Chora – Spiced black-eyed peas

This dish is a perfect example of the simplicity and complexity of Indian Gujarati food. Although the ingredients list contains several spices, this dish really has very few ingredients: black-eyed peas, water, spices, jaggery, lemon juice, and fresh coriander (cilantro). It’s simultaneously earthy, sweet, and spicy, and it creates a hearty meal. Ayurveda says that black-eyed peas are heavier to break down than mung beans or pigeon peas, so be sure to soak the beans overnight to improve their digestibility.

My mother uses a ginger and green chili paste in this recipe, which she makes at home by grinding ginger and seeded green chilies (like serranos) in a food processor. Then, she mixes the pastes together and freezes the mixture flat in an airtight bag. When she needs the paste for a recipe, she’ll break off a chunk from the freezer. If that feels like too much work, feel free to skip the addition of the paste. When I make chora, I often use fresh chilies instead and treat this dish like a Southwestern chili by adding tomatoes and extra spices.

Spiced black-eyed peas – Chora

Ingredients

(For the Chora)

  • 1 cup black-eyed peas
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon coriander/cumin powder (dhana jeeru)
  • 1 teaspoon ginger and green chili paste (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon jaggery
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • Chopped fresh coriander (cilantro), to taste

(For the vagaar)

  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil (safflower, avocado, or pure olive oil)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon Indian celery seeds
  • 1 pinch asafoetida (hing)

Instructions

1. The night before, place the black-eyed peas in a large bowl and cover it with three inches of cold water. Soak the mixture overnight. The next day, drain and discard the soaking liquid.

2. Place the soaked black-eyed peas in a large saucepan with the water. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about 20 minutes, until the black-eyed peas are tender and cooked through. If you live above sea level, the black-eyed peas will take longer to cook through.

3. Add the turmeric, red chili powder, coriander/cumin powder mix, ginger and green chili paste, jaggery, and lemon juice to the black-eyed peas. Stir until the mixture is well combined. 

4. Make the vagaar in a small saute pan. Heat the oil over high heat until it’s shimmering but not smoking, about 1 minute. 

5. Add the cumin seeds, mustard seeds, and celery seeds. Cook until the seeds begin to pop and smell fragrant, about 30 seconds. The seeds may turn brown, but be sure not to let them burn.

6. Turn the heat down to low and add the asafoetida. Cook until the asafoetida is no longer sizzling, about 1 minute.

7. Add the toasted seeds to the black-eyed peas. Mix well and simmer over medium-low heat for 10 minutes to let the flavors come together.

8. Just before serving, add salt to taste and garnish with coriander (cilantro).

Amita’s Substitutions

You can find black-eyed beans at an Indian grocery store, but I’ve found that the ones available at the grocery store work just fine. When it comes to the spices, using the French celery seeds available at the grocery store works just fine. I often use brown or yellow mustard seeds when I can’t find the black ones, and mix ground coriander and ground cumin together in equal parts for the cumin/coriander powder (dhana jeeru). A pinch of garlic powder works as a substitute for asafoetida. Finally, molasses is a fine substitution for jaggery

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