Monday, May 10, 2010

Chole (Chana masala)

After watching my mom make chole (or chana masala) for years, I attempted to make it for the first time my freshman year of college. Armed with a hot plate (against all dorm rules), the only pot I owned, and a ziploc bag of carefully labeled masalas taken from my mom's cupboard (I didn't even own a masala dabba), I made my first chole sitting on the floor of my freshman triple. It actually turned out good. That's the thing about chole, you just simmer chick peas in a tomato gravy with traditional Indian spices, and it turns out delicious.

Now of course I make a more complex version that captures the characteristic sourness of chole by adding amchur (dried mango powder) and lemon juice. I simmer chick peas in a rich gravy with lightly fried onions, garlic, and tomatoes blended with traditional Indian spices.

My sister-in-law loves this dish and always asks me to make it when I visit. I recently shared my recipe with her, and she pointed out that it tastes slightly different every time. I think variation in the strength of onions and in the sourness of tomatoes really affects this dish. I recommend using vidalia sweet onions in order to avoid overpowering spicy onion flavors. And I recommend using ripe plum tomatoes because sour tomatoes can change the balance of the dish. Or for more consistency, I use an 8 oz can of tomato sauce instead when good tomatoes are hard to find.

Chole (Chana Malsala)

2 15 oz cans of chick peas, drained and rinsed (or 4 cups cooked chick peas)
1 tbsp canola oil
1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2 ripe plum tomatoes, finely chopped
4 oz tomato sauce
1.5 tsp cumin seeds
2 dried red chilis
2 bay leaves
4 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
a pinch of asofetida
1/8 tsp turmeric
1/2 to 1 tsp red cayenne pepper
2 to 2.5 tsp ground cumin
2 to 2.5 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp punjabi chole masala (see note)
1/4 lemon, juiced or more to taste
1/2 tsp salt or more to taste

Heat canola oil until shimmery over medium heat in a dutch oven. Add cumin seeds, dried red chilis, cloves, cinnamon stick, bay leaves, and a pinch of asofetida. Saute for a minute.

Add onions and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, cook for 1 minute.

Reduce heat to medium-low. Add turmeric, red cayenne pepper, ground coriander, ground cumin, and punjabi chole masala, and cook for 1 minute. Stir in chopped tomatoes, continue cooking until juices leave the tomatoes and the mixture is dry, about 5 minutes.

Add chick peas, stir to coat well with the thick gravy. Add tomato sauce with 2 cups of water and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cover and let simmer until chick peas are soft and sauce has thickened, about 15-18 minutes.

Stir in lemon juice and salt to taste. Sometimes I throw in a pinch of sugar to balance the sourness, depending on the lemons. Cook uncovered for an additional 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat and keep covered until ready to serve with naan or roti and plain yogurt.

If you somehow manage to have leftovers, chole tastes even better the next day!

Note: You can find punjabi chole masala at an Indian grocery store. Or if you don't have it, you can increase the ground coriander to 1 tbsp,  ground cumin to 2 tsp, and add 1 tsp garam masala.


  1. wow....It sounds delicious!!! I bet my girls would love it

  2. I adore chickpeas! This one looks so comforting.

  3. Thank you, thank you for the easiest recipe out there! My mother-in-law will be SO impressed with my dinner tonight!


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