Tuesday, February 21, 2012

25 Min Indian Recipe: Chana (Chickpea) Masala

We are indeed much more than what we eat, but what we eat can nevertheless help us to be much more than what we are. – Adelle Davis

Chana masala on a bed of basmati rice. Mmmm....
This is a recipe that is really fast and easy to make. In fact it’s so fast if you start boiling water for the rice when you start melting the butter, everything will be ready at the same time. How’s that for fast? 

And it’s vegetarian to boot. We should all strive to eat a vegetarian meal at least once each week. It’s good for the soul.

Chana masala
Chana masala (or chole masala) is an Indian and Pakistani vegetarian dish. It is usually quite dry and spicy with a lemon tang. The dish is found throughout South Asia and is very popular in the Punjab region of India. In certain other areas of India it is commonly cooked very dry. In Pakistan, Aloo Chole is a variation of the dish with chickpeas and potatoes.

My recipe has loads of spicy flavour and a tangy lemon edge, but is certainly not dry because of the yogurt. Purists will be up in arms.

Chickpeas. Photo: Mink, Flickr ccl
A rose by any other name...
Chickpeas go by many different names some of which you may have heard. Other names are ceci, garbanzo, chana, sanagalu Indian pea and Bengal gram. 

Chickpeas are a legume of the family Fabaceae and are high in protein content. They are also one of the earliest cultivated vegetables, evidence of this being 7,500 years old.

What is masala?
"Masala" means a combination of dried spices, or alternatively a paste made from a mixture of spices and other ingredients usually including garlic, ginger, onions and chilli – like this recipe. Masalas are used extensively in Indian cuisine to add flavour.

Essentially you can make a “masala” using many different main ingredients. For example, tiki masala is chicken, masala chai is Indian spiced tea and tandoori (a method of cooking in a special oven) uses chicken, meat, fish or paneer. Each masala mixture is specific to the dish.

This recipe, just to be confusing also uses Garam masala. A basic translation is hot (garam) and spices (masala). It just so happens to be premixed in the spice section of the grocery store, like when you buy curry powder.

You can substitute dried chickpeas for this dish, but they will have to be reconstituted in water overnight and then simmered for about 1 hour. That kind of defeats the "quick meal" aspect of my recipe. Canned, rinsed chickpeas are just fine.

I had to step out of the house for a couple minutes before we ate. When I came back in I felt like I was at the Taj Mahal, an excellent local Indian restaurant. The smell that greeted me at the door was to die for.

This dish tastes authentic, even if it is the product of a few sources and a little “help” from me.

You should try this. You won’t miss not having meat. With some raita (here) and naan bread you’ll have a veritable feast!

This is the dish before the yogurt.
Chana Masala
Prep: 5 minutes  | Cook: 20 min  |  Serves 4
2 tbsp butter (or ghee)
2 medium onions, chopped
6 garlic cloves
1-1/2 tbsp fresh ginger, diced
3 hot green chili peppers, chopped (with seeds)
1 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1-1/2 tsp Garam Masala
2 tsp whole cumin seeds
4 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 19 oz (540 ml) can chickpeas, drained
1/2 cup plain thick yogurt* (optional)
Juice of 1 lemon

Heat the butter or ghee in a frying pan or wide sauté pan. Add the onions and allow to fry until they begin to brown. This step is important because the very browned onions impart flavour to the finished dish.

And this is it after. Take your pick.
Once the onions begin to brown add the ginger and garlic. Sauté until the onions finish browning. Total time should be 7 minutes maximum.

Add the spices and fry for 1 to 2 minutes to release their flavour.

Chop the tomatoes and add with their seeds and juice. Reduce the heat to medium high and let the tomatoes soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in the chickpeas and and let cook for 2 minutes. Then add the lemon juice and cook for a further 3 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the yogurt. Put the pot back on the stove and let the dish come back to heat.

Serve with basmati rice.

* The yogurt is my addition to counteract the heat of the chillies. Of course that makes it slightly less vegetarian. If you don’t want to use it, no problem.


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  1. MMMMMmmmm! I'm making this tomorrow evening. Thank you!

  2. the chana masala was so delicious :) thank you for sharing!