… with Potatoes

I’ve tried about 20 different recipes for chana masala – from friends, bloggers. relatives, cookbooks. I taste this fantastic dish, ask for the recipe, come home, try to duplicate it, and it just will not turn out right.

I’ve tried it with and without tomatoes, with and without onions, garlic, pomegranate seed powder, dried mango powder, readymade chana masala powder, garam masala. Then I gave up and started winging it, adding anything I pleased at the last moment – like J does. He makes good chana masala, but can’t recount the exact proportions of ingredients if you ask him.

It started turning out the way I liked it – spicy but not overly so, tangy but not overly so – the way they serve it at Lovely Sweets in Fremont, California. (They also serve the most silken oil-free parathas.)

Therefore, if you’re planning to follow this recipe, DON’T. Just play around and come up with what you like. The key is the tweaking. Keep tasting it at every stage and adding this or that until you strike the right balance.

I didn’t post this recipe formula and wasn’t planning to ‘cos there’s no particular version I try to replicate every single time. I simply follow some broad guidelines and experiment. However a friend requested the recipe the last time she visited. This is for you, dear R.

If, like her, you don’t have a ton of strange Indian spices in your pantry, I’ve listed a couple of readymade mixes that would make your life easier. I don’t stock or use store-bought “chana masala powder”, but if this is a dish you would like to make often, go ahead and use it. This recipe can be adapted for a variety of whole beans/lentils.

Sometimes I sprout the chickpeas (like this), sometimes I make it without potatoes, or add mushrooms or greens instead. See Chickpeas with Watercress. Whatever floats your boat.

Our friend Bhavani, who’s a top-notch chef, suggested two things that definitely improved my chana masala.

*** Cook it long and slow. She uses a crock pot and gifted us one. Put the cooked chickpeas with the onion-tomato paste, uncooked chopped potatoes and spices in the crock pot in the morning. Set it on low for 6-8 hours (or high for 3-4 hours). In the evening you’ll return to the aroma of cooked chana masala. You can add the cooked potatoes at this stage or uncooked chopped potatoes in the beginning if you wish. You’ll need to experiment a bit to see what time, setting and amount of liquid you need in the crock pot. The first time you make it, though, try the stove-top method.

Tamarind-Date chutney

*** Instead of the customary souring agents used for chana masala like pomegranate seed (anardana) powder or dry mango (amchur) powder, she uses tamarind. Anardana has a bitter edge and amchur lacks the more balanced sweetish tartness that tamarind imparts. I simply add a dollop of homemade tamarind-date chutney in the end. Store-bought tamarind-date chutney works too, or just grind up some tamarind and dates. In a pinch, use lemon/lime juice and a teeny bit of maple syrup/brown sugar.

CHANA MASALA / CHOLE with Potatoes

The Chickpeas

1 cup dried white chickpeas (kabuli chana) or 3 cups canned

Soak the chickpeas for 4 to 8 hours in plenty of water, then cook in a pressure cooker or on the stovetop with a pinch of salt until cooked but not mushy. Drain and set aside about a cup of liquid. You’ll get about 3 cups cooked.

If using canned, rinse well and discard all the liquid.

The spices

Heat 1 tbsp oil or clarified butter (ghee) in a big pan. Add

1 tsp cumin seeds
2 bay leaves

When the seeds sizzle, add

3/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1.5 tsp finely chopped ginger
a pinch of salt

Cook on medium heat until the onion softens and starts turning brown at the edges.

Indians add a pinch of asafoetida while cooking beans/lentils to make them more digestible. It’s optional.

1/4 tsp turmeric
between half and 1 tsp cayenne powder

**sold as “chilli powder” in Indian stores. This is for heat – reduce or drop it if you don’t like it hot.
half tsp Kashmiri mild chilli powder (deghi mirch) or mild paprika
**This is for colour.

1 tsp cumin powder
2 tsps coriander powder
1/2 tsp kasoori methi (or dried oregano)
a dash of black pepper
cinnamon, cloves, cardamom pods powdered in a spice/coffee grinder to total about 1/2 tsp

**or 1/2 tsp garam masala powder

Stir for a minute. In lieu of the last five ingredients, you can add a tablespoon or two of readymade chana masala powder (available in Indian stores in various brands).

3/4 cup chopped tomatoes (or crush 2 whole canned tomatoes plus 2-3 tablespoons juice from the can)

and cook until the spice mix is beginning to dry and get pasty.

Organic Baby Yukon Golds

The potatoes
Meanwhile, wash and cut about 3/4 pound baby potatoes into quarters. I use organic and leave the skins on.

You can either add them uncooked to the onion-tomato mixture with an extra dash of salt and cook until done, or to save some time, half-cook them when the onions are frying.

If you want to add them half-cooked, chop them into quarters and put them in a microwave-safe bowl with 2 tbsp water and steam them covered for 2 minutes on HIGH.

