If you were to drop in on us at lunchtime on a Saturday, you would very likely find us gathered together at the table over a big pot of chana masala.
I usually serve it exactly as you see in these pictures: with a dry potato curry and an Indian bread like poori or naan. It is the perfect, comforting -- and nourishing -- meal to end the week with, and one that stirs tons of comforting flavor into our family time together.
Chana Masala is a hearty, wholesome dish of chickpeas in a brick-red tomato onion sauce that you are almost certain to find on any Indian restaurant menu, anywhere in the world. It needs no introduction to someone on even slighty familiar terms with Indian food.
For me, chana masala is the stuff of nostalgia. Although this is a north Indian dish, it was often on the dinner table in my childhood home despite the fact that my family was from western India. My mom simply referred to it as chole (cho-lay), because that's what chickpeas are called in north India.
I've been making chana masala for nearly as long as I've been cooking, and I'd shared with you a recipe for an easy version a few years back. I also have a slow cooker chana masala and an instant recipe using the basic tomato onion masala sauce on the blog.
Today, I am resharing the version I make most often, this easy chana masala, because I've made some improvements to the recipe that make it taste even more divine and rich, exactly as it should.
Making this homemade chana masala is an effort well worth the 30 minutes or so it takes to pull this dish together. You do need a few specialized spices, but it's well worth buying them because you'll be making this dish over and over. And, of course, there are tons of other vegan Indian recipes on the blog that you can use them in.
Try this chana masala, and come back and tell me if it isn't the most delicious--and easy--Indian dish you have ever cooked.
How to make a quick but authentic chana masala from scratch
Cooking Indian food might appear intimidating if you're not someone who does it on a regular basis, but as you will find out, it needn't be. And it all starts with understanding your spices.
To add richness to this recipe, start out with two whole spices, which you can easily fish out before serving--black cardamom and dry bay leaves. These will make all the difference and add great depth of flavor without the long cooking time.
Second, a chana masala needs its own mix of spices, which you'll find quite easily at Indian stores and online, and it's called, simply, chana masala powder. It's a blend that includes spices like coriander seed, black salt, ginger powder, and a few other spices. It is quite inexpensive and worth buying if you want your chana masala to taste authentic.
You can, however, use garam masala if that's what you have. But if you do, you will need to add amchoor (pronounced um-choor), a tart, dry mango powder. The chickpeas and the tomato-onion sauce won't quite marry together without it, and you'll be left feeling you didn't get what you were hoping for.
Canned chickpeas or chickpeas cooked from scratch?
You can use either, as I do depending on how much time I have to preplan this recipe. I don't think it makes a huge difference, and the convenience of using canned chickpeas can't be beat. If using canned, make sure you place the chickpeas in a strainer and wash out any of the brine sticking to them to ensure it doesn't interfere with the flavor.
Ingredient list for chana masala
- Vegetable oil. Peanut oil is best, but avocado oil or any flavorless vegetable oil is fine. Don't use olive oil or coconut oil.
- Cumin seeds
- Black cardamom (also called brown cardamom. These are much richer and more robust tasting than the small green cardamom pods)
- Dry bay leaf
- Ginger garlic paste
- Tomatoes. Try and use fresh, pureed tomatoes for the best taste. But at a pinch canned pureed tomatoes will work. Don't use herbed or fire-roasted tomatoes because they won't taste right here.
- Ground coriander
- Ground cumin (optional. We already have cumin seeds so you can leave it out but I like the bit of depth it adds).
- Paprika (and, optionally, cayenne. Although chana masala powder and garam masala powder can be hot, depending on the brand you buy, so check that before adding cayenne to the pot)
- Chana masala powder (or use garam masala powder + ½ tsp amchoor). I've added an affiliate link to the chana masala powder brand I use in the recipe box.
- Salt to taste
(Scroll down to the end of the recipe for a short video that details every step)
- Start out by heating the oil in a large dutch oven or saucepan. Once the oil is hot, add the cumin seeds and stir-fry for a minute or so until slightly darker and fragrant.
- Add onions with a pinch of salt. Saute until the onions turn golden-brown.
- Add the ginger garlic paste and saute for a minute.
- Add the tomatoes, pureed, to the pot. Stir them in and let them cook about five minutes until darker and thick.
- Add the ground coriander, ground cumin, if using, and paprika. If you're using garam masala powder, add the ground fennel seeds and amchoor at this stage. If using chana masala powder you can leave the fennel and amchoor out because it's already in the powder.
- Stir and cook five more minutes.
- Stir in the chickpeas and 1 cup water (use less or more depending on the thickness you like. Chana masala should be fairly thick and not runny).
- Once the chana masala comes to a boil cover and let it cook over medium heat for 10 minutes. Stir a couple of times to ensure there is enough liquid in the pot.
- Mash some (not all) of the chickpeas with the ladle. This step is important because it will give the curry some body and also make it taste better.
- Stir in the chana masala powder or garam masala powder. Mix well, add chopped cilantro, and turn off heat.
What to serve with the chana masala
- In north India, you'd likely eat a chana masala with a bhatura, a fried, puffy bread that is a lot like a poori, only larger. You can just make pooris. I also love serving the poori-chana with a potato curry like this Batata Bhaji, which we always ate with pooris growing up.
- Naan goes very nicely with chana masala. You can buy naan off the shelf in most U.S. supermarkets now. Or make a garlic vegan naan following this recipe. You can make it a plain naan by skipping the garlic oil.
- Rice is also a wonderful accompaniment to chana masala. Here's my recipe for Jeera Rice, which comes together in 15 minutes flat with no soak and prep time, and tastes divine.
Chana Masala Recipe
- 1 tsp vegetable oil (to make this without oil, use 2 tbsp vegetable stock)
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 2 black cardamom pods (these have a rich flavor so start by using 1, if you wish, the first time you make this recipe)
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 medium onion (finely chopped)
- 1 tbsp ginger garlic paste
- 3 cups chickpeas (cooked or canned)
- 3 medium tomatoes (pureed)
- 1 tbsp coriander powder
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- 2 tsp paprika
- 1 tbsp chana masala powder
- 2 tbsp cilantro (finely chopped)
- Salt to taste
- Heat the oil and add the cumin seeds. As they begin to darken, which should take no more than a few seconds, add the black cardamom pods and bay leaf. Saute a few seconds, then add the onions.If making this oil free, roast the cumin seeds, cardamom and bay leaf in a dry pan. Then add the water and proceed to step 2.
- Add some salt and saute the onions over medium heat until they start to get brown spots. Add the ginger garlic paste and saute for a few seconds.
- Add the tomato puree and mix in. Add the coriander powder, cumin powder, if using, and paprika. Mix well.
- Stir in and let the tomatoes cook for about five minutes until most of the water has evaporated and the tomatoes are darker
- Add the chickpeas. Stir in, then add about a cup of water. The chana masala should be quite thick. If you want to thin it out, wait until after the next step.
- Bring the chana masala to a boil, cover and cook 10 minutes. Stir a couple of times in between to make sure there's enough liquid in the pot.
- Next mash some of the chickpeas with the back of the ladle. This will also help the sauce thicken. Add more water at this stage if you want to thin out the chana masala a bit more.
- Stir in the chana masala powder. Add salt if needed. Stir in cilantro.
- Serve hot.