Indian sweet and sour chickpeas, spinach roti

August 24, 2010

Being British I am genetically disposed to Indian food. I am also ridiculously snooty about Indian food. Outside of India, I reckon that England could quite possibly be the best place to pick up some fantastic authentic Indian nosh.

Being this snooty about it doesn’t make eating out in Seattle for Indian food fun. Not that much. Not for my incredibly patient wife, who has to listen to my food rants, and not for my taste buds either. The first time I went to an Indian restaurant here in Seattle, I got the worst food poisoning I have ever had, and spent three days in the smallest room in the house, kneeling, cursing the seafood mixed grill.

I will be honest I never really cooked Indian food that much when I lived in the UK, I mean, why bother? But after the experience above, I started to cook my own in Seattle. My darling brother (twin you know..) who loves all things curry recommended a cookbook, and I got going. I started with a lot of meat curries, and then moved on to vegetable dishes.

I reckon it is pretty safe to say that India has some of the best vegetable dishes in the world. Seriously. It wouldn’t be crazy hard to be vegetarian if you stuck to Indian food (and some Mediterranean.. you know, to round things out). Heck, even the biggest meat lover of them all, Anthony Bourdain pretty much agrees.

When I want vegetables to be incredibly simple, clean and pure I normally turn to dishes from Spain, Italy and France (Greece too). When I want complex tones, exotic flavors, layered spice notes then it is Indian I always seem to end up cooking.

My lovely wife has decided to go vegetarian for a bit. I was originally hoping that “for a bit” meant “less than two days”, but it seems to have stuck, for the time being. Everything I can do to fix this obvious brain malfunction has failed completely – I have yet to unleash my secret weapons of steamed mussels and roast chicken however (her two favorite dishes..). A slight slip up a week ago, when she chowed down on some grilled mackerel, gave me a glimmer of hope, but she just mumbled something about Omega-3’s with her mouth full of oily fish. That was it, the last slip up.

So instead of chastising any further, I decided to embrace. Being totally honest here it is hardly much of a change to how we eat anyhow. I have always cooked a lot with vegetables, and consider myself pretty creative with the little buggers. A lot of our meals through the week seem to end up vegetarian (thank Christ for eggs) anyhow, so the change hasn’t been that great. I still eat meat. Fish too.

This change led me to try out some new Indian recipes, and with great success I must add. This dish is a mild adaption of a recipe from the book “Food of India

Dried chickpeas are simmered till soft. This can be done a day or two ahead of time. Then a simple sauce is made using onion, ginger, fresh tomatoes, tamarind paste, garam masala (an Indian spice blend), some sugar and a little love from a hot stove. The chickpeas get heated through with this.

The recipe calls for this to be served with Spinach Roti’s. These are unleavened Indian flat breads that are dead easy to make, even for the baking-retarded like myself. Because this family of mine doesn’t like gluten that much, I modified the recipe to make these bad boys gluten free. Me, being obsessed with anything “taco” right now decided to use these as the aforementioned shell to hold a great lovely helping on the chickpeas.

All it took to finish things off was a good dollop of yogurt (if you are in Seattle, you cannot do better than the yogurt of Grace Harbor Farms, IMHO), some fresh herbs and a final squeeze of lime juice. Make sure not to skip on these extra’s, the yogurt smooths things out, adds a little richness. The herbs and lime give much needed pop and acidity.

making garam masala

Sweet and sour Chickpeas recipe

NOTE: Garam Masala is a blend of a few dried spices that is dead easy to make at home. The success of this dish depends on the use of fresh dried spices, preferably ones that you grind yourself. I make a batch of garam masala big enough for a few curries. Stored in an airtight container it is best used within a month.

(adapted from “Food of India: A Journey for Food Lovers”)


(the chickpeas can be soaked and cooked a day or two ahead of time)

2 1/4 cups of chickpeas

2 tablespoons of oil

1 large red onion, sliced

1″ piece of ginger, peeled and grated

2 teaspoons of honey

2 teaspoons of ground coriander

2 teaspoons of ground cumin

2 teaspoons of garam masala (recipe follows)

3 tablespoons of tamarind puree

4 ripe tomatoes, chopped

4 tablespoons of fresh cilantro, chopped

Soak the chickpeas overnight in enough water to cover them by 4″. Either that or “quick soak” them by bringing them up to the boil in a lot of water, turning off the heat, and letting them sit for 1 hour.

