Chana Masala (Vegan Chickpea Curry)

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How to make chana masala – a vegan chickpea curry dish made with a spiced onion and tomato masala gravy and perfect for enjoying with naan or rice. This Indian curried chickpea recipe relies on a careful selection of aromatics and spices for depths of flavor that will impress friends and family alike!

Chickpea curry and a naan bread

When it comes to international cuisine, Indian is one I’ve barely touched on in my homemade exploits. However, after sharing a recipe for meat-free butter chicken recently, I think that’s all going to change. Starting with this vegan chana masala – an Indian vegan chickpea curry dish with an onion/tomato masala gravy. It packs in tons of flavor in around 30 minutes!

In my pursuit to make this chana masala as authentic as possible, I’ll admit that this isn’t a 3-spice and herb dealio. However, the seemingly long list of spices and aromatics (most of which you likely have in your pantry) helps to create depths of flavor. Especially when combining lightly toasted spices with fried aromatics then tempered spices at the end. But don’t worry, this vegan chickpea curry recipe is still straightforward to follow. I’ve even included a little “cheat” to save having to use all individual spice, too!

Chickpea curry over rice

It should also be noted that it’s hard to create an authentic chana masala since there are many regional varieties across India and Pakistan. For that reason, it’s hard to nail down any specifics. But I’ve done my best to make it as close as possible to a version I’ve previously enjoyed.

The resulting curried chickpea dish is comforting yet hearty, absolutely packed with layers of flavor, and is restaurant-quality. Thanks to the chickpeas, it’s also packed with plant-based protein. For this version, I’ve made it moderately spicy, though this is adaptable. I’ve even included several optional add-ins and recipe variations below!

Serving chickpea curry in a bowl

In terms of preparation, make sure to leave time to soak the dried chickpeas overnight and then cook them (if you don’t have some pre-cooked). Once ready, enjoy a bowl with warm naan, rice, and/or other sides and refrigerate or freeze the leftovers for later!

The Ingredients

The vegan chana masala

  • Chickpeas: you need cooked chickpeas (or soaked ready to rinse and cook for this recipe). I used home-cooked chickpeas, but tinned will also work.
  • Oil: use any neutral cooking oil. I used vegetable oil.
  • Tomatoes: I like to use ripe, in-season tomatoes. If you can’t, high-quality tinned whole tomatoes (I prefer fire-roasted for extra flavor) will work.
  • Shredded coconut: use unsweetened fresh or dried shredded coconut (if dried, combine it with 1 Tbsp of water and soak before using it. This coconut chickpea curry helps to add texture and flavor. Though if you aren’t a coconut fan, feel free to omit it.
  • Water: to help create the correct masala gravy texture.
  • Aromatics: this vegan chickpea curry uses a combination of onion, garlic (or garlic paste but only if it’s high quality and fresh), ginger (or ginger paste), and green chili.
  • Spices: for this curried chickpea dish, you’ll need a combination of black peppercorns, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, cinnamon stick, star anise, black cardamom pods, cloves, bay leaves, turmeric powder, cumin powder, coriander powder, and chili powder. Alternatively, you could use garam masala (around 2-2.5 Tbsp) mixed with turmeric and chili powder (reduce or omit the chili powder for a milder version).
Ingredients for chickpea curry

For the tempering of spices

  • Oil: you can use sesame oil, vegetable oil, or even ghee (not vegan!).
  • Mustard seeds.
  • Curry leaves.

Other add-ins and variations

  • Sugar: a pinch or two of sugar is a popular addition to many Indian dishes and helps enhance the dish’s flavors. I recommend adding between 1-3 tsp coconut sugar or cane sugar towards the end of the cooking process.
  • Spinach: chickpea and spinach curry is a match made in heaven. Simply stir a few handfuls of spinach into the vegan chana masala in the last 2-3 minutes of cooking.
  • Other vegetables: like cauliflower or potatoes (regular or sweet potato). To add these to the vegan chickpea curry, cut them into small bite-sized pieces and add in right after the onions have their initial sauté and before the garlic/ginger is added. Fry for 3-4 minutes to begin softening the vegetable, then continue with the recipe as written.
  • Coconut milk: chana masala isn’t traditionally creamy. However, if you feel like experimenting, you could add a little coconut milk into the vegan chickpea curry in the last few minutes.
  • Lemon/lime: added to the curried chickpeas just before serving is an excellent way to enhance the depth of flavor.
  • Amchur: many traditional chana masala recipes include amchur, a dried mango powder added in the last couple of steps in the cooking process. I haven’t tried it this way, so I can’t recommend how much to use.

