Channa Masala is my favorite Indian dish. I love saag paneer, and aloo gobi, and lamb rogan josh, and tandoori chicken, and dal of all kinds, and lamb vindaloo. I love samosas, and parathas, and butter chicken, and mint chutney, and raita, and I love lemon pickle. But I love channa masala the most. The tomato-y sauce, the chickpeas…good. I’ve made it myself many times, and I’ve come to believe that channa masala works the best when I don’t mess with the recipe too much. One addition to traditional channa masala recipes that I’ve used with some success is tamarind paste. If you’ve never cooked with tamarind, try it. It’s sort of a mix of lime and molasses flavors. Delicious. The other thing I’d say about channa masala, or any curry really, is to let the flavors sit as long as you can. Take your time cooking it, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to make it a day or two before you serve it, let it sit in the fridge for awhile, and reheat it when you want to eat it. Like a lot of my cooking, this recipe is a mashup of 5 or so recipes.
3 16 oz cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 16 oz cans of diced tomatoes, WITH juice
2 big sweet onions, diced
3 or 4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced (leave in some of the ribs- the whitish part inside the pepper- and the seeds to make it hotter)
2 tbsp ground coriander
4 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp turmeric
2 tbsp garam masala
2 tsp paprika, any kind will do
2 tbsp of something sweet and tart- amchoor powder is traditional, that’s dried mango powder, but tamarind paste would be perfect if you had it (or you can approximate it by mixing equal parts lime juice and molasses) lemon juice would be fine as well
1/2 tsp cayenne or chipotle powder
2/3 cup or so of liquid – water, coconut milk, chicken stock if you don’t care if it’s vegetarian
salt and pepper
2-3 tbsp of fat- olive oil, vegetable oil, butter, clarified butter, whatever
handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
* A note on spices- Indian food is transformed when you use fresh, whole spices, toast them in a dry pan for a minute, and then grind them as you use them. I even have a coffee grinder I use specifically for this purpose, but I’m also lazy. Feel free to use the whole spice-toasting-grinding method if you have them, otherwise you can use powdered. You do want to make sure the spices get some direct heat before they’re mixed into liquid, this helps them release flavor.
To start, put a big saucepan on medium heat (I use my nonstick skillet, because I love it), and put whatever fat you’re using in the pan. Let that heat up for a minute or so, then put in the onion, garlic,ginger and jalapeno. They should cook down awhile, until the onions are translucent at the least, and lightly browned at the most- maybe 10 or so minutes. Stir frequently, burned garlic is irreparable. When the onions are at that point, put in all the spices. Move them around with the onions for a minute or two, letting them toast a bit. When a sort of ugly paste forms, put in the tomatoes, lemon/tamarind/something tart and water/coconut milk/whatever liquid you’re using.
Let that cook down awhile on medium-low heat, really as long as you need it to, but not less than 15 or 20 minutes. When you’re almost ready to eat it, put in the chickpeas and cook it a few minutes longer on medium-high heat, you really just want the chickpeas to heat through. When that’s done, take it off the heat, stir in the cilantro, and serve with jasmine rice and naan or roti.
*A note on Indian breads- they are delicious. I would love to learn to make naan at home, but until I do, I’d like you to know that they sell it pre-made in the frozen section at Trader Joe’s. It comes in plain and garlic. Get the garlic. You can also substitute pita bread, which is fine, but not as good as naan.
Channa masala is tomatoey, curry goodness. It’s tart and lightly sweet, but the smoke from the spices tempers that nicely. Plus- the ingredients in this dish bring it to like 4 calories per serving, or something. This dish is easy, homey, comforting and perhaps best of all- reheats REALLY well for when you bring it to work for lunch the next day.