Chole Bhatura or Chana Bhatura is an exquisite meal that you can usually find in north Indian roadside eateries called dhabas, or at Indian restaurants. A spicy, traditional chana masala or chole masala is served with a puffy Indian bread called a Bhatura. It is food to die for. Vegan, nut-free and soy-free, the chana masala is gluten-free.
Growing up in Bombay, it was hard to miss the delicious flavor of Udupi restaurants, which dot the city (and now other parts of the country and the world), serving fast food that is vegetarian, reasonably priced, incredibly tasty and even healthy. Udupi restaurants came to be known as such because they were, at least in the beginning, run by people from Udupi in Karnataka, a beautiful coastal state in the South of India. While the restaurants served a lot of popular south Indian dishes, like idli-wada sambar, masala dosa and uttapam, they also often catered to more diverse tastes with dishes like cheese sandwiches (slices of white bread around thick slabs of Amul cheese: remember that one?), vegetable pulao and ragda patties which are potato cakes served in a chunky, spicy pea sauce. Yum.
When we lived in India, Desi and I would meet friends after work at Kamat's, one of a popular chain of Udupi restaurants in the city. This particular restaurant, completely unpretentious with steel-topped, easy-to-clean tables and matter-of-fact waiters, sat close to the Sterling Cinema which always showed Hollywood movies. On Friday nights, we'd often combine a quick but hearty meal at Kamat's with a night show of whatever was showing at Sterling. At midnight, after the show, we'd dash to make it to one of the last local trains chugging out of Victoria Terminus.
Now, when I visit India, I make a beeline for Udupi restaurants when I eat out because I know for sure that's one place I can always count on to find a delicious vegan meal. One of my favorite meals at Kamat's was Chana Bhatura. Or maybe it was called Chole Bhatura on the menu.
This is actually a north Indian dish, usually found in roadside eateries called dhabas, but the Udupi restaurants, like I said, catered to every taste and had many north Indian dishes on the menu. Chana or chole would both refer to garbanzo beans or chickpeas. The beans would be served steaming in a red-brown sauce alongside a big, puffy puri, or a bhatura, which is a delicious deep-fried bread. When the piping hot plate of Chana Bhatura was put in front of you, it was bliss to poke a hole in the bhatura and watch it deflate before you could tear it with your fingers, dunk it into the chana, and bite into it.
If you have any familiarity with Indian breads, you probably know the fried bread called a "puri." A bhatura is not unlike a puri, except it's bigger and has some yogurt mixed into the dough. Bhaturas are also usually made with refined flour, like all purpose flour, for a crispier, flakier texture.
My bhaturas are smaller than what you'd find at a restaurant, partly because the cast-iron pan I use for all my deep-frying is rather a small one. But if you have a larger pan, roll them out bigger, by all means.
How to make Chole Bhatura or Chana Bhatura:
- I have various versions of Chana Masala on this blog, including a quickie version and a slow cooker version that's free of added oils, but when I make Chana Bhatura I love to stick with the traditional recipe for Chana Masala, which is perhaps the most popular Indian food anywhere in the world. This version, which is cooked at a more leisurely pace and with a few more spices, is Chana Masala as it's meant to be. And although it may sound like it takes much longer to make it, it really doesn't. If you start out with canned chickpeas, you'll be done in under 45 minutes.
- Canned chickpeas are the only canned product you want in this recipe. Your tomatoes should be fresh for the best flavor. If you want to cook your chickpeas from dry, make sure you soak them overnight and cook them until they are very, very tender.
- Caramelize your onions and slow cook your tomatoes until they break down thoroughly. Your gravy will thicken beautifully when the onions and tomatoes are cooked as they should be and your chickpeas are tender when you add them to the sauce.
- Take the trouble to find the chana masala spice mix either online or at your friendly, neighborhood Indian grocery store. Chana masala spice mix contains more ingredients than your average garam masala does, most importantly anardana, or pomegranate powder, and aamchur, or mango powder. These two spices add the depth and flavor you want in your chana masala, which an average garam masala will not bring.
- You might balk at a fried food, and you could just make or buy a naan, but if you are brave enough to make the bhatura, do. It's not difficult, and you'll never really taste ultimate deliciousness unless you've torn off a piece of the bhatura and dunked it into the Chana Masala.
- You need to add some yogurt in the bhatura dough. I use cashew yogurt, but any kind is fine. Don't skip it-- it's important for the flavor and texture.
- Timing is important for a bhatura-- you need to eat it as it comes off the stove to ensure it tastes the best. So start frying your bhaturas after you finish making the chana masala.
Now that you're armed with the know-how, here are the ingredients for a fantastic Chana Bhatura:
- Chickpeas, cooked or canned
- Ginger-garlic paste
- Vegetable oil
- Whole spices, including green cardamom pods, cloves, cinnamon and a bay leaf
- Cayenne or other moderately hot chili pepper powder
- Chana masala spice mix
For the bhatura:
- Whole wheat flour and all purpose flour, or just all purpose flour
- Vegetable oil
- Vegan yogurt
Aren't you glad that other than the chana masala spice mix, there is really no exotic ingredient here? And you thought this was going to be hard.
It's time now for the recipe. Let's get cooking!
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- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 dried bay leaf
- 5 cardamom pods
- 4 cloves
- ½- inch piece of cinnamon
- 2 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 large red onion (finely diced)
- 2 heaping tsp ginger garlic paste
- 3 medium tomatoes (finely chopped)
- ½ tsp turmeric
- ½ tsp cayenne (or any powdered red chili pepper)
- 4 cups chickpeas (use canned or cook them yourself. If you cook them, make sure they are very tender)
- Salt to taste
- 2 tbsp chana masala spice mix
- Juice of 1 lemon or lime
- Coriander or cilantro for garnish (optional)
Make the bhatura dough:
- Place all the ingredients except the water in a food processor, bowl of a stand mixer, or, if kneading by hand, in a large bowl. Drizzle in the water and knead until you have an elastic but firm dough. Place in an airtight container and set it aside while you make the chana masala.
Make the chana masala:
- Heat the oil in a saucepan and add the whole spices -- the bay leaf, cardamom, cinnamon and cloves. Finally add the cumin and stir to mix. When the cumin sizzles, add the onions with some salt and cook until the onions turn golden-brown.
- Add the ginger-garlic paste and saute for a minute.
- Add the cayenne and turmeric, saute for another minute, then add the diced tomatoes. Mix well and let the tomatoes cook, stirring them frequently, until they are completely broken down and very pulpy.
- Add the chickpeas along with 2 cups of water and stir well. Add the chana masala spice mix. and stir it in.
- Bring to a boil, turn heat to low, cover and simmer about 15-20 minutes so all the flavors merge. You can use a potato masher to mash some of the chickpeas and thicken the sauce. If the chana masala looks too dry, add more water.
- Squeeze in the lemon juice and garnish with coriander leaves, if using.
Make the bhatura:
- Heat oil for frying in a pan large enough to hold the bhatura. Divide the dough into 12 pieces and roll each into a ball. Roll out into a circle about six to eight inches in diameter. Make sure you roll the dough evenly, without any spots that are too thick or too thin.
- When the oil is hot, about 360 degrees, place a bhatura into the pan, taking care not to splash the oil on yourself. Use a spatula to press the bhatura down as it puffs up -- this will ensure it cooks evenly and puffs into a ball.
- Remove the bhatura to a colander lined with paper towels. Serve hot with the chana masala.
- Nutrition information below is for the Chana Masala only.
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