Chana Masala is a healthy, vegetarian main course that is satisfying and full of spices.
Now that my oldest son is off to college, dinners have been a lot different around our house. You see, my other boys have a more diverse palate. They like trying different ethnic cuisines, like Indian, Jamaican, and Thai, and don’t mind vegetarian meals. In fact, they love rice and beans and have requested that I make it for dinner at least once a week. Chana Masala or Chick Pea Masala is a vegetarian bean dish I had never made before, but I had a feeling my boys would like it – they like Indian food a lot.
I used to be intimidated by the thought of cooking Indian food, and would only eat it when I went out to a restaurant. The spice combinations seemed so exotic, and I was sure it would be too complicated to make at home. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to take a few Indian cooking classes from a local Indian woman several years ago, who introduced the spices most common in Indian recipes – cumin seeds, mustard seeds, ground coriander, cardamon pods, cloves, garam masala, cinnamon sticks, turmeric, cayenne, and curry leaves in addition to onions, garlic, ginger and cilantro. She had a little round tin with individual containers holding all her dried Indian spices.
After recreating the dishes from these cooking classes at home, I went on to expand my Indian cooking repertoire, buying a few Indian cookbooks and shopping at local Indian supermarkets. I used to wander up and down the aisles looking at all the strange ingredients in the Indian market, not knowing what was what. Now, I can peruse the aisles at the new mega Indian supermarket nearby without looking completely clueless.
Indian cuisine provides a whole host of possibilities for vegetarians, using all different types of lentils, and in this case, chickpeas. I never knew there were so many different kinds of lentils. The trick to this Chana Masala dish is the deep rich flavor you get from sauteing the onions slowly until they are a deep brown color and have some crispy brown bits around their edges.
Then garlic and ginger puree are added, along with Indian curry spices – cumin, coriander, garam masala, cardamon, cayenne, and cilantro.
I happened to have a bag of dried chickpeas in my pantry so I cooked my own chickpeas instead of using canned. It’s super easy – simply soak the chickpeas in water overnight; then, cook in a pot with water to cover for about 30 minutes, or until the chickpeas are tender. To go along with this Chana Masala, I made Cumin Scented Brown Rice, and Broccoli with Toasted Garlic, a satisfying meatless meal.
This week, a group of bloggers is celebrating Molly Wizenberg, one of the 50 Women Game Changers in Food. Molly is the voice behind Orangette, a blog circa 2004. She writes conversationally, in a natural and casual fashion, as if she’s sitting across the table from you having a cup of coffee. Molly says the foods she writes about and photographs help her understand who she is and where she came from. “It’s a way of making sense of the world.” The senior editor of Simon & Shuster says, “She is artful. She looks at everyday life and she sees something that other people don’t see, and she is able to translate that into words — which is not easy. It’s a gift.”
This recipe is one that Molly’s husband, Brandon, makes. I can just picture Molly standing over Brandon’s shoulder with pen and paper in hand, scribbling down the recipe. A fun tidbit about Molly and Brandon…Molly actually met Brandon through her blog when he emailed her, inspired by her French Lemon Yogurt Cake post…you never know what a blog will land you…a cookbook, a TV show, or in Molly’s case, a husband.
- 2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion coarsely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- ½ teaspoon ground coriander
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- 3 cardamom pods lightly crushed
- 28 ounces whole peeled tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste
- 1 tablespoon cilantro leaves roughly torn, plus more for garnish
- A pinch of cayenne or to taste
- 30 ounces cooked chickpeas drained, rinsed, and drained again
- 6-8 tablespoons plain whole-milk yogurt optional
- A few lemon wedges optional
Film the bottom of a large saucepan or Dutch oven and place the pan over medium heat.
Add the onion, and cook, stirring frequently, until it is deeply caramelized and even charred in some spots. Be patient. The more color, the more full-flavored the final dish will be.
Reduce the heat to low. Add the garlic, stirring, and add a bit more oil if the pan seems dry.
Add the cumin seeds, coriander, ginger, garam masala, and cardamom pods, and fry them, stirring constantly, until fragrant and toasty, about 30 seconds. Add ¼ cup water, and stir to scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook until the water has evaporated away completely.
Pour in the juice from can of tomatoes, followed by the tomatoes themselves, using your hands to break them apart as you add them; alternatively, add them whole and crush them in the pot with a potato masher. Add the salt.
Raise the heat to medium, and bring the pot to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, add the cilantro and cayenne, and simmer the sauce gently, stirring occasionally, until it reduces a bit and begins to thicken. Taste, and adjust the seasoning as necessary.
Add the chickpeas, stirring well, and cook over low heat for about five minutes. Add 2 Tbs water, and cook for another five minutes. Add another 2 Tbs water, and cook until the water is absorbed, a few minutes more. This process of adding and cooking off water helps to concentrate the sauce’s flavor and makes the chickpeas more tender and toothsome. Taste, and adjust the seasoning as necessary.
Stir in the yogurt, if you like, or garnish with lemon wedges and cilantro. Serve.