Drain the chickpeas, put them in to a large saucepan, and cover by 2″ with water. Bring to the boil, and simmer for 1.5 hours, until tender. Drain.

Heat the oil in a heavy pan (dutch oven works fine here). Fry the onion until soft. Add all the other ingredients, except the cilantro, and two cups of water. Bring to the boil and simmer until the sauce thickens and coats the chickpeas nicely.

Garam Masala

8 cardamon pods

2 Indian bay leaves

1 teaspoon of black peppercorns

2 teaspoons of cumin seeds

2 teaspoons of coriander seeds

2″ cinnamon stick

1 teaspoon of cloves

Toast the spices briefly, then grind to a fine powder in a spice grinder or pestle and mortar.

Gluten Free Spinach Roti:

NOTE: you can make the dough for this the day before, and keep it well wrapped in the fridge.

handful of spinach leaves

1/4 cup oat flour

1/4 cup millet flour

1/2 cup brown rice flour

1/4 cup white rice flour

1/4 cup tapioca flour

1 teaspoon xanthan gum

pinch of salt

1 teaspoon of olive oil or ghee

1/2 cup of tepid water

Cook the spinach briefly in a little water until it wilts. Squeeze the water out, chop finely.

Mix the flour, xanthan gum and salt in a bowl. Make a small well in the center and add in the spinach and oil. Add in half of the water and mix with your hands. Add in as much water as needed to make a smooth dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and bung in the fridge for 30 minutes or so.

Divide the dough in to about 10 equal balls. Roll each ball out on a floured surface until pretty thin.

Heat a small cast iron skillet over a high heat (big enough for one roti). Add a little oil to the pan and let that get hot. Drop in one roti, and cover the pan. Let this cook for a minute or two, flip it, then cook again covered for another minute.

Cover the cooked roti with a warm towel, and cook the others in the same fashion.


Serve the chickpeas alongside the roti. Have some great yogurt on hand, along with some fresh herbs (cilantro, mint, basil) and a few slices lime. The smart kids spoon some of the chickpea mix into the middle of a roti, top with the condiments, and eat like a taco. An Indian taco.

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  • Y August 24, 2010 at 9:26 am

    Agreed, when it comes to Indian vegetarian dishes. Yum. I also love chickpeas and usually throw some into my curries, but this different way of serving it sounds like a definitely must-try!

  • Phoo-d August 24, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    I just bought a bunch of dried chickpeas from Rancho Gordo and can’t wait to give this a try! It sounds right up my alley. Question for you- on the rotis what flour blend did the recipe call for originally? I’m not worried about gluten free and can’t get the above listed flours without ordering them online. Thank you!

  • sippitysup August 24, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    I live in LA and while I am not as savvy about Indian food as I’d like we are lucky to have quite a large Indian population (especially South Bay). I particular love Indian vegetarian choices. GREG

  • mattwright August 24, 2010 at 6:34 pm

    Phoo-d – the original recipe calls for atta (chapati flour), however you can make an OK alternative using 50% whole wheat and 50% unbleached flour.

  • Lila August 24, 2010 at 7:15 pm

    The recipe looks quite tasty but I’d like to let you know that it is NOT gluten free. Oat flour contains gluten unless you buy “gluten free oats” and then even so, many people with gluten intolerance can’t have it. It is certainly wheat free, but please don’t list it as gluten free. Thanks!

  • slightlypickled August 24, 2010 at 7:50 pm

    Love the recipe, looks incredible. Given your proximity, if you ever get the chance to get over to Vancouver, please do yourself a favour and go to Vij’s. It is quite possibly the best Indian food in North America, and rivals that of Michelin awarded Indian restaurants in Europe.

  • Dana August 24, 2010 at 9:58 pm

    Yes, the Indian food in Seattle is TERRIBLE. It is so sad, isn’t it? I hear there is a terrific place in Kirkland though. We gorged ourselves on Indian food during our London year and I still miss the food tremendously. I have three precious Indian cookbooks from London restaurants and now I know what to make for you guys when you come for dinner. So let’s pick a date!

  • heidileon August 25, 2010 at 4:55 am

    delicious and the gluten free roti makes it irresistible to try it.