How to Make Vegan Chana Masala

If you don’t have pre-cooked (or tinned) chickpeas, first you’ll need to soak (overnight) and cook them – so make sure to save time for this.

I recommend using chickpeas that have been soaked and cooked for the best texture and flavor of this vegan chana masala.

Cooking chickpeas

Step 1: Toast the spices

In a large pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Then, add all the whole spices (black peppercorns, fennel, cumin, cinnamon, star anise, black cardamom, cloves, and bay leaves) and allow them to sizzle and toast for 1-2 minutes. Stir occasionally, so they don’t burn.

Heating up oil and spices

Step 2: Add the aromatics

Meanwhile, as the spices toast, finely dice the onion. Then add the onion to the pan and reduce the heat to low, cooking until it turns translucent (around 5-7 minutes), stirring occasionally.

Make sure not to have the heat too high – we don’t want the onion to brown.

Cooking chopped onions

While the onion cooks, finely chop or mince the garlic and ginger. Then add both to the pan, stir, and cook for a further couple of minutes.

Adding garlic and ginger to onions

Meanwhile, chop the green chili. Remove the seeds if you want a milder dish, and feel free to chop smaller or larger pieces based on personal preference. I cut fairly big slices on a bias.

Then add the chili to the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes.

Adding chili to onions

Step 3: Add the tomatoes and spices

Meanwhile, chop the tomatoes. Then add them to the pan (along with all their juices). Mix well, cooking for 10 minutes over low heat. During this time, the flavors will begin to caramelize and develop for depth to the coconut chickpea curry.

Adding tomatoes to a curry base

Then, add the spices (turmeric, cumin, coriander, and chili powder) and stir. Finally, add the water and stir to incorporate, leaving it to cook down for a few minutes.

If you’d prefer a thinner sauce, then add more water. If you add too much water, you’ll need to cook it for longer to reduce.

Steps for making chickpea curry

Step 4: Add the final ingredients

Then add the shredded coconut and the chickpeas. Stir and cook for just a few more minutes while tempering the spices.

Steps for preparing chickpea curry

Step 5: Temper the spices

To temper the spices, use a very small pan and heat the oil or ghee over medium heat. Once hot, add the mustard seed and cover the pan (as the seeds will pop/crack). Once that begins happening, add the curry leaves and cover them again, allowing them to cook for a further 30-60 seconds. You can slightly shake the covered pot rather than stirring.

Now give the gravy a taste. Adjust any spices (or the amount of “garam masala” in general) or salt to the desired flavor.

Adding temering of spices

To serve the vegan chana masala, pour the tempered spices into the vegan chickpea curry. Stir to combine, then serve, optionally topped with some cilantro (or parsley).

How to Serve Chana Masala?

You can enjoy vegan chana masala warm, at room temperature, or chilled (though I prefer warm). Enjoy it with some freshly made warm naan bread, roti, paratha, poori, and/or over rice or cauliflower rice.

I also recommend serving it with a couple of lime wedges. Just a little splash of lime juice over the coconut chickpea curry is to die for!

A bowl of chickpea curry and naan bread

How to Store?

Make ahead: Since this recipe does take a little bit of effort to deal with a large number of spices, I love preparing a large batch of the curry in one go and storing all the leftovers in the freezer to enjoy later.

Store: Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to four days.

Freeze: Allow to cool, then transfer to a freezer-safe airtight container and store for between 2-3 months. Allow thawing in the refrigerator before enjoying cold or reheating.

To reheat: You can reheat the vegan chickpea curry on the stovetop or in the microwave.

Chickpea curry in a pot

FAQs

Do you remove the whole spices from the pan?

No, traditionally, you keep them in. However, if you’d prefer not to bite into whole spices, you can place them in a little muslin cloth parcel or tea bag to infuse the flavors into the dish. Alternatively, you can use garam masala powder and skip the whole spices altogether.

Can I use any garam masala?

No, not all garam masala is equal. I like to use a homemade version because I know exactly what results I’ll get. Also, not all brands have the same mixture of spices or the same ratio – so this can cause flavor differences in the vegan chana masala. If you want to use a store-bought version, look for one with similar spices to the ones used in this recipe. It may take a little experimentation to find the one for you.

Do you need to blend the tomato-onion mixture?

Some chana masala recipes call for blending the tomatoes and onions into a thick paste before adding the spices and water, creating a “creamier” result that isn’t as chunky. I like the results without so I skip this step to save time and washing. However, if you want, you can do so. Simply transfer the mixture to a small processor/blender after cooking down the tomatoes for 10 minutes (before adding the spice powders) and blend into a thick paste. Then continue with the recipe as written.

