A Really Good Chana Masala Recipe
There are a lot of chana masala recipes out there that are perfectly good, but this is the chana masala you should make tonight - a Technicolor version of chana masala.
There are a lot of chana masala recipes out there that are perfectly good, but this is the chana masala you should make tonight. It's what I want when I order chana masala in a restaurant. It's what I look for when I dive into a beautiful thali plate.
Chana masala, the wildly popular dish from the Indian subcontinent made of chickpeas (chana) simmered in a feisty, spice-forward tomato sauce. It's one of those gateway preparations that introduce people to the food of India and Pakistan, and I've enjoyed versions of it all over the world. I've had it in Bangkok, I've had it in Rome, I've had it in Jodhpur, and I've had it in Istanbul. I've formed strong opinions, and there were a number of variables I wanted to (finally) get right for a go-to version I would make regularly in my own kitchen. It has taken a while to crack the code!
Chana Masala Goals
Chana masala varies from region to region, across borders, and from cook to cook. This is the version of chana masala I hope for and crave when I order it at a restaurant. Too often the version I get is overly oily, weakly seasoned, flat in flavor. This is not that. This is a Technicolor version of chana masala. It's spicy, racy, and balanced. There's kick from cayenne, serrano, and chana masala powder. There's a bit of sour from the tomatoes, from the mango powder and pomegranate seeds in the chana masala powder.
As I was working on this recipe there were a number of things I wanted to focus on. First, I wanted to get the flavor and texture right (of course). Texture is really important, and my favorite chana masalas often lack clear definition between the chickpeas and the sauce, in a good way. They have this third thing going on, a crumbled texture of sorts, which I learned is from broken up chickpeas. You'll see that reflected here.
There's an onion masala sauce I like in Urvashi Pitre's Indian Instant Pot Cookbook. I used that as one of my jumping off points here - scaling back the oil and salt by half, tweaking the spice and ingredients amounts more to my liking, and approaching things for the stovetop instead of a pressure cooker (or IP). Once you have a simmer sauce mixture like this prepared, you're 90% there as far as effort is concerned, and you can make it more or less spicy based on your own tastes. One other idea I had in my notes - rehydrate hibiscus flowers (jamaica), chop them, and use them as a finishing topping. I feel like chana masala really needs a balancing kick of acid (usually citrus) to counter the chickpeas and sauce, but maybe the tang of hibiscus could be welcome too. A drizzle of lemon or tangerine olive oil is also a wonderful finishing kiss.
Second, I think one of the things that intimidates people about cooking Indian, or Pakistani, or Sri Lankan food at home is the long ingredient lists (so many good-for-you spices). I've written this recipe so you'll have enough of the simmer sauce for two meals. One for now, one to freeze for later. Double that and you've got four meals...
Chana Masala Ingredients
Which chickpeas to use? The answer is simple, whatever you have on hand. If you have chickpeas you've cooked from dried (like these turmeric soaked chickpeas), use those. If it's a Wednesday night, and all you have is canned chickpeas, go for it! Either way, your chana masala will be delicious.
Thick or thin: Some chana masala is thin and soupy, other times it is thick, and more cohesive. It's all a matter of personal preference - I tend to like mine somewhere in the middle.
Chana masala powder: You need to source good chana masala powder. It matters (meaning, don't leave it out), and you're not going to make it at home - it has mango powder, ground pomegranate seeds, dried musk melon, and a long list of other wonderful but challenging to source ingredients. I've been using this MDH chana masala powder, and I like it. Spicy! Tangy! Good sprinkled on all sorts of things.
Chana Masala as a Meal or Part of a Meal
Eat chana masala with rice, eat it with flat bread, eat as a component in a thali plate, eat it spooned over your favorite grains. I love it with a simple side of cauliflower, and often I'll throw in a handful of shredded kale or spinach, to get my greens in - a perfect one dish meal.
Hope you love this recipe!
A Really Good Chana Masala
This recipe makes enough simmer sauce for two nights of chana masala. Make one, freeze one. I also used it as a component in dumpling filling the other night! The recipe calls for two cans of chickpeas, but you can substitute 4 cups of chickpeas cooked from dried, I do this all the time if I don't have cooked chickpeas on hand. And be sure to source good chana masala powder - worth it!
- 1 tablespoon olive or sunflower oil
- 2 medium onions, finely diced
- 1- inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 small serrano chile, stemmed, seeded, minced
- 2 teaspoons garam masala
- 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or more to taste
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 3/4 teaspoon fine grain salt, plus more to taste
- 2 medium tomatoes, diced
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 2 14-ounce cans chickpeas, drained
- 1 generous tablespoon chana masala powder (I use this one)
- lemon or lime
- to serve: lots of scallions, lots of cilantro
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the onion, and saute for 5 minutes or so. Stir in the ginger, garlic, and serrano chile, and allow to cook for another minute or two, or until fragrant. Add the garam masala, turmeric powder, cayenne, coriander, cumin, and salt. Stir well, and then add the tomatoes and water. Simmer for 2-3 minutes or until thick. Remove the sauce from heat, and reserve half for later use - it will keep refrigerated for 5 days or so, or freeze.
