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Chholé ke peeché kya hai? February 18, 2007

Posted by C Y Gopinath in Food.

Saroj Kumar tames the mean, bad, utterly addictive Punjabi chholé

The chick peas had been soaking in cold water since morning, and feared the worst. Four hours had passed. Chief Chickie, the largest pea in the bowl, was muttering.

“Your minutes are numbered, boys,” he said to the gang. “It’s going to happen again. It’s bhalle bhalle time.” He released a dignified burp which bubbled up through the water like an afterthought.

“You mean they’re going to —” began a small pealet.

“Not they,” said Chief Chickie ominously. “She.”

Following his gaze, their eyes came to rest upon the determined face of Saroj Kumar, schoolteacher, outstanding cook, sister of three, mother of two, wife of one Captain Kumar who flies airplanes. “By the time she’s through with you, you probably won’t be part of no legume family. You’ll be a dark, mean Punjabi chholé masalé.”

The chick peas in the bowl collectively shivered, some began to whimper; several involuntarily released bubbles of harmless gas.

“You mean like that stuff they sell on the pavements in Delhi,” asked a nitrogenoid little nodule.

“Probably,” said Chief Chickie. “Probably worse. I have it on good word that she’s never lived in Delhi. Jabalpore for half her life, and the remaining two-thirds in Mumbai.”

“But you promised me I could be a Lebanese hummous when I grew up,” whined the pealet.

“Let’s not get carried away here,” said a ponderous old pea who had begun to sprout. “I understand madame here does something quite amazing with peas like us. I have reason to believe that we’re about to be magically transformed — uh-oh, here she comes —”

He dived for the depths even as Saroj Kumar’s hands entered the bowl and assessed the chick peas’ state of readiness for the higher life. They were firm, fat and ready to rock and roll out of anonymity to become her not exactly unknown chholé masalé.

I have met several people who swear that Saroj’s chholé masalé is the best they have ever eaten. The ex-secretary of the building society, who had lived in Delhi for 15 years, said it was an improvement on the capital’s original.
Saroj herself claims that she doesn’t care what Punjab’s famous chholé masalé tastes like. “Mine takes less time to prepare, has less oil, and no-one call tell the difference,” she stated. “And people say they like it. Most people.”

Saroj first made her experimental chholé variant nearly a dozen years ago. She felt the original dish called for too much ghee, so she substituted that with oil. She thought altogether too many things like onion, ginger and garlic were being fried for altogether too long, so she boiled the lot instead. She believes tamarind isn’t good for the glands, and God knows what they add to amchur, so to impart colour and tartness to her chholé, she roasts pomegranate seeds with cummin seeds instead and grinds them coarse.

I climbed five storeys to her house and asked her the question that was uppermost on my mind: “Is it true? About the effect of chick peas on the social circle?”

Rumour had it that indiscriminate consumption of chholé masalé drastically reduced your chances of winning a national award. Also, after a while, you had no friends left in high places. I had won no national awards, and had no friends in high places, and I was deeply concerned. I had been greedily putting away chholé masalé since my schooldays in Delhi.

“Some people say it causes gas,” said Saroj boldly.

I looked away, staring at a spot on the carpet.

“But we have never had any problems of that kind in our family. Kabuli chanas cause gas only when they’re inproperly cooked. I also put a little ajwain (thymol) in mine to improve digestion. Taking no chances, you know.”

Saroj’s chholé, with bhaturé attached, make a bewitching serve, with tempting red tomato quarters and long green chillies floating on the thickish dark gravy of one of the finer entreés of everyday life, a culinary pirate who will invade your palate and take you captive.

Definitely worth giving up at least two state-level awards and a half dozen friends in high places for.


Saroj’s Chholé Masalé

1/2 kg chick peas (Kabuli chana), well cleaned andsoaked for 4-5 hous in cold water
150 grams chana dal
3 tbsps ginger-garlic paste
10-12 black peppercorns
6-8 cloves
1 stick of cinnamon
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp ajwain (thymol)
Salt to taste
2 medium onions, grated
2 medium tomatoes, grated

Boil all the above ingredients in a pressure cooker, using about 4 glasses of the water in which the shick peas were soaked. After the first whistle, lower the heat and let it cook for 15 to 20 minutes. The chana will soften rapidly, and give the gravy its consistency. If the chick peas are not yet soft or the gravy is too thick, add a little more water and cook a little longer, using your judgement.

Meanwhile, roast 4 tablespoons of pomegranate seeds and 3 tablespoons of cummin seeds (jeera) until the cummin is dark brown and the pomegranate seeds nearly black. Grind to a powder.

In 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, fry the pomegranate-cummin powder for a minute or so, and then add 3 heaped tablespoons of coriander (dhania) powder, and red chilly powder according to your preference. Add this to the chick peas in the pressure cooker, stir well, and cook on a low fire for about 10 more minutes.

The final dish should have a medium thick gravy. Upon cooling, this gravy will thicken further, becoming nearly dry. Garnish with tomato wedges and entire green chillies. Serve with hot bhaturas.

Knead 1/2 kg white flour with 1/4 kg curds, salt to taste, a pinch of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), until it has the consistency of elastic. Cover with a wet cloth, and leave for 7-8 hours. Make into puris, using your palms to spin them out into circles about 6-7 inches in diameter.


1. lakshmi - May 8, 2007

When do you add the onions and tomatoes?

2. Delicious recipes from fellow bloggers | My Blog - May 16, 2012

[…] I followed Gopinath’s advice mostly. But I may have broken his strict (witty) instructions by adding some tomato paste:-) I did not even soak the rajma at all. Such an easy, quick recipe but with all the great taste of authentic rajma. I can’t wait to try the Chhole. […]

C Y Gopinath - June 9, 2015

Hello —

I can’t believe I’m replying to a 2012 letter in 2015. Thank you for your kind comments. Glad you enjoyed it.

You must be wondering where my blog has disappeared to. It is true, the blog has unfortunately been inactive for some time. A part of the reason is that I had shifted everything to a new WordPress site. Though it is still under construction, it is ready for viewing.

Please do come back. You can access it at http://www.cygopinath.com — and sign on when you get the subscription form. I will make sure you get a notification whenever I post a new blog.



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