2 medium onions, preferably not Vidalia or other very sweet varieties, cut into pea-size dice
2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1-inch-square chunk of ginger, peeled, chopped fine
1 jalapeÃ±o, or a more intense pepper if you're macho, chopped fine
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon coriander powder
2 teaspoon cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon red chile powder, or to taste
2 cups shelled peas, about 8 ounces by weight
1 small carrot, cut in pea-size dice
Salt, to taste
Water, or chicken stock if you're awesome
Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat until it flows like water, and add the onions. Stir to coat in the oil, get it to a healthy-sounding sizzle, and turn the heat to medium-low or low. I'm going to tell you now, this is not going to be your favorite part of cooking this dish, because you're going to have to stir the onions literally every other minute, if not more, until they get an even, dark, rusty brown. You have to keep stirring because if any of the onions brown too quickly, they'll burn by the time the rest get that dark color. This will take over 20 minutes. But you can start chopping and measuring the other stuff while you wait. Just don't forget the onions!
When they're a beautiful rich brown, push the onions off to one side of the pan. Turn the heat back up to medium and add the ginger and garlic, stirring to coat them in oil. They'll get fragrant quickly; when they smell incredible, add the jalapeno or chili pepper and stir until you smell it, too.
Now add the whole cumin seeds, toasting them until you smell them, then add the rest of the spice powders. Toast them in the oil for a moment, and then stir everything together. Keep stirring, which will help toast and bring out the spices; you'll feel the spices kind of "grip" the onions, turning the whole mess into a clump.
When the spices have clumped up and darkened a shade, add 1 cup water and bring to a simmer. Give this gravy a taste -- the flavors will be great, but probably overly sweet. Season with salt, bringing it back into the savory spectrum, and simmer the gravy so the flavors come together for a few minutes.
Add the peas and more water (or stock) to just barely cover. Bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer and cover, leaving a slight crack for steam to escape.
Give them a stir, taste and adjust with salt after about 5 minutes. Add carrots. Cover and continue simmering.
When I make this dish with tender peas, after about 10-12 minutes simmering they'll get exactly how I want them: starting to wrinkle, an ugly army green color, but with a smooth, creamy center that's deeply savory, absorbing all the gingery, spicy flavors. If your peas are a bit starchier, it can take quite a while longer to get to that stage. Just keep cooking, adding more water if necessary. But eventually, they'll get there, and your friends will be like, "What's that flavor, son? Butter?" And you'll say, "No, it's pea."
By Francis Lam
Francis Lam is Features Editor at Gilt Taste, provides color commentary for the Cooking Channel show Food(ography), and tweets at @francis_lam.