This is the story of how I accidentally invented Chana Masala Hummus.
But let me back up for a minute. Chana Masala is one of my favorite Indian curries. Tender, hearty chickpeas nestled in a rich tomato and onion-based sauce, with hints of roasted cumin and the kick of fresh cilantro.
When I lived in Japan, I occasionally made myself cilantro-less Chana Masala, since rural western Japan suffers from a sad lack of the controversial herb. (I also paid up to $3 a can for the only chickpeas I could find– in the tiny “international foods” section of a department store that mainly sold clothing and make-up!)
All of this “deprivation” might explain why, upon moving back to the U.S., I binged on homemade Chana Masala, and probably made it several times a month for an entire year. Though I don’t make it nearly as often anymore, it lives on as one of my staples– my go-to dinners. It’s helpful that I always have onions in the house, homemade chickpeas in the freezer (or canned ones in the pantry), and tomatoes on the counter.
One reason I make it less often now is that Paula– for all her adventurous cooking and eating– can’t stand the texture of onions (in ANY form), and doesn’t care much for chunky cooked tomatoes either.
So I’ve made a slight sacrifice in starting to puree the onions, tomatoes, and spices at some point in the cooking process before adding the chickpeas. The result is actually closer to restaurant-style Chana Masala, and still completely delicious, of course, but I prefer my usual version of rustic, chunky Chana Masala.
Last week, though, I had– a weekday when I didn’t have to go to campus(!) and– an epiphany: why not make myself a big pot of nostalgic chunky chana masala for lunch, photo-document it all for the blog, and then just puree it all up into… well, chana masala “soup” before Paula came home for dinner!?
What hadn’t occurred to me at all, though Paula swears she foresaw this as soon as I told her my plan, was this: when chickpeas go into the blender, what comes out is hummus.
I realized this only as I decanted my new invention, Chana Masala Hummus, from my blender to a bowl.
The Chana Masala Hummus that I made was actually somewhere between hummus and soup (and it still tasted delectable, served over warm, fluffy basmati rice!). But I think the answer is obvious here: drain a little liquid off before blending to make an actual hummus dip; add a little more liquid/broth for a divine curry-spiced pureed chickpea and tomato soup. (See my recipes for Chana Masala Hummus and Chana Masala Soup below.)
Or, just make rustic chunky Chana Masala, and enjoy! No matter how you prepare it, you can’t go wrong.
Note: there is one way to go wrong. As far as I can tell the only way to ruin this dish (and I’ve done it several times) is if you undercook the onions.
(My mistake is sometimes not being patient enough to saute the onions until they’re completely soft before adding the tomatoes. Somehow my logic goes something like this: Remember that last time the onions didn’t cook enough, so make sure you do it right this time! Ok, but they are *mostly* done, and they’ll keep cooking a little bit even after I add the tomatoes, right? So it should be fine! Right? Wrong! Well, it DOES always still taste fine, but let me put it this way, Paula, who hates the texture of onions, would extra-hate it.)
(Chunky) Chana Masala
~ 2-3 Tbsp. ghee, butter, or oil
~ 1 Tbsp. cumin seeds
~ 1 onion, roughly diced
~ 1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
~ 1/2-1 inch fresh ginger, grated or diced
~ 4 large tomatoes (or 5-6 smaller ones), roughly diced
~ 2 Tbsp. fresh mint leaves, chopped (optional)
~ 2 Tbsp. fresh cilantro leaves, chopped (optional), plus more to garnish
~ 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
~ 1/2 tsp. chili powder
~ pinch of turmeric
~ 2 cups cooked chickpeas (or 1 can, which is 1 3/4 cup)
~ 1 tsp. garam masala
~ salt, to taste
~ fresh lemon or lime wedges for serving
How to make it:
1. Grind together the fresh mint and cilantro leaves– if using– in a mortar and pestle (or dice them finely).
2. In a medium/large saucepan, melt the ghee over medium-high heat, then add the cumin seeds for about a minute, until they start to sizzle. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and translucent (at least 6-10 minutes).
3. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for one minute, then add the tomatoes, fresh herbs, cumin, chili, and turmeric. Cook for 2-3 minutes until the tomatoes have started to release some of their liquid. (Puree at this point if you prefer a sauce that’s smooth rather than chunky, then return to the saucepan.)
4. Add the chickpeas, and cook for several more minutes, or simmer over low heat for much longer– and for a richer flavor. (I often let it simmer for about 20 minutes at this point, but it can be ready whenever you want it to be!)
5. Remove from heat, stir in the garam masala and salt, to taste. Garnish with fresh cilantro and lemon or lime wedges. Serve warm, with basmati rice or chapati (bread).
Print this recipe! (PDF; includes the two variations below)
Puree the Chunky Chana Masala in a food processor or blender, adding a bit of water or stock to thin it out if necessary. Garnish with fresh cilantro and a lemon or lime wedge. Serve warm.
Drain some of the excess tomato-y liquid off from the Chunky Chana Masala if necessary (but not all of the liquid; it has so much of the flavor!). Puree the chana masala in a food processor or blender. Serve at room temperature with pita chips, or whatever you enjoy dipping in hummus!
(Serves 4-6 as an accompaniment to a meal)
~ 1 cup white basmati (long-grain) rice, rinsed
~ water (I use a 115% water-to-rice ratio, so a little over 1 cup water for 1 cup rice)
~ ½ Tbsp. butter or oil
~ pinch of salt
~ 1 bay leaf
~ pinch of turmeric
How to make it:
1. Place rice, water, butter or oil, salt, and (optionally) a bay leaf/turmeric, into a small saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Briefly stir the butter and salt into the rice, then cover the pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Keep a close watch– it should only take 2-3 minutes to boil because of the small amount of water.
2. As soon as it comes to a boil, give it one more stir, then replace the lid, and bring the heat down to the lowest it will go. Simmer covered for 15 minutes (longer for brown rice), until it looks like all the water has evaporated, but before the rice starts looking dry.
3. Move the pot from the burner, but keep the lid on, letting the rice steam for another 5 minutes until fluffy. Remove the bay leaf before serving.