I can be very much a “where’s the beef?” kind of guy, but every now and then, a truly vegetarian dish somehow slips under my nose and wins me over without me realizing it. This chickpea-centric dish, called channa masala, is one of the first Indian dishes I’d ever had and it’s kept me coming back for seconds ever since.
Channa masala is essentially a strongly spiced curry (the “masala” part) with chickpeas for the protein (the “channa” part) rather than meat. Calling any curry “strongly spiced” is a big generalization, but this is strong even among other curries. This isn’t too say that it’s overwhelmingly hot–just really flavorful (there’s some heat, of course, but it is a bit milder). A big distinction in my mind is that this curry has both a distinct tang and a certain sourness that makes for an incredibly delicious result. Plus channa masala is fun to eat and quick to make (especially compared to many other Indian dishes).
Oh and one odd bit to this recipe worth mentioning. I tend to always start from scratch for most things, but you’ll notice this recipe includes a bit of channa masala powder. Why? This is a case of me not wanting to buy extra spices I’ll never use again. Earlier I mentioned sourness and tang–a part of this is due to the use of both pomegranate seeds (not the juicy fruit part–just the white seeds) and dried mango, which I don’t need in a big spice jar (hey maybe you do!). Just be aware of what is in your masala powder though so you can adjust your seasoning accordingly (and make sure it’s not just all dried oil, salt, and turmeric! There are many cheap spice mixes that have no place in your pantry). Don’t worry about being precise in trying to tweak the seasoning–everybody does it a little differently, and I think you’ll love the dish however you approach it.
- 2 shallots
- 2 big tomatoes
- 4 serranos
- few cloves garlic + big chunk ginger –> ~1/8-1/4 cup garlic & ginger paste
- bay leaf
- 5 cloves
- 3 cardamom pods
- 1 cinnamon stick
- anise seeds
- fennel seeds
- 1 dried chili
- ground cumin
- ground coriander seeds
- 2-3 tsp channa masala powder
- 900 g/2 cans chickpeas
- handful cilantro leaves
- juice of 1 lime
- big pinch of dried methi leaves
In a sturdy pot, heat up the oil and then fry the whole spices for about a minute or two. Then, finely mince the shallots and add that to the oil with a dash of salt for about 3 minutes. Finely dice the peppers and chop the tomatoes, adding them for another 3 minutes.
Ar this point, add in the garlic and ginger paste, cooking for an additional minute. Finally add all of the remaining ground spices, cooking until thick and like a paste (which will take at least 10 minutes).
And now, while it seems counter-intuitive, you’ll want to deglaze the pan with a bit of water (enough to bring the thickness of the mixture to something more saucey that you’re happy with). You might be thinking “but wait, we just cooked all the water out–why add it back in?” The key is that for a while, you’re not just making the paste, but you’re frying the paste. It gives a flavor to the curry paste that you simply couldn’t get any other way. Adding the water just brings us back to a more consumable consistency, at which point, you should simmer for a bit longer in case you added too much water (it happens!).
Once you’re happy with the consistency and thickness, add the chickpeas and stir them gently into the curry. Simmer for roughly 15 minutes and fish out any whole spices. Squeeze in the lime juice and mix in the diced cilantro and crumbled, dried methi. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking (salt, pepper, chili powder, methi, etc).
Be sure to have some appropriate Indian bread to go with this. I had mine with a few pieces of paratha. Enjoy!