Work is hectic and evening events mean little time to prepare a home cooked meal. Don’t worry, Naveen Atwal is here with some expert tips and dishes to help you through the week.

Spring flowers

I seriously can’t believe it’s already March – the last few months have been a blur. Work feels like it’s busier than ever. There have been too many late nights spent staring into the abyss of my computer, trying to finish another Excel document for the next day’s meeting. More working hours has meant less time in the kitchen cooking.

One of my key tactics to stay on top of meals during a busy work week is scheduled meal preparation and I strongly recommend you get into the routine. I do most of my meal prep (or “marathon cooking” as I have dubbed it) on Sundays. I chop the vegetables I’ll need for the week to prepare stir-fries, pastas, roasting and snacks. For breakfast, I’ll clean, wash and divide up my fruits and vegetables in small jars or containers to whip together quick smoothies. (Tip: Lightly drizzle your cut produce with lemon juice to prevent them from browning.)

I usually spend about 2-3 hours of total prep and cook time, but with a well-stocked pantry and strategic grocery shopping, it’s worth all the effort. I tend to cook mostly vegetarian meals during the week as they often take less time and I don’t have to worry about thawing out meats. If you plan on doing a lot of roasting or baking, go double-duty with your oven and cook multiple things at once – for example, roast your vegetables for a chicken dish while you also bake a lasagna. When those dishes are done, bake a cake!

One of my favourite quick-meal, double-duty recipes is Chana Masala, a rich chickpea curry. Once you learn the recipe, it’s almost effortless. You can serve this with basically any bread, pasta, grains or rice you like. The ingredients are always in-season and easy to keep on hand, so you can enjoy this year-round as a hearty soul food dish in the winter,  and in the summer as welcome addition to your backyard potluck party.  It’s a perfect way to celebrate the arrival of longer days and the transition from winter to spring.

Chana Masala (Punjabi-style Chickpea Curry)
Makes about 4 servings

channa masala1 can chickpeas, drained and washed
1 medium white onion, diced
1 tbsp ginger, finely minced
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp coriander powder (optional)*
1/2  tsp amchoor (mango) powder (optional)*
1/2 Green chilli, minced or 1/2 tsp red chilli powder (optional)
1/4 tsp each of salt and pepper
2 large tomato, finely diced OR 1.5 to 2 cups of plain tomato sauce
1 tsp tomato paste (omit if using tomato sauce instead of fresh tomatoes in the recipe)
1 tbsp cumin seeds
Canola oil or grapeseed oil – couple of tablespoons
2 cups of water

1. In a large pot set to medium-high heat, add oil (enough to lightly coat the bottom of the pan). Once the oil is heated, add the cumin seeds, stir quickly and toast for about 10 seconds or until fragrant – do not let the seeds burn! Then add the onions, ginger and garlic and stir continuously until the onions soften and start to brown, about 5-7 minutes. Add the spices and chillies and stir together for another minute.

2. Lower the heat to medium-low and add the tomatoes + tomato paste OR tomato sauce to the mixture. Stir and cook for another 5 minutes. If using fresh tomatoes, cover the pot to help steam the tomatoes, which will help break them down. Every minute or so, check the tomatoes and stir the mixture. Use your spoon to “mash” the tomatoes. The mixture should start to resemble a chunky gravy.

If at any point the ingredients start sticking to the bottom of the pot, lower the heat and add a few drops of oil or water and scrape everything off the bottom of the pan so it doesn’t burn.

3. Add the chickpeas, incorporate them into the gravy. Add the water, stir together and cover the pot but leave a small opening to let steam escape. Simmer for about 20 minutes (the curry should be at a gentle simmer but not boiling. Lower the heat as needed). Check the pot every 1-2 minutes, stir and make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pot (if the dish sticks to the bottom, the heat is too high).

4. After about 20 minutes, the curry should be of medium thickness and the chickpeas should flatten with the back of your spoon. If not, keep cooking, checking every few minutes until it does so. If the curry is too thick, add more water, 1/4 cup at a time, and let it simmer for another 5-7 minutes, checking it constantly. The simmering thickens the gravy/curry.

Serve on top of your pasta, grain or flatbread of choice with a simple salad and plain Indian or Greek yogurt. Optional: garnish with chopped cilantro before serving.

* These spices are optional. While the curry will still taste authentic without the coriander and amchoor powder, the addition of these spices really enhances the tanginess of the curry.


Chickpea and Coconut Veggie Curry with Soba Noodles

This is my homage to Fresh Restaurant’s “Energy Bowl.” I have kept the dish vegetarian, but you can easily add cooked chicken or tofu for added protein.

Makes 2 to 3 servings
soba noodle bowl1 cup Chana Masala (see recipe above)
1/2 red onion, finely diced
1/2 zucchini, finely diced
1/4 cucumber, finely diced
1 tbsp pumpkin seeds*
1 tbsp hemp seeds*
1 tbsp cashews, roughly chopped* (optional)
91 grams soba noodles** (About one small fist of noodles)
1/2 cup coconut milk
1 tsp tahini paste (optional)
1 tbsp canola or grapeseed oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook soba noodles according to the package.

1. On medium-high heat, add oil and sauté the onions and zucchini, adding salt and pepper to taste. Cook until ingredients are softened and lightly browned. Lower the heat to medium.

2. Add the coconut milk and tahini paste and simmer for about 2-3 minutes or until the sauce starts to thicken. Remove from heat.

3. In a serving bowl, lightly toss together the heated Chana Masala, the onion-zucchini-coconut milk mixture, cucumber seeds and nuts. Serve on top of the cooked soba noodles.

*Use can use the seeds and nuts of your choice or omit altogether.
**You can substitute soba noodles for rice, quinoa or pasta of your choice

the Menu is Jugni Style’s lifestyle column written by Naveen Atwal, bringing you details on what to eat and how to make it. Plus tips on entertaining like a pro – or at least pretending you are!


Photography: Spring photo by EssjayNZ – Creative Commons License