Chana masala, chole masala, channay, chholay: whatever you call it, this has fair claim to be the most popular curry in India, where it’s sold on the streets, served at parties and eaten at all times of day from breakfast to late-night snack. Cheap, nutritious and easy to make in quantity, it reheats well and, most importantly, tastes great.
Prep 15 min
Cook 40 min (if using tinned chickpeas)
450g drained cooked chickpeas (or just under 2 x 400g tins), or 200g dried chickpeas
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda, if using dried chickpeas
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 large onion
1 tsp cumin seeds
6 garlic cloves
25g root ginger
2-4 green chillies, to taste
30g fresh coriander
1 tbsp ground coriander
1-2 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 x 400g tin plum tomatoes
1½ tsp fine salt
1 tsp garam masala (see step 9)
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 If using dried chickpeas …
Soak the dried chickpeas, if using, in cold water overnight, preferably with a half-teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda added, then drain, put in a pan, cover generously with cold water and bring to a simmer. Skim off any scum, turn down the heat and cook until tender – how long this takes will depend on the age of the chickpeas. Make sure there’s always at least 500ml liquid in the pan. Once the chickpeas are tender, pour 500ml cooking liquor into a jug, then drain off the rest.
2 … and if using tinned
If, however, you’re using tinned chickpeas, put them in a pan with 500ml water (you can make some of that amount up with the liquid from the tin), bring to a simmer and cook for five minutes.
3 Saute the onion
Peel and finely chop the onion. Put the oil in a large, heavy-based pan over a medium heat and, once it’s hot, add the cumin seeds and fry, stirring so they don’t burn, until aromatic. Add the onion and turn the heat down, then cook, stirring regularly, until soft and golden.
4 Make the curry paste
While the onion is cooking, peel and roughly chop the garlic and ginger, then put them in a mortar or mini chopper with the chillies (stalks removed but seeds and pith left in, unless you really don’t like heat) and about 25g of the fresh coriander. Grind or blitz to a fairly smooth paste, adding a splash of water if necessary.
5 Stir in the paste and spices
Scrape the paste into the onion pan and fry, stirring, for a couple of minutes, then add the ground coriander, chilli powder and turmeric (and a splash more oil if the mix looks in danger of catching), and cook, still stirring, for a couple of minutes more.
Roughly chop the tomatoes if using whole ones (if you have access to ripe fresh tomatoes, you can use them instead).
6 Add the tomatoes and chickpeas
Add the tomatoes to the pan, stir in the chickpeas and their cooking water and the salt, then turn up the heat to bring the gravy to a lively simmer. Turn down the heat to medium low, and leave to bubble away for about 20 minutes, until slightly thickened. Stir in the garam masala (see step 9 if you want to make your own) and lemon juice, and check the seasoning.
7 Finishing touches
Turn off the heat and leave the chana masala to cool slightly, then roughly chop the remaining coriander leaves, scatter on top and serve.
Chana masala is often served with flatbreads such as chapati, or pav buns, poori or rice, and with raita and/or a kachumber salad of chopped onions, cucumber and tomatoes, but it also makes a good vegetarian side dish.
Replace 50g of the dried chickpeas with chana dal for a slightly thicker consistency. If you prefer things milder, stir in a couple of spoonfuls of plain full-fat yoghurt. And bulk out the dish, if need be, by adding two medium potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks, to the pan in step 6 (in which case you may need to cook the curry for longer, and add a little more water).
9 DIY garam masala
To make your own deliciously aromatic garam masala, as per Madhur Jaffrey’s recipe, very slightly adapted for practicality, put the seeds from eight cardamom pods in a spice grinder or mortar with a teaspoon of black peppercorns, cloves and cumin seeds (preferably black, but brown will do), a stick of cinnamon and a third of a nutmeg, finely grated, then grind to a powder.