I reconnected with an old friend this summer. While we were once inseparable pals, we had grown up and drifted apart. Before this summer, we hadn’t spoken in over three years. The realization of this fact is what prompted me to reestablish a connection with this friend—it was too sad to think that after years of being so close, we could have gotten to the point where we weren’t even talking anymore. We met for coffee, the first of a few meet-ups we had over the course of the summer, occasions for long conversations, catching up on what we had missed in each other’s lives during the preceding years. One of the things that we discovered during our conversations was a mutual appreciation for good food and finding interesting local restaurants. So, for our next get-together, my friend brought me to one of her favorite spots, a wonderful vegan restaurant, Aux Vivres.
I finally settled on a mango lassi and the Chana—a chickpea curry wrapped up in chapati, a South Asian flatbread, a lot like a tortilla. Maybe it was the company, or maybe it was the fact that I had accidentally parked four blocks away and had to walk in the rain, so I was wet and cold and hungry, but it was a memorable meal. The sandwich was wonderful—a hot, spiced, flavorful curry, encased in a thin layer of soft bread. The seasoning of the filling was spot-on. I could taste the complexity of the curry without being overwhelmed by too much spice. I could taste the coconut milk it had been simmered in, and I could tell by the bite they still had that the beans had been cooked from their dry state, not drained from a can. I also loved how the curry was studded with sweet, chewy dates, a perfect complement to the savory curry. I was inspired. As my friend and I chatted about life, and love, and food, I knew that I would be attempting to recreate this dish myself.
I admit, I used canned chickpeas rather than dried ones because the can was already perched happily in my pantry, begging to be made into curry. I also thought the dish would taste good in pita bread, and so, in my quest to make more bread, and because I was still on holiday and I had the time, I made the pita myself. Finally, I didn’t have any dates, but I had some golden raisins, so I used those instead.
I would say it was a success. Of course, if I could go back to Aux Vivres now and try the original, I’m sure I could find a hundred things that are different about mine, but different doesn’t necessarily mean worse. Andrew and I agreed that it was a delicious meal, and so I’ve shared it below. We had it with green salad.
**Note: If the pictures seem worse to you than usual, it doesn’t mean you need to get glasses: I can’t use my usual camera, and I’m stuck with one that does not photograph food well at all. My other camera should be back soon, though!
2 tbsp. curry powder (preferably madras curry powder)
1 ½ tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. ground cardamom (or, use 1-2 cardamom pods)
1 tsp. anise (or, use 1 star anise)
½ tsp. cayenne
1 ½ tsp. cumin (or, use 1 tsp. cumin seeds)
½ tsp. poppy seeds
1 tbsp. garlic, minced
1 tbsp. ginger root, peeled and minced
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, medium dice
2 medium carrots, small dice
1 medium yellow potato, medium dice
2 15oz. cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup golden raisins
½ cup water
2 14 oz. cans coconut milk
Pita bread, tortillas, or chapati
In a small bowl, combine the spices (the first 7 ingredients). Place the ginger and garlic in a mortar with a pinch of salt, and mash together with a pestle to create a coarse paste.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the spice mixture and cook and stir until the spices have darkened and are fragrant, 30 seconds to one minute. Lower heat to medium, add the ginger and garlic, and stir for one more minute. Stir in the onion and carrots, cooking until they have just begun to soften.
Stir in the potato, chickpeas, and raisins. Increase heat to high, and then add the water, scraping the bottom of the pan to pull up the brown bits stuck there. Add the coconut milk and bring the curry to a simmer. Reduce the heat and allow to simmer and reduce until there is only a small amount of liquid left in the pan. Stir frequently, and taste and adjust seasoning as desired.
Serve in warm pita pockets, or wrapped in tortillas or chapati.