Chana Masala (Choley) popularly known as the Indian Chickpea Curry in the US is a robustly flavored curry that can be quickly put together when cooked in a traditional pressure cooker or an Instant Pot.
Chana Masala, a popular North Indian dish can be made either from chana or choley – both different varieties of chickpeas. While choley is the bigger and the lighter colored chickpea, chana is darker in color and half the size of choley. For example, both these recipes – kaale channe ki kadhi and kadle suran recipe have chana in them whereas chickpeas with tindora (kadle manoli) has choley as its main ingredient.
Chana masala also widely known as Punjabi Choley is a flavorful, high-protein dish that appeals to both meat-lovers as well as vegans and is perfect for a crowd. Speaking of a crowd, do you remember the first time you invited friends over for a home-cooked dinner?
Was the meal perfect just like you had planned for or was it a disa… Ah.. let’s not go there. Not everybody’s culinary journey has to be a disaster like mine, right? When I first came to the US as a student, I had reached out to my university’s student association for assistance. A lot of folks helped out and helped me find a new home in an alien country. So, once I settled in, I decided to invite them over for a home-cooked dinner.
I wasn’t an expert cook by any means, but I thought I could make a simple fuss-free curry like Chana Masala and serve it over rice without any trouble.
How difficult could that be?
Very.. as I soon found out when I used one tablespoon of store-bought ginger paste instead of 1 teaspoon and that was it – I sealed the fate of the dish and in spite of my best efforts to salvage it, there was nothing I could do to fix it.
To be honest, I didn’t realize how bad it was until we sat down to eat choley with some store-bought bhature. Take out wasn’t an option for obvious reasons (new international student = low in cash), so we somehow gulped it down with water and a generous helping of laughter at my expense.
First cooking lesson
That is how I learned my first cooking lesson – If you don’t know how a store-bought paste is going to taste, start with a teeny weeny quantity like 1/4 teaspoon or less. Keep adding in small increments until you have achieved the taste you want.
Better yet, don’t use store bought ginger and garlic paste. Use a mortar and pestle to grind them to a fine paste. Your curry will taste much better, and your guests will thank you for it.
Variations in the Chana Masala recipe
Before I scare you away from my blog, let me assure you that I have cooked chana masala or chickpea curry at least 700 times in the last 15 years. We make it at least once a week, so if you do the math…
Chana or Choley Masala Substitute – I typically use store-bought Choley Masala powder but at times when I have run out, I often substitute it with 1/2 teaspoon mango powder (amchur) + 1/2 teaspoon black salt + 1 teaspoon garam masala.
Using Marinara Sauce – In grad school, due to a shortage of time, my roommates and I devised a way of using Ragu or Prego to substitute for the onions and tomatoes gravy. We would saute approximately 2 cups of marinara sauce in 3-4 tablespoons of oil until the tomato onion gravy started to leave oil on the sides. We would then proceed to add the pressure cooked chickpeas along with salt, chole masala, and chili powder, then simmered it for 5-10 minutes before serving it over rice.
Other variations – This variation is from a friend who is a very good cook – Stir about 2 tablespoons of milk in the cooked chana masala curry to give it a creamy touch. Some folks have also used tamarind paste to make chole a little tangier while my nanny used to add a small piece of jaggery to give the dish a sweet and spicy flavor.
There are many, many ways of making choley, and each family has their recipe, and this is mine. Hope you will enjoy it like my family does. Serve it hot with warm rotis or over rice, though the best way to pair it is with Bhatura.
No time to soak chickpeas? Here’s what you can do.
- Using an Instant Pot – Rinse the chickpeas before adding it to the Instant Pot. For every cup of dried chickpeas add 2 cups of water and 1/2 a teaspoon of salt. Pressure cook in manual mode for 4 minutes and wait until the “keep warm” timer has reached 10 minutes. Press Cancel and twist the steam release handle on the lid to “venting” position.
