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My own personal Vegan Experience is a good few months behind me now, but there are many things that have stuck. Dining habits. The way I approach a menu. The way I stock my pantry. Even the basic ingredients I reach for first when I'm saying to myself, "What would my wife want for dinner?" (Which is just the nicer way of thinking, what would I personally really like to eat that my wife may or may not but hopefully may like to eat as well?)
The answer, more often than not, is chickpeas. And I'm not talking fancy, soaked overnight, simmered in flavorful liquid, carefully cooked chickpeas; I'm talking chickpeas drained out of a can and used as the base for a quick dish.
Now I can hear you bean lovers shouting already, "But canned beans are flavorless! Dried beans rule!" and I'm with you, but this is a case of diminishing returns. Provided you treat your canned beans right—that means spending a bit of time simmering them in a flavorful liquid (read up more on cooking with canned beans here), they can be tasty as heck and ready to eat in under half an hour. Will they be as creamy and flavorful as dried beans? Definitely not, but they'll be about 85 percent of the way there and take about 10 percent of the time and 5 percent of the effort.
On most days, that's a pretty good trade-off.
Chickpeas—known as chana in Hindi—are a staple in Indian and British Indian vegetarian cuisine. It's meaty texture and flavor hold up well to rich sauces like masala or korma. This recipe, a chickpea stew flavored with coconut and thickened with ground cashews, comes from no particularly authentic Indian legacy, but it's delicious and rib-sticking. There are a few keys to success. The first is to cook the onion, garlic, and ginger base until you think it's too cooked—deep brown and on the verge of burning in spots. This adds sweetness and layers of intense flavor to the sauce.
The garam masala I use in this recipe is a homemade cumin and coriander-heavy mix (the flavors I like), but you can use your own blend or even a store-bought mix to make the recipe even quicker. In any case, toasting the spices in the oil will help intensify and distribute their flavor.
Once the base for the sauce is set, I deglaze with coconut milk, add toasted cashews, and grind the whole thing with plenty of fresh cilantro. A quick simmer for the chickpeas in the flavorful sauce, a big squeeze of lemon or lime at the end, and some warm homemade naan or rice, and dinner's on the table in under half an hour.
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About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.