Chana Masala | Punjabi Chole Masala


This Punjabi Chana Masala, also known as Chole Masala, is an authentic North Indian style curry made with white chickpeas, freshly powdered spices, onions, tomatoes and herbs. Naturally vegan and packed with healthy minerals, protein and fiber, this delicious vegetarian meal can be ready in just 45 minutes minus the soaking time of chickpeas.

closeup shot of white plate with sections filled with chana masala, sliced onions, fresh lime wedges and bhatura on a marble table-top

What is Chana Masala?

Chana Masala is a popular Indian dish of white chickpeas in a spicy and tangy gravy. In North India, this dish is called ‘chole masala,’ or simply ‘chole’. No matter what you call it, this is a tasty vegetarian curry dish that you should definitely try making yourself!

Chana is the Hindi word and chole is the Punjabi word for chickpeas. In Hindi, the word masala means a mixture of spices. When the word masala shows up in a dish – like this Chana Masala or Paneer Butter Masala, for example – it specifically refers to a spiced gravy.

There are many variations of chickpea curries made in Indian cuisine, but I like this Punjabi chana recipe that I have shared here the most. It tastes like the chole you get in the streets of Delhi and Punjab! Few more deliciousous variations you can try are:

About This Chole Masala Recipe

This recipe was originally inspired and adapted from Anita’s blog and posted in 2009. I can’t believe it has been 12 years since the original posting!!!

Over the years, I have continued to perfect the recipe, making changes in proportions as well as ingredients. The result is this chole masala recipe, which has a good balance of spiciness, taste and flavor. In the process, I also updated the pictures in the post and added a video making it even easier for you to follow along with me. Hooray!

This easy, lip-smacking Punjabi chana masala is one of the most tried and tested recipes on the blog. It has been made innumerable times by me as well as by many readers.

This chana masala recipe reminds me of Chole Bhature, which is our favorite street food. Chole Bhature is a popular Punjabi dish where chana masala is served with a fried leavened puffed bread known as Bhatura (or plural bhature).

When living in Delhi and Gurgaon, we would get awesome chole bhature in many places. While I don’t live in those cities anymore, I still get strong cravings for street style chole bhature, and this recipe for chana masala hits the spot!

It tastes exactly like the North Indian street-side chole curry, minus the heat. We prefer our foods on the tamer side of the Scoville index, so I’ve made a milder masala gravy. However, if you prefer spicier food, simply increase the quantity of red chili powder, green chillies and garam masala powder to get the flavor just right for your palate.

The Importance of Soaking Chickpeas

When you make any chickpea or Rajma (Kidney Bean Curry), it is always better to soak the beans or chickpeas overnight (or for at least 8 hours), which makes it easier to cook the legumes. Soaking beans or chickpeas also reduces the phytic acid, which is the element that causes bloating and flatulence.

Pro Tip: If you have forgotten to soak the chickpeas, you can speed up the process by adding them to a bowl of hot boiled water. Cover and soak for 1 to 2 hours.

In a pinch, you can also opt to use canned chickpeas instead. This will reduce the amount of cooking you have to do, but the trade-off is that you don’t get the opportunity to season the chickpeas with amla (Indian gooseberry) or tea bags.

Ingredients & Substitutes

  • Dried Amla (Dried Indian Gooseberry) and Dry Pomegranate Seeds: The dried amla gives a dark color to the chole, along with a light tang. The pomegranate seeds give a sour taste. Find these ingredients at Indian specialty food stores or online at amazon.com.
    • If you cannot find these ingredients, add dry mango powder (amchur powder) towards the end. In the absence of amchur powder, you can also squeeze some lime or lemon juice towards the end to mimic the tanginess of amla and pomegranate seeds.
    • You can also use a black tea bag to achieve the darker color that amla imparts. If you are not fussy about the dark color, then just cook the chickpeas in water with some salt or opt for canned chickpeas.
  • Chana Masala Spices: what contributes to the flavors and aroma of this dish are the freshly ground chole masala spices. The whole spices are roasted until they get extra browned and are later ground.
    • If possible, I always recommend making your own masala spice mixes from scratch. Whole spices are preferable to pre-ground spices, as they retain more of their naturally occurring oils. By making our own chana masala spice mix, we not only have control over the spiciness of the dish, but also the depth and quality of flavor.

