Have you ever tried to recreate a recipe that your mom or grandmother used to make – and you finally ask them for the actual recipe? Here’s an actual transcribed conversation with my mom when I recently asked her to walk me through how to make her channa masala:
Okay I soaked the chickpeas now what?
Put them in the pot and add water.
How much water?
1 cup? 2 cups?
The water should be maybe 2 inches above the channa. It changes.
*I pour water and turn my phone camera around to see if this is the appropriate 2 inches.
Put more. You can add more later.
Okay what about the imli. How much imli and water?
Just take a corner off the imli and soak it.
What kind of measurement is that?
Just take a piece off the block and soak it.
But how big of a piece? A quarter of the block?
No that’s too much.
Let’s face it: my mom is such an intuitive cook that she measures almost nothing, and knows just by looking at it that’s right (or not.) It’s really almost comical. Even though we both ended up slightly frustrated (me over not getting proper guidance, and my mom over my lack of mind-reading skills) it was still a pretty fun cooking lesson.
As the weather turns to fall and my craving for my mom’s home cooked food gets louder by the day, I had to figure out how she makes one of my favorite recipes. And because her Channa Masala is such a classic for me, I knew I had to share it with y’all!
It only took four separate attempts and seven phone calls to walk through it with my mom and transcribe it into a mostly replicable recipe. But hey, fifth times a charm!
Jokes aside, I think there is something beautiful about a recipe that isn’t written down or exact. It’s how we’re supposed to cook, right? With our intuition. By tasting along the way and making adjustments that help us reach our end goal. Sometimes I feel like we lean so much on a written recipe to get us somewhere that we forget about the adventure that cooking should be! I made this channa masala four times, trying to replicate it exactly, but each time resulted in something different depending on what exactly I wanted. One time I wanted to punch up the spice, so I leaned heavy on the channa masala spice. Another time, I was out of ginger, so I just left it out, no big deal!
Use what I give you as a guideline, knowing that you can always course correct as needed.
There might be a few ingredients here that you are unfamiliar with, but that really make this recipe what it is.
This is tamarind! I use it in two different forms for this recipe. The first is in the imli water that gets added during the cooking process. All you do is take a piece from a block of tamarind (I use this brand) and soak it in warm water in the microwave. Mush it all up, and when you add it to the sauce, you strain all the liquid from the mushy tamarind into the channa. It gives the recipe this nice tangy and savory flavor. If you can’t find the block, some of my mom’s friends also use bottled imli. I haven’t used that as a swap myself, but I would start by using about 1 or so tbsp of the imli water in 1 cup of water instead. I also highly recommend topping your channa with imli chutney. Until I can figure out how to bottle and sell my mom’s version, there are lots of store-bought options at your local Indian grocery store.
Also, the best part of this recipe is that it’s is (almost) a one-pot meal! You just need a couple side bowls to help with the process, but otherwise, the entire thing gets cooked in the instant pot.
Using an instant pot or pressure cooker, helps speed up the cook time, and you can also cook and sauté in the same pot after the initial pressure cook. I’ve never made this with canned chickpeas and neither has my mom, so because of the use of dried chickpeas, the pressure cooker also helps cut down on cook time.
Once you grab the hang of it, this is a super quick and flavorful dinner. Serve hot over rice or with roti’s, and welcome cooler weather with a spice-filled hug!
for the masala:
- 2 tbsp oil
- 2 8oz cans of tomato sauce
for the channa:
- 1 1/2 cups of dried chickpeas
- 3 cups of water
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 4 cloves
- 2 green cardamom pods
- 1 black cardamom pod
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/16 block of imli soaked in 1 cup water
- 1 tbsp oil
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 inch ginger, grated
- 1/4 cup masala (made above)
- 1 scant tbsp channa masala (spice blend)
- 1/2 tsp chaat masala
- to garnish: imli chutney, lime wedges, diced red onion, cilantro
to make the masala:
- In a small stovetop pot, add the oil and bring up to a medium heat.
- Add the tomato sauce and stir. Sauté until the tomato sauce has reduced and thicken. Remove from heat and let cool. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week or in the freezer.
to make the channa:
- In a large bowl, add the dried chickpeas and add enough water to cover plus some more. For 1 1/2 cups dried chickpeas I added about 3 cups water. Let soak overnight, or at least 8 hours.
- When ready to start cooking, drain the soaked chickpeas. Add the chickpeas into the basin of your pressure cooker with 3 cups of water, salt, cloves, green and black cardamom pods, and bay leaf. Cover and seal, and cook on high pressure for 40 minutes.
- While the chickpeas cook, prep the imli. Add 1/16 of a block of imli to a microwave safe bowl and cover with 1 cup of water. Microwave for about 20-30 seconds. Remove from microwave and break up the imli, mushing it into the water. Set aside until ready to use.
- Release pressure from cooker. Remove the lid and remove the whole spices from the pot. Pour the cooked chickpeas and cooking liquid into a large bowl and set aside.
- Turn the pressure cooker to sauté mode, add 1 tbsp oil and bring up to medium heat.
- Add the cumin seeds and sauté for about a minute until the seeds start to brown and become fragrant. Add the minced ginger and stir.
- Add 1/4 cup of the tomato masala you made earlier and stir until the sauce becomes fragrant, about another minute or two.
- Add the 1 tbsp channa masala spice and 1/2 tsp of chaat masala. Stir to combine.
- Strain the water from the imli into the pressure cooker, dispose of the leftover imli. Stir to combine and let bubble for about 2 to 3 minutes until thick.
- Add the cooked channa and the channa water back into the pressure cooker and stir to combine with the sauce. Reduce for about 10 minutes to thicken the sauce. Turn of pressure cooker and salt to taste.
- Serve channa with rice or paratha, top with desired toppings, imli chutney a must! Enjoy!