Mash about half of the chickpeas with a big fork or potato masher. This is the magic trick. Combine the whole and smashed chickpeas with 1 cup of the simmer sauce, and the chana masala powder in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir well, and add a generous splashes of water to thin the chana masala out, to loosen it up a bit, until it is a porridge consistency. This is usually in the range of 1 - 1 1/4 cups. Stir in a generous squeeze of lemon or lime juice, and serve showered generously with lots of chopped scallions and cilantro. Enjoy!
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I prepared this last night with a few modifications and it was a hit. I sauteed 2 shallottes (vs onion & garlic) in ghee. Used crushed canned tomatoes and their juice to the mix. I ended up adding the drained & rinsed garbanzo beans to the sauce and let that cook for 3 hours. Since Chana masala spices are basically the same as the recipe's plus amchur powder, I added 1 tsp of amchur (dried mango powder) & a tad of asafoetida that I had in the cupboard.
Wow, this looks incredible and I'm excited to make it! One question though-- for some reason I can't click on the link for the chana masala powder you listed - can you let me know the brand you like? Thank you! New to your site and I am loving the looks of your recipes!!
I like the flavor of MDH brand - let me look into the link, thanks for the heads up!
Holy cannoli this was good. I've made a lot of 101 recipes over the years and I've come to trust Heidi's recipes to turn out. But this one was next level. I made this with a simple basmati rice (cinnamon stick, two cloves, two cracked green cardamom pods, and 1 tsp of oil in rice cooker), a yeasted naan recipe from Rasa Malaysia, and an Indian cabbage salad from Smitten Kitchen (find it on her everyday yellow dal page). It was so luxurious we felt like a restaurant and I got the biggest complement from my partner (a chef). Thank you, Heidi for bringing us joy during a brutally cold time in upstate NY and the deeper winter in our hearts due to this pandemic. You are magic.
Thanks for the sweet note Lia! Sounds like an amazing feast :)!
Hi, Heidi, I had bought chana masala powder before the pandemic and was able to whip this up using chickpeas from dried. Family kept wandering into the kitchen asking what smelled so good, and it tasted even better. Thanks for cheering us up during this bleak time, and we have another dinner in the freezer ready to go! Loved it.
Love this comment Lori! So happy you enjoyed it.
Thanks Heidi, I've enjoyed your recipes for years, including this one. Today I combined two of your recipes, the Instant Pot Brown Rice Bowl with Chickpeas and this one, to create a great chana masala rice bowl! I only had to clean the instant pot once :) I used your pot in pot method for the first recipe, then when that was done I took out my tiffin container with the cooked rice and chickpeas, removed the trivet and emptied the water from the bottom of the main pot, turned the instant pot to sauté and added ghee, onions, garlic, ginger, spices, etc. and then the freshly cooked chickpeas and a can of tomatoes with their liquid. It came out really well and I was happy to think of combining these two recipes into one. I served it with lots of cilantro and some fresh goat cheese on top, very yummy! Thanks again for sharing your kitchen inspiration!
Ah! Brilliant! Love this idea.
Really nice recipe and it was convenient that I had sauce leftover for a quick weeknight meal!
Great spice combination for Chana masala. When made it 2nd time added tamarind paste and a mature powder--delicious of!
Love this idea!
I saw this recipe when you posted on Instagram, immediately ordered the Chana Masala on Amazon, and JUST finished my first bowl of it! It was too hot for my husband (perfect heat level for me!) so I served it with cucumber raita, which provided great balance. Thanks so much, Heidi, I love your food aesthetic, and will make this again and again!
HS: Thanks Linda! Great call on the raita!
People in India normally like to enjoy this with huge puris (puffed deep fried wheat flour bread) called 'bhatura'.
Made this today with the turmeric chickpeas. I’m going to have it tonight with some roasted pumpkin (cos I’m a NZer!) and the awesome Indian style cabbage salad I found on Smitten a few years ago.
What a stunner of a recipe! I made it last night for dinner with a few changes (added some coconut milk I wanted to use up, half a red pepper that was left over from lunch, a few handfulls of shredded kale, and crushed canned tomato as i didn't have any fresh ones). It was spectacular. I can't wait to finish up the batch today! This will be making regular appearances as I almost always have all the ingredients on hand and it comes together quite quickly.
Thanks Heidi! How much should I cook dried chickpeas to yield 4c of cooked ones? TIA!
HS: Hi Anh - I always cook a pound of chickpeas, and then just use the leftovers for other things (or freeze them for later use).
Just ordered my chana masala powder! Can't wait to give this a try, Heidi. Thank you xoxo
HS: Do it! xx!
I found MDH spice mixes at Vik's in Berkeley (only $1.99) and I'm looking forward to making this tomorrow. Thank you for your wonderful recipes.
I can't wait to make this. I rooted around my spice shelf and found a jar of chaat masala from Spice Ace, and the ingredients are almost identical to those in the brand you suggested. Just wanted to let you know in case you're interested in a local source for the chana masala. Thanks!
HS: Thanks for the heads up Anabel! I'll have to try their version. I think the garam masala I've been using lately came from there? Or maybe Rainbow? I 'll have to double check. ;)
Thanks- I was so excited about the recipe, I missed the chana in the ingredient list the first time I read it. Thanks again, exactly what I am in the mood for this week!
Quick question...recipe lists garam not chana masala, are they the same? Thanks!
HS: Hi Audra! - you should see both there (different blends)...