The first time I ever tasted Indian food was when I was probably 12 or 13 and working at a soup kitchen for the afternoon. A restaurant in Pittsburgh called Star of India was providing the food that day, and one the dishes was a chickpea curry. I remember that many of the recipients turned their nose up at such an exotic meal and some refused to even eat! But I thought it looked delicious, and they treated me to lunch while I worked. I loved it and have always loved Chana masala ever since.
It’s a simple and filling vegetarian dish that goes brilliantly with a variety of Indian-style breads such as naan, chapati, or the incredible and decadent fried bhatura. When paired with bhatura, you get the classic North Indian speciality, chole bhature. This time, I made a simple chapati with flour from the Indian section of my international grocer. (This is a fun and simple thing to try if you are going to make Indian dishes. Just look for roti or chapati flour at your Indian or international grocer.) Or another option is to look through the frozen section to find frozen naan or chapati.
To make chana masala the traditional way, you might need to visit your local Indian/Pakistani or international market for the spices. If you can’t get the spices, you can look for a garam masala blend at the grocery store and just substitute that. I also like to buy dried chickpeas and cook them in the instant pot. (Takes about 25 minutes without even soaking)
If you haven’t noticed, I am a HUGE fan of visiting local international grocers. You never know the treasures that are right under you nose. So do a quick google search and go check out the nearest Indian grocer.
Chana Masala (serves 3-4)
- about 3 cups or 2 cans of cooked chickpeas
- 1 small red onion, chopped, 2 tbsp reserved for topping
- 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 2 tsp chopped ginger
- 1 1/2 cup of chopped tomatoes, 1 can of chopped tomatoes or plain tomato sauce
- 2 tbsp ghee, butter or oil
- 1 tbsp black mustard seed
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 tsp coriander
- 1 heaping tsp ground Garam masala or 1 tbsp whole spice garam masala (if you are only using one ground spice blend, increase to 1 tbsp and omit the rest of the spices)
- 1/2 tsp hot chili powder, or to taste
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cup water
- Salt to taste
Heat ghee in a large saucepan. Add mustard seeds and whole spice garam masala if using, and wait for seeds to begin popping. If you are only using ground garam masala, add it now and fry gently for a minute or two in the ghee). Next add rest of spices, onion, garlic and ginger and continue sautéing. Next add tomato. Add water to just cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes or longer if desired. Test for salt and spice and adjust to your taste.
Top with chopped red onion and cilantro if desired. Serve with flatbread or rice.