PIPING HOT: A doubles vendor refills a bucket with a fresh scoop of channa.

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Enchanting channa

By Shirley Hall

WHERE would we be without the main ingredient of doubles, channa? This bean is better known throughout the world as chick-peas in English, or garbanzos in Central and South American countries.

Channa has been grown around the Mediterranean for 8,000 years. The botanical term for channa, Cicer arietinum, means "small ram" referring to this bean's ram's head shape. Channa is also known as Bengal grams, Hommes, Hamaz and Egyptian peas.

This high-protein legume was probably cultivated first in the Middle East and then travelled to the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. In the 1500's Spanish and Portuguese explorers brought this bean to other sub-tropical regions of the world. Today, the main commercial producers of channa are India, Burma, Pakistan, Turkey, Ethiopia and Mexico.

Channa has been domesticated into many varieties. Types are suited for tropical, sub-tropical and temperate regions. There are two main types of channa: the Desi originally in India, and Kabuli initially from the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions and now grown in Canada.

The difference between the two main types of channa are "Kabuli" type beans generally have the largest seeds, and grow well in cooler regions under irrigation. Desi chick-peas have smaller seeds, and yield better in India and other dry climate conditions.

Channa is the cassava of beans. It takes little work, will grow about anywhere and with little water. Channa is inexpensive, but try and grow some as an experiment. If you've only ever eaten dried or canned channa, fresh home grown ones are so much tastier. The channa plant has branches near the ground and will grow to two feet high. Rain usually provides enough water, but channa will thrive with irrigation. In India, channa is grown in sugarcane fields. Although usually considered a dry-land crop, channa develop well on rice lands.

To grow channa, get raw seeds at the market and wrap in a slightly moist paper towel for a few days until they begin to sprout. Have a nice patch of soil well prepared with few clumps.

Plant the sprouting seeds two inches deep, about a foot part. Channa requires occasional weeding and slight fertilising with 12-24-12 and will tolerate long dry stretches, but try to regularly water it. It is ready to harvest in four months. These dry pods are more difficult to shell than pigeon peas because they are sticky and cave in rather than split apart. Cows, goats, or sheep will enjoy these plants for forage.

Channa is a very versatile vegetable; consumed as a fresh green vegetable, dried, fried, roasted, or boiled; as a main course, snack food, a sweet, or a condiment. Channa is ground into flour; and used for soup, dhal, and to make bread.

Channa has a nutty flavour, yet the overall taste is like starchy butter. We usually see beige channa, but there are black, green, red, and brown varieties. One cup of channa provides two hundred and sixty calories, and is a great source of protein (25 per cent), fibre, manganese, molybdenum, copper, phosphorus, and iron. 

Eating channa as sprouts will increase the food value. channa provides slow burning carbohydrates, manganese, and iron needed for a long energy supply while its fibre stabilises your blood sugar. Unlike hard-to-digest meat, channa is low in calories and virtually fat-free. However, channa contains "purine" and individuals with kidney problems or gout may want to avoid these beans. Research has found a seven-day diet (one meal a day) of channa cooked with onions and turmeric powder will drastically reduce cholesterol.

Channa should be dry, intact—not cracked, without any insect damage. In an airtight container, channa should keep for a year. Once cooked, it will keep two or three days in the fridge. Channa has about the same nutritional value canned or dry. Like rice, it is best to inspect channa before cooking to remove stones and damaged beans by rinsing them in a strainer.

Channa varieties are used in Middle Eastern, Indian, Spanish, Italian, Greek Asian, and North African cooking. Add channa to penne pasta mixed with olive oil, feta cheese, and fresh oregano for a unique tasty lunch, or just add channa to simple mixed vegetable soup to enhance its taste, texture, and nutrition.

Spicy recipes HUMMUS—great with sada roti Ingredients: One pound well-cooked chick-peas Two cloves garlic Quarter cup fresh lemon juice Quarter cup water One TS salt Half cup sesame tahini spread (optional) Two TBS olive oil Pepper and spices to your taste Method: Put everything in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Serve with sada roti or crackers (biscuits). ROASTED CHANNA – a healthy snack Ingredients: One pound of well-cooked channa Two TBS olive oil One TS soy sauce Spices to your taste Method: Mix ingredients in a bowl and place on a baking sheet. Bake at 450 degrees for half an hour or until brown and crunchy. FALAFEL Ingredients: One pound of cooked channa One large onion chopped fine Four cloves of garlic minced Two TBS chopped parsley One TS coriander One TS cumin Half TS salt Two TBS flour spices to your taste oil for frying Method: Combine all ingredients in a bowl or food processor, mashing the channa. It should become a thick paste which forms into the size of small, slightly flattened, ping pong balls. Fry on high in two inches of oil for a few minutes until golden brown. CHANNA SPROUTS Wash and soak channa over night and then drain the water. Put the channa in a light cotton kitchen towel. Roll it up, place in cool, sunny spot and don't let it dry out. They should sprout in two to three days. The sprouts can be steamed, stir fried, or eaten raw. ALGERIAN CHANNA To prepare this you must first combine the following spices: three TBS ground coriander, three TBS paprika, two TBS cumin, one TBS dried thyme, two TBS cayenne pepper, one TS cinnamon Ingredients: Two pounds well-cooked channa Two cloves of garlic minced One TBS of the above spice mix One large ripe tomato chopped One medium onion chopped small One TBS olive oil Two TBS fresh mint Quarter cup fresh parsley chopped Two TBS chadon benee chopped Salt and more spices to your taste Method: In a frying pan on medium heat the oil and add onion, garlic, and spices. Cook for five minutes. Add channa and cook for another seven minutes. Reduce heat and add tomatoes, parsley and chadon beni and cook for another five minutes. Serve warm with rice or pasta.

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