Step-by-Step Guide

How to make Chana Masala

This simple chole masala can be broken down into three easy steps.

1. Soaking and Cooking Chickpeas

1. Rinse 1 cup dried white chickpeas (a.k.a. chana or chole) in fresh water a couple of times. Then soak them overnight or for 8 to 9 hours in 3 cups of water.

Keep in mind to add enough water to take into account that the chickpeas increase in size during soaking.

After they have soaked, later drain all the water and again rinse the soaked chickpeas in fresh water for a couple of times.

soaked and rinsed chole or chickpeas

2. Traditionally dried amla (Indian gooseberries) are added to impart a dark color to the chickpeas. Amla also gives a faint sourness to the stock. If you do not have dried amla, you can opt to add 1 black tea bag.

If you do not care about the dark color, then you can also just cook the chickpeas with salt and water, or opt to use drained canned chickpeas instead.

dried amla added to bowl with chole for chana masala recipe

3. In a 3 litre stovetop pressure cooker, add the chickpeas along with 2 to 3 dried amla pieces or 1 black tea bag. Add 2.5 to 3 cups of water.

NOTE: Taj tea bags work very well.

measuring cup with water above a pressure cooker filled with chickpeas

4. Season with ½ teaspoon salt. Stir very well.

teaspoon of salt above pressure cooker

5. Pressure cook the chickpeas for 12 to 15 whistles on medium heat. The chickpeas should be cooked well and softened enough that you can mash them with a spoon.

If you do not have a pressure cooker, then cook the chickpeas in a pot on the stovetop with plenty of water. Depending on the quality and freshness of chickpeas, it can take up to 1 to 2 hours for the stovetop pan method.

pressure cooker steaming

2. Making Chole Masala Spice Powder

6. Meanwhile, add all the whole spices for the chole masala to a pan or skillet. Begin to roast them on a low heat. The spices used for masala are the following:

  • 2 black cardamoms
  • 1 inch cinnamon
  • 3 to 4 peppercorns
  • 2 cloves
  • 1 medium tej patta (Indian bay leaf) or 2 small tej patta
  • ¼ teaspoon carom seeds (ajwain)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • ½ teaspoon dry pomegranate seeds (if you do not have these seeds, then omit adding them at this step and add dry mango powder or lemon juice later as mentioned in the steps below. In the recipe video, dry mango powder is added.)
  • 1 to 2 dry red chilies (preferably broken and seeds removed)
whole spices to make chole masala powder

7. Stir often and roast the spices until they get extra browned, but not yet burnt. Don’t stop even after they become fragrant, as they need to get more browned than usual.

roasting whole spices

8. The extra browned and roasted spices are pictured below.

roasted spices to make chana masala powder

9. Let these roasted spices cool and then grind or powder them finely in a coffee grinder or in a dry grinder.

ground chana masala or chole masala powder in a spice grinder

10. By now the chickpeas are cooked (pictured below). You will see a darker brown shade in the white chickpeas. Remove the amla pieces or the tea bag from the stock and discard them.

cooked chana (or chole or chickpeas) that have a brown tint from cooking with amla

3. Making Chana Masala Gravy

11. Heat 1.5 to 2 tablespoons of oil in a pan or kadai (wok). Add ½ teaspoon ginger-garlic paste and sauté for some seconds or until their raw aroma goes away. You can use any neutral tasting oil.

ginger garlic paste in pan with oil

12. Then add ⅓ cup finely chopped onions. Sauté stirring often till the onions soften and turn translucent or light brown.

chopped onion added to pan

13. Add ½ cup finely chopped tomatoes.

chopped tomatoes added to aromatics in pan

14. Sauté the tomatoes stirring often until they soften and the oil starts to leave the sides of the onion-tomato mixture.

oil leaving the sides of the tomato-onion masala mix

15. Reduce the heat. Then add all of the powdered spices that we made, together with ½ teaspoon red chili powder and ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder.

