Kala Chana Masala is a delicious vegan Indian curry made with a unique ingredient, black chickpeas! Black chickpeas are nuttier and firmer than traditional garbanzo beans, making this a one of a kind dish. Serve it spicy with plenty of serrano peppers with basmati rice!!
Ever seen black chickpeas?? I asked as many of my friends as I could from different nationalities, and none of them have! Safe to say they're incredibly underrated and make for delicious curries and even chaat! Try its yellow chickpea curry equivalent - Chole!
A bowl of black chickpea curry is warm, hearty, and super nutritious making it perfect for cold weather days!
What is Kala Chana (Black Chickpeas)?
Kala is the color black in Hindi, and chana means chickpeas. Kala chana is also referred to as desi chickpeas or desi chana. It's mostly grown in the Indian subcontinent.
Black chickpeas are similar to the traditional yellow chickpeas, or garbanzo beans that come canned or dried in the grocery stores. However, black chickpeas tend to be a bit smaller and dark brown or black in color. When cooked, they are slightly nuttier, firmer, and rougher than regular garbanzo beans which squish easily. These legumes are higher in fiber content and nutritionally rich in vitamins and minerals.
Black chickpeas tend to be rarer than yellow chickpeas, but can be used in all the same ways as the traditional bean, i.e. falafel, salad, chaat, and curries.
Ingredients - Notes and Substitutions
- Black chickpeas - This bean is much rarer than the traditional garbanzo bean, but most Indian grocery stores will have it.
- Aromatics - Ginger garlic paste is very common to Indian cuisine. Substitute it with finely minced garlic and ginger in a 1-to-1 ratio or try this homemade ginger garlic paste recipe. The other is serrano pepper, which imparts a ton of flavor and makes the dish just a bit spicy. Remove the seeds if you don't want a spicy curry.
- Tomato and onion - Add freshness and form the base of the curry. Use a beefsteak tomato or anything similar, and a yellow or white onion.
- Spices - Jeera, or cumin seeds, impart a lot of warm earthy flavors to curries. Substitute with a ½ teaspoon of ground cumin but the seeds are more traditional to Indian cuisine. The chili powder, coriander powder, turmeric, and garam masala are in just about every Indian dish and are great additions to your pantry if you're getting into Indian cooking. The hardest thing to find may be asafoetida, or hing, which can be purchased at an Indian grocery store. You'll want to be careful that it doesn't have too many additives, just gum and flour at the most. It adds strong notes of garlic and onion, but is ultimately optional.
- Lemon juice - I think that it's worth noting that lemon juice pairs incredibly well with black chickpeas. It offsets some of the nuttiness and adds so much flavor.
How to Make Black Chickpea Curry
Kala Chana Masala can be made stovetop but it's much quicker in a pressure cooker or Instant Pot. Still, I prefer slow cooking it to develop the flavors. I use a dutch oven which regulates heat really well.
Start by soaking the black chickpeas in a large bowl and covering it with twice the amount of water. Allow it to soak overnight or for 4-6 hours. Don't oversoak the chickpeas, and use it day of soaking. Drain and rinse the chana when ready for use.
To make it on a stovetop:
- Sauté the aromatics. Start by the sautéing the aromatics - the cumin seeds, onion, and serrano pepper. First, roast the cumin seeds in olive oil until they begin popping after about a minute. Then, add the onions and serrano peppers and fry until they are fragrant and start to sweat.
- Make the gravy. Next, add the diced tomato, ginger garlic paste, and the spices. Stir everything together really well and allow it to simmer until the tomatoes start to break down and soften, about 4 or 5 minutes. You may need to add up to 3 tablespoons of hot water so that you end up with a loose gravy. The onion and tomato will continue to cook down during the rest of the process.
- Simmer until the chana are tender. Once you have a gravy, add the chickpeas and toast them for about a minute while stirring. Then, add about 1.5 - 2 cups of water to start with. Simmer the curry for about an hour until the chickpeas are soft and tender. Keep in mind, the shell of black chickpeas is tougher than regular chickpeas so they won't squish as easily. Add a ¼ cup of water at a time as the water levels start to get low. You should end up with a luscious, flavorful curry.
Instant Pot Instructions
On Sauté mode, add the olive oil and bloom the cumin seeds for a minute. Add the onions and serrano peppers and fry until they begin to sweat. Then, add the diced tomatoes, ginger garlic paste, and spices and give it a good stir. Allow them to simmer until the tomatoes soften and breakdown.
At this point, pour in 3 tablespoons of hot water to form a gravy. Add in the chickpeas, and then 1.5 cups of water. Give it a good stir, and then cover the Instant Pot and set it to bean/chili mode for 40 minutes. Release the steam and open the Instant Pot. Spritz lemon juice and serve with chopped cilantro. To make it super rich, add a tablespoon of ghee to finish.
How to Serve and Store
Kala Chana is best served warm or hot with rice, roti, bhatura, or paratha for lunch or dinner. I love an additional spritz of lemon, serrano peppers for a bit more spice, aam achaar (pickled mango), and a whole lot of cilantro. It would also be great with Aloo Methi Sabji.
I love meal prepping it for dinners as well. Store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. To reheat, simmer it in a pot on a stovetop for 5 minutes, or microwave for 2 minutes.
More Indian Dishes for Dinner
Kala Chana Masala
- ½ lbs black chickpeas
- 2 tablespoon olive oil, or ghee
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- ½ yellow onion, diced
- 1 serrano pepper, diced
- 1 teaspoon ginger garlic paste
- 1 large tomato, diced
- ¼ teaspoon chili powder
- ½ teaspoon ground coriander
- ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
- ½ teaspoon garam masala
- salt, to taste
- pinch of asafoetida, optional
- water, as required
- 1 tsbp lemon juice
- cilantro, for garnish
- In a large bowl, pour in the black chickpeas. Cover it with twice the volume of water and allow the chickpeas to soak water overnight or for 4-6 hours. They'll soften and double in size. Drain and rinse the chickpeas when ready for use.
- Heat a large pot or dutch oven to medium heat and pour in the olive oil. Once the oil shimmers, add the cumin seeds and roast them for a minute or until they start to pop in the oil. Add in the diced onion and serrano peppers and fry them until they start to sweat. At this point, add the diced tomato and ginger garlic paste.
- Add the coriander powder, ground turmeric, garam masala, salt, and asafoetida. Give everything a good stir and allow it to simmer until the tomatoes soften and break down. Add 3 tablespoons of hot water. You'll end up with a loose gravy once it's done.
- Add in the black chickpeas and stir it into the gravy so it's well coated. Sauté for a minute, and then add 1.5 - 2 cups of warm water. Turn the heat on low to medium and cover the pot. Simmer the chickpeas for an hour, adding ¼ cup of hot water at a time if the water levels are too low.
- The curry is done when the black chickpeas are tender and the curry has thickened. Remember, they'll be tougher than regular chickpeas but should be soft to bite into. Spritz lemon juice and add chopped cilantro. To make it super rich, add a tablespoon of ghee to finish. Serve over rice or with roti.