Chana Masala from the streets of Delhi

My love for Delhi’s street food is well known, and I am forever trying to recreate these dishes at home. I can say without a doubt, that every time I have visited India, I have eaten food from the street vendors on each and every day that I was there. One favourite street food, that even the elders would agree tastes best out there are Chick peas, aka Chana masala or famously known in Delhi as Chole Bhature. I have fond memories of going out with my grandfather to enjoy these, at his favourite special place. The reason it was special for him was because it was started post-partition in India by people who, like him, came from the Pakistan end of the country and settled in Delhi. They brought with them their own distinct flavours and ways of cooking their favourite foods, and these particular Chole Bhature were made ‘Lahori style’.

There is a famous story dating back to around 1657 when the Shah Jahan was ruling India as the Mughal emperor at the time and he had been taken ill, which instigated war between his sons. Aurangzeb, one of his youngers sons won the throne, but he didn’t allow his father to return to the throne even though he recovered from his illness. He deceitfully kept his father under very strict house arrest, until Shah Jahan passed away in 1666. Shah Jahan is famous not only for his aggressive military but also for the peacock throne and for building the Taj Mahal for his wife. Aurangzeb, on the other hand, was cruel and he allowed his father only one wish whilst he was imprisoned. The wish was that he could choose only one item of food, that he would be allowed to eat on a daily basis. Shah Jahan chose chick peas as the one dish that should be cooked for him on a daily basis. The royal cooks assured him that they could make hundreds of different dishes from the chick peas and this, in a way can still be seen on the streets of Delhi.

My favourite Chole Bhature from the streets of Delhi, are spicy, with a slight tartness from lime and pomegranate seeds, juicy and perfectly amazing. This is my attempt to recreate my special Chole Bhature that my grandpa always called Lahori Chane. 

I am using dried chick peas in this recipe, as it is impossible to get the same texture and taste from the canned ones.

Step 1
2 cups dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in water and 1/2 tsp of soda bicarbonate

Step 2
Rinse the chicpeas, drain excess water and place in a heavy base pot with water, sufficient to cover the chick peas. Add 1 tsp of Amla powder and a black cardamom. Boil the chickpeas for about half an hour on medium heat, adding a bit more water if it starts to dry a little. The Amla powder is the secret to getting the perfect brownish red colour, it doesn’t infuse much in terms of taste.

Step 3 – Masala mix
Mix the following masalas in a little bowl:
1 heaped teaspoon garam masala
1 heaped teaspoon black pepper
Salt to taste
2 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp anardana powder (1 tsp anardana seeds, roast and then crush to powder)
1/2 tsp soond/ ginger powder
1/2 tsp ajwain

Mix the masala and set aside

Step 4 – Gravy mix
2 cups chopped onions (I use red onions)
2 cups chopped tomatoes
2-3 green chillies
4-5 cloves garlic
1 inch piece ginger, finely chopped
Clarified butter or oil to cook

Saute the onions, ginger and garlic in your preferred choice of oil or ghee, until the onions are light golden in colour. Add the green chillies and the tomatoes and cook on medium heat, in a covered pan until the oil starts to separate and you have a thick sauce. Blitz the sauce smooth using a hand blender or in a food blender and set aside.

Step 5 – Roasted cumin
2-3 tbsp of cumin seeds
Dry roast these in a pan, until they darken in colour. Don’t burn them, keep stirring as they start to roast and turn fragrant. They will continue to darken even after you take them off the heat, so only let them turn slightly darker in colour. Using a rolling pin or a mortar and pestle, grind to a powder. Set aside. These add an amazing fragrance to the chick peas.

Step 6 – Cooking it all
Once the chickpeas are cooked. Drain the water, but set it aside to be added in later. Combine the dry masalas onto the chickpeas, mix well. In a large pot, large enough to combine everything in, heat some ghee and add the masala covered chickpeas. Roast these in there for a few minutes, and watch how they change in colour!
Stir in the roasted cumin seeds, followed by the gravy sauce. If you need to thin it out a little, add the reserved water from the chick peas. Cover the pot and let this cook for a few minutes.

In the meantime –
Zest and juice of 1 lime, some fresh coriander leaves finely chopped, thinly sliced red onion, and chopped green chillies – ccombine all this and stir into the curry just before serving.

Traditionally, I know my grandpa would have wanted a heaped spoon of clarified butter on top as well, which does amazing wonders to the dish, but that is entirely upto you if you wish to indulge in that. Adjust the seasonings to your taste!


15 thoughts on “Chana Masala from the streets of Delhi

  1. Ginni, I love Chana Masala, and yours sounds just divine. And your photos make me want to pick up a spoon and dig right in. Love the story behind it, too!

  2. What an interesting story about the Shah! I’ve gotta say, I wouldn’t mind eating hundreds of different dishes made from chickpeas for the rest of my life. I love Indian cuisine and I love chickpeas.
    Yours look wonderful and full of flavours! Yum!

  3. I loved reading the story of Shah Jahan! I went to India in February for the first time and fell in love with it. The food was unbelievable and pretty much a dream as a vegetarian!! I had an Indian potluck with some friends last night and of course chana masala was included. I’m actually eating the leftovers for breakfast…is that weird!? I can’t help it, I love it! I’m definitely pinning this as I would love to try your version!

    1. Thank you Koko. Chana masala is the best when eaten as leftovers for breakfast, with rice or a fresh fried naan bread (Bhatura!) Amazing!! Hope you get to try my street version too 🙂

  4. I actually saw a short play about that story a few years ago, but really had no idea what was happening. Now I get it! I mean they didn’t mention the chana, but the locking up of the father did happen. And someone got burned in a fire? It was really poorly done and very confusing, lol. On a brighter note, I love that you mentioned that you can’t get the right texture from canned chickpeas. I have often found this to be the case when trying to make Caribbeam curried chana dishes.

    1. Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed that story too. I love reading up on Mughal history and especially how it’s influenced the culture of food in Northern India. The canned chickpeas don’t work for the curried dishes very well, unless you boil them with some soda for while longer. But even then, it’s far better to use fresh ones.

  5. India is near the top of my dream vacation destinations. I’ve heard nothing but wonderful things about all the delicious street foods, but since it’s probably a few years before I can experience for myself, at least I can comfort myself with a right proper chana masala at home.
    Can’t wait to try out this recipe…. One of my friends likes to describe traditional Indian cooking as alchemy and black magic, and this dish definitely sounds like it fits that description… how else can you explain how something as simple as chickpeas ends up tasting so incredibly delicious? 🙂

    1. The street food in India really is quite an experience. Traditional Indian cooking really is an art and it’s one of the reason the hand videos irk me when I see them make Indian food. Simple ingredients every time, just the skill of playing with them differently every time. Thank you Isabelle!!

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