Make Instant Pot chana masala for creamy, spiced chickpeas any night

I’ve only been back to our office a handful of times since we were sent home abruptly one afternoon in March 2020. Returning and seeing my desk the way I left it was like opening a time capsule. There was a stack of cookbooks I had clearly meant to bring home, mostly, as I recall, to try to inject some verve into my Instant Pot dinner rotation.

Well more than a year after I’d set it aside and nearly three years after it was originally published, I finally started digging through one of those books: “The Essential Indian Instant Pot Cookbook,” by Archana Mundhe.

Indian is my favorite cuisine, and Instant Pot cooking one of my favorite ways to make my hectic life easier, but I’d only combined the two to moderate success. None of the Indian dishes I’d made in the Instant Pot really wowed me until I started making Mundhe’s. After a few roaring successes, vegetable korma and pao bhaji among them, I decided it was time to tackle my white whale.

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Chana masala “is a North Indian dish that is now popular all over India,” Mundhe tells me. It’s a chickpea curry with “a creamy tomato-based gravy,” she says. You’ll find some variations among families, one of them being the addition of potatoes.

For years, I’ve been looking for a homemade chana masala to knock my socks off, but none possessed the same depth of flavor that I enjoyed in restaurant versions.

Then I tried Mundhe’s recipe, which she says was inspired by her mother’s. I mashed up the stovetop chana masala posted on her excellent blog, Ministry of Curry, and a similar chole (another chickpea curry) recipe from her book so I could keep everything in the Instant Pot. When I took a bite, I was so happy I could have cried.

The dish boasted soft, creamy chickpeas in a thick, rust-colored sauce, dreamily spiced (but not spicy). It’s warming and oh-so-satisfying, especially when served with naan or paratha for dipping and scooping. Mundhe’s recipe ties or beats anything I’ve had in a restaurant, and I attribute its success to a few things. First, cooking the dried chickpeas in the Instant Pot in a limited amount of water and then keeping the cooking liquid retains all the savory bean flavor for the finished dish. The inclusion of black tea in the cooking water was also a game-changer, adding more depth and dark color to the sauce.

But what really sealed the deal was the homemade chana masala spice blend, which Mundhe agrees “elevates the flavors of this dish. Premade spice blends often lose their potency in a few weeks and you may need to add a lot more of it to get the same flavors.” I highly recommend tracking down the ingredients to make it yourself. Most of them, save for the amchur (dried mango) powder, will be at well-stocked grocery stores. If you can’t find amchur, a squeeze of lemon juice at the end of cooking is a fine swap. The blend makes enough for many batches of the curry and will hold in your pantry for at least a few months, as will the spices for the next time you need to whip it up.

Once you make the spice blend, which itself doesn’t take too long, there’s very little active time (but do take a few hours to soak the chickpeas first for the most consistent results). “I love that Instant Pot allows me to do most of my cooking hands-off,” Mundhe says.

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Chana Masala. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Scott Suchman for The Washington Post.

Chana Masala

Active time: 30 minutes | Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

4 servings (makes about 4 cups)

Chana masala is an iconic Indian dish of spiced, saucy chickpeas, and this Instant Pot recipe from blogger and cookbook author Archana Mundhe puts a restaurant-quality meal within reach with relatively little effort.

The chana masala spice blend is what really seals the deal. We’re including a recipe for the blend, and once that’s made, the dish comes together in a cinch. You’ll have enough of the blend for 8 batches.

This recipe can also be made on the stovetop, with dried or canned chickpeas, though we found the Instant Pot version had a bit more depth of flavor. See the VARIATION below.

Make Ahead: The dried chickpeas must be soaked for 4 to 10 hours.

Storage Notes: Leftovers can be refrigerated for up to 4 days. Reheat in the microwave or on the stovetop. The spice blend can be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark spot for several months.

Where to Buy: If you don’t want to make it, chana masala spice blends, such as MDH brand, can be found online and at Indian and some international markets.

