Since Radha, a young woman with a budding career as a perfumer in The Perfumist of Paris, has roots in both the East and the West, it was hard for me to decide which recipes to include in the novel. I could have shared the recipe for Coq au Vin or Sauteed Cod—the French know how to be delicate with fish dishes— or chicken steeped in rosemary and herbes de Provence, one of Pierre’s specialties. In the end, Eastern cuisine won out because it’s the most familiar to me.
I chose an easy and beloved Indian dish called chole or chana —the Hindi words for chickpeas. I loved creating the scene in which Radha’s daughters are helping her make chole; I was re-enacting the times I helped my mother make this curry. Cooked alongside other ingredients and flavorful spices, this legume provides such a scrumptious, hearty meal that you won’t even know you’re eating something that’s good for you —fiber, nutrients, and few calories. Whether you’re a vegan, vegetarian, or meat lover, chickpeas satisfy.
Chickpeas originated in Turkey. Today, India is the largest producer of chickpeas in the world. This legume is also popular in Middle Eastern and African cuisines because it stores well.
Feel free to improvise this recipe for chole: you can add another vegetable to the dish. Maybe you’re partial to red pepper or potatoes. Cube your favorite veggie and put it in before you add the chole. Perhaps you love peas. Go for it! The beans can be cooked in water, coconut milk, or chicken broth. Each will provide a different flavor—with coconut milk being the richest. I prefer chicken broth because, well, I like chicken, and you could also add cooked chicken to the recipe!
Whatever you decide, there is no better garnish than fresh cilantro leaves. We experience the flavor of food not only through our noses —I learned that while researching The Perfumist of Paris— but also with our eyes. And the bright green fan of cilantro leaves contrasts so beautifully with the orange-yellow curry.