Chickpeas. Indian spices. Tomatoes. Chilies. Onions, garlic and ginger. Sound good? It is. This isn’t the most conventional chana masala but I’m going by the literal translation so I think I’m safe. Chana is Hindi for  chickpea and masala means spiced or spice mixture. I have chickpeas. I have spice. I’m calling it chana masala. I think I’m safe.

It’s really not that far off a conventional chana really. It’s not in your face spiced. Balanced. A nice counterpoint to a big lamb curry. Any curry really. Or no curry. It stands alone as a vegetarian main. The only big twist is the fresh curry leaves. They add a South Indian flair. A new taste. Leave them out and you have a good chana masala. Keep them in and you have something different. Something new.

Curry leaves have nothing to do with curry powder. They don’t grind up curry leaves to make curry powder. Think of them as an Indian herb with a misleading name. They have to be fresh. Dried curry leaves taste like nothing. Nothing at all.

This chana masala is a great chickpea curry with a South Indian twist.

The key to this recipe – as with many curries – is the onions. Take the time to chop them finely or use a food processor. That makes short work of chopping onions. And please, take the time it takes to cook them to a nice brown. This is what makes a homestyle curry. There’s no way around it. Caramelized onion is good curry. Barely cooked onions is curry flavoured stew. It’s that simple.

Once the onions are nicely browned, cooking the spices in oil makes the dish. After that it’s a coast over the finish line. Not that hard once you get your head around those two concepts. But until you do you don’t have a chance.

This chana masala, as written, is a bit on the hot side. If you don’t like spicy, leave out the kashmiri chili powder. It will be as tasty. Just not quite as much zing. Serve with Indian flatbread or rice or both.

This chana masala is a great chickpea curry with a South Indian twist.

This chana masala is a great chickpea curry with a South Indian twist.
chana masala
Prep Time
15 mins
Cook Time
1 hr
Total Time
1 hr 15 mins
Chana masala is a great vegetarian meal or side for any Indian meal. The curry leaves are optional but add a nice South Indian touch. Don't skimp on the oil for this recipe. You need it to fry the spices.
Course: side
Cuisine: Indian
Servings: 6 as a side dish
To make the chana masala
  • 4 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 large onions minced
  • 1 Tbsp garlic ginger paste - recipe link below
  • 2 green chilies minced
  • 15 fresh curry leaves optional
  • 2 tsp restaurant spice mix or curry powder of your choice - recipe link below
  • 1 tsp mild kashmiri chili powder or 1/4 tsp cayenne mixed with 3/4 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 15 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 2 19 oz cans chickpeas drained and rinsed
  • 1 Tbsp cilantro leaves and stems minced
  • 1 tsp salt to taste
To finish the chana masala
  • 2 Tbsp cilantro leaves minced
  • 1/4 lemon juiced
  • pinch of garam masala optional
  1. Heat the oil in a sauce pan large enough to hold all the ingredients.
  2. Add the oil and fry the minced onions until flecks of brown start to appear. This can take 10-15 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic ginger paste, green chili and spice mix and cook about 1 minute. Be careful not to burn the spices.
  4. Add the tomatoes and simmer about 10 minutes.
  5. Mix in the chickpeas and enough water or stock to keep the mixture loose.
  6. Simmer about 20 minutes, adding water or stock as needed.
  7. Add the cilantro, lemon juice and garam masala and simmer 5 minutes more.
Recipe Notes

The recipe for indian restaurant spice mix is here


The recipe for garlic ginger paste is here.

9 thoughts on “chana masala

  1. I really enjoy chana masala – even if it’s not the most conventional. It’s a great side dish, but I do like it over basmati rice as a main dish or for lunch. And this looks way more vibrant than restaurant versions I’ve had – those beautiful chiles and fresh cilantro – yum!

  2. Bring on the heat! I love the “chana masala” name. I frequently replace meat with roasted chickpeas, and chana is a ways better name than just chickpea. And masala sauce . . . I can never get enough. Does the cilantro come through very strong? We are an on-the-fence family re: cilantro. We like it, but do not like too much of it, so I was trying to guess how much it comes through?

    • The cilantro flavour is definitely there as it is added very close to the end. I’m in the cilantro love it camp so maybe go half as much and see what you think? Easy to add more. Hard to remove:-)

  3. I have all of these in my pantry! :O I actually have never had chana masala, partially because I’m a heavy meat eater and I gravitate towards the meat curries but this actually looks like something I can whip up for myself on a weekday to curb my spiced cravings! 🙂

  4. All those warming spices in your chana masala sound so delicious! I can definitely see myself eating this with a big bowl of rice, especially with the cold weather we’ve been having. Thanks for sharing!

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