elevating the chickpea: chana masala

My sister and I both went to small, liberal arts women’s colleges. They had a lot of similarities: we each got a stellar education, made awesome friends, and had opportunities to practice our feminism all over the place. One big difference, however–and I checked with Joie to make sure I could say this without offending her–were the food worlds we had in our college towns. Charming and lovely though Bryn Mawr surely is (and yummy as it’s actual on-campus meal options are) it can’t really hold a candle to NYC in terms of easy access to a wide variety of tasty-taste. Still and all, Bryn Mawr holds a special place in my personal food history: I may have grown to love Indian food in New York, but I had my first tastes on a visit to see Joie in her freshman year of college. And thanks to my adventurous former vegetarian seester, I had chana masala for the first time.


Joie discovered chana masala (also called chana punjabi in some incarnations, including the recipe I link to below, but I’m used to thinking of this spiced chickpea and tomato deliciousness as chana masala) at a restaurant in Ardmore, PA called Khajuraho. She and her friends went time and time again during their college years, and I’m pretty sure I made at least two trips during my visits. In retrospect it probably wasn’t the best Indian restaurant ever, but it was a fantastic gateway to a new to us cuisine. And, to put it all out there, it had another sillier appeal. Sound out the name of the restaurant with room for four syllables (kha-jur-a-…), and you’ll see how coeds with slightly subversive senses of humor spending much of their days practicing their feminism could really get a kick out of it: “Wanna get Indian food? Khajuraho.” “I’m in the mood for chana masala. You know…Khajuraho.” Ahem. This cracked me up when Joie first told me about it, and has stuck in my memory for years. Tragically, it looks like the restaurant is now called Bombay Grill. But it will always be Khajuraho to me.

the start of something good.

tastiness in progress.

Borderline offensive restaurant name aside, chana masala is delicious. I’ve already admitted that it’s rare for me to order anything in Indian restaurants other than chicken tikka masala, but I’m more than happy to eat this veggie curry at home. When I first made it, way back in the winter of 2009, I emailed the recipe to Joie and called it “chickpea-tastic.” And it is! It also represents one of my favorite types of relaxed cooking, perfect for a weeknight when you have a little time to play with, but don’t want anything too complicated. Just chop, spice, and simmer until you hit the texture & consistency you like, all the while making your house smell delicious. It doesn’t hurt that Hal never met a chickpea he didn’t love, making this a (relatively) easy sell as a vegetarian meal. In fact, it was the first all veggie dinner I’ve made in our shared home. And, a repeat has been requested, which is no small thing–almost every other vegetarian dinner I’ve suggested has been met with a serious eyebrow raise. Like I said, chickpea-tastic.


chana masala/punjabi
from Heather Carlucci, by way of the Wednesday Chef
5+ servings (2 dinners and 3 lunches in my house), depending on hunger levels

2 tablespoons veggie oil
1 large onion, diced
4 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons minced ginger
1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped
2 14 ounce cans of diced tomatoes, drained
3 teaspoons paprika (in this instance, in spite of my love of smoked paprika, I’d stick with regular)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, to taste
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon tumeric
2 teaspoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
4 (really!) 15 oz cans chickpeas, drained
couscous or rice for serving (optional)

In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium-low and add onions. Sauté for about 5 minutes, til onions are soft. Add garlic, ginger and chili, and sauté until soft and delicious smelling (about 3 more minutes). Add drained tomatoes and a scant half cup of water, simmering for 5 minutes.

Purée the mixture using your favorite method–the original recipe suggests a blender or food processor, but I saw this as a job for my beloved immersion blender. Since this is a relatively small amount of food to purée, if you do go the food immersion blender route I’d recommend tipping the pan a bit so that the blender can be fully submerged.

Add all of your spices–paprika, 1 teaspoon salt, coriander, the garam masala, turmeric–and lemon juice. Add chickpeas and simmer til the peas are soft and the sauce is thick, about 45 minutes. Stir frequently, adding water as needed so the sauce doesn’t scorch. At the end of 45 minutes you may want to either extend cooking time a bit or add a little more water, depending on how thick you’d like your sauce. Serve with your starch of choice…or starches in my case: couscous and curried sweet potato fries, for a veggie feast.

4 thoughts on “elevating the chickpea: chana masala

  1. blast from the past… all my indian friends at bryn mawr looooooved khajuraho! it was probably the first indian restaurant i ever ate at… there weren’t too many in loco back in the the 90’s 🙂

    and this looked delicious! i’ve always said that india is the only place in the world i could attempt to be a vegetarian. chickpeas for the win.

  2. Pingback: roasting to the dinner rescue | butter poached

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