Lazybones Chana Masala: Spicy Chickpea Stew

Making Dinner Plans With Mike and Tina

Tina: “Ooh, I know! Let’s go THERE for dinner!”

Mike: “No.  Absolutely not.  That place looks dreadful.  It’s skeevy and infested.”

Tina: “Infested with GOODNESS, I bet!  Yes, I choose *that place* and I don’t want to go anywhere else, we MUST go there and I’ve always wanted to try it out, you know….”

Mike: “NO.  You’re only saying that because we’ve never been here before and we happen to be standing in front of the building.” (lowering voice), “Tina, for god’s sake, there’s a man passed out in the doorway with a broken bottle of beer in his hand.”

Tina: “That’s great! It means they’re LICENSED!!”

Mike: “……”

Tina (whining): “But Miiiiiiike, we’ve never beeeeeeen here before.  Can’t we just tryyyyyyyyy it? Don’t be such a branch in the ground, old man.”

Mike: “Stick in the mud!  The expression is ‘stick in the mud’!  And no, I absolutely refuse, there is no way in hell that I’m setting foot inside that godforsaken place andforthelasttime you can’t just BULLY me into saying yes because you FEEL LIKE IT.”

****an hour later, from inside the den of iniquity****

Tina: “Huh.  So I think that having dinner here was a mistake.”

Mike: “Oh, you THINK SO, do you?  Really?  Now why would you possibly have –“

Tina: “You know, next time you should just let me choose.”

Yup.  That sounds about right.  I crave variety, always wanting to see something new or experience something different.  The thing is, different doesn’t always mean good. Sometimes, true, but not always.  There is something delightful about the tried and true, the comforting and companionable, or the fan favorite.  Just because I’ve seen The Princess Bride about a bajiliazillion times (real number), it doesn’t mean that I’m fool enough to swap it out of my DVD player for The Princess Diaries, if you know what I mean. Sometimes what I want is what I know, and what I adore, even if it’s what I’ve eaten about a thousand times before.

Enter my friend Chana Masala, which is a spicy-sweet-sour Indian spiced chickpea stew.  Every time that we order Indian food we end up with enough leftovers to feed half of my home town, because I always want to try something different, but I’m unwilling to part with my good old friends Chana Masala, Saag Paneer (cheese blocks in a spinach sauce, which I plan to make with tofu in the near future for the express purpose of tricking Mike into eating tofu), and Beef Vindaloo (beef curry in a spicy vinegar and chili sauce).  Oh yes, and an order of Butter Chicken for the cakers who nervously scratch their chins and say, “Sah-yag what?”

Traditional Chana Masala is made with dried chickpeas which are soaked overnight before getting simmered for another couple of hours in a flavorful tomato based broth with ginger, garlic and spices.  That’s great and all, but sometimes I’m lazy.  And by sometimes I mean most of the time.  I would prefer to take those hours of simmering and prep time and apply them to a greater good, such as napping, drinking vodka, or considering whether or not I should bother checking my personal email account or if that will just be too depressing.  Most of the time vodka wins.

If that’s not incentive enough for you to make a fairly fast, delightfully easy, and alarmingly affordable vegetarian meal for dinner tonight, remember that there is also another bright side to Chana Masala:  I’m giving you yet another opportunity to use up those dusty canned beans in your pantry.  As if you need an excuse.

Lazybones Chana Masala: Spicy Chickpea Stew

Serves 4 -6 over basmati rice with naan bread and cucumber raita on the side

  • 2 small yellow onions
  • 1.5 tbsp garlic puree *
  • 1.5 tbsp ginger puree**
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1 – 3 green chili***
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 3/4 tsp red chili powder
  • 3/4 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 cans (19 oz each) chickpeas
  • 1 small can (15.5 oz) diced or whole tomato
  • 1/3 cup tamarind syrup ****
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped cilantro + more to garnish
  • salt and pepper

* Garlic puree is just canned finely minced garlic.  It certainly saves a heap of time, but it is somewhat less pungent than fresh garlic.  If you wanted to use fresh garlic instead, finely mince about 5 medium or 4 large cloves which will yield about one fat tablespoon.

** Ditto with the pureed ginger.  If you have fresh ginger, grate down about 1.5″ of a nice plump root, which will yield about one heaping tablespoon.

