chana masala

chana masala

As I write this, my heart is somewhere in Vermont, where Andrew and I spent Thanksgiving week with his family and friends in a cozy house replete with bananagrams, a thousand piece puzzle, naps, and snow. It was perfection and neither one of us wanted to return to New York where lately I’ve been feeling a beat or two behind. We ate, rested, laughed. We watched quite a bit of football. There was a mishap with a golf cart that got stuck on the field. And everything about our trip left us grateful for having amazing family and friends. We’d go back in a heartbeat.

This post took me a whole week to write. A whole week, people! A Sisyphean task! I’ve been writing distractedly lately, and it’s been really hard to get my mind focused and honed on this wee space here. There are changes in the air; changes I will write about more clearly soon, but they have been on my mind in a singular, all-consuming way.

chickpeas spice mix

Now I should say this: all these changes are good – they are positive, albeit a little scary. Someone once said to me that things that scare you means they are worth doing. Fear keeps you honest, it can tell you how much you want to succeed. It was that way for me with running. When I signed up for my first half-marathon, I couldn’t fathom in my head, what thirteen miles would feel like. I was scared. But I took it one day at a time. I went out on the road and put one foot in front of the other. Gradually, I increased my distances, joined a running team, and before I knew it, that half-marathon was weeks away and I was ready, no longer scared. All good things are worth working for. And I think through that fear, deep inside your gut tells you of what it is you need to do. You know it and quite possibly you’ve known it all along.

But while the changes that are coming are positive ones, the logistics surrounding them were fuzzy. And that uncertainty shifted my focus and overpowered the excitement. But I don’t want to indulge that feeling any more, partly because I think my brain needs to focus on brighter things, and partly because as of last Friday, more clarity emerged. And as I explained to Andrew the other day, my brain is much like hummingbird’s wings. If you look at the bird from a side, it appears that the wings are still, suspended in the air, as the bird hangs over the flower. But what is really happening is that the wings are moving so fast, so very rapidly, oscillating with such speed – that to the naked eye, the bird is still. On the outside, I appear calm and collected, but inside I oscillate between that peaceful state and an anxious one. I know it’s okay to be scared about uncertainty. But I also know that I’ll never get over my fear of something unless I attempt it.

solid base of spices with onions

Such is my relationship with chana masala. I’m a little obsessed with it and it’s my go-to choice when we order Indian take-out. I find it comforting to ladle the soupy chickpeas over my basmati rice and make a mess of it in my bowl. I like the gradual build-up of the spices, the chewy bite of the chickpeas, the individual rice granules mixed with the rich, warm sauce.

chana masala

But until a month ago, I was petrified of making chana masala at home. I had this white-girl-fears-to-cook-Indian-food syndrome. I felt like even if I had all the right ingredients and followed the recipe to a tee, my whiteness was somehow going to screw up my ability to make authentic-tasting chana masala. I was paralyzed with fear, which in retrospect seems very silly. The chana masala I made was every bit as good as some of the best I ever had. It might even have tasted better because I made it myself, no longer afraid to cook Indian at home. Best part: I can make it on any given weeknight and in half an hour I will be eating my dinner. That’s faster than dialing our local Indian delivery and I can make enough to send Andrew to work with a lunch that is far more exciting than a turkey sandwich. Isn’t that grand?

Chana Masala
Adapted from

It seems like a lot of spices to get (if you don’t have them) but I highly recommend investing especially if you want to cook more Indian food at home. The spices on their own are versatile and will add to other dishes as well. I didn’t have amchoor powder on hand the first time I made this, but I looked it up and it’s dried unripe green mango powder used in Indian cooking. It smells faintly of honey and has a sour flavor. I wound up upping my lemon juice for tartness, but if you want to get amchoor powder (and it’s awesome!) you can find it here or here.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 medium onions (peeled and minced)
1 clove garlic (peeled and minced)
1 tablespoon ground coriander
4 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
4 cups cooked chickpeas or 2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon amchoor powder, optional
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon salt
Juice of 1 lemon, plus more to taste
1 fresh, hot green chili peppers, minced
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger


1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until lightly browned for 3-5 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook, until fragrant, 1 minute.

2. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add coriander, 2 teaspoons cumin, cayenne, and turmeric. Give everything a good stir, then add the tomatoes cooking them until they are slightly browned.

3. Add chickpeas and 1 cup water and stir to mix everything well. Next, stir in the rest of the cumin, amchoor powder, paprika, garam masala, salt, and lemon juice. Cook, covered, for about 10 minutes. Remove the cover, add the minced chili and ginger stirring to combine. Cook for 1 minute, taste tand add more lemon juice if you like, or if you don’t have amchoor powder on hand. Serve over steamed basmati rice.

Serves 4.


