Garam Masala Tuesdays: Channa Masala with easily available ingredients

by Shumaila

I started Garam Masala Tuesdays with three aims- one, to familiarize non-Indians with Indian cooking; two, to familiarize Indian cooking to Indian ladies like me, who had only recently forayed into Indian cooking and who like me did not have the pleasure of their moms to guide them through various aspects of Indian food and three, to share recipes handed down by my mother or friends or relatives or seen on different sites along with giving a little background about the dish.

Now, because of the above three aims I am always in a dilemma when I write any post for the GMT. I wonder if I am writing the recipes for Indians, non-Indians or for Indians who are living abroad.

Indians living in India have access to all kinds of spices and vegetables and their taste buds are used to eating Indian flavored dishes. Indians living abroad have access to most spices, but might not have access to all and if they have been born and raised abroad might not be used to the different flavors of Indian cuisine. Non-Indians might not have any of the spices and even though they like Indian food, they might find it a pain to stock up on the oh-so-many spices that most Indian dishes call for. On the other hand, if I post a recipe without the necessary spices, Indians who might cook from my blog will lose out on the flavor that these very spices hand to the dish- and then for them the particular dish won’t be the real thing.

So, the dilemma always remains- how do I make sure I cater to everyone’s needs?

Of course I can’t and won’t even attempt to. And today I thought I’ll try to cook from a non-Indian’s pantry perspective. I think that’s something that GMT misses out on occasions.

I decided I’ll try to replicate the quite popular and tasty channa masala.

Channa (the Indian name for chickpeas) masala is a traditional “snack” dish from Punjab (a northern Indian state, a state that I belong to and miss everyday) but it can also be eaten as a main course dish. It is supposed to be on the drier side, making it different than the wetter chholle (also a name for chickpeas in hindi).

I have recipes for both. For the channa masala I always use my mom’s quick channa masala (I will not apologize for the unflattering photos- they just show how much I have grown 🙂 ). And, if I am going for more gravy in the chickpeas, I generally go for this recipe on Manjula’s kitchen. Paired with samosas, it makes a great samosa cholla chaat.

I looked at both the recipes and then wrote out the adjustments, using the spices that a kitchen of a non-Indian might have, or even if they don’t he/she is most likely to come across the necessary ingredients in their local grocery shop. And, with that, I set out to make the dish.

I did assume that the person in mind does cook Indian occasionally and wouldn’t mind stocking up on garam masala (and although I have never tried curry powder, but I think I can say that you could substitute it if that’s all that you have “Indian” in your kitchen. I do realize curry powder is not the same thing as garam masala but curry powder does serve the purpose of giving a little Indian touch to the dish)

Traditionally green and black cardamom are also used.

Native to India, cardamom is a large leafy plant that flourishes in the country’s tropical climate and is actually a member of the ginger family. The black cardamom imparts a kind of smoky and pungent taste to the chickpea dish. Black cardamom is dried over an open fire, which is what gives it such a powerful smokey aroma. Never ever eat a black cardamom though. Its too strong and might spoil the taste of the dish for you, but if not bitten into it really takes a dish to a different level.  The green cardamom contrasts the dish with its delicate floral tones making it a perfect complement to the black cardamom in the dish. But, I figured many won’t keep these in their kitchens, so the recipe below excludes both. But, in case you are interested, this article makes an interesting read on black cardamom and this one for green cardamom.

Although I tried simplifying the recipe as much as I could (both in terms of steps and ingredients), I did add the additional step (and ingredient) of cooking it in black tea. This is the trick that all the roadside vendors at truck stops use to give their chickpeas a traditional dark appearance. (The first time I made this dish I had let the washed and drained chickpeas sit in brewed tea for a few minutes and then drained them before adding it to the cooked onion tomato mixture. The photographs were taken then, and hence chickpeas though dark were not as dark. I realized adding the tea water at a later stage and then cooking it till it almost dries up gives a deeper color to the chickpeas).

You should know that the tea (leftover tea can also be used) leaves no after taste. Its sole purpose is to impart color. So, if you want, you can choose not to use tea water and just add plain water instead.

