The Circus Gardener's Kitchen

seasonal vegetarian recipes with a side helping of food politics

chick pea curry with green pea pilau

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Thousands of curry dishes are eaten every day in the UK, but few of them are cooked from scratch.

Many are bought as ready meals or take-aways, although increasingly popular over recent years has been the ready made “cooking sauce”, representing a sort of “half way house”, where the cook prepares and cooks the other ingredients before stirring in the ready made sauce.

By far and away the most popular of these sauces is “tikka masala”, the name given to a dish that is not even authentically Indian, but typical of the British penchant for absorbing and then traducing outside culinary influences. The ready-made cooking sauce is simply a logical extension of that tendency.

Overall, the cooking sauces market is now reckoned to be worth over £800 million in the UK alone, and behind most of the familiar brands on the supermarket shelves are the giant food multinationals. Lloyd Grossman sauces and Sharwoods, for example, are both owned by Premier Foods, Dolmio, Seeds of Change and Uncle Ben’s are all owned by Mars Inc, Pataks by AB World Foods and Knorr by Unilever.

Many brands contain high levels of salt and sugar, and although a ready-made sauce speeds up the process of cooking it does so at the cost of overall taste. In particular, when it comes to making a curry these commercial sauces are simply unable to reproduce the complex layers of flavour that can be achieved by creating a proper curry from scratch.

Even if you can only do it periodically, try cooking a real curry every so often, just to remind yourself how wonderful it can be.

chickpeas growingpestle and mortarcoriandertifin box

This is the fifth of my recipes created for Suma Wholefoods Cooperative. For each of these recipes I choose a selection of ingredients from the extensive range of organic, ethically sourced products from Suma Wholefoods, which Suma provide to me free of charge, and I then create a recipe using those ingredients.

Although I grow chickpeas on my allotment plot, the Circus Garden, as shown in the photograph above, I do not have enough for both this recipe and for planting this year’s crop in a couple of month’s time, so I have opted to use organic chickpeas supplied by Suma.

The recipe is inspired by a classic Indian street food called chole, which is usually accompanied by bhature, a yoghurt-fermented, puffy, fried Indian bread. Here, however, I’m serving it with a spicy green pea pilau.

This combination is so good that on the rare occasions there is any left, I will very happily eat it cold for breakfast the following morning!

chick pea curry with green pea pilau


for the chickpea curry

240 g dried organic chickpeas, soaked overnight
1 onion, chopped
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
pinch asafoetida
5 cm piece of ginger, chopped
2 red chillies, seeds in, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp ground turmeric
400 g can organic chopped plum tomatoes
500 ml water
2 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
1 tbsp garam masala
2 tbsp groundnut oil

for the green pea pilau

375 g basmati rice
100 g fresh peas (use frozen if not available)
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
5 cm piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
2 green chillies, seeds in, chopped
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 litre water
2 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
2 tbsp ground nut oil

to garnish

1 tbsp fresh coriander, finely chopped


1. Drain the soaked chickpeas and place in a pan with a litre of water over a high heat. When it reaches the boil, reduce the heat to low, cover the pan and leave the chickpeas to simmer for an hour, until just tender. Drain and set to one side.

2. Combine the chillies, ginger, garlic and sea salt into a thick paste using a pestle and mortar or an electric chopper.

3. Heat a heavy bottomed pan over a high heat and add the oil. When it is hot, add the mustard seeds and cumin seeds and stir. After 30 seconds they will start to pop. Now add the asafoetida, stir and after a further 30 seconds add the onion and cook, stirring, until they are soft and beginning to brown, about 7-8 minutes. Add the garlic, chilli, and ginger paste, the chopped tomatoes, the turmeric, salt and water. Stir to combine.

4. Now add the drained chickpeas and stir. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pan with a lid and leave to cook for a further 20 minutes, stirring every so often. Remove the lid, add the garam masala and the chopped coriander and cook, stirring, for a further minute then remove from the heat.

5. While the chickpea curry is cooking, make the rice. Rinse the rice in a sieve under running water until the water runs clear. Put the garlic, chilli and ginger into an electric chopper or a pestle and mortar and combine to a thick paste.