*** Baby likes it hot, so I used 3 chilis with their seeds in.  For a milder masala you can remove the ribs and seeds of the chili, or reduce the number.  One green chili without seeds or ribs will make a mild masala.

**** Another shortcut ingredient, tamarind syrup is rehydrated tamarind where somebody else has done all the work of softening, mushing, and straining for you.  Tamarind syrup is also sometimes flavored with pureed mild green chili, aromatics and spices.  But hey, nothing wrong with that!  It just means more flavor.  If you don’t have tamarind syrup you could rehydrate dried tamarind pods.  If you don’t have dried tamarind pods either, try to mimic the sweet and sour flavor by mixing 1.5 tablespoons of tomato paste with 1.5 tablespoons of honey and 1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar.  Add an extra squeeze of lemon at the end.

Heat the oil in a large pan with high sides set over medium to low heat.  Dice the onion fairly finely and let it start to sweat it out for 3-4 minutes until it is translucent and fragrant, stirring regularly so that the onion does not brown or burn.

Finely  mince the chili (as much or as little as you are comfortable with) and add this along with the garlic and ginger purees.  Cook the mixture together for 2 minutes, or until the garlic and ginger are beautifully fragrant.

Stir in the spices and let these coat the onions, cooking them for another 2 minutes.

Rinse the chickpeas under cold running water and drain off any excess moisture.  Add the chickpeas to the spiced onion mixture and let it cook for 3-4 minutes or until the chickpeas start to look a little bit dry.

Stir in the diced tomatoes and their juices.  If you are using whole tomatoes, which are my preference, smoosh and squeeze them between your fingers to rustically break them up before adding the tomato bits and all of their juices to the pan.  Pour in the tamarind syrup.

Turn the heat up slightly to medium-high.

Let the chickpea stew cook down for about 10 minutes so that the liquid can reduce.  The chickpeas should have absorbed some of the color and the sauce will be thicker; less like a soup than a stew.

Squeeze in the juice of half a lemon, stir in the finely chopped cilantro, and season quite liberally with salt and pepper.  Because hey, you know what beans and legumes like?  They like salt.  And long solitary walks in a heavily wooded area, but that’s another story.  Taste the masala and adjust the seasoning as you see fit.

Serve over basmati rice and garnish with some more cilantro if you feel the yen.

Looking at those glossy little gems of fiber and protein remind me of how good it feels to have meatless meals in our weekly rotation.  Packed full of flavor, this masala has a slightly sweet and sour tone which is gussied up from the heat of chili and rich, exotic spices.  It’s pretty clear why this is one of my favorite cravable dishes.

Whether it’s eating out at an authentic Indian restaurant or making a quick lazybones dinner at home, you can’t go wrong with chana masala.  Well, unless you don’t like chickpeas of course (in which case you’re dead to me), or you have an aversion to flavor (I repeat: DEAD TO ME).  For the rest of us reasonable people, however, you ask the always present question of “What in the name of Beelzebub can I make for dinner tonight?”  I offer that you go no further than your pantry and treat yourself to a delicious but dirt cheap meal that won’t keep you in the kitchen during prime time.

  • Kristie

    I’m not going to lie–I’m with Mike on this one. I’ve been known to Google reviews from health inspectors for restaurants before going inside. Also, I tend to call the hostesses and ask where they source their meat. Usually, they don’t know and I end up eating vegetables. Which is where Chana Masala really shines! So that’s good! But seriously. Sanitary restaurants are a thing of beauty.

  • Stewart

    I have a go-to chana masala recipe I’ve been using for years, and I stand by it, but this recipe looks… maybe not better, but… okay, better. And me with no dinner plans for tonight. I hope Loblaws has green chilis this time.

    Also: After you kindly suggested that a bacon-free version could work, I made the Bocconcini Stuffed Mediterranean (no bacon) Pull Aparts this weekend. It was so delicious, and fun to make! OF course, I didn’t know if it would turn out, so I didn’t plan on having anyone around to share it, and my husband and I ate half of it in one sitting. (Turns out, it microwaves quite well, too, so this has been a week of extremely fattening lunches.) Thank you!

  • Umme Kulsum

    I love chickpeas. Its saves me every time I’m down with ” What’s for dinner tonight” million dollar question

  • Jacquie

    Really don’t have anything of value to add except: You have an enviously organized spice tower. My various spices are in bags inside of other bags on shelves in a cabinet. I would love to have properly labeled spices in similar jars.