What’s the difference between Punjabi chole and chana masala?

While the two are similar in that they both contain a tomato and onion base with chickpeas. Punjabi chole usually uses a minimal amount of tomatoes and often uses black tea to darken the chickpeas and overall sauce. This also adds a slight depth of flavor. Whereas chana masala is more tomato-based and (as far as I can tell) involves no tea!

Chickpea curry in a bowl with a spoon

Recipe Notes and FAQs

  • If you use tinned chickpeas: make sure to rinse them after draining, so there isn’t lots of starch clinging to the legumes.
  • Don’t use old spices: spices that are more than 6 months old start to lose their potency in most cases, and you really don’t want that for such a spice-packed dish like this vegan chana masala. The fresher the spices, the better the final flavor of the dish.
  • Adjust the heat: most of the heat comes from the green chili and the chili powder used in the recipe, so feel free to adjust the amount you use to personal preference. Removing the ribbing and seeds is a great way to reduce the heat.
  • The tomatoes used: I prefer to use fresh tomatoes wherever possible. However, when using tinned tomatoes, some brands can be more acidic and create a much more tomatoey flavor (which we don’t want in this recipe). If you find yours are a little too tomatoey, try a different brand of tomatoes next time. You can also reduce the amount slightly. A pinch of sugar can also help neutralize the acidity somewhat. Cooking the sauce down further will also help to mellow and caramelize the flavor of the chana masala.
  • Chickpea quick soak method: if you forget to soak the chana overnight, add them and water to a pan and bring it to a rolling boil. Boil for 2-3 minutes, then remove from the heat, cover with a lid, and leave to soak for 80-90 minutes. Voila! You’ll still then need to cook them, of course.
Holding a bowl with curry

More Healthy Recipes

If you try this vegan chana masala/chickpea curry recipe, I’d love to hear your thoughts/questions below. Also, I’d appreciate a recipe card rating below, and feel free to tag me in your recipe recreations on Instagram @Alphafoodie!

Chana Masala (Vegan Chickpea Curry)

5 from 7 votes
By: Samira
How to make chana masala – a vegan chickpea curry dish made with a spiced onion and tomato masala gravy and perfect for enjoying with naan or rice. This Indian curried chickpea recipe relies on a careful selection of aromatics and spices for depths of flavor that will impress friends and family alike.
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
Servings: 6

Ingredients 
 

  • 15.5 oz cooked chickpeas 2 cups

For the curry sauce

  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil or other neutral oil
  • 1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns
  • 1/4 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1/4 tsp cumin seeds
  • 0.5 oz cinnamon stick 1/2 stick
  • 1 star anise
  • 2 black cardamom pods
  • 6 cloves
  • 2 bay leaves small
  • 10 oz onion 1 medium
  • 0.7 oz garlic 3 cloves
  • 0.4 oz ginger
  • 0.2 oz green chili 1 medium
  • 10.5 oz tomatoes 2 medium-sized; or fire-roasted tinned tomatoes
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric powder
  • 1/2 Tbsp cumin powder
  • 1/2 Tbsp coriander powder
  • 1/2 Tbsp chili powder or more, to taste
  • 1.5 cups water or more
  • 2 Tbsp shredded coconut fresh or dried (if dried, mix with 1 Tbsp water)

For the tempering of spices

  • 1 Tbsp sesame oil or ghee (not vegan) or vegetable oil
  • 1/4 tsp mustard seeds
  • 6 curry leaves

Instructions 

  • If you don't have pre-cooked (or tinned) chickpeas, first you'll need to soak (overnight) and cook them – so make sure to save time for this.
    I recommend using chickpeas that have been soaked and cooked for the best texture and flavor.

Step 1: Toast the spices

  • In a large pan, heat up the oil over medium heat.
  • Add all the whole spices (black peppercorns, fennel, cumin, cinnamon, star anise, black cardamom, cloves, and bay leaves) and allow them to sizzle and toast for 1-2 minutes. Stir occasionally, so they don't burn.

Step 2: Add the aromatics

  • Meanwhile, as the spices toast, finely dice the onion.
    Add the onion to the pan and reduce the heat to low, cooking until it turns translucent (around 5-7 minutes), stirring occasionally.
  • While the onion cooks, finely chop or mince the garlic and ginger.
    Add both to the pan, stir, and cook for a further couple of minutes.
  • Meanwhile, chop the green chili. Remove the seeds if you want a milder dish, and feel free to chop smaller or larger pieces based on personal preference.
    Add the chili to the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes.

