The Culinary Composer

Barbara and the Culinary Composer. Photo by Cindy Dyer.

It’s not every day that you get to meet a world-renowned composer. I’m only this lucky because it was my assignment as editor-in-chief of Hearing Loss Magazine.

Composer Richard Einhorn’s most notable work, Voices of Light, was performed on March 2 by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO), with Marin Alsop, conductor, at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. The Hall was equipped with an audio loop (hearing loop) for the performance so people with hearing aids could get customized sound directly to their ears, enabling them to enjoy the music without background distractions. Thus, the reason for my assignment.

Voices of Light, an oratorio scored for soloists, chorus, orchestra and a bell, premiered in 1994 and has been performed around the world. The oratorio was inspired by Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1928 silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc.

I had been listening to Einhorn’s Voices of Light for weeks in preparation for the article and photo shoot. I loved the music and the lyrics which are sung in Latin, Middle French and Italian. Far from being a singer, I found myself crooning Latin as I whipped around in my Jeep Cherokee.

You can imagine my anticipation about meeting Richard Einhorn. I picked him up at the airport and had about 20 minutes to chat with him en route to Baltimore. I had butterflies mostly because I was concerned that my poor sense of direction, even with a navigation system in my car, would cause us to be late. We were scheduled for a photo shoot at the Peabody Institute of Music at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and I didn’t want to blow it by getting lost.

Really, what do you say to such a deeply-gifted man whose Voices of Light is so lovely and powerful it leaves you breathless? Small talk started me off. I don’t remember how it happened, but the conversation came around to food. Yes, Richard loves to cook and took up the hobby in 2008. One of his favorite recipes is an Indian dish, Chana Masala. An Indian friend of his friend, Karen, showed her the recipe. They made it one evening and as Richard said, “It’s now been made dozens of times in New York, and has gone as far afield as Bremen, Germany and North Carolina.”

Some of the spices of Chana Masala

For the next 20 minutes we talked cooking, recipes, wine, hospitality and all things food! I turned to him and said, “Here I am with a world-renowned composer and we are talking about food!” He laughed and smiled warmly. I appreciated that reaction.

If you get a chance to see Voices of Light or listen to the CD, please do. Chalk up March 2, 2012, as one of my favorite days – meeting Richard Einhorn then enjoying the BSO’s performance of Voices of Light.


Richard later sent me the recipe for Chana Masala. Now, it has been made in the Washington, D.C., area, albeit, not by the maestro himself, but by me. We had it tonight for dinner for a meatless, Lenten meal. It was fragrant and delicious. I used Muir Glen Fire Roasted Tomatoes, which are my usual brand for anything that calls for canned tomatoes. My friend, Zita, of Indian heritage, pointed me to a “well organized” Indian grocer for the exotic ingredients. You can adjust the spices to your taste. I served it on rice with a garnish of cilantro and ginger slices as suggested. Delish!

Easy Chana Masala

  • 2 to 3 tablespoons Canola Oil
  • 1 medium chopped onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 3 crushed cardamom pods
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 28 oz can tomatoes, including the juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 Tablespoon cilantro, chopped
  • 1 pinch cayenne
  • 2 15 oz cans chickpeas
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Ginger sliced thinly with a vegetable peeler

Heat oil in saucepan, about 2 to 3 Tablespoons.

Add 1 medium chopped onion and cook over medium heat until caramelized and charred.

Lower heat. Add 2 cloves minced garlic, 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander, 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger, 1 teaspoon garam masala, 3 crushed cardamom pods. Cook about 30 seconds, until fragrant.

Add 1 cup or less water and scrape pan. Cook until water evaporates.

The fragrant sauce before adding the tomatoes.

Add 28 oz can tomatoes, including juice. Break them apart. Add 1 teaspoon salt; boil.

Reduce heat to low. Add 1 tablespoon cilantro and a pinch of cayenne. Simmer until thickened.

Add 2 15 oz cans chickpeas. Stir well.

Cook about 5 minutes over low heat.

Add 2 tablespoons water. Cook about 5 minutes until water is absorbed.
Add lemon juice and garnish with fresh ginger slices.