Restaurant style chana masala (Chickpea Curry)
Delicious vegan chickpea curry. Tastes like you ordered it right from the restaurant. Fresh ginger, onions and spices come together in a creamy coconut milk and tomato base to make this warming curry. Fantastic dish to make all year round, especially during cold, dark winter evenings.
I am in love with Indian food. I’ve had an obsession for many, many years. Chana Masala is my favorite dish. I order it at every Indian restaurant I go to.
It’s like a treasure hunt and fun little game to compare each restaurant’s take on it. I still dream of one I had in a dimly lit, relaxing restaurant in Toronto.
I went to India a few years ago for a friend’s wedding and very happily got to check that trip off of my bucket list.
It is a wonderfully, beautiful, overwhelming, loud and chaotic country filled with endless languages and cultures.
The food is bold, bright and filling which is a perfect representation of the country. We stayed in Kerala, as well as a little village near Goa and got to experience living as locals do.
Word quickly got around that chana masala was my favorite dish. We were happily inundated with invitations to visit people’s houses, and every time we stepped into the doorway, we were greeted with heaping bowls of this spicy, tomato based, fragrant dish.
Each house made it slightly differently. The hospitality in India really is amazing. No matter how hard we tried to help clean up our dishes, or get drinks for people, we were very adamantly and politely refused.
That was very hard for my mid-western self to swallow, since I was raised to always lend a helping hand if you’re at a guest’s house.
Each Pradesh (state) has their own language and local dishes. Since coconuts are plentiful in Goa, they add shredded, lightly toasted coconuts to this dish. It was such a delightful surprise.
Not wanting to miss the opportunity to see how a home-cooked chana masala was made, we asked if we could watch and help our friend’s mother make this dish.
She very happily showed us, but of course, politely refused to let us help in any way.
I learned that many Indian kitchens use individual spices, but also spice blends. This was the first time I learned that there was a specific chana masala spice blend.
Before that, I only knew about the blend called garam masala, or the generic bright yellow curry powders that you can find in almost every grocery store in the States, but isn’t often used in Indian cooking.
I now always keep my pantries stocked with various spice blends for the specific dishes that I want to make. Since the nearest Indian grocery store near me is about an hour away, I just order it online if I can’t make it to the store.
If you’re as passionate about Indian food as I am, I highly suggest you start building up your spice arsenal so that you can always have them on hand. The ones that are a must-have are cumin, coriander, garam masala, turmeric and chana masala. Here are two brands that I love:
Tips for making a good chickpea curry
Besides the chana masala powder, every other ingredient is very easy to find in most grocery stores. But if you want to learn how to start your Indian spice collection, watch my video here
The first step to a good vegan chickpea curry is to brown the onions in oil and lightly pan-roast the spices.
Chop up your onions, heat up the oil and take about 10 minutes to lightly brown the onions.
After the onions are slightly golden, it’s time to cook down your tomatoes. The secret to a good curry is to let the tomatoes simmer down for about 10 minutes so it starts to look like a paste.
I prefer using fresh tomatoes because they have a more mild flavor. Canned tomatoes have been stewed and they tend to overpower the dish in my opinion.
Now it’s time to add in the spices. Let the spices and the tomatoes simmer together for 1 minute
I decided to blend up the garlic and ginger in a blender instead of chopping. I can’t stand when ginger isn’t chopped well enough. Chewing on a roughly chopped, stringy piece of ginger ruins the experience of the curry for me. I blended them with just a light squeeze of lemon to prevent the garlic from becoming too bitter.
At the very end, sometimes I love adding lite coconut milk. That’s not traditionally in this dish, but I love the depth that the coconut cream gives this dish. It seems to balance all of the flavors. I like using lite coconut milk instead of the full fat because the full fat will make this too thick. The tomatoes already add a lot of body to this.
Top it all of with fresh cilantro and eat it with rice or Indian bread such as roti, naan, or chapati. For an even better experience, eat it with your hands!
Let me know how you liked this curry in the comments below, and what your favorite drink is to pair it with! I love a good, light crisp lager beer.
Check out my article Beginner guide to Indian Spices next
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Restaurant style chana masala
- 2 Tbsp oil
- 1 medium red onion (diced)
- 6 cloves garlic (minced)
- 1 tsp ginger (peeled and minced)
- 1 tsp cumin
- 3 tsp coriander
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 2 tsp chana masala spice mix
- 1.5 cups of finely chopped fresh tomatoes (can also use one 16 oz can of diced tomatoes, but fresh has a more mild flavor and won’t overpower the dish)
- 2 cans chickpeas (three cups) (drained and rinsed )
- 1 tsp salt (2 tsp if there is no salt in your chana masala or curry powder spice mix)
- 2 cups water
- ⅓ cup chopped cilantro
- Chop onions and tomatoes
- Lightly blend together garlic and ginger with a splash of lemon juice in a blender or food processor. This creates a more evenly distributed garlic and ginger flavor.
- Put an oiled pan on medium heat and let it heat for one minute
- Add the onions and let them get golden brown – about 5 minutes
- Add the spices -1 tsp cumin, 3 tsp coriander, 1 tsp garam masala, 2 tsp chana masala spice mix and saute for 1 minute
- Add the chopped tomatoes and ginger and garlic paste and let this simmer covered (stirring occasionally) for 10 minutes or until the tomatoes have broken down and turned into a paste like texture
- Add the chickpeas and 2 cups of water
- Salt to taste (I use 1-2 tsp)
- Let simmer on medium low for 20 to 25 minutes or until the sauce thickens
- Add more water if needed.
- Right before serving, turn off the heat and add fresh cilantro
- Serve with rice, roti or naan bread
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