The Auntie Em’s Cookbook: Recipe #3–Curried Chickpea Salad

One evening, a week before Thanksgiving, I decided to make Curried Chickpea Salad. In spite of its lengthy ingredient list, which I’d shopped for over the weekend, this Auntie Em’s Cookbook recipe looked like an easy-to-throw-together-but-still-tasty weeknight creation.

Author Terri Wahl introduces the salad by saying it’s not only delicious on its own, it makes a great sandwich filling and green salad dollop. I’ve had the café’s Curried Chickpea Sandwich and, yes, it was yummy, so I was excited to see if the homemade version of the filling could compete.

I gathered the ingredients on our kitchen cupboard/island (the resulting still life looked like the set of a cooking show—full of color, bursting with potential), while Roxy limped through her current events assignment. She’d chosen to encapsulate an LA Times piece about Pasadena’s famed Doo-Dah Parade, but had long ago burned through the day’s allotment of homework energy. Murmuring encouragement mixed with the occasional prompting question, I grabbed a large mixing bowl and got to work.

First, the home cook must whisk together the dressing. Since I decided to halve the recipe (resulting in three promised servings as opposed to the more overwhelming six), this involved 1 tablespoon of chutney (I used Sharwood’s Major Grey mango); ¼ minced chipotle chile in adobo sauce; ½ teaspoon each Dijon mustard, curry powder and cumin; ½ tablespoon rice wine vinegar; 1 tablespoon vegetable oil of some kind (I used canola); and ½ teaspoon each sea salt and fresh ground pepper. As I whisked and stirred the powerful ingredients together, the aroma was incredible—it made me think of a South Asian mole.

Next, I added the salad’s bulk: ½ medium purple onion, chopped; 2 cloves minced garlic; 1 cup drained and rinsed chickpeas and half as much black beans; ¼ cup drained, rinsed and minced sun-dried tomatoes in oil; 1/8 cup each diced celery and carrot; and 1 tablespoon each of chopped cilantro and parsley. I stirred the colorful pile with, as directed, a rubber spatula and then used the back of the spatula to mush and mash some, but not all, of the integrated ingredients. This was harder than it sounded; I’m surprised I didn’t snap the handle of our poor spatula in the process. A wooden spoon might be a better tool for the job.

Knowing that our dinner was probably 30 minutes away, I scraped the salad into a container and stuck it into the fridge (which is still out on the deck due to delays in our painting plan) to chill.

The results: Once we helped shepherd the current events homework to a stopping point, Jon made Roxy’s dinner, and I dug around for Curried Chickpea Salad accompaniments. What a coup: I found a bag of Trader Joe’s Garlic Naan in the freezer and some baby spinach in the fridge. While the naan heated, I filled two bowls with the greens and spooned the chickpea salad on top. When the naan were well-toasted (which took four times as long as the package instructed, these being a Trader Joe’s product), Jon plunked the two carbohydrate-delivery vehicles—stiff as paddles—on to each bowl, and we were ready to eat.

It only took a bite, maybe two, to realize that this salad is some tasty business.

There are plenty of chickpea dishes out in the world—many curried and some even cumin-laced. By adding the chipotle chile in adobo sauce AND the sundried tomato bits AND the chutney AND the rice wine vinegar, Wahl takes a somewhat ordinary bean combination to new culinary heights: sweet/spicy, smoky/tangy. Add the cool crunch of carrot and celery, plus the fresh leafy bite of both parsley and cilantro—they perfectly counter the hearty bean “mash”—and you’ve got a salad/spread/even savory pie filling that could please a crowd, satisfy all your vegetarian friends, and serve as a quick weeknight dinner.

My only caution—it’s easy to go overboard with the purple onion. A third or even a quarter of the breath-trashing nightshade would work just fine.

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