INGREDIENTS

FOR THE CHANA MASALA SPICE BLEND

6 dried chiles (medium heat), such as Kashmiri, stems removed

3 tablespoons coriander seeds

1 tablespoon cumin seeds

10 black peppercorns

10 cloves

6 green cardamom pods

One (3-inch) cinnamon stick

3 tablespoons amchur powder (dried mango powder; may substitute a squeeze of fresh lemon juice at the end of cooking)

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

FOR THE CHANA MASALA

1 cup (6 1/2 ounces) dried chickpeas, picked over and rinsed

3 1/2 cups water, divided

2 tablespoons ghee (may substitute vegetable or coconut oil for a vegan option)

1 large onion (about 12 ounces), finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced or finely grated

One (1/2-inch) piece fresh ginger, finely grated

1 teaspoon fine salt, plus more to taste

1 black tea bag or 2 teaspoons loose black tea in a mesh tea strainer (optional)

One (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes (may substitute 2 medium tomatoes, chopped)

1 tablespoon homemade or store-bought chana masala spice blend (from above)

Fresh chopped cilantro, for garnish (optional)

Cooked basmati rice, for serving (optional)

Naan or paratha, for serving (optional)

DIRECTIONS

Make the chana masala spice blend: In a large, dry skillet over low heat, toast the chiles, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, peppercorns, cloves, cardamom pods and cinnamon stick, stirring or shaking frequently, until fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes. The peppers should slightly darken and become more pliable. Keep an eye on everything to keep the spices from scorching. Transfer the spices to a plate or bowl and let cool.

Add the toasted spices to a coffee or spice grinder and grind into a fine powder. Transfer to a container, stir in the amchur powder and turmeric to combine and store, sealed, away from heat or light until needed. The yield is about 1/2 cup.

Make the chana masala: In a medium bowl, combine the dried chickpeas and 2 cups of water and let soak for at least 4 hours and up to overnight (10 hours). After soaking, drain the chickpeas.

Set your 6-quart multicooker to SAUTE (high) and melt the ghee. Once it starts to ripple, add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and saute until aromatic, about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add the remaining 1 1/2 cups of water, nudging loose any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Stir in the soaked chickpeas, salt and tea, if using. Press CANCEL to turn off the heat.

Cover, set the steam valve to PRESSURE (or SEALING) and turn to HIGH. After the cooker reaches high pressure, which takes 5 to 10 minutes, cook for 35 minutes. Allow the pressure to release naturally for 10 to 20 minutes, then do a quick release to release any remaining pressure. Check the beans; they should be soft and cooked through, but if they’re still a bit crunchy, bring the machine back to pressure and cook for an additional 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the tea bag or mesh strainer.

Return the multicooker to SAUTE (high) and stir in the tomatoes with their juices and chana masala spice blend. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are softened and start to dissolve into the curry, 5 to 7 minutes. Taste, and season with more salt, as needed. Press CANCEL to turn off the heat. Ladle into bowls, sprinkle with the cilantro, if using, and serve warm, ideally with rice and paratha or naan.

VARIATION: To make this recipe on the stovetop, pick up the recipe at the point at which you saute the onions in the ghee, but do this in a Dutch oven or large skillet set over medium-high heat. Then saute the garlic and ginger, add the tomatoes and their juices and cook for 5 minutes, stirring a few times until the tomatoes are softened.

Add the chana masala spice blend and stir well. Stir in 3 cups of cooked chickpeas (from 1 cup dried chickpeas) or two 15-ounce cans of chickpeas, rinsed and drained, and more salt to taste, if desired. Add 1/4 cup of water, or more or less to bring the curry to your desired consistency. Simmer for 5 minutes and garnish with the cilantro, if using.

Nutrition information per serving (1 cup) | Calories: 298; Total Fat: 10 g; Saturated Fat: 5 g; Cholesterol: 15 mg; Sodium: 653 mg; Carbohydrates: 43 g; Dietary Fiber: 11 g; Sugar: 12 g; Protein: 11 g

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.

Adapted from recipes from Archana Mundhe on her Ministry of Curry blog, as well as her book, “The Essential Indian Instant Pot Cookbook” (Ten Speed Press, 2018).

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