Sue/the view from great island says
Jeanette you’re so right about Indian food being a great way to get into vegetarian food. With all those amazing spices I don’t miss the meat at all. I’m inspired by your cooking the dried chickpeas, they are so much better that way, but I’m lazy and always go for the can. Great photos, too,
Thanks Sue – there are so many delicious vegetarian Indian dishes that it is easy to go meatless. The spices are so rich and dynamic in flavor. I’m glad I finally got around to cooking the dried chickpeas that were sitting in my pantry – I had heard they are so much better than canned.
I have been steadily increasing my knowledge of and confidence in making different Indian dishes – since we paid tribute to Madhur Jaffrey, I’ve really done many more dishes! Molly’s looks delicious! Your sides were perfect for that Chana Masala!
Lucky boys to have such a great mother to widen their culinary horizons!
Thanks Susan – this series of posts has been a lot of fun, and I’ve done the same, expanded my cooking repertoire. Indian food is that way, the more you try making it, the easier it becomes. As for my boys, I’m thankful they are so open to trying new foods…it makes it more fun for me 😉
In the past I felt the same way about Indian food with its mysterious spices and seeming challenge but as time has passed I have embraced it. Recipes like this one take the mystery out of it.
I used to find Indian food so mysterious – after I felt more comfortable cooking with all the spices, it gave me the confidence to venture into other ethnic cuisines as well.
Roxana GreenGirl says
Since we gave up dairy and eggs I find myself thumping Asian cookbooks more often. Love their approach towards vegan meals.
Can’t wait to try this chickpeas meal, sounds like a winner in my kitchen
Asian food is very friendly for dairy free and egg free diets, and there are lots of naturally vegan dishes. Hope you have a chance to try these chickpeas – they were really good.
What a great recipe choice. I’m so glad you joined our group. I always love to read your input. Have a great day. Blessings…Mary
Thanks Mary, and thank you for creating this wonderful group – I’ve learned so much about these amazing women in food.
Heather @girlichef says
Oh, I would love this! I bet my hubs would, too. We’re huge chickpea fans!!
Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen says
We love Indian food at our house and Chana Masala is always a favorite.
We love Indian food too, and I’m glad I tried this dish so we can enjoy it now.
mireya merritt @myhealthyeatinghabits says
I think masala means it’s a spice mixture. Do you know what does the chana means?
Masala is the spice mixture as you say, and chana means chick peas.
Taryn (Have Kitchen, Will Feed) says
I’m just getting over my fear of cooking Indian food – thanks for sharing!
Taryn, so glad you’re cooking Indian food now – it can be intimidating in the beginning, but once you have the spices in your pantry, it is much easier.
France @ Beyond The Peel says
I love chana masala and it’s one of the few vegetarian dishes my husband requests quite often. Though he likes eating vegetarian, this is so good that he would choose it over many other delightful dishes we could make. It looks great and I love the idea of toasted garlic oil on the broccoli.
Thanks France – it is nice when you find a vegetarian dish that everyone enjoys.
I love the recipe you chose! I don’t cook Indian food very much, I don’t know why! This dish looks wonderful and I will take courage from you and try to do more Indian cooking. I have a good friend who had an Indian dinner party a while back and I loved everything she served!
Thanks Barbara – I hope you try cooking Indian food more. It is a learning process when you try a different cuisine, but I love it and find that after making a few dishes in any given cuisine, I learn so much about the spices and ingredients. Each time gets a little easier.
Junia @ Mis Pensamientos says
i am totally bookmarking this! my friend taught me a recipe for indian curry long ago, but i lost the recipe! i love curries and the spices/flavors of it! served with steamed basmati rice, YUM! awwww that’s so fun that your sons are so open to new types of dishes! rice and beans for dinner once a week? awesome!
Hi Junia – you’re lucky you have a friend who taught you. I think it’s always easier when someone shows you how to cook something new, especially a cuisine you’ve never tried making before. I am fortunate my boys are so open minded. The twins have been exposed to all different ethnic cuisines through their mission trips with our church, and I think I just cook more diverse now than when they were younger.
Chana masala is one of my all time favorite Indian recipes. Love that it can be lightened up too 🙂
cooking rookie says
Wonderful recipe! Yum!
We love Indian food too, for obvious reasons… and chana masala is our favourite vegetable dish! 🙂 Great job!
janet @ the taste space says
I haven’t made chana masala at home yet, but Orangette’s would have been the first one I tried. Glad to hear you liked it… there are so many variations, it is hard to pick one to try first. 🙂
I love that your kids ate this. This looks delicious, I love experimenting w Indian dishes at home. Must try.
I’m lucky that my kids like lots of different kinds of food – that way I get to experiment and eat more interesting foods myself.
I love Indian food! I have a case of garbanzo beans from Costco just waiting to be used! I’m so excited for this recipe :).
I have never even heard of Chana Masala! Shows how much I get out. Those different spices sound like it would be a great dish though. Thanks for introducing me to more Indian food!
Rachel @ Following In My Shoes says
I LOVE Indian Food — I’m a new convert (I spent years saying I didn’t care for it).
I have tried Chana Masala though … but, with a can of chickpeas in the pantry and all of the required spices, I think I may have to give it a whirl!!!
Thanks for sharing, Jeanette.
Becky Greenlaw says
I was reading the recipe. There is one line that says “30 oz cooked, drained and rinsed”. I am assuming that the word Chickpeas or Garbanzos is supposed to be in that line also.
Yes, 30 ounces of cooked chickpeas/garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained. Thanks for catching that!