If you want to use mushrooms, saute them with a dash of salt until they dry out a bit and add at this stage. If you want to use spinach or other delicate greens, blanche and add a couple of minutes from the end.

Take about 3 tbsps of the chickpeas and mash them with the back of a spoon. Add the potatoes or mushrooms and chickpeas to the onion-tomato mixture along with the mashed chickpeas and one cup of saved chickpea liquid (or plain water if you used canned chickpeas). Check for salt and seasonings. Cook covered on medium until the potatoes are done.

If using a crock pot
… Add the cooked chickpeas, mashed chickpeas, 1 cup liquid, the raw chopped potatoes, salt, the tomato-onion paste, cover and cook on low (6 to 8 hours) or high for 3 to 4 hours. You may need more water halfway through. Then proceed to the next step.

Something Sour, Something Sweet

Add a tablespoon (or two) of tamarind-date chutney.

You can use store-bought if you wish, or simply blend 1/3 tsp tamarind concentrate (available in a jar at Indian or Thai stores) with a couple of dates and a tablespoon of water.

Else, add a dash of lemon/lime juice and just a hint of maple syrup/brown sugar. Remove the bay leaf before serving.

In the end, garnish with
a chopped hot green chilli (optional)
chopped spring onions
a couple of sprigs of chopped cilantro.

Tastes better after a few hours or the next day.

What if it’s too darn spicy?
It will mellow down as it sits and the chickpeas and potatoes absorb the spices. However, if you’re a wimp (like I am), add more tamarind-date chutney or any of these:
Cashew powder
Almond butter
Coconut milk powder
Light coconut milk
Heavy cream

CARBFEST: Chana Masala with Potatoes and (coming up next) 100% Whole Wheat Bread.

- b.

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  1. Mamatha says:

    Channa looks lovely with the chopped scallion garnish and I like the idea of adding tamrind-date chutney to it. I make a couple of versions, but it’s Anita’s chhole that I make when I have company.

  2. Gi says:

    My Channa is also based on what i can find when i am cooking. But the tamarind paste is an integral part. Never tried it with dates (yet). I also love the channa in Lovely Sweets (the Sunnyvale one)….worth putting up with bad service just for the channa :)

  3. I have tried a couple of versions of chole and though I am happy at the moment with what I have, I have never been able to replicate the punjabi style chole masala, with the black, thick, yummy gravy and melt in your mouth chana.
    The crock pot idea does make a lot of sense to get that slow cooked flavor punch. Gorgeous photos as always.

  4. Manisha says:

    Bee, the tamarind date chutney makes this into chaat. Send some samosas for a swim in hot oil, make a bed of this chana masala and pour some more chutney over it.

    I have some of Anita’s chhole in my freezer – I think I am going to do just that!

  5. karun says:

    Or you can be cheap and lazy like me and buy the Parampara Chole masala mix :-)

  6. Lakshmi says:

    Chana masala looks yummmmmm…I wanna have that bowl CM with bread for my lunch :D

  7. Bindu nair varma says:

    A tea-bag added to the pot while cooking the chana imparts a
    dark restaurant like hue to it; & why no garlic bee….?Chole always has oodles of it.The punjus finish off the dish
    with a dash of bhuna zeera\jeera added to it at the end;which is why good chole anywhere is always a little over the top cuminey.

  8. Manasi says:

    I make a chole recipe I learnt long back in a cooking class, make it into a chaat ( aloo tikki or samosas! )
    I like the addition of date- tamarind chutney

  9. aquadaze says:

    Bee, I hear you – like you, I have tried umpteen chole recipes. I am satisfied with what I make now, but not happy. So I keep tweaking and trying this n that. I really like your idea of adding tamarind date chutney, so in it gies the next time I make chhole.
    You are so right about the crock pot/ slow cooker. Just got one about a month ago and I make almost everything in it – the flavours really get enhanced from hours of slow cooking.

  10. Manggy says:

    Oh boy! I don’t think I’m experienced enough to tweak, but I’ll try. The best part is, I think I have most if not all the spices here already!

  11. Pina Colada says:

    Hi Bee,
    This is a culinary odyssey for the perfect Chana Masala :-)
    Loved the date-tamarind combo..Already I can find my mouth watering thinking of the flavour it imparts. Yeh..I am a wimp too :-)

  12. nandita says:

    Like you I’ve tried a dozen ways with chana masala or chole, but when my friend gifted me a couple of boxes of Goldie’s Chole Masala, I struck gold. Even if you just add this masala onto boiled chickpeas and simmer for a while, people will think this is the best chole they’ve ever tasted and if you add the regular onion-tomato-ginger-garlic mix plus this masala, it is chole heaven.
    It’s a Lucknow made brand, so if you have anyone who can spot this thing for you, it’s a must try! I heard that most of their products get exported to Middle East.

