19 May 2011

chana masala

Indian food. It's just never quite as good as from the restaurant, is it? But we keep trying. I just borrowed a gigantic cookbook from my mom with Indian recipes, but the one I tried out last night actually came from Molly Wizenberg's A Homemade Life. She raves about her husband's recipe and it seemed straightforward enough, so I tried it out. I did adapt their recipe a bit and, as Molly notes, her directions are more of a general guideline anyway and her husband rarely makes it the same way twice.

Chana Masala
adapted from Molly Wizenberg's recipe, found here 
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp butter, unsalted
  • 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2 medium cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp garam masala, plus more for serving
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 tsp salt, or to taste
  • water
  • one 28-oz can chopped tomatoes
  • 3 tbsp coarsely chopped cilantro leaves, plus more for serving
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • two 15-oz cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/3 tp 1/2 cup plain yogurt, not low fat or nonfat (or cream, see note below)
  • cooked rice of your choice (one heaping cup of dry brown rice usually yields enough for four small servings)

  1. Pour the olive oil into a big stockpot with the butter and melt over medium heat. Add the onion and, stirring occasionally, let it caramelize deeply. Molly warns to be patient, because "the more color, the more full-flavored the final dish will be." It's true. I think I cooked the onions for over a half hour, until they were dark and even charred in a few places. I wanted to take a picture to show you just how caramelized you should get them, but my battery had died.
  2. Reduce heat to low and add in the garlic, cumin, coriander, ginger, garam masala, cardamom and salt and cook until "fragrant and toasty", about 30 seconds. Add 1/4 cup water and stir. Cook until the water has completely evaporated and then pour in the juice from the tomatoes, followed by the tomatoes themselves. At this point, you may realize that you only have a 14 oz can of chopped tomatoes, not the 28 oz can called for in the recipe. You thought the sauce was looking a bit thin. But then you might remember that you have a whole tomato sitting in the fridge so you decide to chop that one up and add it to the pot along with a few tablespoons of water.
  3. Raise heat to medium and bring to a gentle boil, then reduce to a simmer and add cilantro and cayennne. Stir occasionally for about five minutes or until thickened. Add chickpeas, stir well and cook covered for another five minutes. Add 2 tbsp water and cook for 5 minutes, then another 2 tbsp water and cook until it is absorbed, a few minutes more. Molly says that "this process of adding and cooking off water helps to concentrate the sauce's flavor and makes the chickpeas more tender and toothsome." Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.
  4. Stir in the yogurt and serve over rice. Garnish with cilantro and a sprinkle of garam masala, if you'd like. Again, you may realize that you forgot to buy plain yogurt and that blueberry yogurt would likely mess up the flavor of the dish, so you can also just add in a splash (1/4 cup or so) of light cream. Yogurt would be more delicious, but you'll just make do with what you have.
This was one of our more successful homemade Indian food experiments. Our chana masala was still a distant cousin from the dish we order at our local Indian haunt, but it was very good. I'd like to know how the restaurants make there version so colorful and rich and delicious. Indian magic, I guess. We were going to make a little naan to go with this, but we both had just gotten back from running and were hungry. And I, having just completed my first ever set of mile repeats, was in no mood for extra culinary flourishes. The mile repeats, by the way, weren't as bad as I expected but still sucked. Even though I know it's only a mile at a time, my instinct to conserve energy makes it painful to push myself to run so much faster than my normal pace. So the only cure for this, clearly, was Chana Masala and a few spoonfuls of Ben & Jerry's.

PS- Have you gone over to From Scratch Club yet? You probably should. Lots of tasty treats over there plus they just made a fun announcement. Say hi over at my intro post :)


    1. My technique for making chana masala is even easier, although it takes a bit longer.

      But it does have more complexity because the spice blend has an amazing variety of unusual seasonings. The good news is that you can find the spices pre-blended at most of our local Indian markets.

      All the details are here:

    2. Ooh, I'll take an easier recipe anytime! I haven't used the MDH spice blend, but I have zero problem with cooking a different chana masala recipe every week until I find the perfect one. Along the same lines, I think someone should organize a Cap Region cook-off. Could be chili, chana masala, bbq... whatever. Right?

    3. I'm totally in on the Cap-Reg cook off. I've modified Martha's veggie chilli recipe and even my meat loving friends like it. :)

    4. I made this for dinner tonight, with a few modifications, like putting in a 10 ounce can of diced tomatoes with chiles and a diced fresh tomato instead of 28 ounces of plain old diced tomato. i also made it hotter, used vindaloo curry blend that I bought in the Village instead of garam marsala, added tumeric, did not add cumin (yuck, cumin), and put in a heaping 1/2 cup of yogurt. It was absolutely delicious. Thank you so much, I will make this again. I bet the leftovers will be even better tomorrow when the flavors have married overnight.

    5. Yum, your version sounds delicious! I'd like to try substituting a vindaloo curry blend for some more spice and, of course, will remember to buy yogurt the next time I make it. Our leftovers WERE even better than the original.

    6. Um, I never told you about the bake-off on the farm my friend Miriam and I have been talking about? 3 standard recipes (chocolate-chio cookies, probably a pie, a quick bread maybe), then a wild card "bake whatever you want" category. Winner takes all. You should get in on that.

    7. Oh man, I love a good hearty Indian dish. I often make very simple dal palak and eat off of it for a week, haha.


    Hi & thanks for joining in! I try to respond to comments directly at the post page, so check back frequently.