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Chana Masala

I love Indian food and could happily eat it forever. So when it came time to develop the Beyond Wonderful Indian section several years ago, I asked my great friend, Leela Manilal to help create the recipes and how-to cooking techniques with me. Leela and I have cooked together for 25 years and I knew that she would be the perfect International Home Chef, India.

A retired journalist who divides her time between New Delhi, India and the San Francisco Bay Area, Leela is returning state-side next month and staying through March. That means lots of cooking sessions and new recipes for you—and better yet, it means great eating for me. I’m also making plans for my tenth trip to India, coming this spring. I’ll blog regularly from the road, sharing recipes and culinary adventures.

To get in the mood for all things Indian, I’ve cooked a special dinner for my family tonight: chicken curry, a big pot of Basmati rice and chana masala. While chopping and sautéing, it occurred to me that chana masala—a simple dish of garbanzo beans (chickpeas) with onions, ginger, garlic, tomatoes and spicesis an easy introduction to Indian cuisine for novice cooks. Plus, like many Indian dishes, chana masala gets more flavorful the longer it sits. Make lots and you’ll have wonderful leftovers for lunches the next day. For Western cooks, this adds an exotic element to your menu, and it’s gentle on the food budget.

Hungry? Check out all of our Indian recipes catalogued on Leela’s International Home Chef page.

Chana Masala


1 medium onion
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1-inch piece fresh ginger, minced
1 tablespoon crushed garlic
1–2 green chiles, seeded and minced*
½ teaspoon red chili powder
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
1 cup water
2 cups canned chopped tomatoes, drained**
3 15.5-ounce cans garbanzo beans, drained
1 tablespoon amchur powder***
1 teaspoon garam masala

 * Use Thai or serrano chiles. The heat of chilies changes with the seasons, so use your judgment when adding them.

** Use canned tomatoes from Modena, Italy or Pomi brand tomatoes found in fine grocery stores—Their flavor is superb!

*** Amchur powder is made from dried green mangoes and available online at ecommerce stores like http://www.namaste.com, or at Indian grocery stores. While it enhances the recipe, it’s not absolutely essential.


1. Peel and quarter the onion, place it in the food processor, and process until smooth. Disard the extra liquid.

2. Heat the oil in a medium, heavy-bottomed skillet over a medium-high flame. When very hot, add the onion and cook until browned, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Adjust the heat as needed so that the onion does not burn.

3. Stir in the ginger and cook for 2 minutes; add the garlic and cook for another minute.

4. Add the green chiles, chili powder, coriander, cumin and turmeric, and mix to blend.

5. Lower the heat to medium, add 1/2 cup of the water and the tomatoes. Continue cooking and stirring for two minutes.

6. Add the remaining water and mix well.

7. Stir in the garbanzo beans.

8. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook for 10 minutes.

9. Add the amchur powder and garam masala and mix well. Cook for two minutes and remove from the heat.

Yield: 6 servings
Preparation time: approximately 30 minutes

Get a printable copy of Chana Masala for easy reference.