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Chana Masala

March 14, 2013

Chana MasalaPin it!

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!)

Chana Masala

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.

Chana Masala ingredients

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.

Chana Masala tomatoes and onions

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.

Chana MasalaPin it!

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!?

Chana Masala

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.

Chana Masala Soup / HummusPin it!

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.)

Chana MasalaPin it!

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.

Sauteeing onions for Chana Masala

(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.)

Chana MasalaPin it!

Print both recipes (Chana Masala and Basmati Rice). (PDF)
Print Chana Masala Recipe and variations only.


(Chunky) Chana Masala

(Serves 4)

~ 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).

Mint and cilantroMint and cilantro

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).

Sizzling cumin seeds for Chana MasalaChickpeas, tomatoes, and onions for Chana Masala

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!)

Chana MasalaChana Masala

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)

Variation: Chana Masala Soup

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.

Variation: Chana Masala Hummus

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!

Chana Masala Soup / Hummus

Basmati Rice

(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.

Print Basmati Rice recipe only! (PDF)
Print both recipes (Chana Masala and Basmati Rice)! (PDF)

Chana Masala

Chana MasalaPin it!

Related recipe posts:
> Parsi Tomato-Poached Eggs
> Kale Curry with Homemade Paneer
> Avocado Hummus

38 Comments leave one →
  1. March 14, 2013 10:05 am

    The stuff you put up with for me! You’re the best. <3

    • March 14, 2013 10:22 am

      Haha, I didn’t mean this as a complaint about your onion-hating ways… I just thought it made for a good story. :) Don’t worry; I was a lot more chana masala-deprived when I lived in Japan!

  2. March 14, 2013 10:21 am

    Reblogged this on gracegothealthy and commented:
    Oh my.

  3. March 14, 2013 11:30 am

    I want to try out the chunky version. Yum!

  4. March 14, 2013 12:30 pm

    The hummus looks exceptional, a great idea. I can imagine it would go very well with raw veg, especially cauliflower, thanks! Tracey

    • March 17, 2013 3:20 pm

      Thanks for commenting! And yes, we just had it over rice so far, because I didn’t actually intend to make hummus, but I think it’d make a delicious dip for all sorts of raw vegetables, too!

  5. March 14, 2013 1:30 pm

    One of my favourite curries my friend, lovely!

    Choc Chip Uru

    • March 17, 2013 3:21 pm

      Thanks, Uru! It’s one of my favorites too (even though I stubbornly refuse to order it in restaurants, usually, since I’m always reasoning that I know how to make this one myself…).

  6. March 14, 2013 5:31 pm

    Mmmm masala… Just had shrimp masala last night!

  7. March 14, 2013 6:43 pm

    Sounds delicious, love the new invention! Are the cumin seeds essential? I have everything else on hand :)

    • March 17, 2013 3:23 pm

      Thanks, Maura! I think cumin– in some form or other– is definitely essential to the flavor of the dish… but I guess if you at least have ground cumin, even if you don’t have cumin seeds, then it should still taste pretty good! I’d just wait to add it along with the ginger & garlic, after the onions are done cooking.

      • March 17, 2013 11:56 pm

        Thanks, Allison! I really should just get cumin seeds, as it is one of those ingredients that I see in a recipe, and wish that I had on hand!

      • March 22, 2013 12:05 pm

        Yes, cumin seeds are one of my kitchen essentials!

  8. March 15, 2013 6:13 am

    Yummy Yummy Yummy! It looks pretty amazing!

  9. March 15, 2013 11:04 pm

    I can’t even tell you how much I love Japanese department stores. :)

    • March 17, 2013 3:28 pm

      You always choose the best stuff to comment on. :) I love Japanese department stores, too. Other than the first-floor barrage of perfume & make-up, the other floors at worst have a few quirky browse-worthy sections, and at best sell a million kinds of delicious food.

  10. March 19, 2013 1:37 pm

    I think I’ll try this the traditional way before I toss it in the blender. But both sound yummy. Lovely photos!

