As one of the most popular dishes in the world, both inside and outside of India and Pakistan,Channa Masala(orChana Masala,Chole Masala, orChholay, depending on where you’re from) — chickpeas simmered in a tangy and flavorful tomato-based sauce — is the kind of dish that stirs passions in the recipe-writing community. What flavorings to use, how to handle the spices, and fresh versus canned tomatoes are reasons to disqualify a recipe entirely from the fickle realm of authenticity. If you ask two people what makes an authentic version of the dish, you might get two opposite answers.
What I'm trying to say is that as a half-Japanese, half-white Northeast American male who's never been to India or Pakistan, I'll no doubt offend a few people with my idea of what great Channa masala is supposed to be . But that's ok. My defense will be the only defense food you should ever need: this stuff tastes damn good.
When it comes to onions, the browner the better
Almost all channa masala recipes start with an aromatic base of onions, garlic, ginger and chilies. The onions are usually browned until brownedOnlybefore they start to burn and become bitter. Unlike a traditional oneFrench onion soup, in which the onions are cooked slowly enough to become candy-sweet in the process, what we're looking for here is a browning that's only slightly sweet. We also want the onion to break down completely, which will add body to the sauce later.
As I stared into my pot of caramelizing onions, aWe've seen this shit beforeLightbulb went out in my head. In the past I haveexplored methods to accelerate onion caramelization, such as B. adding baking soda to raise the pH, adding some sugar and using high heat in combination with frequent deglazing. You can get dark caramelized onions in minutes with these methods (Here's a video showing onions caramelizing in under 15 years).
The downside is that each of these techniques has a side effect that, while minor, can affect the quality of a finished French onion soup. Adding baking soda will cause the onions to lose their structure. Sugar can make things a little one-dimensionally sweet, while high heat gives you the browned flavors of the Maillard reaction but not the sweeter butterscotch notes of caramelization. The good news is that for Channa Masala we arewantour onions are breaking down and not getting too sweet meaning this is the perfect time to bust out the baking soda and high heat.
Tame the bite of garlic
The addition of garlic, ginger, and chilies varies greatly in different channa masala recipes. Some require you to chop the flavors and sauté them with the onions, adding more sweetness. At others, they are all pounded together with a mortar and pestle into a fine paste, which is added just before the spices are added. This technique gives much brighter results.
I loved the brightness of freshly crushed garlic, ginger, and chili to contrast the deeper notes of the onions and spices, but at the same time I didn't want too much of the raw, pungent bite that garlic can have. do you see the problem Boil the garlic with the onions and I lose the freshness. Add them with the ginger and chilies and I have too much bite. There had to be a solution.
That I had actually found the perfect solution only became clear to me a few weeks ago while working on my recipe forHummus. In his bookzah, Michael Solomonov recommends mixing garlic directly into lemon juice to tame its bite.
When garlic is crushed or cut, an enzyme it contains is calledHe grabbed itactivated and starts to create the connectionallicin. Alliinase is highly active in neutral pH environments, but can be almost completely deactivated in lower pH (more acidic) environments such as lemon juice. If I could disable the enzyme responsible for the spiciness, I should be able to get lots of fresh flavor out of the garlic without ruining my breath (and, more importantly, my wife Adri's nose).
Instead of pounding the garlic, ginger, and chilies alone, this time I tried pounding them with a tablespoon of lemon juice in a mortar and pestle along with a pinch of salt (for its abrasive properties), then discarded the whole thing in the pot after my onions were sufficiently browned. It worked like a charm and gave me the best of both worlds.
Next I turned my attention to the spices.
Channa Masala is a simple, home-style meal. Unfortunately, the average American pantry isn't quite the same as an Indian pantry, which means many of the spices have to be purchased new, and some of the spices (such asAmchur– the dried mango powder that goes into some recipes) are almost impossible to find. This turns a simple, inexpensive dish into a complicated and expensive one, especially if you don't cook with these spices often. I decided to narrow down my spice choices by starting with store-bought garam masala, a blend of spices used to flavor curries and other Indian dishes both at the beginning and end of cooking. It varies quite a bit in its ingredients, but most store brands I've tried work fine in a pinch. (Of course, if you want to go all out, here's my owngaram masala recipe.)
I spiced up the store-bought stuff with a few particularly common spices: coriander seed, cumin, black pepper, and turmeric are all easy-to-find pantry staples. The only other condiment I've used that isn't quite as common is black mustard seed.
For a garam masala that is added directly to a liquid-based dish, the spices should be roasted prior to grinding to develop flavor and complexity. But for a dish where the spices are roasted directly in oil like in this recipe, pre-roasting is less of a priority. It certainly doesn't hurt, but the impact on the resulting dish will be less pronounced. I've made a few versions of channa masala by adding ground spices directly to the pan while sautéing the ginger, garlic, and chilli mixture, before adding some canned tomatoes that I mashed by hand (tomatoes canned are much better for cooked uses like this). than most fresh tomatoes you can get your hands on) and a large handful of chopped cilantro leaves.
It was pretty good but needed a little more punch.
I love the texture and flavor added by the cumin and black mustard seeds in hot oil - they flavor the oil which in turn gives the whole dish a nice earthy base - so I added this step to my recipe, heat oil, drop toss in the spices and let them bubble before adding my onions to brown them.
Use canned chickpeas
The last important question is what kind of chickpeas to use. I tried making the dish with both canned and dried chickpeas, as I was sure the latter would impress in terms of texture and flavor. To my surprise, they weren't all that different. Dried chickpeas had the benefit of a layered flavor (I boiled them in water with some flavorful veggies and spices), while canned chickpeas are mostly bland inside. But with a dish so packed with flavor, even a quick simmer in the sauce for half an hour was enough to put the chickpeas into full-bodied flavor mode.
Channa masala can range in texture from almost soupy to dry enough that you can easily stack it. I like it somewhere in the middle: just moist enough that it spreads out in a bowl, but not so wet that you need a spoon to eat it. I let the curry simmer on the stove for about half an hour, adjusting the consistency with water if necessary. Just before I take it off the heat, I finish it off with a little fresh lemon juice, some more chopped cilantro, and a sprinkling of more garam masala.
Spicy braised chickpeas are eaten in northern Indiakulcha, a little leavened bread, but for me,Homemade naanmakes a good edible utensil. (You can also make this naan completely vegan by substituting 13 ounces of water and 1 ounce of vegetable oil for the milk or yogurt.)
I love when lessons I've learned from one kitchen come out of left field to help me improve a technique in a completely different kitchen. Who knew channa masala could be toned down with a lesson in French onion soup or softened with a technique in Middle Eastern hummus?
So does this dish live up to your personal expectations of Channa Masala? Depends on whether you grew up with the dish at home or not. As is so often the case with these “every family has their own version”-type recipes, I expect someone to snap at me for not making the dish exactly like her grandmother did. I really should trademark the phrase "not your specific grandma [X]" and save myself some of those troubles.
(And don't even start with me about serving an Indian dish in a Turkish vessel. I don't want to hear it!)
Get the recipes:
- Channa Masala
- Garam Masala