At this point, you can also add ¼ teaspoon garam masala – which is optional though.

adding chole masala or chana masala powder to softened onions and tomatoes

16. Mix very well. Then add 2 to 3 slit green chilies to the onion-tomato masala mixture.

green chiles added to onion-tomato-ginger mixture for making Punjabi chole masala recipe

17. Add the cooked and drained chickpeas. Reserve the stock.

add the chole or chana or chickpeas to spiced tomato-onion mix

18. Stir and mix very well.

stir the chana masala

19. Season with salt as per requirement. Mix again. Keep the addition of salt in check as salt is also there in the stock.

add salt to the Punjabi chole masala

20. Add about 1 to 1.25 cups of reserved stock or water. Stir well.

adding liquid to the chole for simmering into gravy

21. For a thinner gravy, cover and simmer on low to medium heat. You can also cook chickpeas without the lid, causing the gravy to thicken and reduce.

Mash some chickpeas with the spoon to thicken the gravy. If you prefer an even thicker gravy, add less water or mash more chickpeas to release the starches.

You can keep the consistency you prefer. At home, we prefer chole recipe with a bit of gravy.

making chole recipe with a lid on for thinner gravy

22. If you have not added dry pomegranate seeds while roasting the spices, then you need to add amchur powder (dry mango powder) now.

About 1 teaspoon amchur powder is enough. However, you can add less or more of it as per your taste. Stir the gravy very well.

If you do not have dry mango powder, then add ½ to 1 teaspoon lemon juice or according to your taste.

simmering Punjabi chana masala with no lid on

23. The chana masala is ready to be served.

completed chana masala in the pan ready to be served

24. Garnish with chopped onions and cilantro (coriander leaves). Serve the Punjabi chole with fried Indian bread like bhatura or poori, together with a side of sliced onions, ginger julienne and lime or lemon wedges. Yum!

white plate with sections filled with chole masala, sliced onions, fresh lime wedges and bhatura on a marble table-top

Serving Suggestions

As I mentioned earlier, I prefer my chana masala served with a poori or roti. Some great options are: tandoori roti, phulka, kulcha, bhatura or naan. Add some sliced onions and fresh lime or lemon and you have the perfect Indian meal!

If you are avoiding gluten, this chole masala also tastes good with plain steamed Basmati or jeera rice.

FAQs

Does chana masala freeze well?

Sure! Any leftovers can be frozen for up to a week or refrigerate for 1 to 2 days. However, I always recommend eating any lentils or beans on the same day. Otherwise, it can give digestion-related issues with Vatta dosha according to Ayurveda. To reheat, allow to defrost in the refrigerator overnight and either use the stovetop/pot method or microwave it in intervals.

What is the difference between chana masala and tikka masala?

Chana is the Hindi word for chickpeas, while tikka is the Hindi word for “chunks.” Chana masala is therefore a chickpea-based curry dish, while there are many kinds of tikka masala recipes out there that use vegetables, paneer or meat in a curry sauce.

Is there any way to skip the toasting and grinding of whole spices?

You can try, but masala made with freshly roasted and ground spices has a different flavor and taste than the ones made with pre-ground spices. I highly recommend trying to make your own – it really only takes about 10 minutes, and the flavor is so superior that you won’t mind!
If you are using pre-made chole masala spices, start with 2 to 3 tablespoons.

More Indian Chickpea Curries For You!

If you made this recipe, please be sure to rate it in the recipe card below. Sign Up for my email newsletter or you can follow me on Instagram, Facebook, Youtube, Pinterest or Twitter for more vegetarian inspirations.

One of the best chana masala recipe that you can make. This chole masala is made with freshly powdered spices, onions, tomatoes, herbs making the curry taste like the ones you get on the streets of Delhi. 

Prep Time 9 hrs

Cook Time 45 mins

Total Time 9 hrs 45 mins



Servings 5

For pressure cooking white chickpeas

Spices for chana masala powder

Prevent your screen from going dark while making the recipe

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This Chana Masala Recipe Post from the blog archives first published in August 2009 has been republished and updated on 22 July 2021.



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