  11. March 19, 2013 3:37 pm

    looks gorgeous Alison – the chickpeas appear quite frequently at my recipes too – they are so humble yet can pack a lot of flavor – loved this one :)

    • March 21, 2013 10:19 am

      Thank you, Ozlem! I like the idea of describing chickpeas as “humble.” (It reminds me of when I went to an Egyptian cooking demonstration by my former Arabic professor, and she kept describing fava beans as “these humble legumes”…) Chickpeas definitely fall into that category too, yet they can be so flavorful and versatile!

  12. March 20, 2013 3:45 am

    You are one cool chick! I am a bit of a curry addict, whether they be Japanese, Indian or otherwise! Love this recipe and love your blog. Can’t wait to browse through your archives. Thanks for sharing some of your awesomeness with the world!

    • March 21, 2013 10:25 am

      Thanks so much, Laura! I’m glad you stopped by! :)

      I am a total curry addict, too. I remember when I left my first job in Japan, my co-workers got me the best going-away present ever: a cookbook called “Tonight: Curry!” with different sections for recipes for Japanese curries / Indian curries / Thai curries / etc… (the only problem was that it was written in Japanese, which was really challenging for me to read at the time.) I should go find that cookbook now that my Japanese is better!

      • March 21, 2013 3:30 pm

        That sounds like an amazing present!!! Haha… my Uncle (who has lived in Sweden for the past 30 years) got me a novel in Swedish by my favourite author that hadn’t been released in Australia yet. I was so excited, til I realised that it was in Swedish. I only know a few words here and there, definitely not enough to read fluently. So frustrating!! So I can empathize re the cookbook :) Hope that you have more success reading it now!

      • March 22, 2013 12:07 pm

        Oh no– hope the English translation of your Swedish book comes out soon! (I feel like that with Haruki Murakami novels when they first come out in Japanese but haven’t been translated to English yet– I can read cookbooks in Japanese just fine now, but surreal, dense, sci-fi/fantasy fiction prose, not so much…)

  13. March 20, 2013 7:03 am

    This is soooo brilliant. I regularly make a chickpea and kielbassa casserole type thing with chopped tomato, bell peppers and oregano. It sounds odd but it’s been a family favorite for over 12 years, requests for it weekly. I’m pretty sick of it though. I bet if I made a big batch and then puréed the leftovers into soup or hummus I would fall in love with it all over again. Thanks for wonderful inspiration!

    • March 21, 2013 10:27 am

      Thanks for commenting, Christine! :)

      I don’t eat sausage, but with all the other ingredients in it, that casserole actually sounds really delicious! I hope you can puree it into a smooth enough texture to enjoy it as a soup or hummus! Always nice to infuse dinner time with a little variety…

  14. March 20, 2013 6:42 pm

    I’ve never made this before but have always wanted to try! Thanks for the great recipe!

    • March 21, 2013 10:29 am

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Katie!

      I hope you get a chance to finally make your own chana masala soon. It’s truly simple to make– you can even skip the garlic & fresh herbs– the only really time-consuming part is all the tomato- and onion-chopping prep!

  15. Nami | Just One Cookbook permalink
    March 27, 2013 1:00 pm

    Oh I love those unique shape bowls! Perfect for a dish that needs rice and stew kinda combination. Your chana masala looks so good. I can almost smell it from here!

    • March 28, 2013 9:47 am

      Thanks! I can’t remember where I bought those dishes, but I think maybe it was at Ross? (And this is the first time I’ve used them! I didn’t even realize they were asymmetrically-shaped until I started arranging them for these photos.)

  16. March 31, 2013 8:37 am

    Allison your recipe and photos just made my tummy grumble! Thank you for being a part of the YBR this month:)

    • March 31, 2013 11:21 am

      Thanks, Nancy! I’ve been meaning to join YBR for a while, but I keep forgetting to do it in time… I’m glad I finally got a chance, and with this recipe. :) Thanks for creating such a great way to share recipes on your site!


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