  • kickpleat

    Ooooh, I’m giddy just thinking about all the exciting changes going on in your life – spill ’em when you’re ready! Also, I’m super envious of your vermont holiday. I went to VT last summer and I thought it was the best place ever :) Of course, the chana masala looks amazing and it’s a wonderful reminder to make some soon.

  • Colin

    This is nearly identical to the recipe I always use, from Madhur Jaffrey. One of my favorite dishes! I find the flavor improves with time (as a leftover), and it also freezes well. It’s one of the few Indian dishes I attempt, as I tend to share your trepidation of attempting Indian cuisine.

  • My Little Expat Kitchen

    I can’t possibly imagine what you are referring to when you talk about these changes but the fact that they are positive ones is all the matters. Fear should not be an obstacle when you want something really bad. Just go for it and trust your instincts.

    I cook a lot with chickpeas but i have never tried this dish. I love that it’s so spicy!

  • Radish

    Michele – you should make this – so easy!

    Jeanette – I owe you an email anyhow! :)

    Colin – I believe this is based on her recipe, but what cookbook do you have that features this? I’ve been looking to get one.

    Jason – thank you!

    Magda – I’ll divulge soon!

  • Whitney

    I’m sure you can handle any changes that life throws your way! And don’t worry, we will be here to support you.

    Need to invest in a few more spices to make this. YUM.

  • NIcole

    I must say changes in one’s life are usually very consuming but so exciting!! Wishing you the best.

    And that dish looks delish..I have never had it but am so intrigued now. Chickpeas are my all time favorite!

  • Irina

    Interestingly, I’ve never had chana masala at a restaurant (I don’t even know how to pronounce the name correctly – is the “ch” in chana pronounced the same was as the “ch” in chair, or is it like the “ch” in Bach?) but I make it at home at least once every couple of weeks or so based on a recipe that I adapted from Orangette. I use a lot more tomatoes; I also skip the lemon juice and add sugar because I don’t like the acidity that cooked tomatoes produce (my stomach doesn’t handle it well either).

    My question for you is about the chickpeas: your recipe, along with most other recipes I’ve seen involving canned chickpeas or beans, call for them to be rinsed and drained. What is the reason for doing that? Whenever I use canned beans or vegetables in a stew or a soup, I just empty the can into the pot, liquid and all, and it doesn’t seem to affect the taste or texture in a negative way. In fact, I think the liquid from chickpeas or beans in particular can help thicken a sauce, which I think is a good thing!

  • Sharmila

    How nice to read about someone getting over their fear and just forging into hitherto unknown culinary territory! I’m always telling anyone who will listen about how easy Indian home-cooking is. It is unfathomable to imagine it otherwise. Indian moms are on schedules too.
    It’s great that you got all these spices and tried it that way. But honestly, this dish is so basic that most (not all but most) Indians would just rather use the pre-mixed spice mix rather than, say, buy a pack of amchoor (it’s a big part of North Indian cooking but not necessarily that prevalent in all others). Pre-packaged spice mixes allow you the luxury of making a lot of your favourite things without lots of investment. (Though as you rightly say, lone spices are a treat to try out). Someone who doesn’t have a bulk of them but is still intrigued by channa masala ought to use these instead. Badshah and Shan are excellent brands.
    They are available in single packs for way cheaper in any Indian store. Starting out this way may also help alleviate some of the anxiousness of too much investment and fear of it going wrong. It won’t.
    I love how pretty your dish looks! It must have been dee-lish.

  • Radish

    Irina – excellent questions :) the “ch” is pronounced same as in “chair”. Molly’s recipe is great too. But I liked this one better when I was testing out various options. Also, try using amchoor powder – really nice dimension. Secondly, ideally you would use chickpeas that you cook the night before. But sometimes, I don’t have that foresight and I get home and am hungry and crave just this. So canned ones do in a pinch. You rinse them in this case partly because using the liquid produced a much soupier chana masala than traditional version, and also the liquid itself changes the taste a bit too much. Having said that, I have never used the liquid for anything. Same as with canned peas.

  • Radish

    Sharmila – I think when I become totally “pro” at making a bunch of Indian food, I’ll go with pre-made versions :) But it was pretty easy for me to just measure things out – I sort of eye-balled it anyway! :) And thank you for the link – so so helpful!

    Colin – thank you!!

  • Hillary

    I was intimidated by Indian cooking for the longest time, too and only started doing it when a good friend shared her mother’s recipes with me. It’s well worth the effort!

    One trick: adding a touch of brown sugar and some dried curry leaves (also available at Kalustyans) will make the dish even more aromatic. Just be careful with the curry leaves. Ground up, a little goes a long way.

  • Dana

    From a fellow hummingbird to another, I hope that the changes underfoot go well for you.

    And Hillary (above) is so right, some curry leaves would go great in the chana masala.