6. Heat the ground nut oil over a high heat in a large, heavy bottomed pan with a lid. When the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds. They will begin to pop after about 30 seconds, at which point add the onion. Continue to cook on the high heat, stirring every so often until the onion has softened and is starting to catch and turn brown at the edges. Now add the garlic, ginger and chilli paste and stir it in. Finally, add the turmeric, rice, peas, sea salt and water. Stir and bring to the boil.

7. Leave the rice to cook, uncovered for ten minutes then reduce the heat to its lowest setting and place the lid tightly on the saucepan. Cook for a further five minutes then remove from the heat, leaving the lid on, and leave to rest for 10 minutes. After this time the rice should be perfectly cooked. Remove the lid and stir in the fresh coriander 8. Serve a portion of the rice with a portion of the chickpea curry and scatter a little chopped fresh coriander over the top.

Categories: dairy free, gluten free, vegan

Tags: , ,

23 replies

  1. This looks so good and chickpeas are one of my favourites. I am in awe of your photos. How do you manage to capture such amazing light?!

  2. Thank you for your kind comments. Wherever I can I use natural light for my photographs. My “studio” is a tiny table, about 1 metre square, which I have set up adjacent to a north facing window. It’s not ideal, but the light tends to be naturally soft and diffused. Sometimes, particularly in the darker winter light, I will supplement the available light with softbox lighting, and I had to do so for this particular photo.


    • Thank you Steve for sharing your photo tips. I tend to take my photos on a small desk next to a north facing window, but often find it is too dark. I shall have to look into softbox lighting.

  3. Of course, during these winter months there’s only a limited period of the day where the light is sufficiently strong for indoor photography if you are relying on natural light alone. Having had a look at the photos on your blog I have to say I think they are already really good.


  4. Hi Steve,

    this is quite a topical post for me – Phil and I took my mum for a post theatre meal at Mowglis In Liverpool yesterday (an Indian Street food place) – none of us had been before and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Everything came served in Tiffin tins – we had silver coloured metal plates to eat things off.. but all the food was exquisite. It all tasted really fresh, and even though there were lots of slices of fresh red chillis, it wasn’t too hot. I’m having 6 old friends to stay here for a curry/pyjama party night in March/ April, and they all love curry, so I wanted to try and do some home made stuff from scratch – I’m attaching the menu from Mowglis – Phil and Mum had the ginger chicken which they loved, so I might try and do that, but the rest of the meal was veggie – I had the Indian School Tiffin (pot luck from the veggie options) and ours was the Tea steeped chickpeas, Temple Dahl, Basmati Rice (with added wild rice) and the Picnic Potato curry. We also had some breads (puri and Rooti) and the Fenugreek kissed fries. I’ve tried to google some recipes for similar food but can’t find any. Your chick pea recipe sounds ideal, but I’d love to try and do a similar Dhal recipe as that was gorgeous – any ideas?
    ta Karen x

    • Hi Karen

      The Mowgli menu has some interesting sounding vegetarian dishes. I only wish I lived closer!

      I like the sound of your curry party too. I have a few other Indian-inspired recipes on this blog – aloo chaat, for example is both hearty and easy to prepare. For dhal I can do no better than point you in the direction of one of the blogs I follow, Gujarati Girl, by Urvashi Roe. There are a couple of good dhal recipes on Urvashi’s site which I am sure will be of help.

      Steve x

  5. Your pictures are beautiful!

  6. You can’t beat a handmade curry! Something we see a lot of in the Suma canteen. Love the idea of the green pilau!

  7. Your curry and rice looks absolutely delicious.

  8. Re the using of cooking sauces, we use them for their convenience but we also do start from scratch with some of our curries. It is good that in a city the size of Ballarat (100,000) we have two Asian shops that sell all the ingredients and a “commercial” (i.e. franchised) spices shop. But we also have any number of ‘farmers’ matkets.

  9. I must try this recipe it looks delichious!

  10. Just cooked this chick pea curry, absolutely delicious! I often cook curries from scratch and absolutely agree they are far superior than a shop bought cooking sauce. I did add to mine a little cubed sweet potato, carrot, cauliflower and just a few raw cashews to ‘up’ my veggie intake and add texture. This recipe definitely a keeper:)

    • Thank you Barbara, I’m so pleased you like this recipe, and well done by adding your own touches to it. Steve 🙂


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