Channa Masala – India’s Gateway Cuisine

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I believe Channa Masala [also known as Chole] is the gateway dish to Indian cuisine.  It’s the starter curry for those skeptical of venturing into this “exotic” Indian cuisine.

Channa Masala is the gateway curry because it uses a familiar bean, garbanzo beans [found on most salad bars across the States], it tends to be mild in spice, and has a warm cozy feel to it when eaten, similar to the way chicken noodle soup makes most people feel loved and comforted as a child.

[Please excuse the unappetizing channa masala photos but Indian food is rather difficult to photograph and my photography skills are still a work-in-progress. If you want to see beautiful channa masala photos, take a look here.]

I love channa masala for all of the above reasons but I also enjoy it because it has a subtle hint of cinnamon and clove that enhances the overall flavor of the dish.  It elevates the coziness, creates depth, and if you are unfamiliar with Indian food, it leaves you wondering “What is that?”  The flavor is so familiar yet hard to pinpoint as cinnamon and clove, since their unexpected in such a savory dish.

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In grad school, my friend Puja originally taught me how to make channa masala.  I loved her version but it was never quite the same as when I experienced channa in a restaurant – there was always something missing that I couldn’t quite pin down.  After investigating channa masala recipes online, I learned that the missing flavor was the cinnamon-clove combination!

Traveling to India this past Fall, I experienced “real” channa masala, made at home by my soon to be Mami [M<3’s Mother’s sister-in-law aka: my Aunt in-law].  Before we arrived, M<3 raved about Mami’s cooking, declaring her one of the best cooks in his family and when I tasted her channa masala, I knew he was right.  Her channa had the comforting yet not over-powering cinnamon-clove taste I love with a hearty spiciness and a beautiful rich, brown color that made it appetizing even to the eyes.

Of course, before leaving India I requested the recipe and Mami sent me back to the States with the exact spices she used to make her channa and instructions on how to recreate the recipe at home. Mami has more of a “cook by taste” approach and this was the recipe I was given:

Boil channa two katories by putting a little salt garam masala and oil
Heat oil on pan, put ginger garlic paste roast then put one fourth spoon kala salt,one fourth spoon amchoor powder,one fourth spoon anrdana half spoon channa powder two spoons tomato purée roast and add boiled channa with a little water simmer for five minutes and ready for serving

Reading the recipe 10 times over, I was left more and more confused each time – what’s a katori; when she says spoon does that mean table, tea, soup or a regular ol’ spoon? I knew her recipe used dried beans but how long was I to boil them?  I’ve never heard of boiling dry beans with oil.  How much oil do I use?  What was the measurement for garlic and ginger?

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Obviously, this was not quite the recipe I was expecting in order to recreate the wonderful, rich channa masala I had experienced at Mami’s house.  After some more Google searching to understand what a “katori” measurement was [it’s a bowl used for sambar FYI] I was able to take my current channa masala knowledge and it’s basic taste profiles to recreate Mami’s recipe in more specific measurements and developed what I consider to be an authentic, spicy channa masala. [It’s been <3M and Punit approved as well!]

Below is my version on Channa Masala – it’s a recipe I know I will make over and over again – savoring the warm cozy feelings this dish brings and thinking back to the first tasted Mami’s channa during my first trip to India.

Channa Masala

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large cloves of garlic [or 1 heaping tablespoon of garlic paste]
  • 1 heaping tablespoon ginger paste
  • 3/4 cup red onion, finely diced [about 1 medium onion]
  • 1 large tomato, pureed [about 1 cup, puree raw tomato in a food processor]
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kala salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons amchoor powder [also known as mango powder]
  • 1 teaspoon anrdana powder*
  • 2 teaspoons channa powder*
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon clove
  • 3 cups cooked garbanzo beans**
  • 1 1/2 – 2 cups water

Instructions

In a large pot, heat oil over medium-low heat.  Add in the garlic, ginger, and red onion.  Cook until the onions begin to sweat and are slightly translucent [about 5 minutes].

Add in the tomato puree and cook another 3-5 minutes, stirring as not to burn.  Add in all spices [kala salt, amchoor powder, anrdana powder*, channa powder*, cumin, cinnamon, & clove].  Allow these flavors for develop, cooking on medium-low for another 5 minutes, stirring as needed so the mixture doesn’t burn.

Add in the garbanzo beans and allow the beans to cook with the onion-tomato-spice mixture on medium-low for another 3-5 minutes, stirring as needed to keep the ingredients from burning.  At this time, add in the water [1 1/2 to 2 cups or until the beans are slightly covered].

After adding water, bring the curry to a boil, continuing the boil for up to 5 minutes.  Keep an eye on the pot so it doesn’t boil over.  Afterwards, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pot and allow the curry to thicken for at least 20 minutes.

Serve with rice, cilantro, and yogurt. [I prefer brown rice for an added fiber boost].

*Note:  If you can’t tolerate a lot of spice in your food, add in only 1/2 a teaspoon of anradana powder and 1 teaspoon of channa masala powder initially.  Before serving, taste the curry for spice level and adjust as needed – adding addition anradana and channa powder in 1/2 teaspoon increments.

**Note: I switch between using canned beans and cooking dried beans from scratch, depending on how much time I have or if I’ve planned ahead.  If using dry, be sure to prep the beans the morning of or night before.  Use 1 1/4 cups dry beans and follow these instructions – this should yield roughly 3 cups of cooked beans

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