pantry chana masala – chickpeas cooked with tomatoes and spices (gf, v) + a cooking project

January 27, 2021

My mother says teaching me to cook Pakistani food is like speaking to a toddler:

“Is that a bird, Mama?” “Yes it’s a bird.” “A bird Mama!” “Yes that’s a bird.” “It’s a bird?” “Yes, sweetie, a bird.”

In similar fashion, our conversations go something like this:

“And the onions should be golden, right?” “Yes, not brown, golden.” “¼ tsp of turmeric, right Mom?” “Yes, beta, a ¼ tsp.”  “It’ll need 30 mins, right Ummi?” “Yes, 30 mins should be fine.”

Sometimes she laughs hysterically on the third call I’ve made to her in 20 mins, as I cradle the phone between my shoulder and ear, adding spices with one hand and stirring the pot with the other – bluetooth headphones lost in the abyss of my handbag. “Sana! How many times are you going to ask!” she exclaims. Sometimes she is busy and her directions are haphazard. She’s more concerned with calling her auntie friend or going to Shoppers Drug Mart and I’m holding her up. But I persist, because I know that if I don’t learn these recipes now, when she is still around to answer my redundant questions, then I’ll never know how she got it to taste so good.

This chana masala has evolved since she first taught me how to make it (I will share her classic recipe one day). There are various steps she has, like starting with dry chickpeas, using fresh tomatoes, and blending the onion mixture, but I’ve simplified these steps for the busy mom that I am. For example, I’ve used strained tomatoes instead of fresh because it’s practical and puréed (so kid friendly). It also means that if you stock these ingredients in your pantry then you know that a hearty, delicious dinner is only a couple of chickpea cans away. We have this with basmati rice or rotis that I keep stocked in my freezer. For serving, some half-moon cucumbers doused in lemon and a dollop of yogurt on the side would be really nice.

The recipe makes a generous amount and will likely leave you with some leftovers. I promise you’ll want to eat it more than once.

pantry chana masala – chickpeas cooked with tomatoes and spices (gf, v) + a cooking project

serves 4-6


¼ cup of olive oil
1 medium yellow onion (6 oz) chopped
1 tbsp packed minced garlic
2 tsp packed minced ginger + tbsp of julienned ginger for serving
½ cup tomato passata
1 ½ tsp coriander powder
1 ¼ tsp cumin powder
½ tsp paprika
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp red chilli powder (optional, and up to 1 tsp for my chilli heads)
2 (540 ml) cans of chickpeas,
drained and rinsed 3 tbsp yogurt,
coconut or dairy (optional)
1 tsp salt (more to taste)
3 cups hot water
2 tsp lemon juice
a small handful of coriander chopped


1. Heat a large, heavy bottom pot to medium heat. Add the olive oil as it’s warming up – enough to create a thin layer at the bottom of the pot. Separately, put a kettle filled with several cups of water to boil. You’ll want this water to slow down the cooking process if your spices look like they may burn, but mainly to create the tomato-ey, spiced sauce in step 5.

2. Add the chopped onion to the heated oil and sauté on medium heat till opaque, yellow, and slightly golden around the edges – about 5-8 minutes. Add in minced ginger and garlic, sautéing for just minute so that it isn’t raw, but also not browned. Then add the tomato passata and sauté along with the ginger and garlic for a couple minutes.

3. Turn down the heat to add your spices: coriander, cumin, turmeric, paprika, and red chilli. I like to add one or two spices, give everything a stir, then add the next two. Cook the spices with the tomato-onion mixture on medium to medium-low heat. Add a tbsp or two of water if needed as you sauté, so that nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pot – this will take around 3-5 mins. In Urdu we call this to “bhuno”, or really the urdish version “bhuno-ing” – the act of sautéing to incorporate and release the flavors – is how I define it. You will see the mixture deepen in colour to a brick red, the oil will separate a bit from the tomato mixture, and you’ll smell the spices blooming.

 4. Add the chickpeas and salt, gently stirring, allowing the spiced mixture to coat the beans. Add the yogurt (if using), a spoon at a time, slowly incorporating it. Once the chickpeas and yogurt are heated through, 3-5 mins, add the hot water and bring everything to a simmer.

 5. Put on the lid, leaving it slightly ajar and let the chickpeas cook at a happy simmer for about 30 mins. You want them soft, with no resistance when you eat one. They’re done when the olive oil has created a thin layer at the top and the sauce is a glossy reddish-gold/brown. If your chickpeas haven’t softened to your liking, let them cook a little while longer, adding a ½ a cup or more of hot water if you feel the sauce has reduced too much.

6. To serve, top the chana masala with thinly sliced ginger, a squeeze of lemon juice and chopped coriander. Eat with rice, rotis or naan.


  • If don’t want to use red chilli, increase the amount of paprika to 1 tsp

  • Optional ingredients are a sliced green chilli that you can add with the spices at the start and ¼ tsp of garam masala in the last 2 to 3 minutes of cooking to get that authentic chana masala taste

  • Some canned chickpeas are harder than others – my favourite brand cooks in 20-30 mins, while another brand I use needs 40ish mins.

  • If you don’t have passata, substitute with canned tomatoes chopped up, that should be just fine!

Leave a comment or question, or just say hi below! I’d love to hear from you. Also, you can share the recipe by using any of the little social buttons: facebook, instagram, twitter, or pinterest – whatever’s your jam. 🙂

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