To serve the channa masala, you can use any bread of choice. I made pooris to go with the channa masala. You can also serve it with pita bread, naan or kulcha, something that we traditionally have channa with.

Before my grandparents shifted to Chandigarh (the capital of Punjab), they used to live in Jalandhar (another city in Punjab- a place where a sizable amount of my summer vacations were spent). Almost every evening, around 7 in the evening, a guy would come pushing his food cart on our street. He only served kulcha channe and even though my mouth would be on fire every time I would eat them, they were the tastiest things I have ever eaten. And they hardly costed a few cents. Sigh, I am tearing up writing this- those were happy times.

Anyway, when I was out of the dough, since the only thing I had in the kitchen was sourdough bread, I paired the bread with this dish. And out of sheer laziness of waiting for it to get toasted, I heated it in the microwave for a few seconds to warm it up. I kid you not (I love using this expression), but the microwaved sourdough bread tasted exactly as those kulchas and with the channa masala I was transported years back to my grandparents house in Jalandhar.

Overall Verdict?

Would I make this channa masala instead of the more authentic recipes I have?

Maybe or maybe not. And, why should I? I have the necessary ingredients on hand always and my mom’s quick channa masala is very easy and quick to make and absolutely delicious.

But, if I am stuck in a non-Indian’s kitchen with no access to Indian spices and am requested to cook something Indian, I would proudly make this dish because given the circumstance this is as close as I can get to the real thing.

And all things said and done, and since this dish took me back to my childhood, I give it two thumbs up.


To make roasted cumin powder, in a pan on medium heat dry roast cumin seeds till they are nice and fragrant and darkish brown (but not burnt). Keep stirring them so that all the seeds are evenly roasted. Once the seeds are roasted, grind them in a coffee or spice grinder to a powder. This roasted cumin powder is great to add as a final touch to many dishes, including raita, salads. Dry roasting the everyday cumin brings in a lovely smoky flavor which is not usually found in the regular cumin or powdered cumin.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 15-20 minutes

Serves 4-5


  • 1 tbsp grated ginger
  • 2-3 green chillies
  • 1/2 a lemon, squeezed ( 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 inch piece cinnamon
  • about 2 tsp roasted cumin powder (see note above)
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup coriander/cilantro leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 1/4 cup black tea ( I used TyPhoo tea bags and boiled the 1 1/4 cup water and steeped the tea bag for 3 minutes in it. If buying tea just for this dish seems a lot just use water.)
  • 2 roma tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup onion, chopped (plus extra for garnishing)
  • 2 cans canned chickpeas/ garbanzo beans, drained and washed
  • 2-3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp garam masala


  1. In a kadhai or a big enough saucepan, heat the oil. Add in the cinnamon, bay leaves and cumin seeds. Cook for a few seconds till you start getting the fragrance.
  2. Add in the ginger, garlic and green chillies. Saute for a few seconds.
  3. Add in the onions and cook till light brown.
  4. Add in the chopped tomatoes and cook for another few minutes, till you see the oil separating.
  5. Now put in the chickpeas and the tea steeped water. Add in the salt, roasted cumin powder, garam masala, black pepper and let simmer uncovered on low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring gently now and then. Since we are using canned chickpeas they just need a few minutes to absorb the different spices. If you are using uncooked chickpeas, when boiling or pressure cooking them, I would suggest adding the tea bag to the water. You will achieve the perfect “Punjabi” color for your chickpeas.
  6. Add in the lemon juice and adjust seasoning. Mix in the chopped cilantro leaves.
  7. Garnish with lemon and chopped onions.
  8. Serve with any flat bread of choice- pita, naan, roti, poori, bhatura or my personal recommendation 10-15 second microwaved sourdough bread slices. Just microwaving for 10-15 seconds, makes the sourdough soft, giving it the same texture as a kulcha and since the sourdough has that tangy flavour to it, it fits as a perfect substitute for kulcha, a perfect complement to the channa masala.