 tomatoes, sliced into 1.5cm slices
0.75 Tblspn ghee
1 onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, sliced
0.5 tspn Indian chilli powder, or to taste
1 tspn cumin seeds
1 tspn ground coriander
0.5 tspn turmeric powder
1 – 2cm piece ginger root, grated
1.5 cups pureed tomatoes
1 tspn palm sugar (optional)
coriander leaves, roughly chopped
sea salt and black pepper
Preheat the oven to 220°C.
Place the eggplant slices in a large bowl, drizzle with the melted ghee or oil and sprinkle with half tspn sea salt and same of black pepper. Mix well. The slices need to be well coated with the oil. Place them on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Roast until completely softened and lightly browned, about 30 mins. Remove from the oven and set aside.
Turn the oven down to 200C.
To make the sauce, heat the ghee in a kadhai or large saute pan. Add the onion and cook until softened and lightly browned. Add the garlic and saute for another minute or two. Then add the chilli, ginger, cumin seeds, cardamom, turmeric and pureed tomatoes. Stir well, bring to a simmer and cook for a few minutes.
Add the chickpeas, sugar if using, and enough water for the sauce to make a sauce for the chickpeas. Season with salt and a good pinch or two of black pepper. Reduce the heat and cook for 5 minutes and remove from the heat.
Place half the plum tomatoes and roasted eggplant on the base of a baking dish. Spoon the chickpeas and sauce over, then finish with the remaining tomatoes and eggplants.
Cover the dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes until the sauce is bubbling. Remove the foil and bake for another 30 minutes and the tomatoes have completely softened. Remove from the oven, squeeze some lemon juice over the dish and sprinkle with the chopped coriander.
Serve warm or at room temperature with herbed yoghurt, Indian pickle and fluffy steamed rice. It also makes a great side dish or accompaniment to flatbread.