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Chana Masala

One of the discussion groups I participate in on Facebook currently revolves around the topic of food resolutions for 2014. One person has said she would like to try a new recipe once a month. Another wants to master the art of puff pastry. A third resolved to eat healthier — less meat, more vegetables and grains, not as much sugar or empty calories. As for me, I want to bake more, learn how to make butter from scratch, and finally get around to making jams, jellies and preserves.

But first, I have a confession to make. I really suck at New Year’s resolutions. What usually happens is that I have a grand idea in mind that I’ll attempt to commit to. I’ll follow through for a month or two before the pace of habit slows to a trickle and then, nothing. The reasons are innumerable — it could be anything from real life getting in the way to sheer laziness. Sometimes, I have to force myself to act, because if I don’t, I’ll easily find an excuse.

My advice to myself is this: Start off slow. Set a small goal each day. Keep it manageable. Continue to follow through, then expand on things little by little. Eventually, the changes I seek will have occurred all without my having realized it. Someone once said to be the change you want to be, but forgot to mention that the pace of change varies according to the individual.

* * *

Around this time last year, one of the food resolutions I had for 2013 was to cook Indian more often. That eventually fell by the wayside; I am more likely to resort to making something Italian- or vegetarian inspired than I am to make Indian for dinner. When I do cook Indian food, my usual bag of tricks involves dal (lentils), curd rice, bhel puri, saag paneer (spinach with cheese) or aloo gobi (potatoes and cauliflower). Chana masala is another favorite, but appears infrequently at my table.

The recipe below is adapted from Smitten Kitchen, which is itself adapted from one of Madhur Jaffrey‘s cookbooks. I’ve “Indian”-ized it by substituting ghee for the vegetable oil and omitting the paprika. In addition, I prefer to make my own garam masala. Whichever adaptation you choose to follow, it’s a surefire winner.

Chana masala, basmati rice, lime pickle

Chana Masala, served with basmati rice and spicy lime pickle

Ghee is clarified butter — in other words, butter that has had all of its water removed and where it’s slowly cooked along with its milk solids so that they caramelize. It has a nutty flavor that regular butter does not provide. You can buy it ready-made or make your own, or if you prefer, omit it and use vegetable oil instead as directed in Deb’s recipe. Omitting the ghee will make this vegan.

Amchoor is dried unripe mango powder. It’s available at Indian specialty food stores such as Kalustyan’s or at Foods of India.

1 tablespoon ghee
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 fresh, hot green chili pepper, minced
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1 tablespoon amchoor
1 teaspoon garam masala (see recipe below; store-bought is fine however)
2 cups chopped tomatoes or 1 can whole peeled plum tomatoes, hand-crushed and their juices reserved
1 cup water
4 cups cooked chickpeas or 2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
sea salt
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons minced cilantro

Heat ghee in a large skillet. Add onion, garlic, ginger and pepper and sauté over medium heat until browned, about 5 minutes. Turn heat down to medium-low and add the coriander, cumin, cayenne, turmeric, cumin seeds, amchoor and garam masala. Cook onion mixture with spices for a minute or two, then add the tomatoes and any accumulated juices, scraping up any bits that have stuck to the pan. Add the water and chickpeas. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Taste for salt and lemon juice. Stir in cilantro. Serve at once, accompanied with cooked basmati rice and spiced pickles.

Time: About 45 minutes, including prep.

This recipe is sized for 4 servings.

Garam Masala

1 large cinnamon stick, coarsely crushed
1 tablespoon whole cumin seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon green cardamom pods
1 tablespoon whole cloves
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 F for 10 minutes.

Spread out all the spices in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Place the cookie sheet in the oven for 20 minutes or until the aroma of toasted spices begins to emanate. Remove from the oven, and cool completely to room temperature. Grind the spices together in a blender or mortar and pestle until the spices are reduced to a fine powder. The cinnamon may be a little coarse, but you can sift the spices and grind the coarse pieces again. This recipe makes approx. 1/2 cup garam masala and should keep for several months if stored in a cool, dry place.

Time: About one hour, including prep. Garam masala can be made in advance.


11 replies »

  1. Over breaks when I am home (and have access to a kitchen), I try to make a new recipe every day or at least every other day! Whether it be new vegan muffins or a quinoa salad recipe for lunch, I love trying new things, so I have many recipes on my blog 🙂


  2. I love Indian food, but I seldom make it at home. The sheer number of spices involved in most dishes really intimidates me. That and it seems like I never have all the ingredients in my house at the same time. This means I would have to plan the meal, go and shop for all the things I don’t have, and only then start to cook. That is just too much effort much of the time. That said, I do have to admit I have resorted to using a pre-made commercial spice mix on more than one occasion. The few times I have actually done Indian from scratch the results were excellent. I just wish I had the motivation to do it more.

    This dish you posted looks delicious, and I have most of the ingredients. Maybe…


    • The advantage of making Indian for dinner is that once you buy the ingredients you need, you have them at your fingertips if you’ll be using them again. Since I cook Indian food often (but perhaps, not as frequently as I would like to), menu planning is easy because that means I only need to get whatever it is I’m missing. I’m also in an area where obtaining things such as spices, ghee, paneer, etc. isn’t too much of a hassle.

      Thanks for commenting.


  3. I love chana masala. I’ve gone through quite an Indian kick lately, even making my own paneer. I load up at Kalystans which is right near my apartment and it’s just been amazing. I love the way you write. In your own time I cannot wait to see what wonderful things you make this year.


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