A scandal has been taking place in India, largely unreported in the West, where over the course of the past decade an average of over 1,000 farmers per month have been committing suicide.
One of the root causes of this astonishing statistic lies in the consequences of a deal struck between the Indian government and the International Monetary Fund in the early 1990s.
In exchange for international loans, the Indian government agreed to a package of “liberalising reforms”. These “reforms” led to a withdrawal of government financial support to India’s agriculture industry, leading in turn to poverty and debt amongst the country’s many farmers.
It was onto this “liberalising reforms” stage that our old friends at Monsanto strode, enticing desperate, poverty-stricken Indian farmers with the prospect of hugely increased yields if they switched from farming with traditional seeds to planting Monsanto’s genetically modified (GM) seeds instead.
Monsanto’s GM seed costs many times more than the Indian farmers’ traditional seed, so many of those farmers took a risk, increased their debts still further and borrowed money to purchase these new seeds. And when their new GM crops failed, those same farmers were left not only without income but also in insurmountable debt.
India’s “liberalising reforms” have left the country playing host to a wide range of GM crops, but it is a variety of GM cotton that has caused most devastation to the country’s small-scale farmers. Called Bt cotton, it was created by Monsanto through the splicing of a cotton gene with an insecticidal toxin extracted from a soil bacterium, the resulting seeds designed to make the cotton plants pest-free.
It didn’t work.
In 2005, after an alarming number of suicides amongst its cotton-growing farmers, the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh banned Monsanto from any further marketing of its Bt cotton, pointing to the fact that Bt cotton had in fact led to reduced yields and was more prone to disease compared to conventional cotton seed. The Bt cotton that the farmers planted had in fact been devastated by bollworm, a voracious parasite.
It is reported that many of the farmers who have committed suicide across India have done so by swallowing pesticides. Given that they had been sold a vision of a world of abundant crops with no need ever again to use pesticides, this represents a grotesque irony.
Monsanto has been voted several times the world’s “most evil company”, and not without good reason. Their increasingly tight grip on our food chain, and their aggressive marketing of GM seeds should be a massive cause for concern for us all.
Let’s turn to a recipe.
This year on my allotment plot, the Circus Garden, I grew a couple of dozen chickpea plants as an experiment. Most of the world’s chickpeas come from India and Pakistan, so I had my doubts that an allotment plot here in the British midlands would provide an appropriate environment in which to grow them successfully.
However, I was overwhelmed by the results. Not only did we enjoy the delightful pleasure of eating freshly picked chickpeas during the summer (green, mildly crunchy and bursting with fresh pea-like flavour), we now have a bounty of dried chickpeas. Some of these I am reserving for planting later this year, but the rest – like all dried beans and pulses – provide a source of protein and nourishment during the early weeks of Spring when there is very little else to harvest.
Since first coming up with the idea for this particular dish I’ve experimented with different combinations of ingredients and flavours, and this is the version that I think really hits the spot. Combining dried chickpeas with peas reminds me of those lovely fresh chickpeas of last summer, and the combination of herbs and spices give them an extra zing.
If you don’t have the time or inclination to cook your chickpeas from scratch, use tinned chickpeas. They’re not as good, but they will work perfectly well and represent a considerable shortcut in preparation and cooking times. I find these cakes work best with a good chilli “hit” so I include the whole chillies, but you can take out some or all of the chilli seeds according to your taste.
These chickpea cakes are also delicious cold, and would make an interesting alternative to sandwiches in a lunchbox or as part of a picnic.
chickpea cakes with curry oil
for the chickpea cakes
200 g chickpeas, soaked in a pan of water overnight
150 g peas or petit pois (frozen are fine, defrosted)
4-6 green chillies (depending on your taste), seeds in, roughly chopped
1 red onion, very finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
5 cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
3 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
1 tbsp fresh mint leaves, chopped
1 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp ground coriander
pinch ground cinnamon
juice of one lemon
90 g gram (chickpea) flour
Groundnut oil, for frying
for the curry oil
150 ml extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, unpeeled, crushed with the flat blade of a large knife
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp xanthan gum (optional. This is a completely natural product for adding viscosity to the oil, available from health food stores and some supermarkets)
1. To make the curry oil, whisk the xanthan gum (if using) into the olive oil until blended. Next, put the olive oil, garlic, turmeric, cumin, chilli powder, garam masala and salt into a pan and place over a low heat. Stir and bring to a simmer, reducing the heat to its lowest possible setting. Cook for a further 2 minutes, continuing to stir. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool and infuse for 30 minutes. Strain through a muslin cloth over a sieve. Set this strained oil to one side while you make the chickpea cakes.
2. Drain the chickpeas from their soaking water and then place in a pan covered with fresh water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and cook at a simmer until they are tender, which will take around 45 minutes. Drain.
3. In a food processor combine the cumin, garlic, turmeric, peas, ginger, chillies, lemon juice and salt. Process until it forms a thick paste. Place into a mixing bowl.
4. Roughly chop (or very briefly pulse in a food processor) the chickpeas and add to the mixing bowl, along with the gram flour, chopped onion and chopped coriander and mint.
5. Form the mixture into eight cakes weighing around 80 g each and place on a baking tray. Refrigerate for at least half an hour (this will firm up the cakes before frying).
6. When you are ready to cook the chickpea cakes, pour groundnut oil into a large non stick frying pan to a depth of around 1/2 cm. Place over a medium heat. When the oil is hot, carefully place the chickpea cakes into the pan. Cook for 3-4 minutes until golden brown then carefully flip the cakes over to cook for a further 3-4 minutes.
7. Serve the cakes on plates surrounded with a generous drizzle of curry oil, along with a light salad, such as red onion, cucumber and pomegranate seeds.