Chana masala, also known as chole masala, is a popular dish in southern Asia, particularly in northern India and Pakistan. Chana is the Hindi word for a type of chickpea grown mostly in India, a smaller and firmer chickpea than the variety better known in the West (which is also called garbanzo bean or, in Hindi, chole). Masala refers to any of a number of blends of Indian spices. Combined with caramelized onions and a bit of water, these simple ingredients turn into a lovely curry gravy.
There are so many variations of this recipe from different regions of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh—many families have their own recipe handed down over generations. This particular version gains much of its flavor from caramelizing the onions—not just browning them but really cooking them down over low heat until uniformly soft and brown. This can take a long time, but it’s essential to achieve the best result.
To change it up, consider adding other ingredients commonly seen in chana masala recipes: a can of diced or pureed tomatoes, 1 tsp each minced garlic and ginger, or a pinch of amchur (dry mango powder)—or all three! You can also replace the cumin with garam masala for an even more complex and fragrant blend of spices.
Note: True Kashmiri chilli powder is a bright, powerful red color and packs a punch of heat. If you can’t find it at your local grocery store, it can be purchased online through Diaspora Co., a queer-, immigrant-, woman-owned equitable spice company. Or, if you prefer less heat, you can substitute paprika with a pinch of cayenne (or your favorite hot pepper) for the Kashmiri chilli powder.
- 3 tbsp olive oil, butter, or ghee
- 4 yellow onions, thinly sliced
- 1 tbsp ground cumin
- 1½ tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder
- ½ tsp ground turmeric
- 1 can chickpeas, drained, ½ cup liquid reserved
Garnishes of your choice, optional: chopped fresh cilantro, lime wedges, thinly sliced Thai chile, thinly sliced red onion, julienned ginger, an extra pinch of garam masala
Serve with: roti, poori, naan, hot basmati rice, or hot jeera rice
- Heat olive oil in a dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and translucent, about 10 minutes.
- Season with salt and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are a dark caramelized golden brown, about 60 to 90 minutes. Add a few spoonfuls of water to the onions if they begin to stick.
- Add the cumin, coriander, chilli powder, turmeric, and ¼ cup of water to the onions. Increase the heat and cook, stirring constantly, until liquid has nearly evaporated, about 2 minutes.
- Add the chickpeas and their reserved liquid to the onion mixture. Cook, stirring frequently, until mixture reaches your desired consistency, 5 to 10 minutes.
- Taste for seasoning and serve with garnishes as desired.