I love chickpeas and recipes like Chana Masala are perennial favorites hereabouts. But when we want something that's differently Indian and just as delicious, I make this South Indian inspired Chickpea Curry with coconut milk. It is fragrant, not too spicy, and simply divine.
The spices in this curry give it a unique, irresistible flavor. There are fennel seeds, which add sweetness and complexity--elements prized in Indian cooking. Some fenugreek seeds, for that undetectable, bitter yin that makes so many south Indian dishes so gorgeous. And, of course, coconut, because no south Indian cook worth his/her salt would leave it out.
This curry is surprisingly kid-friendly. Jay has been eating it for years and will often ask for seconds: a big deal because he usually balks at chickpea-based dishes. It has also been tried and tested by dozens of readers since I first posted it so many years ago, so you can be sure that if you try it you will have a winner on your hands.
Here's the recipe for my delicious and unique chickpea curry with coconut milk. I didn't upload step by step process shots this time because I have a short video for you that shows you the entire process--do check it out at the end of the recipe card. And do come back for seconds!
Why you'll love this chickpea curry
- It's unique. This chickpea curry recipe is inspired by south Indian flavors, but it is not a traditional south Indian curry. I created it a few years ago when inspiration struck, and it was one of those few things I actually got perfectly right the first time round. Everyone I've served this curry to, Indian or not, has raved about it.
- It's easy. You will need to blend up a spice mix but it needs just six commonly found Indian ingredients (that you probably already have if you cook Indian food with any regularity). And there's no roasting involved. Just add them to your blender or spice grinder and push the button. The rest of the recipe takes minutes to make, especially if you use canned chickpeas, as I often do, making this a great recipe for weeknight dinners.
- It's healthy. Chickpeas , as you already know, are immensely healthy and a source of protein, folate, fiber and iron, among other goodies. And there's nothing else in this recipe that is not great for you. If you would rather not use the 1 teaspoon vegetable oil, you can swap it out with a tablespoon of vegetable stock to make it free of any added oils.
- It's friendly to all diets. This curry is vegan, of course, but it is also gluten-free, soy-free and free of nuts. You can adjust the spice level up or down, to your liking, and, like I said above, you can make it without any oil, if you wish.
Ingredients for chickpea curry
- Chickpeas/garbanzo beans. Both canned chickpeas or chickpeas you soak and cook from scratch will work for this recipe. Drain the chickpeas before using.
- Coconut oil: Coconut oil is good in this recipe, or use any flavorless vegetable oil.
- Cumin seeds
- Curry leaves. These add great flavor. If you absolutely can't find them, use 2 tablespoon of cilantro and add it at the same time as you would the curry leaves.
- Ginger garlic paste. If you don't have the paste you can crush together 4 pieces garlic and a 1-inch knob of ginger.
- Paprika. I use this mainly for color. You can skip it.
- Cayenne. The cayenne adds mild heat, which is important to balance out the sweetness of the coconut milk. There is very little here, ½ a teaspoon, but you can scale down further to ¼ teaspoon. Or, if you love heat, scale up to 1 teaspoon. You can also substitute with red pepper flakes.
- Coconut milk. Use the canned coconut milk. Stir the milk in the can before using.
- Cilantro (chopped). For garnish.
For masala powder or spice mix
- Cumin seeds
- Coriander seeds
- Fennel seeds
- Methi seeds
- Green cardamom
- Cinnamon stick
Watch how to make this chickpea curry
You can, but what you will get is more of a chana masala with coconut milk added. While that will taste nice, and you can certainly do that at a pinch, it will not have the right south Indian flavors because chana masala is a north Indian dish and garam masala is a spice used mostly in north India. Besides, while some garam masala blends will have fennel and some of the other ingredients in this spice mix, they will not be in the same proportions, which will change the flavor completely.
You would be better off using a curry powder instead of garam masala as a curry powder has south Indian flavors and would work better here.
Chickpeas are really integral to this dish to get the right flavors. If you absolutely want to use another bean in this dish, use more neutral-flavored beans like white beans.
Meal prep tips
- Make a large batch of the chickpea curry spice mix and keep it in an airtight jar in a cool, dark place for up to six months. When the mood for this curry strikes, all you need to do is chop an onion, two tomatoes, open cans of chickpea and coconut milk, and you are pretty much set.
- Keeping a jar of ginger garlic paste in the refrigerator makes it far easier to make curries on weeknights. Here's my recipe for an easy ginger garlic paste that I make in five minutes on a weekend. Making the paste is especially easy if you buy pre-peeled garlic and use organic ginger, which you don't have to peel.
What to serve with the chickpea curry
- Rice, white or brown, is the perfect food to drizzle this curry over. If you want to get fancy, serve it over this simple, 15-minute jeera rice made with aromatic basmati rice.
- You can also serve it with an Indian flatbread, like a roti or a vegan naan (gluten-free vegan naan recipe here).
- If you're staying away from grains, drizzle this curry over cauliflower rice for a fantastic and healthy meal. Spritz on some lemon juice or lime juice for added yum.
Storage and freezing tips
- This recipe tastes great freshly made but it is even better the next day when the spices and coconut milk and chickpeas have had a chance to exchange their flavors for longer and to blend into a harmonious whole. You can keep it in the refrigerator for up to three days. Freeze in a freezer-safe container for longer-term storage. Thaw and reheat before serving.
Chickpea Curry Recipe
- 4 cups chickpeas (canned or boiled. Drain before adding to recipe)
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 2 sprigs curry leaves
- 1 medium onion (finely diced)
- 1 tablespoon ginger garlic paste (or crush together 4 pieces garlic and a 1-inch knob of ginger)
- 2 medium tomatoes (finely diced)
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- ½ teaspoon cayenne
- 1 cup coconut milk
- ¼ cup cilantro (chopped)
- Salt to taste
For masala powder or spice mix:
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- ½ teaspoon methi seeds
- 2 pods green cardamom pods
- ½ inch cinnamon stick
- Make a powder of all of the masala ingredients in a spice grinder or a blender. Set aside.
- Heat the oil in a saucepan. Add cumin seeds. When they sputter, add the onions, curry leaves and ginger garlic paste.
- Sprinkle some salt and saute, over medium heat until onions turn translucent.
- Add the tomatoes, paprika, cayenne, turmeric, and the spice mix.
- Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the tomatoes darken and most of the liquid has evaporated.
- Add the chickpeas and salt and stir well to mix. Add 1½ cups of water.
- Bring the chickpea curry to a boil, turn down the heat, and simmer for another 10 minutes. Add the coconut milk and let it warm through.
- Check salt and add more if needed. Garnish with leafy coriander and serve hot with rice.
- If using canned chickpeas, make sure you drain the chickpeas and rinse them thoroughly of the brine sticking to them, for best flavor.
- If using dry chickpeas, soak a cup of chickpeas overnight, then cook until tender. An Instant Pot or pressure cooker is best for this, but you can do it on the stovetop as well.
- I like this dish to be saucy with a thin curry, but if you want to thicken the curry mash a few chickpeas with the ladle.
- To meal-prep, make a large batch of the chickpea curry spice mix and keep it in an airtight jar in a cool, dark place for up to six months. Keeping a jar of ginger garlic paste in the refrigerator makes it far easier to make curries on weeknights. Here's my recipe for an easy ginger garlic paste that I make in five minutes on a weekend.