“ahm joony faareigner ja git me yeah? Nooo. Naaaaah Jimmy I’ve nae idea wha’ ure sayin’” slurs the wild-eyed Asian guy with the Celtic scarf and hair like Jesus. The table of young office workers look shocked and slightly scared. I hold my head in my hands. It’s 2003 and I’m in The Cock with my mate Hermeet. We’ve just been working on the John Peel show and my Glaswegian Sikh colleague is pissed again. (Un?)fortunately nobody understands a word he’s saying. Earlier that day I watch him cheerfully trowel a good inch of butter onto his parathas. “Nobody does comfort food like us Punjabis” he tells me, or at least I think he does. He introduces me to the ambrosial delight that is chole bhature – or chickpea curry mopped up with deep fried bread. It’s basically the north Indian equivalent of beans on toast. Fast forward to now and it’s all I want to eat because it’s parky and I’m coming down with a treacherous cold.
Pairing up tangy, cumin-flecked legumes with crisp, puffy bhature equals pure magic. Traditionally these yeasty, slightly spongy orbs are deep fried. I prefer to cut down on the cholesterol overload by shallow frying, and I’ve made mine with spelt flour over plain, and with yeast over baking soda. So not really bhature in the sense your average North Indian might recognise, but still pretty damned tasty. You can of course make the curry beforehand, but it’s important to dish up the bread as you fry it, perhaps with a nice cool raita alongside, for that triple texture-taste delight.
Boiling the chickpeas with Assam or Darjeeling teabags, really encourages an authentic street-vendor mahogany hue. You could just chuck in tinned, but for me, nothing beats the nutty bite of raw to soaked and it’s hardly that much of a faff. With a bit of forward planning you’re looking at an unbelievably cheap eat with tons leftover to freeze.
For the chickpeas
250g dried chickpeas
3 large onions, finely chopped/blitzed in a processor
30g fresh ginger, finely chopped/blitzed
6-8 cloves garlic finely chopped/blitzed
1 ½ tsp. cumin seeds
1 black cardamom (use a couple of green if you don’t have any black ones)
1 cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
20 black peppercorns, tied in some muslin/a baby sock
1 tsp. turmeric powder
½ tsp. black salt powder (‘kala namak’ is available in asian shops, use 1 tsp. standard white salt if not)
A fat slice of butter
1 tsp. curry powder
Lots of freshly ground black pepper
½ -1 tsp. chilli powder
1 tsp. dried fenugreek powder
1 tsp. coriander powder
250g fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped
2-3 tbsp. finely chopped fresh coriander
Lemon wedges and v.finely sliced red onion to serve
For the spelt bhature
300g spelt flour
150g plain flour
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. nigella seeds
½ tsp. dried yeast
1 tsp. salt
150ml natural yoghurt
1 tsp. vegetable oil
Approx 300ml warm water
Oil for shallow/deep frying
- One or two nights before you want to eat this, soak the chickpeas in at least double the volume of water.
- Anywhere between 1-6 hours before cooking, (you could also start this the night before) get your bhature dough on by mixing the flours, sugar, nigella seeds, yeast and salt in a large bowl. Whisk together the water, oil and yoghurt in a jug. Gradually add to the flour mixture until you have a smooth dough. Knead for 10 minutes until nice and elastic and then leave in the bowl somewhere warm covered with a damp cloth.
- tip the contents of the chickpea bowl into a large saucepan, adding more water if necessary until you have at least double the volume of water to chickpeas. Add the teabags, 1/3 of the onion, 1/3 of the garlic, ½ the cumin, the cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, bay leaves, 20 peppercorns and the turmeric. Cover and simmer for an hour over a gentle heat and then drain and toss with the salt. Fish out the tea, cardamom, cinnamon, peppercorns and bay but reserve the liquid.
- In another pan, heat the butter and add a splash of oil. Gently brown the remaining onion, garlic and ginger for a good half an hour.
- Stir in the curry, pepper, chilli, fenugreek and coriander powders along with the remaining cumin. After a few minutes add the fresh tomato and the chickpeas and cook for a minute or two.
- Add the cooking/soaking water and simmer until tender. Check seasoning and sprinkle in lots of fresh coriander.
- To make the bread, heat the oil to deep/shallow-frying temperature. Knock back the dough and tear off lemon-sized pieces. Roll each one out to the size of a small dinner plate and cover with damp kitchen roll.
- Gently slide the bhature into the hot fat, allow to brown, while pressing continuously down into the centre of the bread with a slotted spoon for about 45 seconds-this should cause it to puff up magnificently if you’re deep frying and more languidly if shallow. Flip over and brown the other side before draining on plenty of kitchen paper-lined plates.
- Serve hot with a well chilled cucumber raita, the chickpeas, red onion slices and lemon wedges.