Authentic Chana Masala (Indian Chickpea Curry)
Chana Masala, or Indian Chickpea Curry, is undoubtedly one of the most popular vegetarian curries in and out of South Asia. This easy & authentic recipe makes tender, flavorful chickpeas in a perfectly spiced curry.
“Made this dish for the first time and am so in love with the flavors. It is the best Chana Masala I have ever had.”Gwen
If there’s one dinner recipe I’ve turned to for years when I have no time, creativity, or motivation to cook, it’s Chana Masala. There’s no planning, thawing, or (thanks to canned chickpeas) soaking required. It’s a straightforward, one-pot, vegan curry recipe that captures the essence of South Asian cooking.
Chana Masala – the best of weeknight dinners
Chana masala reminds me of my time spent living in Midland, TX. Midland was a small town in West Texas where healthy and delicious dining options were scarce, and halal options almost nonexistent. At the time, my food-related frustrations (don’t we all have them?) were at their peak. I longed for quality, nutritious, flavorful food, and – with due respect to Tex-Mex – I quickly ran out of options.
Looking back, that deprivation also brought about resilience in me. It instilled the habit of cooking and planning and making do with what I had. Instead of opting for restaurant food that I wouldn’t find tasty or feel good eating, I opened a couple of cans of chickpeas and got to work. Chana Masala became my takeout, delivery, and drive-thru.
Over the years, I’ve tried many variations of Chana Masala to see what gives the best flavor and consistency. This Chana Masala recipe is vibrant, with just the right amount of tanginess, and rich in spicy flavor.
Why this Chana Masala Recipe?
This recipe is authentic in that it’s cooked in the traditional South Asian style. But it’s also unfussy – a pantry meal you’d make on a whim. This recipe:
- Uses canned chickpeas. (See FAQ if you’d rather use dried.)
- Yields extra tender chickpeas for a restaurant-like finish (thanks to a pantry ingredient).
- Is precise and easy-to-follow.
- Requires simple ingredients that are commonly used in South Asian cooking.
How to Make Authentic Chana Masala
Most traditional Chana Masala recipes more or less follow this method of cooking. Here’s what we’re trying to achieve at each step:
- Sauté onion: Sauté the chopped onions along with cumin seeds to form the base (or masala) of the curry. You want to sauté until golden, but not fully brown, because they’ll deepen even more in color once you add the garlic and ginger. If at any point the onions start to stick to the pan or brown unevenly, deglaze with 1-2 tablespoons water.
- Add garlic, ginger, and green chili pepper: Adding the garlic and ginger at this stage cooks out the raw flavor and allows them to become fragrant. The green chili infuses the curry with a subtle warmth. It would be more fiery if added later in cooking.
- Bloom the spices: Chana Masala is quite heavy on spices, which is why you’ll add them early on to extract their flavor into the base of the curry. Again, at any point if they start to stick, deglaze with water.
- Sauté the tomatoes: Cook the tomatoes for a few minutes to evaporate their water content and help them disintegrate into the curry.
- Add water, cover, and cook: Even though the canned chickpeas are technically cooked, they need to simmer in the curry to soften and absorb the flavors.
- Sauté down: Sauté for another 2-3 minutes to desired consistency. Use a wooden spoon to slightly crush chickpeas to thicken and enhance their texture. Keep in mind the curry will thicken even more as it cools.
- Garnish: Brighten the flavors with a sprinkling of garam masala, a squeeze of lemon juice, and crunchy julienned ginger if you’d like.
Tips for making Chana Masala:
- Adding a small amount of baking powder (or even baking soda) makes the chickpeas extra tender. You can either marinate the chickpeas in it or add it directly to the curry as I have.
- The recipe moves quickly once the onions are brown, so make sure to have all the ingredients (especially the spices) near the stovetop and ready to use.
- Keep water on hand and deglaze the pan at any point the onions, spices, or tomatoes stick to the bottom of the pan.
- Use a wooden spoon or spatula to slightly crush the chickpeas to thicken the curry and give it a restaurant-like finish.
FAQ & Variations:
To make the similar curry Aloo Chana (potatoes and chickpea curry), peel and cube 2-3 small russet potatoes. Add the potatoes alongside the chickpeas, then cover and cook as directed. The potatoes will take around the same time to cook through. Taste and adjust salt and spices as needed.
If you’d like to use dried chickpeas, use about 3/4 heaped cup (6-7 oz). (Here’s a great, detailed guide on cooking chickpeas from the lovely Ali at Alexandra Cooks.) First, soak them in water overnight (Ali also adds salt). Bring the drained chickpeas, 4 cups of water, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1 tsp baking soda to a boil. Then lower the heat and cook for around 45 minutes, until soft. Discard any scum that rises to the surface.
Chana Masala is the general term for Chickpea Curry cooked in an onion and tomato masala base. Chole (the Punjabi term for chickpeas) refers to a type of chickpea curry typically eaten for breakfast with poori or bhature. Chole are often made with extra spices, tangy flavors, and even tea bags which give it the signature darker hue. That said, I do think this recipe could work just fine alongside poori.
What To Serve With Chana Masala
This is such a versatile curry that you can serve it with just about anything: basmati rice, any bread, and even poori (as mentioned above). If you keep it on the drier side, it goes wonderfully with naan, roti, or paratha. For some crunch, top it with red onions. Yogurt or raita makes a nice, cooling side.
More Vegetarian Curry Recipes:
Authentic Chana Masala (Indian Chickpea Curry)
- 1/4 cup neutral oil, such as avocado or grapeseed
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 medium (~220-260 g) yellow onion, finely chopped
- 5 (~1 tbsp) garlic cloves , crushed
- 1-inch (~1 tbsp) piece ginger, crushed
- 1 small green chili pepper (such as Serrano or Thai chili), sliced
- 2 tsp coriander powder
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- 1 tsp paprika powder
- 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
- 1/4 tsp red chili powder
- 2 medium (~300 g) tomatoes, finely chopped or puréed in a food processor
- 2 cans (around 15-oz each) chickpeas, rinsed and drained (See Note 1)
- 1 1/4 tsp sea salt or table salt, or to taste
- 1/4 tsp baking powder (or sub baking soda), (optional – for extra tender chickpeas) (See Note 2)
- 1/2 tsp garam masala or chaat masala
- 1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2-3 tbsp cilantro leaves, chopped
- julienned ginger, optional, for garnish
- 1/8 tsp freshly cracked black pepper, optional, for garnish
- Heat a medium, heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, heat the oil and add the cumin seeds and onion. Sauté for 7-8 minutes, until golden. If the mixture gets dry, deglaze with 1-2 tablespoons of water.
- Add the garlic, ginger, and green chili pepper and sauté for another 2-3 minutes. Deglaze the pan with a tablespoon of water (if needed), and add all the spice powders. Give it a few stirs to roast the spices, and then add the tomatoes. Continue to sauté for another 2-3 minutes. Mix in the chickpeas, baking powder (if using), salt, and 2 cups of water.
- Raise the heat to high to bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium, cover and let cook for 25-30 minutes, until the chickpeas are very tender.
- Uncover and raise the heat to high. Use a wooden spatula to slightly crush the chickpeas. Sauté for another 2-3 minutes to desired consistency. Taste and adjust salt and seasoning. Turn off the heat and add the garam masala or chaat masala, lemon juice, and cilantro leaves. Sprinkle with julienned ginger and black pepper, if desired.