- Without an Instant Pot – Rinse the chickpeas and boil it in a saucepan with twice the amount of water. After the water comes to a boil, turn off heat and cover the saucepan and let the chickpeas to stand in the water for an hour.
- Use canned chickpeas – make sure to drain off the liquid and thoroughly rinsing it before using.
Traditional pressure cooking vs Instant Pot cooking – Which one is better?
I have cooked using a traditional pressure cooker for years before I bought the Instant Pot. Now that I own the Instant Pot, I have been leveraging the Instant Pot to make Choley because of two reasons –
- Slow cooking – Sometimes I slow cook the chana masala curry for an hour at a low setting to give it a Dhaba style feel (Dhaba = streetside stalls in India where the food is cooked on slow fire and simmered for hours to bring out the most tantalizing and unique flavors)
- Keep warm function – The obvious reason I love this feature is when the pressure cooking is complete, the Instant Pot switches to the “Keep Warm” function which keeps the food warm till we are ready to eat.
- 1 cup chickpeas soaked overnight (it will double up to around 2 cups)
- salt to taste
- 1/4 cup olive oil or coconut oil
- 4 cloves
- 1 bay leaf
- 5-6 black pepper seeds
- 1 cup finely chopped onions
- 2 cups finely chopped tomatoes
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed to a paste
- 1/4 teaspoon grated ginger
- 1 -2 teaspoons chole masala
- 1-2 teaspoons chili powder (depending on how spicy you want)
- Lemon, finely cut onions and coriander for garnishing
Pressure Cooker Method
- Rinse chickpeas before pressure cooking it with one and a half cups of water and 1/2 a teaspoon of salt (I cook the chickpeas in my pressure cooker till the vent or whistle goes off 4 times). Set it aside to cool.
- Heat oil in a wok over medium heat and add bay leaf, black pepper, and cloves and let it fry for around 30 seconds and then add onions. Fry the onions till they turn soft and translucent (approximately 12-15 minutes)
- Add ginger and garlic and saute it with the onions for a minute or so.
- Add tomatoes and continue frying them till they are soft and mushy, and oil begins to leave the sides of this onion-tomato base.
- Add chole masala, chili powder to this mixture and mix well.Add the cooked chole to it and a little water (if needed) and let it simmer for 10 minutes.[ Sometimes I add the tomato-onion gravy to the in the cooker and let it cook some more (till the vent goes off once) to make it soft and mushy.
- Do a taste test and add more salt if required. Serve hot garnished with coriander, onions and freshly squeezed lemon juice. Goes well with bhature or chapatis as well as over rice.
Instant Pot Method
- Add oil to the steel insert of the Instant Pot and press the Saute function. Press the Adjust button to move the selection to “low” and wait till the display reads “Hot.” Add bay leaf, black pepper, and cloves and let it fry for around 30 seconds and then add onions. Fry the onions till they turn soft and translucent (approximately 12-15 minutes).
- Add ginger and garlic and saute it with the onions for a minute or so.
- Add tomatoes and continue frying them till they are soft and mushy, and oil begins to leave the sides of this onion – tomato base.
- Add chole masala, chili powder to this mixture and mix well. Add the soaked and rinsed chickpeas to it along with 2 cups of water. Press “Warm / Cancel” button and then select “Pressure Cook.” Adjust the time to 20 minutes and set the pressure selection should at high. Cover the Instant Pot lid and lock it. Make sure the vent is at sealing position.
- Wait until the Vent returns to the venting position to check on your chickpeas curry.
- Add more salt if needed. Serve hot garnished with coriander, onions and freshly squeezed lemon juice. Goes well with bhature or chapatis as well as over rice.
And if you are wondering, I never invited those grad friends again for dinner so didn’t get a chance to salvage myself. But if I did, I would not hesitate to make them Chana masala this time 🙂
Before you go, follow me on Pinterest and pin this recipe to your board to make it in the future.