chana masala – indian chickpea curry

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. It’s a South Indian spin on a North Indian classic.

Chana is Hindi for  chickpea and masala means spiced or spice mixture. This is chickpeas. It’s well spice. So 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 spicy. Balanced. A nice counterpoint to a big lamb curry. Any curry really. Or no curry. It stands alone as a vegetarian main.

Curry leaves give this chana masala a little something extra

The only big twist is the fresh curry leaves. Adds a South Indian flair. A new taste. Surprising. Surprisingly tasty. Leave them out and you have a good chana masala. Keep them in and you have something different. Something new. Something delicious.

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. At best. Dust at worst. Just don’t bother.


South Indian chana masala - big fresh flavours in this classic Indian chickpea dish.

Chana masala with chapati from above.


Onions are key to this chana masala

The key to this recipe – as with many curries – is the onions. Take the time to chop them finely or use a food processor. A food processor makes short work of chopping onions.

Take the time it takes to cook the onions to a nice brown. That’s critical. It’s 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 really about that simple.

Once the onions are nicely browned, cooking the spices in oil makes the dish. Do that and you’re done. Just coast over the finish line. You are done.

Really good chana masala is 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. Enjoy.


South Indian chana masala in a copper bowl close up.

Chana masala in a copper bowl from the front.
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5 from 2 votes

chana masala

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
Keyword chana masala, indian chickpea curry
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 15 minutes
Servings 6 as a side dish
Calories 280kcal
Author romain | glebekitchen


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 or better yet 4-5 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 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


  • Heat the oil in a sauce pan large enough to hold all the ingredients.
  • Add the oil and fry the minced onions until flecks of brown start to appear. This can take 10-15 minutes.
  • Add the garlic ginger paste, green chili, curry leaves if using them and indian spice mix, salt, chili powder and cumin.  Cook about 1 minute. Be careful not to burn the spices.
  • Add the tomatoes and simmer about 10 minutes.
  • Mix in the chickpeas and enough water or stock to keep the mixture loose.
  • Simmer about 20 minutes, adding water or stock as needed.
  • Add the cilantro, lemon juice and garam masala and simmer 5 minutes more. Taste and adjust for salt.


The recipe for indian restaurant spice mix is here.
The recipe for garlic ginger paste is here.
If you don't want to mix up a batch of restaurant spice mix substitute 1 tsp coriander powder, 1/4 tsp turmeric and an additional 3/4 tsp cumin powder.


Serving: 6servings | Calories: 280kcal | Carbohydrates: 36g | Protein: 10g | Fat: 11g | Saturated Fat: 7g | Sodium: 563mg | Potassium: 515mg | Fiber: 10g | Sugar: 8g | Vitamin A: 350IU | Vitamin C: 65.3mg | Calcium: 97mg | Iron: 4.2mg

17 thoughts on “chana masala – indian chickpea curry”

  1. Hey Romain,

    How would you adapt this to restaurant style cooking using a base?

    Should I cut out the onion, cut the tomatoes to ~2 Tbl of paste diluted in water, and reduce the salt, cumin, and ginger garlic by a bit?

    • You can make any restaurant style curry and swap out a protein for chickpeas. I do love a chana jalfrezi.

  2. Romain
    I have never cooked with curry leaves before. Do you leave them in whole or chop them? Do you remove them before serving (like bay leaves) or are they edible?

    • You are in for a treat! You leave the individual leaves whole and you can eat them or eat around them. I eat them as I think most people do. They are quite soft by the time the dish is done.

  3. Hey Romain. The ingredients quantity for the chickpeas is confusing. When I dial the serving scale up and down it jumps very suddenly up to 2 x 19 oz chickpea cans where below that it seems to list a single can. Which one is correct?

    • The scaling tool is part of the recipe card service I pay for. It isn’t perfect it seems. The recipe is correct as written (2 cans). You may have to do some of the math manually I’m afraid. Sorry about that…

  4. 5 stars
    I love Chana. So today, I made a lamb madras (also your recipe) but decided it needed a vegetable side so chose Chana. It’s delicious. Didn’t have canned tomatoes but loads of fresh! That went in. I had a tiny bit of spinach left in the crisper so chopped that and added it. It’s perfect. We need our veggies! Thank you for you continuing research, great recipes and teaching!

    • Oh that sounds so good. Fresh tomatoes and spinach. Yum! I tossed some spinach into a tortilla soup yesterday. We need our veggies!

  5. 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! 🙂

  6. 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:-)

  7. Onions and frying the spices– this dish is guaranteed to have a ton of flavor! I love chickpeas. Can’t wait to try this!

  8. 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!


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