  13. Nirmala says:

    Wow…all the pics make me lick the screen..I want some phulkas to mop these spicy colorful goodness. My mother can never replicate a recipe exactly the same in her entire life. She’s tempted to tweak and each time the dish takes a new avatar. And Bee I am happy that you are turning to more edible-to-me dishes from the green shakes ;) A hearty welcome to all wonderful such recipes.

  14. sacredfig says:

    Lovely Sweets….ummm….I know what you’re saying! On a recent trip to the Bay Area, we were introduced to their paratha goodness by a friend who is a regular there. They are really good with holding the oil, and using a fair amount of veggies in the stuffing.

    I’m with you on the crockpot chana, or actually crockpot all lentils (it makes an excellent cheater’s dal makhni)
    My favorite thing for the tangy element in such a formula is pomegranate molasses (I’ve tried the ‘indo-european’ brand from middle-eastern groceries, and the trader joes brand in the US…I preferred the former – TJs is less tangy) it has the sweet-sour balance similar to date-tamarind chutney, and was a shorter one ingredient route in my grad pantry.

  15. Maninas says:

    I love the idea of using tamarind date chutney, I’ll try that.
    My friend uses it in her mint chutney, and it’s amazing.

  16. Gini says:

    Date tamarind chutney. Who would have thought? That’s why I totally dig this blog. Your ingredient substitutions are the best and they work.

  17. TexasDeb says:

    It is interesting to me how this post is so much more than “just” your formula for a particular dish. What you have described here is the odyssey to establish and adapt your own style of cooking, as opposed to the process of following a recipe. For instance, I think you could substitute several ingredients here and be writing about making a great bowl of chili, or gumbo… (not to mention the typically amazing photographs included, oh wait – I just did!).

  18. Sunita says:

    No two chana masalas of mine are alike too. Yours looks gorgeous with a lovely colour- one more variation for me to try :-)

  19. indosungod says:

    I agree Bee, Chana masla is one of those things that taste different every time. I switched from using tamarind to amhcur thinking it is more authentic (whatever that is supposed to mean). I am going back to tamarind. Those store bought chana masala powders give a very strong smell though.

  20. Vishakha says:

    I think this is one of the holy grails! To me now the sure fire way to replicate the taste is to use Anita’s recipe – http://madteaparty.wordpress.com/2007/12/09/punjabi-chhole-chickpeas.

    * Make the chana masala from scratch and fresh every couple of time.
    * The dark colour comes from over-roasting the dry spices in the masala – gives me better results than tea bags while coooking
    * My tweak was to add the tamarind-date chutney at the end too!

    Apparently, this achieves “Delhi dhaba” status in my DH’s words…

  21. Cham says:

    I never liked the chana masala, probably of store bought packet masala.
    I got to try the place u metionned, u should be amazed to see how many rest. boomed in Tri-City in recent days!

  22. nitu singh says:

    how people eat it I don’t know, it is troublesome to stomach as it heavily create gaaaaaaaaaaaaaas

  23. I love chickpeas. Fabulous dish.

  24. Pree Basu says:

    Jai & Bee,

    Your photographs look awesome like always. I am sure the chhole is yummy too. I like your idea of adding potatoes to them. Maybe next time…

    Here is my version of chhole: http://preeoccupied.blogspot.com/2010/01/sunday-brunch-chana-pindi-puri.html

    And if you do want that dark, rich color (punjabi) chhole, try the tea bag treatment. It sure works.

  25. notyet100 says:

    nice recipe,will try this nd let u knw,..;-)

  26. The Kitchn says:

    Cumin and Coriander: 7 Indian Dishes to Try at Home…

    We’ve been in the mood for Indian all week, so this weekend we’ve got curry on the menu. The long list of spices for many Indian recipes can seem intimidating, but really, Indian cooking is all about using what you……

  27. Divya says:

    Hi Bee

    I am a fan and “lurk” regularly around Jugalbandi.

    This evening I made chickpeas and tried substituting anardhana (which my mother taught me use..) with puli, after reading your post. I am officially in chholey heaven now. This is that perfect tangy (but not too tangy) kick I have been trying to get all this while !

    I have a question: do you simply add in the puli at the end, or stir it in and let it cook for a while?

    • jai bee says:

      i usually add tam-date chutney at the end ‘cos that’s already cooked. else, add the tamarind some minutes from the end and cook until the raw flavour goes away.

  28. Maritza says:

    I have longed for authentic chana masala ever since I tasted it at a corner store in Bollywood, CA. I made this one last night. I used maple syrup and lemon as I didn’t have the tamarind. I paired it with garlic tumeric roasted cauliflower and basmati rice. Hello!! Talk about authentic! That crock pot is the key! and that sweet/sour balance. THANK YOU for this guideline/vague recipe.

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