THIS CHANA MASALA IS MADE IN THE NORTHERN INDIAN STYLE, WITH A SLIGHTLY SOUR AND SPICY FLAVOR.
The first time I had Chana Masala was delivery from this Indian place down the street when I moved into my first downtown San Diego apartment. It sounded good on the menu (I love chickpeas) so I decided to give it a try. And so began a beautiful love story. I love the buttery, spicy, umami flavor of the chickpeas, along with the nutty basmati rice and perfectly cooked naan. It instantly became a favorite dish of mine.
For many years, the thought of cooking Indian food scared me. There were just so many ingredients in each dish, and I didn’t fully understand the flavor profiles. At some point in time, I decided it was time to learn a little about these flavor packed Indian dishes. So I did and here I am, making my very own Indian food! So, don’t be afraid of the long list of ingredients like I was. The recipe may look overwhelming, but it is actually quite easy to make.
There are a couple versions of chana masala; this recipe is for the Punjabi style, or the Northern Indian style. Typically made with onions, tomatoes, coriander, garlic, ginger, garam masala and amchoor powder (among other spices), this dish has a slight spicy and sour quality to it. Amchoor powder is a powder made from dried unripe green mangoes, adding that touch of sourness . I was able to find it at my local grocery store, but if you are unable to find it, I’ve included a link to purchase in the recipe.
In case you are wondering, the Southern Indian style has a slightly sweeter and less sour flavor to it. Don’t worry, I’ll be posting that version soon if you’re interested!
The first step in making the chana masala is preparing the spice mixture. It’s really quite easy. Gather all the whole spices and grind them with a mortar and pestle. I like to have the boyfriend do this while I measure out the rest of the ground spices. He has strong muscles and I already worked out today. Once everything is ground, combine all the spices in a bowl and set aside. Rinse the mortar and pestle with water and pat dry. See? Not so hard, especially if your boyfriend has strong arms (or you are the boyfriend).
Then we make the spice paste. Combine the ingredients for the spice paste in the mortar and grind until a paste forms. I find the chilies can be very hard to get into a paste, so do the best you can. Boyfriends can be used here as well. Place the paste in a bowl and set aside. Again, not so hard.
And now to bring it all together. Heat the ghee over medium heat and cook the onions until they are a deep brown color. This should take about 5-10 minutes. The goal here is not to caramelize the onions (which breaks down the sugars) but to brown the outsides, while maintaining the inside white of the onion. We want to onions to maintain their texture. However, be careful not to burn them or your dish will have an overly bitter flavor. Once onions are browned, add the spice mix and cook for 1 minute, being careful not to burn. Then add the spice paste and cook for another 30 seconds.
Next, add the tomatoes, tomato juice, chicken broth, sugar, salt and chickpeas and cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes. If mixture becomes too thick, add additional broth until you reach your desired consistency. I prefer a thick chana masala, so the recipe call for a minimal amount of broth. When finished cooking, add the juice of half a lemon and the 1/2 teaspoon of garam masala to finish. Add additional salt to taste if desired. Garnish with cilantro and serve with basmati rice and/or naan bread. I like to serve with both because, well, more carbs=happier life.
Do you prefer the Northern or Southern version of chana masala? What did you think of this dish? Was there anything you would change?