Channa and Aloo, A Recipe
Have you ever been curious about Trinidadian food? Is it possible you're asking yourself, "What is Trinidadian food?"
Don't worry. You're lucky to be here! Because I don't judge. But if you are wondering what I'm going on about, or why you're such a lucky bastard right now, you should read on...
The History, Sort of
I was born in the tiny dual-island nation of Trinidad and Tobago. Coming to the US was quite the culinary adjustment for my parents, who had to rely on flea markets and backyard gardens to get the ingredients they needed to replicate the dishes they were used to cooking.
You see, American grocery stores weren’t exactly stocking the same *takes deep breath* Native Sub-Tropical-Indian-Western European-African influenced foods typical of the Caribbean back in 1989. However, my resilient parents (and aunts and uncles and cousins) made it work, and I grew up knowing and loving the foods of my mother nation.
Left - Trinidad. Right - Tobago, with my Aunt and I chillin'
But something curious happened… while assimilating to American life, I somehow became withholding of sharing my birth-food (new word, go with it) with others unfamiliar. I would happily go out to chain restaurants with friends and roti shops with my family, but I would never let my two worlds intermix. It wasn’t something I did consciously, it was more as if I spoke two languages, American and Trini, and I naturally switched back and forth as needed.
Now, I’m making amends to my past. I’m sharing this recipe, one of my favorite meals to cook and eat, to share a part of me that I’ve always been proud to be.
By the way, it means Chickpeas and Potato.
Channa and Aloo is an easy, comforting, gateway food that will encourage you to explore the many delights the West Indies has to offer. This dish is heavily influenced by the cuisine of India, of which over a third of T&T’s population is comprised of its descendants. It is so heavily influenced that we barely changed the language!
Everyone has their own way of making Channa and Aloo, and they’re all fairly similar, given that this is a simple dish. My Mom and Dad, who are both bosses in the kitchen, taught me how to make this semi-stew, and I didn’t have the benefit of following a recipe (Remember when I called you a lucky bastard? It was out of affection).
I had to learn all of my Trini cooking the hard way – by calling a parent, asking them to remind me for the hundredth time how hot the oil needs to be, and having it never taste like theirs, ever. Unless I was cooking Channa and Aloo.
Every time I return to this recipe, I regain any confidence I lost in a botched batch of fry bake.
This is my go-to, and I encourage everyone to make this dish as their first attempt into West Indian cuisine!
Beyond the Recipe
- This recipe is vegetarian and can easily be multiplied, making it a popular dish to serve at Hindu (and non-Hindu) holidays that are celebrated in T&T.
- Butternut squash is my personal touch. There had been one sitting out on my counter for so long I wasn’t even sure it would still be good. But those suckers last a LONG time! And now it’s forever in my version of this dish.
- Fresh herbs, which I love using, can be incorporated. The only reason I don't use them in this recipe is simply because I never have. I would suggest a little cilantro or culantro.
- As always, use high quality ingredients. There are so few here so they’re all equally important.
The one item that might be difficult to find is the curry powder. I challenge you to find a quality curry powder! Many small chain grocery stores and even Whole Foods have expanded their library of spices, so even if you cannot get to an Indian or Middle Eastern market, you can still find decent options just down the road.
There is no conclusion here. Just cook!
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All photos and content are original by Laura Bissessar.
Please do not use without my written consent. Thank you!