Don’t mess with a good thing – going back to basics with Chana Masala/Cholle (Garbanzo beans – Indian style)

Cholle or Chana Masala

Aah Cholle! (or Chana Masala) The image conjures up cold evenings with my mom serving these with Poori (deep fried whole wheat flour bread) or Bhatura (deep fried leaved processed white flour).

NOTE: As anyone who is familiar with Indian food will tell you, there is a whole lotta deep frying goin’ on (apologies to Jerry Lee Lewis). One of my missions over the years has been to degrease Indian food. Pretty much everything I cook now is low in fat including traditional Indian dishes where oil baths are de rigueur.

Garnished with chopped onion, cilantro and a squeeze of lemon, my siblings and I would devour many a plateful of them. For me and many Indians (especially North Indians) this is one of the top three comfort foods of all time.

Over the years I have messed with the recipe quite a bit to the point where it had become unrecognizable. I had added cloves, black peppercorns, cinnamon and, blasphemy, even cashews at one point. Instead of Cholle the dish had turned into some kind of weird garbanzo bean curry. The taste just wasn’t right. My wife frequently complained of this and kept telling me that I used to make this much better before. So finally, I listened to her. Note to self, need to listen to the wife more often. She usually has good advice. Anyway, I went back to basics and made the dish below without messing with it. The wife was happy. Enough said.

INGREDIENTS (for two adults and two kids)

1-2 Tbsp cooking oil

1/2 onion – chopped fine, to the point of being minced

2 large tomatoes – deseeded and chopped fine

1 inch ginger – minced

1 tsp garlic – minced

1 cup garbanzo beans (chick peas) soaked and then pressure cooked with 1 bay leaf – alternatively you can use canned garbanzo beans (1 can should be good)

1 tsp turmeric powder

1/4 tsp red chili powder

Salt to taste

2 Tbsp Chana Masala powder (you can buy this at any self-respecting Indian grocery store)

1 Lemon

Cilantro for garnish


1. Heat the oil in a saucepan on high heat.

2. Reduce heat to medium and add onion and saute till translucent.

3. Add tomatoes, ginger and garlic and cook till nice and pulpy.

4. Add the garbanzo beans.

5. Add turmeric and chili powder and cook for 3-4 minutes.

6. Add salt to taste.

7. If you are cooking with canned garbanzo beans, you will need to continue cooking till the beans are soft. Add more water to make sure that there is a little gravy always. You can control the amount of gravy you like by adding more or less water.

8. Add Chana Masala powder.

9. Cook for an additional 5 minutes.

10. Remove from heat and squeeze 1/2 to 1 full lemon depending on how tangy you want the dish.

11. Garnish with chopped cilantro. Optionally you can also put some chopped onion on top of the dish. This is usually done on the individual serving rather than on top of the whole dish depending on who has a taste for raw onion and who doesn’t.

12. Enjoy with an Indian bread of your choice.


Filed under Indian

11 responses to “Don’t mess with a good thing – going back to basics with Chana Masala/Cholle (Garbanzo beans – Indian style)

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  4. RCAS

    Nice recipe…eating a bowl now! My only suggestion is to decrease the turmeric a bit. Gorgeous photos!

    • Glad you like it. You can definitely reduce turmeric a little if you like. Alternatively, let it simmer a little longer and the flavor of turmeric will diminish. It is one of those spices that needs to be cooked otherwise it just doesn’t taste right. Thanks for your comment on the pictures. Photography is another passion of mine.

      • RCAS

        Thanks for the tip! Interesting, I didn’t know that about tumeric…I will try simmering longer next time. Considering the health benefits of tumeric, I love your suggestion. Kudos to you for your work on this blog! Love it! Keep posting recipes…and, I look forward to more South Indian ones (yes, I’m from the South…Bangalore!). 😉

      • I love South Indian cooking (even though I am from the North). I think it is the most sophisticated vegetarian cuisine from India – and I am using the term South Indian loosely to mean Kerala, Andhra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. I recently played around with a Kadala curry (Kerala Black Gram curry) and a Plantain dish that I made using generic South Indian techniques and spices that turned out quite well. Will post those shortly.

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