  • shauna August 25, 2010 at 5:47 pm

    Mate! This looks amazing. We’d happily have this at your house any time.

    And the oat flour, if you simply put gf in front of it, will be fine. I have celiac, am very sensitive, and use oat flour all the time. The percentage of people who can’t eat it is still small. Of course, those folks can substitute another flour!

  • Jean Layton August 25, 2010 at 6:45 pm

    Yummy! got to use this one soon, my almost vegetarian daughter will love this. I can still entice her to eat meat occasionally especially if it is from a pig. 🙂
    And you are so right about the Grace Harbor yogurt!

  • Anne August 25, 2010 at 8:16 pm

    Thank you for this!!!!! Best Indian food I’ve had in ages. I did add salt though to the curry (among some other slight changes…but that is how I cook). The family gobbled it up! It is great to finally have a gluten free roti too.

  • nina August 26, 2010 at 6:55 am

    I would not mind going vegetarian if I can eat food like this everyday. I tried Onion bhajis for the first time yesterday my family love the meatless meal!!!! Your recipe is my second Meatless weapon in my arsenal!!!

  • Marcus August 28, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    Hey there,
    Just read your post,Nd I don’t know about America/Indian joints but It’s Saturday night and I’m off to Down to the curry mile to get a decent Indian and a pint of Boddies bitter! Ha ha at least you get better weather over there, currently in Manchester it’s er….well…p*****g it down!

  • Kalynskitchen August 30, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    Love this way to use chickpeas; am saving the recipe to try!

  • Michelle August 31, 2010 at 4:24 am

    nicely done sir.
    i adore garam masala – especially on popcorn, after it has been tossed with copious amounts of ghee.

    i look forward to more posts where you apply your ridiculous talents to vegetables!

  • zenchef August 31, 2010 at 4:53 pm

    Another incredible-looking recipe, Matt. Gosh, i’m with you about Indian food but i had so many disappointing experiences in New York that i may also start to cook my own. Unfortunately, I was too young when i lived in London and didn’t take advantage on the great Indian food there. The most memorable Indian food i ever had was in Hong Kong. In an underground restaurant.

    Thank you for yet another inspiring post!

  • Darlene September 9, 2010 at 9:20 pm

    I have the same cookbook and have tried this recipe. It’s excellent. And your photos rival those in the book.

    Definitely agree that sticking to the vegetarian Indian dishes is the way to go. I’ve been disappointed more than once with meat dishes at Indian restaurants.

  • Melissa Darr September 16, 2010 at 4:12 am

    I just adore this recipe, what a great simple midweek meal – and it’s vegetarian which saves money on meat :-)!

  • Brooke September 20, 2010 at 12:47 am

    Loves me some Grace Harbor Farms! The only way to beat it is to make your own. Uh. Muh. Guh.

  • Shelly September 30, 2010 at 7:09 am

    Yum! This sounds so good! My family eats like yours… We’ve got raw, vegan, gluten- free eaters. 10 yrs ago when my mom got diagnosed with Celiac’s disease there wasn’t much help online. Thanks to sites like yours, tasty gluten-free food is easy! I love that you’ve used whole spices!

  • Soma October 11, 2010 at 1:54 am

    This is a beautiful mixed flour roti. It is so true that it is easy to be vegetarian with Indian cuisine. Being an Indian, I am very disappointed with restaurants here in US. We still haven’t found any where we could stick to for a long time and none serves the real time Indian food here. What a pity.

  • Sharmila November 1, 2010 at 7:52 pm

    What you say about how easy it is to be vegetarian with Indian food is so true. When I first moved to the US, I remember being very confused about what vegetarian food was generally thought of here (bland, tasteless, unfulfilling), when I remember spending several of my childhood years being happily immersed in vegetables and never missing meat. Chalk that up to a large part of my culture shock issues.
    Sorry to hear the Indian food in Seattle sucks. I hear very good things about what’s available in Vancouver though. Here in the San Francisco Bay area, good Indian food of any kind is not a problem. I’ve even stopped missing my favourite Bombay restaurants now. What with even regional Indian restaurants like Viva Goa arriving on the scene, Indian food is not just for the home.

  • suzanne January 16, 2011 at 5:33 pm

    I think I can actually wrap my brain around these gf spinach rotis!!
    Will give it a try.