April 30, 2014

Classic Channa Masala

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Curried chickpeas in tomato sauce are also known as channa or chole. No matter what you call it, this delicious dish is deservedly popular. It is an Indian takeout mainstay, as well as a vegetarian favourite. Don’t be afraid to make channa at home. Authentic Indian recipes look more complicated than they actually are because they contain a long list of spices.

       Indian curried chickpeas. Credit: Susan Sampson


4 large cloves garlic
1 piece ginger (1 inch/2.5 cm), peeled, sliced
1 tsp (5 mL) each: kosher salt, ground coriander, ground cardamom
1/2 tsp (2 mL) ground turmeric
1 tbsp (15 mL) hot water
2 tbsp (30 mL) coconut or grapeseed oil
1 large onion, diced
2 red finger chilies, thinly sliced
1 tsp (5 mL) cumin seeds
1 cup (250 mL) canned tomatoes (with juices), crushed
1 cup (250 mL) water
3 cups (750 mL) cooked or canned chickpeas
1/2 stick cinnamon
1 tsp (10 mL) or more kosher salt
1/4 tsp (1 mL) ground black pepper
2 tsp (10 mL) amchoor powder
1 tsp (5 mL) garam masala
1/4 cup (60 mL) chopped cilantro, divided
1/4 cup (60 mL) unflavoured yogurt

Spice Paste: Using mini food processor, blender or spice grinder, purée garlic and ginger with salt, coriander, cardamom, turmeric and water.

Curry: In 10-inch (25 cm) wide pan, heat oil on medium until shimmery. Add onion and chilies. Cook, stirring often, 3 minutes, or until turning golden. Stir in cumin seeds 30 seconds, or until crackling. Stir in spice paste 30 seconds, or until it sticks to pan. Add tomatoes. Cook, stirring often, 1 minute, or until oil starts to separate out. Add water, chickpeas, cinnamon, 1 tsp (5 mL) salt and pepper. When liquid comes to boil, cover and reduce heat to low. Cook 30 minutes, or until sauce thickens and flavours meld.

Discard cinnamon stick. Stir in amchoor, garam masala and 3 tbsp (45 mL) cilantro. Adjust salt.

Before serving, add dollops of yogurt and garnish with remaining 1 tbsp (15 mL) cilantro.

Makes 4 cups (1 L).

  • If using canned chickpeas, you’ll need 2 cans (each 14 oz/398 mL). Rinse and drain them. If starting with dried chickpeas, you’ll need about 8 oz (250 g), which are then soaked and cooked. Indians use a smaller type called gram or Bengal chickpeas.
  • The heat of this channa depends on the chilies. I serve hot sauce alongside so diners can customize.

Tool Time: A coffee/spice grinder makes a handy mini food processor. You can use it to prepare spice pastes or purée tomatoes.

A is for Amchoor: Dried mango powder is called amchoor. It adds tang and acts as a thickener. If you don’t have any, squeeze in lemon juice to taste.

G is for Garam Masala: Next to curry powder, garam masala is the second most popular Indian spice blend. Many supermarkets sell it.