It is the versatile chickpea that saves the day.
Chickpea, garbanzo bean, Bengal gram, Kabuli chana or chhola... very complicated and overlapping names. I've grown up with the terms Kabuli chana, meaning the larger straw coloured one — now improved upon and plumped up, and which my local grocer calls “dollar chana”; and kala chana, the smaller, darker, wrinkly variety. K.T. Achaya (A Historical Dictionary of Indian Food, Oxford University Press), says that in English it was called Bengal gram because it was first encountered by the British in Bengal, and that in Sanskrit it is chanaka, in Hindi chana, kadalai in Tamil, chickpea in English and botanically Cicer arietnum. Alan Davidson (The Oxford Companion to Food) writes that the chickpea was first grown in the Levant and ancient Egypt but is now used in the entire region between India and North Africa as well as places to which the Arabs took it, like Sicily and Spain. He explains that the botanical name, arietinum, is accounted for by the likeness of the seed, which is curled at the sides, to a ram's skull. (Aries is ram.) And the generic name, Cicer, is said to come from the famous Roman orator Cicero, whose family had an ancestor with a chickpea-shaped wart on his face!
Both Achaya and Davidson seem to say that the Kabuli chana (which came to us from Afghanistan) is large and the kala chana small. And they all take hours to cook, despite overnight soaking. But in Goa recently I met yet another kala chana. This was dark, a nice nutty brown, but large. And it cooks in a few minutes, after being soaked the night before. Lakhan produced it at breakfast one morning, as the course following plump, pinkish-gold chikoos, homegrown; deep orange papaya, also homegrown, that was so sweet that lemon juice added to the flavour; and large red strawberries (bought). It tasted like kala chana but felt like Kabuli because kala chana, no matter how much steam you force into it with pressure cooking, remains hard. This was firm but tender, and absorbed the flavours of the tempering. A small squeeze of lemon juice was optional.
The other revelation was the lemon. I could go on about the distinction between limes and lemons, without coming to any conclusion. This was another variety I've never seen. It grows locally — in this case, in the kitchen garden — and looks like the usual green type you buy everywhere, only larger. I wasn't surprised at the flavour — most varieties that are not mass produced have a fresher flavour. Possibly the time lag between harvest and sale is so short that the volatile aromatic oils are still abundant and you just have to squeeze one wedge to have perfumed fingers all day. The beautiful surprise came from the colour inside: Bright orange. The skin was thin — not the sweet kind you can nibble — and the flesh a glowing, fruity orange.
A cut wedge was as beautiful as a flower with its green skin and pomegranate blossom orange flesh. So we had it squeezed on the sookha kala chana, over diced ripe papaya, on strawberries, quartered and sprinkled with sugar, and cut into long wedges in tall glasses of iced water, like some exotic cocktail, in which the green and orange segment glistened between diamonds of ice.
Ode to the Lemon
From blossoms/released/by the moonlight,/from an/aroma of exasperated/love,/steeped in fragrance,/yellowness/drifted from the lemon tree,/and from its planetarium/lemons descended to the earth./Tender yield!/The coasts,/the markets glowed/with light, with/unrefined gold;/we opened/two halves/of a miracle,/congealed acid/trickled/from the hemispheres/of a star,/the most intense liqueur/of nature,/unique, vivid,/concentrated,/born of the cool, fresh/lemon,/of its fragrant house,/its acid, secret symmetry./Knives/sliced a small/cathedral/in the lemon,/the concealed apse, opened,/revealed acid stained glass,/drops/oozed topaz,/altars,/cool architecture./So, when you hold/the hemisphere/of a cut lemon/above your plate,/you spill/a universe of gold,/a/yellow goblet/of miracles,/a fragrant nipple/of the earth's breast,/a ray of light that was made fruit,/the minute fire of a planet.