Chickpeas in a Curried Tomato Sauce with Black Mission Figs

Today, I figured out exactly what I should make with the rest of the figs that came in our CSA box from TD Willey last week, something I would really enjoy: a chickpea curry with tomatoes, figs and sweet spices.

Often, tomato-based curry sauces are sweetened with jaggery to tone down acidity and round out their flavor. That was the role I imagined the figs playing in this dish – I thought about the depth of sweetness they would deliver – it would be a caramelized note, a rounding note, but not a one-dimensional one like sugar provides.

And it turned out perfectly on the first try: a sweet-hot tomato sauce scented with coriander, ginger, cinnamon and anise, with background notes of cardamom and cloves. I have made a lot of tomato-based curries in my life, but I like this so well it might turn out to be a signature midsummer dish.

Only at the height of tomato season – because they’re insanely plentiful – can I bear to cook this many fresh tomatoes. The rest of the year, I wouldn’t buy fresh ones to make this; not only would it cost an arm and a leg, it just wouldn’t taste the same as what you can get out of a perfectly ripe summertime tomato. I use canned organic tomatoes the rest of the year in tomato-based sauces like this. It’s not the same, of course, but it means I appreciate the flavor of fresh all the more when I can have it.

Who knows – maybe this winter I’ll find myself making a canned tomato curry sauce with dried figs.

Yes, the ingredient list looks long, but it’s a curry – most of the ingredients are just measured out rather than needing significant prep.

2 c. dried chickpeas, soaked (Soak for eight hours or overnight, or quick soak by bringing to a boil and allowing to sit for one hour.)

3 T. butter
2 T. canola oil

1 ½ c. red onions, chopped

3 T. ground coriander
2 T. ground cumin

1 T. tomato paste
2 T. garlic, minced
1 t. fresh ginger, grated
6 c. fresh tomatoes, chopped
1 jalapeno, minced
1 serrano chili, minced
¼ t. anise seeds
4 whole cloves
8 cardamom pods, crushed
1 2-in stick cinnamon
1 t. turmeric
2 t. salt
2 t. pepper

1 c. Black Mission figs, chopped (about four medium figs)

1 t. garam masala

For the chickpeas: Pressure-cook the chickpeas for twelve minutes with water to cover plus half an inch. Allow the cooker’s pressure to fall by itself. Or cover with water and cook in a large saucepan until tender but not broken down, an hour or more. Drain and set aside.

For the sauce: In a large, deep saucepan (6 qt.) or dutch oven, heat the butter and oil (vegans can use 4 T. oil total – a lot is needed for the onions to cook the way they should). When it is hot but not smoking, add the onions. Sauté until significantly browned: this step is essential to developing a deep, savory background flavor in the dish.

When onions are well-browned, add the ground coriander and cumin and stir in, allowing to sizzle for a few moments. Then add the tomato paste and stir a few moments until it changes color. Add the garlic and ginger and give a few moments to sizzle as well, but don’t allow them to change color.

Turn into the pan the tomatoes, jalapeno and serrano chili, and stir. Add the anise seeds, whole cloves, cardamom pods, cinnamon, turmeric, salt and pepper. (This will make the sauce very salty; don’t worry, it will be fine when the chickpeas are added.) Stir all together to combine.

Simmer the tomato mixture for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, then add the figs. Continue to cook until the tomatoes have significantly broken down, the sauce has darkened in color and the oil has begun to rise to the surface of the sauce.

When the sauce has reached a brick-red color, add the cooked, drained chickpeas into the sauce and stir to combine. Simmer to heat the chickpeas through and allow them to combine with the sauce. Sprinkle with garam masala and stir in. Serve with flatbread or rice.

Makes 6 servings.

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