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.
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.
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 teaspoon 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.