Chana Masala, Take 2

Way back in January, before there was a global pandemic, I posted a recipe for chana masala made with kala or desi chana. These smaller, darker chickpeas (compared to garbanzo beans aka Kabuli chana in India) have, as I said then, been eaten in India much longer than garbanzo beans. They can be prepared very similarly but are far from identical. They’re smaller and their skins are harder and their texture much denser; and their flavour is earthier and not as “sweet” as good garbanzo beans can be. So far, so repetitious. Here’s something new: back in January I’d said that I’d heard a rumour that Rancho Gordo—the Californian purveyor of bespoke beans—might soon start carrying desi chana. 10 months later that rumour has turned to fact. Rancho Gordo’s desi chana will be going on sale around Thanksgiving. If you’re not in their Bean Club (yes, I know) you’ll have to punch other people in the mouth to get them into your cart when they go on sale. (Well, you’ll be shopping online but you can always imagine.) Since I’m special (by which I mean, I know things Steve S. of Rancho Gordo doesn’t want you to know about his whereabouts in April of 1982), I was sent a few packets of these to play with before you heathens get anywhere near them. You can therefore view this as a sort of sponsored post if you like—I can certainly be purchased for less than the price of a few packets of beans. More accurate would be that Steve and I are old friends and that he clearly doesn’t need a D-list food blogger like me to talk him up when he has all of the North American food world falling over itself to praise his beans. At any rate, I’ve made a few different preps with them and this is the one the missus thinks I should share first with the public.

Of course, you don’t need to make this recipe with Rancho Gordo desi chana—you can always buy some from your local Indian grocery. But anyone who has eaten Rancho Gordo beans knows the difference in quality between their freshly harvested beans and regular ones (it makes the difference in price palatable). You could also make this recipe with garbanzo beans, for that matter, whether Rancho Gordo or otherwise. But wherever you get your desi chana from, do add them to your chickpea rotation.

And whatever chickpeas or garbanzo beans you use, you should know that this is a no-frills home-style recipe. There is nothing flashy happening here, no BIG or BOLD flavours; just earthy comfort food of the old school. There is also nothing very original happening here: most North Indian homes make chana masala that resembles this closely.


  • 2 cups desi/kala chana, rinsed and soaked overnight or 8 hours in the pot in which you will cook them
  • 1 tez patta (dried Indian bay/cassia leaf)
  • 1 large red onion, sliced
  • 1 tspn fresh garlic paste
  • 1 tspn fresh ginger paste
  • The following ground together into a coarse powder: 1/2 tspn haldi (turmeric powder), 2-3 dried Kashmiri chillies, 1.5 tspns cumin seeds, 1.5 tspns coriander seeds, 1 tspn black peppercorn, 1/2 tspn fennel seeds, 1 pinch fenugreek seeds, 1 inch piece of cinnamon
  • 2 cups chopped tomato
  • 1 tspn sugar
  • 2 tblspns neutral oil (grapeseed or similar)
  • Salt to taste
  • 3-5 Thai chillies, slit
  • 1 tbspn chopped dhania/cilantro
  1. Add enough water to the soaked chana to cover by a few inches and bring to a boil for 10 minutes. Replenish with enough hot water to cover by a few inches, reduce to a simmer, add the tez patta, cover and cook till the chana is done. Add more water along the way as necessary.
  2. While the chana is cooking, prepare the masala as follows:
  3. Heat the oil in a karhai or wok and add the sliced onions. Saute over medium heat till fully softened and browned along the edges.
  4. Add the ginger and garlic pastes, mix in and saute till the raw smell is gone.
  5. Add the ground spices, mix in and saute for another 2-3 minutes, taking care to not scorch the mix.
  6. Add the tomatoes and salt and sugar and saute till the tomatoes have completely cooked down and the oil separates.
  7. Take off the heat, add a few ladles of the water from the cooked chana, mix in and when cooled a little, transfer the contents of the karhai to a blender and puree till smooth.
  8. Bring the chana back up to a high simmer and add the puree to the pot. Mash some of the chana against the side of the pot, mix everything in, cover and simmer together for another 10-15 minutes.
  9. Uncover, garnish with the slit green chillies and dhania and serve with rice or chapatis or by itself in a bowl.
  1. Whether you soak the chana or not is up to you but if you don’t you’ll need to be patient while it cooks.
  2. You can also make this in a pressure cooker. In my old-school, whistling Indian pressure cooker I’d cook and puree the masala first, add it to the soaked chana, top up with water and cook for probably 30 minutes over medium heat. I’ve no idea what the Instant Pot conversion would be.
  3. If you don’t have tez patta at hand don’t worry about it. However, if you have an Indian grocery near you it’s easily found. It’s also available on Amazon (that’s an affiliate link).
  4. If you don’t have Kashmiri chillies (see above) substitute a mild red chilli powder (Kashmiri chillies are mild). You can make this hotter, of course, but the intended result is a balanced tanginess, not big heat.
  5. You can, of course, skip the step of pureeing the wet masala before adding it to the chana. The textural contrast between the silky curry and the harder chana is nice though.
  6. You can add a bit of chopped onion to the garnish as well. And if you have the time you could also throw on some julienned ginger.
  7. A squeeze of lime on the plate or in the bowl is nice as well.

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