Channa Masala

The Food Lab

Unraveling the mysteries of home cooking through science.

Channa Masala

[Photographs: J. Kenji López-Alt]

As one of the most popular dishes in the world, both in and out of India and Pakistan, channa masala (or chana masala, chole masala, or chholay, depending on where you're from)—chickpeas cooked in a spicy and tangy tomato-based sauce—is the kind of dish that stirs passions in the recipe-writing community. My version might not taste like your grandmother's, but I promise that it tastes damn good.

Why It Works

  • Adding baking soda to the onions helps them break down and caramelize faster.
  • Doctoring up store-bought garam masala with additional spices produces a flavor that's both complex and suited to the dish.
  • Simmering canned chickpeas lends them plenty of flavor.
  • Grinding the garlic in lemon juice helps prevent it from turning too sharp and pungent, while still allowing its aroma to shine.
  • Yield:Serves 4 to 6
  • Active time: 50 minutes
  • Total time:50 minutes
  • Rated:

Ingredients

  • 4 medium cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 (1-inch) knob ginger, peeled, roughly chopped
  • 1 to 6 green Thai chilies (to taste), roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons (30ml) juice from 1 lemon, divided
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons (30ml) vegetable oil or ghee
  • 2 teaspoons (8g) black mustard seed
  • 1 teaspoon (4g) whole cumin seed
  • 1 large onion, finely diced (about 1 1/2 cups; 300g)
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1g) baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons (8g) ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2g) freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2g) ground turmeric
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons (6g) store-bought or homemade garam masala, divided
  • 1 (14-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 2 (14-ounce) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped (1 ounce; 25g)

Directions

  1. 1.

    Combine garlic, ginger, chilies, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt in a mortar and pestle or in the small work bowl of a food processor and pound or process until a fine paste is produced. Set aside.

  2. 2.

    Heat oil or ghee in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. All at once, add mustard seed and cumin. They will sputter and spit for a few seconds. As soon as they are aromatic (about 15 seconds), add onion all at once, along with baking soda. Cook, stirring frequently, until onions start to leave a brown coating on bottom of pan, 3 to 4 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon water, scrape up browned bits from pan, and continue cooking. Repeat this process until onions are a deep brown, about 10 minutes total.

  3. 3.

    Immediately add garlic/ginger/chili paste all at once and stir to combine. Add coriander, black pepper, turmeric, and 1 teaspoon garam masala. Stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add tomatoes and crush them using a whisk or potato masher. Add drained, rinsed chickpeas and cilantro, reserving a little cilantro for garnish. Add 1/2 cup water.

  4. 4.

    Bring to a simmer, cover with lid slightly cracked, and reduce heat to maintain a gentle bubbling. Cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid has reduced into a thick stew and spices have melded, about 30 minutes.

  5. 5.

    Stir in remaining garam masala and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt. Serve with rice and/or naan, sprinkling additional cilantro on top.