Simple Chana Masala

Chana masala is a very popular dish in Indian restaurants in the US and its popularity is not a mystery. It is also one of the rare dishes made in North Indian restaurants in the US in a manner not unlike that of home kitchens. This is not to suggest that there is only one proper way to make chana masala. Like most Indian dishes, it is subject to a wide variety of variations—of texture and flavour—depending on what part of the country you are in. And dishes that may seem obviously to be in the chana masala family may have different names in different parts of the country—see ghugni in Bengal, for example (though that’s more typically made with dried yellow or white peas).

The recipe I have today is my lazy, short-cut method for making chana masala in a North Indian style. Well, it’s not so much of a short-cut, I guess, as it involves first cooking Rancho Gordo garbanzo beans on the stove-top. But that’s the only bit that requires time—everything else is quick and easy! 


  • I lb garbanzo beans (Rancho Gordo recommended)
  • 1 medium red onion
  • 1 big clove garlic
  • 1/2 tblspn’s worth of ginger
  • 1/2 cup tomato
  • The following ground into a coarse powder: 1 tspn cumin seeds, 1/2 tspn coriander seeds, 1/2 tspn black peppercorns, 1/4 tspn black mustard seeds, 1/4 tspn fenugreek seeds, 1/2 tspn amchur (mango powder)
  • 1/2-1 tspn hot dried red chilli powder
  • 1/2 tspn turmeric powder
  • The following whole spices: 2 tez patta/cassia leaves/dried Indian “bay leaves”, 1 stick cinnamon, 4-5 green cardmom pods, 3-4 cloves
  • Sugar: 1 pinch (optional)
  • Vegetable oil: 2 tblspns
  • Water: as needed
  • For garnish:1-2 Thai chillies, minced, 1 tblspn minced red onion, 2 tblpns minced dhania/cilantro


  1. Rinse the dried garbanzo beans, put them in your pot of choice with enough water to cover by 2-3 inches and bring to a hard boil for 10-15 minutes. Then add more water to cover by 2-3 inches again, return to a simmer, cover the pot and simmer till almost done (adding water again as necessary, 1 cups at at a time). When you are done—which will be scarily fast with Rancho Gordo garbanzos—the beans should be yielding to the tooth but not anywhere close to mushy, and should be peeking over the pot liquor.
  2. Microwave the onion for 1 minute and cut into quarters.
  3. Add the onion and all the other ingredients through the turmeric powder to a blender jar and blend to a coarse puree. Don’t ask questions, just do it.
  4. In a large saucepan heat the oil and add the whole spices.
  5. As soon as the spices become aromatic add the puree. Stir and cook over medium heat till the oil separates and it becomes a thick sludge.
  6. Add this thick sludge, along with the sugar (if using), to the pot of almost-done garbanzo beans, stir and simmer, uncovered, until the beans are completely done.
  7. Add garnishes and serve with rice or chapatis/parathas or just eat them out of a bowl as I like to do.


  1. If all this blending seems uncouth then by all means chop and saute the onions first, then add the ginger and garlic in grated form, followed by the powdered spices and tomatoes and cook it all down slowly.
  2. Feel free to adjust the amount of red chilli powder to your tolerance. For that matter feel free to adjust the cumin/coriander seed ratio: using more cumin gives a “darker” flavour; using more coriander gives a “brighter” flavour.
  3. A garnish of just cilantro is more than acceptable.
  4. A squeeze of lime along with the garnish is also a good thing.
  5. Yes, you can adapt this to canned garbanzos too but please give the Rancho Gordo garbanzos a try if you haven’t. They were a revelation to me when I first tried them and they cook very fast! And they do not need to be soaked first.
  6. This will taste good right away but even better on the second day.
  7. As always: Steve Sando of Rancho Gordo is a good friend but I have no financial relationship with him.


3 thoughts on “Simple Chana Masala

  1. I made this lastnight to supplement leftovers from Maharaja. I didn’t ask questions, but I know you know I don’t stock amchur! Good info to know on the seed ratios…and it was pretty quick and easy with this method, and glad there was no pressure cooker talk, since I don’t have one.

    Cathy really liked it, added a little yogurt at the end.


  2. Hiya! I would like to make your “simple chana masala“, but I have a question. What are other uses for amchur (mango powder)? I read your bit about people not wanting to buy more and different spices being whack (paraphrasing) especially since there’s easy access with online shopping. So true. But! It’s a matter of space too. And yes, I could just cook more Indian. But I have so many other cultural foods I want to cook too, which require even more new spices, so…


    • You can use amchur in all kinds of veg dishes. Do a search for “amchur” (at the top of the menu at left) and you’ll see a few recipes. You can, in any case, buy a very small packet—it won’t take up very much space transferred to a small jar.


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