Step 3: Add the tomatoes and spices

  • Meanwhile, chop the tomatoes.
    Add them to the pan (along with all their juices) and mix well, cooking for 10 minutes over low heat. During this time, the flavors will begin to caramelize and develop.
  • Add the spices (turmeric, cumin, coriander, and chili powder) and stir.
  • Add the water and stir to incorporate, leaving it to cook down for a few minutes.
    If you'd prefer a thinner sauce, then add more water. If you add too much water, you'll need to cook it for longer to reduce.

Step 4: Add the final ingredients

  • Add the shredded coconut and the chickpeas, stirring and cooking for just a few more minutes while tempering the spices.

Step 5: Temper the spices

  • To temper the spices, use a very small pan and heat the oil or ghee over medium heat. Once hot, add the mustard seed and cover the pan (as the seeds will pop/crack). Once that begins happening, add the curry leaves and cover them again, allowing them to cook for a further 30-60 seconds. You can slightly shake the covered pot rather than stirring.
    Now give the gravy a taste. Adjust any spices (or the amount of "garam masala" in general) or salt to the desired flavor.
  • To serve the vegan chana masala, pour the tempered spices into the vegan chickpea curry and stir to combine.
    Serve, optionally topped with some cilantro (or parsley).

How to Store?

  • Make ahead: since this recipe does take a little bit of effort to deal with a large number of spices, I love preparing a large batch of the curry in one go and storing all the leftovers in the freezer to enjoy later.
    Store: store any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to four days.
    Freeze: allow to cool, then transfer to a freezer-safe airtight container and store for between 2-3 months. Allow thawing in the refrigerator before enjoying cold or reheating.
    To reheat: you can reheat the vegan chickpea curry on the stovetop or in the microwave.

Notes

  • If you use tinned chickpeas: make sure to rinse them after draining, so there isn’t lots of starch clinging to the legumes.
  • Don’t use old spices: spices that are more than 6 months old start to lose their potency in most cases, and you really don’t want that for such a spice-packed dish like this vegan chana masala. The fresher the spices, the better the final flavor of the dish.
  • Adjust the heat: most of the heat comes from the green chili and chili powder used in the recipe, so feel free to adjust the amount you use to personal preference. Removing the ribbing and seeds is a great way to reduce the heat.
  • The tomatoes used: I prefer to use fresh tomatoes wherever possible. However, when using tinned tomatoes, some brands can be more acidic and create a much more tomatoey flavor (which we don’t want in this recipe). If you find yours is a little too tomatoey, try a different brand of tomatoes next time and reduce the amount slightly- a pinch of sugar can also help neutralize the acidity somewhat. Cooking the sauce down further will also help to mellow and caramelize the flavor of the chana masala too.
  • Chickpea quick soak method: if you forget to soak the chana overnight, add them and water to a pan and bring it to a rolling boil. Boil for 2-3 minutes, then remove from the heat, cover with a lid, and leave to soak for 80-90 minutes. Voila! You’ll still then need to cook them, of course.
Other add-ins and variations:
  • Sugar: a pinch or two of sugar is a popular addition to many Indian dishes and helps enhance the dish’s flavors. I recommend adding between 1-3 tsp coconut sugar or cane sugar towards the end of the cooking process.
  • Spinach: chickpea and spinach curry is a match made in heaven. Simply stir a few handfuls of spinach into the vegan chana masala in the last 2-3 minutes of cooking.
  • Other vegetables: like cauliflower or potatoes (regular or sweet potato). To add these to the vegan chickpea curry, cut them into small bite-sized pieces and add in right after the onions have their initial sauté and before the garlic/ginger is added. Fry for 3-4 minutes to begin softening the vegetable, then continue with the recipe as written.
  • Coconut milk: chana masala isn’t traditionally creamy. However, if you feel like experimenting, you could add a little coconut milk into the vegan chickpea curry in the last few minutes.
  • Lemon/lime: added to the curried chickpeas just before serving is an excellent way to enhance the depth of flavor.
  • Amchur: many traditional chana masala recipes include amchur, a dried mango powder added in the last couple of steps in the cooking process. I haven’t tried it this way, so I can’t recommend how much to use.
 
Check the blog post for more tips and answers to top FAQs.
Course: Appetizer, Main, Side
Cuisine: Indian, Pakistani
Freezer friendly: 3 Months
Shelf life: 2-3 Days

Nutrition

Calories: 310kcal, Carbohydrates: 33g, Protein: 8g, Fat: 18g, Saturated Fat: 11g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g, Monounsaturated Fat: 3g, Sodium: 36mg, Potassium: 492mg, Fiber: 9g, Sugar: 8g, Vitamin A: 689IU, Vitamin C: 33mg, Calcium: 107mg, Iron: 4mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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