    In my new kitchen, perhaps I’ll finally get my spices arranged. Maybe.

  • mirinblue

    Love this! Chana masala is one of my go to meatless dishes. And I have been known to boil a ckn carcass with aromatics, brown rice, herbs, etc and add leftovers of this in to it. Fabulous soup for cold days!

  • Alison

    Mmmmm MMMMy NAME is Inigo Montoya… killed my father……prepare to die. Love it! Also love this recipe and thinking that I will make it now. I just have to dig around and see if I have any of these mythical ‘tamarind’ beast hidings in my spice cupboards. Unless they magically appear like the ROUSs, I may need to drive again, and hit up the grocery store. This is a perfect dinner tonight, because I am deliriously overworked, and now can only think about eating this and watching the movie. Again. (This looks so good!)

  • lo

    OH, YUM!
    Not only do I adore Indian food, but I’m particularly fond of chana masala. And lazy is always good.

    I make saag paneer with tofu ALL the time. In fact, I just did a variation of it last night. Chickpeas instead of tofu, to be honest — but it still rocked. I’d have blogged about it if I’d have thought to have taken pictures.

    • Tina

      No! Don’t tell Mike about the chickpea option, or my jig will totally be up! Although that does sound delicious……

  • Tina

    Kristie – That’s a thought which always enters my mind when I’m standing in the doorway of the washroom peering around dubiously, and clutching my purse to my chest lest it land on the putrid and somewhat sticky floor. But UNTIL I get up to use the washroom……

    Stewart – How delighted are we that you tried the bread?! VERY DELIGHTED, that’s how! We ate our fair share of carby lunches from that bread too. And yes, thank you for recognizing how frustrating the produce department at Loblaws can be, because that’s really one of my favourite go-to complaints when I feel like a good whinge. PS – I would never suggest that you give up a tried and true Chana Masala recipe for this one! Traditional chana is a thing of beauty and one of the must-have meals for me when we eat out at an Indian resto. However, if it’s a Tuesday night and you’re pinched for time…..

    Umme Kulsum – exactly! Three cheers for the cannery.

    Jacquie – I am torn between whether to tap my fingers together and let loose a deep cackle, bellowing out, “FOOLED ANOTHER ONE!” or ‘fessing up. Honesty always wins. I do NOT have an enviable spice rack. If you look closely you will see how they’re all piled on top of each other in the corner unit, because a five shelf standing rack wasn’t big enough for all my spices. And you also can’t see that the *rest* of the jars, IN ADDITION to those, oh, thirty odd ones, are clustered together in a cabinet above the stove….right beside an enormous basket filled with disorganized baggies of refills and random spices that don’t warrant their own jar. Organized is not a word that will ever be used in the proximity of my name.

    Mirinblue – That sounds delicious, and perfect for the blustery weather we have right now!

    Alison – That right there is why I adore you so much. Mike says to me, “Oh, Alison left a comment on the chickpea post. I think…uh…I think maybe she was drinking?” Which made me howl, of course, as someone who knows you a bit better.

  • Stephanie

    I just made this and it is delicious. My pan wasn’t tall enough, so I had to do some precarious balancing, but it was worth it. Thanks!

    • Tina

      Stephanie – we’re so glad that you enjoyed this recipe!! I’ve been there before with a pot or pan that is *just shy* of being big enough to hold everything that I want it to hold, and sadly, in situations like that, I am completely unable to keep everything inside. A good quarter of it gets sacrificed to the fickle cooking gods (who knew that their altar was beneath my stove and in the narrow space between counter and dishwasher??), so I’m sure you did far better than I would have! Thanks again for checking out this recipe, and we’re so pleased that you were happy!

  • [eatingclub] vancouver || js

    I love this “lazybones” version! This looks like it would be a great addition to our new “healthy” lifestyle. 😉

  • kate

    I just made a variation of this combining chickpeas and a head of cauliflower. Took longer to cook because of the veg, but… yum! Even better the next day. Thanks for posting this!

    • Tina

      Kate – so glad that you enjoyed! I love the thought of adding cauliflower. As far as vegetables are concerned, the more the merrier, I say!!

  • Pingback: International Recipes: Chana Masala | International Services for Students at Ryerson()