Chana masala is one of my favorite Indian recipes to make at home when I want something hearty and comforting, but also don't want to spend a ton of time cooking. This recipe is vegan, comes together in 30 minutes and is a perfect hearty meal!
The post contains helpful tips and tricks to make sure you're successful in your first attempt. But if you're in a rush, please use the link above to jump to the recipe card at the end!
💭 Why this recipe works
- Vegan, gluten-free, one pot, 30 minutes - I cannot stress how convenient this recipe is (and perhaps counter to how most folks think of Indian food)
- Authentic but easy - this is the North Indian version of the recipe, so the delicious sour note is a must-have. I use a simple trick to replicate that flavor.
- Uses common ingredients - this recipe uses simple ingredients that you can find in almost any grocery store, so there's no need to hit up a specialty store!
- Protein-packed and hearty - chickpeas are packed full of nutrients and make the perfect base for a wholesome, hearty meal that's super filling
- Fridge and freezer friendly - this is a great make-ahead meal because it freezes so easily. Make a big batch and eat it different ways through the week!
📋 Ingredients & Variations
This recipe needs tomatoes, onions, green chili peppers for the base (jalapenos, Thai green chili peppers, or Serrano all work great). But the secret to my authentic chana masala recipe is the spice mix (check the next section for details on the spice mix).
👩🏽🍳 How to make chana masala
Start with the spice mix - the heart of the dish!
For the spice mix, I grind coriander and cumin seeds, ginger and garlic, some green chili peppers (Thai green chili peppers, jalapeno or Serrano) and red onions into a coarse paste.
If you can't find the fresh spices, or want something flavorful but less intense, you can substitute coriander and cumin seeds with ground powders. Or, if you have garam masala, feel free to replace the coriander and cumin with a spoon of that instead.
Make the tomato base
Start by sauteing the onions in a skillet, over medium heat, until brown. Then, add coarse spice paste and saute for a few minutes until raw smell dissipates.
Then, add the can of tomatoes along with spices, tamarind paste and salt. Saute this for a few minutes until the base starts thickening (typically around 3 to 4 minutes).
Finally, add the canned chickpeas with half to a full cup of water (depending on your desired consistency).
Cover the skillet and cook for about 5 minutes. When cooked perfectly, the chickpeas will be soft but not mushy. The base will be fluid, but not watery. Perfect for scooping up with some rice or flatbread.
Garnish with freshly chopped cilantro and serve hot, with either flatbread or rice.
👩🏽🍳 FAQs and Top Tips
The main secret behind this recipe are the sour notes of tamarind paste. If you don't have tamarind paste, there's an easy substitute! Use lime juice (or white wine vinegar) mixed with equal amounts of brown sugar instead.
You can use either canned or fresh chickpeas for this recipe. If you use dry chickpeas, soak them overnight. Then, place them in a pot, add boiling hot water, a pinch of salt and cover for an hour.
I use fresh or canned tomatoes, depending on the season. If you use fresh tomatoes, use about 2 cups, chopped. If you use canned tomatoes, use one 14.5 oz can. You have to mash the tomatoes to make the chana masala base. So either option will work.
🍴 Serving and storing suggestions
You can serve chana masala with so many things!
- The best way of eating chana masala is with a bhatura (deep fried Indian bread).
- Another creative dish - Trinidad Doubles (open faced fried sandwich with chana masala and hot sauce).
- More traditionally, you can eat this with any flat bread (like a naan) or with rice. Working on a yeast-free homemade naan recipe - stay tuned!
- My favorite way to eat this is with samosas, as samosa chaat (i.e. an Indian street food). I made some delicious baked samosas and air fryer samosas recently. In a bowl, I broke those samosas into small pieces, added this chana masala, and topped it with some yogurt, diced red onions, jalapenos, and mint. The result was indescribable. Try it out and let me know how it goes for you!
Storing & freezing
Store the chana masala in an airtight container in the fridge for 3 to 4 days. You can also easily freeze it for up to 2 months, again in airtight containers. I recommend dividing it into individual size portions, and freezing them in separate containers. This way, you can just grab one without thawing everything at once. When you're ready to eat, thaw the masala, then pop in the microwave for a minute to two minutes. Good to go!
If you liked this recipe, don't forget to check out my Indian Cooking 101 Pantry Checklist (aka, everything you need for making delicious Indian food year-round) and then, these other Indian recipes:
- ½ red onion, medium size, chopped
- 2 jalapeno peppers, medium, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, substitute with 1-2 tsp of minced garlic
- 1 tbsp ginger paste, 3-4 small slices of ginger, 1" each
- 1 tbsp coriander seeds, substitute with 2 tsp of coriander powder
- 2 tsp cumin seeds, substitute with 1 tsp of cumin powder
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- ½ onion, medium size, chopped
- 1 can diced tomatoes, 14.5 oz - use a basic version
- 1 tsp salt, adjust to taste
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 tsp red chili powder, Kashmiri red chili is strong; use paprika or cayenne for a milder spice kick
- 1 tbsp tamarind paste, substitute with a tbsp of lemon juice and 1 tsp of brown sugar
- 1 can chickpeas, 14.5 oz, low sodium version if possible - drained and rised
- 1 tbsp cilantro, chopped finely
- In a food processor, blend ingredients for spice base (onion, jalapenos, ginger, garlic, coriander, and cumin) until they form a paste (the spices will still be somewhat coarse, this is okay)
- Heat oil on a medium pan, and when hot, saute onions until they're fragrant (about 2-3 minutes)
- Now, add the spice blend from the food processor and saute until they're brown
- Add the tomatoes, red chili powder, turmeric, and salt, then use your spatula to mash down the tomatoes a bit to release some of their juices - this will help deglaze the pan
- Add chickpeas, tamarind paste and 1 cup of water and bring to a boil. Then, lower the heat, cover and cook for 10 minutes
- Garnish with cilantro and serve hot - with flatbread or rice
- For a spicier version of this dish, keep the seeds in the peppers!
- Using the raw spices and grinding them makes the end product more fragrant. But if you want something just as delicious but less intense, use the powdered versions listed. Also, if you live near an Indian grocery store, you can buy 'chole masala' and substitute the dry spices with 2 tsp of that powder!
- For a slightly more sour and sharp flavor, you can add a few pods of green cardamom and cloves to the food processor
- Please check out the detailed post above for step-by-step pictures of the recipe
Note: This recipe was originally published on March 23, 2020. It was modified on August 2, 2020 to include more process shots and clarifications.
If you try this recipe, let me know! Leave a comment, rate it, and tag #urbanfarmie on Instagram, @urbanfarmie on Pinterest! For step-by-step instructions with pictures, check the post.