  • Sharmila

    How awfully condescending I sound when I say that it’s basic! I didn’t contextualize at all. What I meant was that it’s basic everyday home food, not fancy cooking-for-important-guests kind of cooking. Stuff like pulao, chana masala etc. always have mixed blends that make them foolproof which many good cooks, including my mom, will unabashedly use.
    Excuse me if my comment came off that way. It was written in a hurry during my lunch break and wasn’t meant to.

  • Laura

    Mmm sounds delicious! I love Indian food and am usually a bit cautious to try making it in my own home – I traveled to India a few years ago so I’ve been a bit spoiled by having tasted the real stuff. This looks like a truly authentic and delicious meal and I can’t wait to try it! Thanks for sharing!

  • Amy

    Looks great! I have chana palak on my list to make this week. I love Indian food and the wonderful spices that are in it.

  • Radish

    Sharmilla – it wasn’t at all condescending. :) You were super nice! I meant that because I am learning from scratch, it’s important for me to learn how to mix my own masala – so I know what goes into it.

  • Irina

    Olga, thanks for explaining! I might give the amchoor powder a try – have never heard of it until now, but I’m always curious about unusual spices/seasonings. As for the liquid from the canned chickpeas, I think I will probably keep using it. I don’t have a very refined palate and I really can’t taste whether it makes a difference or not. (I do taste the canning liquid in soups if I’m adding more than one can of vegetables, but I like it! My soups are usually vegetarian and can use some extra flavor.)

    It would be really cool to be able to taste such subtle differences as you describe. I imagine it’s similar to being a wine connoisseur or being able to taste and smell all the flavors and aromas that supposedly make different kinds of coffee unique… I can tell a REALLY bad wine or REALLY bad coffee, but beyond that, I’m pretty easy to please!

  • Radish

    Irina – tasting the differences is just a product of time. If you set out to eat different kinds of chana masala for a month, you’d be able to tell the difference and notes really fast. It’s just training your palate – and that’s easy! Insofar as vegetarian soups go, have you made stock on your own and then made soup with it? I find that with a homemade stock, the flavor is indescribable and now that we’re in the thick of winter, you can simmer stock during the day while puttering around your home on the weekend.

  • Ci-Sun

    I don’t know what is best – “chana masala” or “somewhere in Vermont,thanksgiving week with his family and friends in a cozy house replete with bananagrams, a thousand piece puzzle, naps, and snow”…
    My vote for the – Vermont,puzzle and snow ))

  • Cookin' Canuck

    Now this, to me, is the ultimate comfort dish. Rich with spice and warm going down. Good luck with all of the changes you have coming. Your hummingbird wing metaphor is spot-on!

  • The Yummy Mummy

    Heh heh…”white-girl-fears-to-cook-Indian-food syndrome”. Definitely had that.

    Love this recipe. And your writing, which has been charming me a lot. I think it’s all that love in your life. It has seeped into your words. :)

  • Kulsum@JourneyKitchen

    So glad you got over your fears and made chana masala. If starting with Indian food, I often recommend to my friends to start with chickpeas, because everyone likes chickpeas and second you can buy a can.It makes it much easier for people to come around Indian food from that even though I personally mostly cook my own chickpeas. To be honest as an Indian, we or atleast I often find take away Indian food to be a bit too commercial, Indian home cooking can be so much better. Alright I know I wrote a lot. Erh! btw lovely blog :)

  • Irina

    Hi Olga,

    No, I haven’t tried making my own vegetable stock, but I’ll give it a try this winter! What are some of your favorite veggies to add to the stock? Is there any way to use the vegetables after they’ve been cooked, or are they too flavorless after simmering for hours?

  • Radish

    Irina – what I do is that as I cook through the week or the month, scraps of vegetables are leftover. A few pieces of celery, some parsley, etc. Instead of throwing those out, I put them in plastic bag in the freezer and label the bag “Vegetable Stock”. When it gets full, I make it. For a good stock you want your aromatics – garlic, onion, herbs, etc. Some folks add carrots and celery. Others – some other stuff. Hope this helps.

  • Irina

    Thanks, Olga! Last question :) – do you blanch the veggies before freezing them? I’ve heard that vegetables cannot be frozen when they are completely raw because some bacteria remains on them no matter how well you wash them, and they decay even in the freezer. My experience with freezing raw broccoli seems to confirm this.

  • Radish

    Irina – yes. I blanch very quickly before shoving them into the bag. Sorry, I forgot to mention that.

  • molly

    Mmmmm… chana masala. One of my longstanding favorites, at home and elsewhere. Funny, I always gravitate to beans when uncertainty hits, also. Here’s to finding a bit of grounding and calm in this time of change…

  • Caroline

    Great recipe Sassy Radish :-) Thanks for sharing, and sorry I’m a bit of a latecomer. So, we’re all dying to know about the big changes afoot… If I were a betting woman, I’d have my money on the patter of tiny feet :-)

  • Radish

    Caroline – no patter of tiny feet just yet. We’re traditional that way :) But good things are coming. I promise to announce them soon! So glad you enjoyed the recipe.

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