Chana Masala

Chana masala, also known as chole masala (or more simply as channay or cholay) is arguably the most popular vegetarian dish from India. It makes a delicious meal all on its own, but plays well with other dishes as part of a larger Indian meal, and any leftovers keep well and make a fantastic lunch the following day.

 This recipe does take a bit of time to make, but it’s not overly complicated. It also uses a little culinary chemistry with the addition of just a bit of baking soda to help the onions break down and caramelize faster (baking soda increases the pH because this makes the amino acids more available to react, which enhances the Maillard reaction- which is really scientific way of saying “browning”- you can learn more cool tricks to take advantage of this reaction and up your cooking skills from this excellent article from Chef Steps). Similarly, the acid in the lemon juice helps prevent the garlic in the spice paste from turning too sharp and pungent, while still allowing its aroma to shine.
You can adjust the spiciness of this recipe to suit your own tastes. I find 4-5 small Thai chilies makes a pleasantly medium-hot curry, but I prefer my food on the spicier side. You could also probably substitute serranos or jalapeƱos if Thai chilies are unavailable in your grocery store or if you prefer a milder level of heat.
This recipe makes 4-6 servings when served with basmati rice and naan.


  • 4 medium cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 (1-inch) knob ginger, peeled, roughly chopped
  • 1 to 6 green Thai chilies (to taste), roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons (30ml) juice from 1 lemon, divided
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons (30ml) vegetable oil or ghee
  • 2 teaspoons (8g) black mustard seed
  • 1 teaspoon (4g) whole cumin seed
  • 1 large onion, finely diced (about 1 1/2 cups; 300g)
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1g) baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons (8g) ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2g) freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2g) ground turmeric
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons (6g) store-bought or homemade garam masala, divided
  • 1 (14-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 2 (14-ounce) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped (1 ounce; 25g)


  1. Combine garlic, ginger, chilies, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt in a mortar and pestle or in the small work bowl of a food processor and pound or process until a fine paste is produced. Set aside.
  2. Heat oil or ghee in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. All at once, add mustard seed and cumin. They will sputter and spit for a few seconds. As soon as they are aromatic (about 15 seconds), add onion all at once, along with baking soda. Cook, stirring frequently, until onions start to leave a brown coating on bottom of pan, 3 to 4 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon water, scrape up browned bits from pan, and continue cooking. Repeat this process until onions are a deep brown, about 10 minutes total.
  3. Immediately add garlic/ginger/chili paste all at once and stir to combine. Add coriander, black pepper, turmeric, and 1 teaspoon garam masala. Stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add tomatoes and crush them using a whisk or potato masher. Add drained, rinsed chickpeas and cilantro, reserving a little cilantro for garnish. Add 1/2 cup water
  4. Bring to a simmer, cover with lid slightly cracked, and reduce heat to maintain a gentle bubbling. Cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid has reduced into a thick stew and spices have melded, about 30 minutes.
  5. Stir in remaining garam masala and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt. Serve with rice and naan, sprinkling additional cilantro on top.