Holi! Chana Masala

After several years moonlighting as a private chef and live-in bodyguard to a young lady of Indian origin, I must note it is the Indian Festival of Colors, Spring, and Love, Holi.

From Wikipedia:

Holi also known as the Festival of Colours, Festival of Spring, and Festival of Love, is one of the most popular and significant festivals in Hinduism. It celebrates the eternal and divine love of the god Radha and Krishna. The day also signifies the triumph of good over evil, as it commemorates the victory of Vishnu as Narasimha Narayana over Hiranyakashipu. It originated and is predominantly celebrated in the Indian subcontinent but has also spread to other regions of Asia and parts of the Western world through the Indian diaspora.

Holi celebrations start on the night before Holi with the ritual of Holika Dahan where people gather and perform religious rituals in front of a bonfire and pray that their internal evils be destroyed the way Holika, the sister of the demon king Hiranyakashipu, was killed in the fire. The next morning is celebrated as Rangwali Holi (Dhuleti) where people smear and drench each other with colours. Water guns and water-filled balloons are often used to play and colour each other, with anyone and any place being considered fair game to color. Groups often carry drums and other musical instruments going from place to place singing and dancing. Throughout the day people visit family, and friends and foes come together to chat, enjoy food and drink, and partake in Holi delicacies.

A bit of joyous, colorful chaos, made to heal relationships and the soul. But on to the reason one came here, FOOD!

I’ll select a Punjabi street food staple, Chana Masala, a spicy curry prepared from kabuli chana or chickpeas, for this bit of cultural mugging.

Any Nana will tell you the key to this dish is to use dried chickpeas and soak them overnight before boiling them. Well, I am not to be confused with Nana and will take the sluggard route and use prepared chickpeas for this. (Yes, I was smacked with a spoon for this.)

I would normally serve this with puri, but as the nearest provider is a two-hour car ride away, I’ll make do with nan and side this with Laccha Pyaaz, a raw red onion, and spicy green pepper mixture that will cleanse if not sear your palate.

Once again, from Wikipedia:

Chana masala literally ‘mix-spiced small-chickpeas’), also known as channay, chole masala, chhole masala, chole or chholay (plural), is a dish originating from the Indian subcontinent. The main ingredient is a variety of chickpea called chana (चना) or kala chana (‘black chana’) which are approximately half the diameter of typical chickpeas with a stronger flavour and firmer texture even after being cooked.

Chole is the name for the larger and lighter coloured chickpea commonly found in the West. These are known as kabuli chana (काबुली चना) in Hindi. Chana masala is fairly dry and spicy with a sour citrus note (the flavor usually comes from coriander and onion). Chana are usually replaced by chole in most restaurants, and both versions are widely sold as snack food and street food in the Indian subcontinent.

Chana Masala

Chickpea and Potato Curry, fast, exotic, flavorful, and warming.
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Course Main Course, PubGrub, Snack
Cuisine Indian
Servings 4
Calories 264 kcal


Onion Base

  • 1 tbsp Butter Use Olive Oil for Vegan option
  • 5 cups Yellow Onion Peeled thinly sliced
  • 1/4 tsp Baking Soda
  • 1 tsp Brown Sugar
  • Kosher Salt To Taste
  • Water

Curry Sauce

  • 4 cloves Garlic Peeled, Minced
  • 2 ea Chillies Jalapeno, Serrano, (adjust to your level of spice)
  • 1 tbsp Ginger Peeled, Grated
  • 1 tbsp Garam Marsala
  • 2 tbsp Curry Powder
  • 2 tbsp Brown Sugar
  • 3 tbsp Oil Neutral

The Rest of It

  • 1 can Tomatoes and chilies 10 oz
  • 1 can Chickpeas 15oz, drained
  • 1 ea Starchy Potato Peed, cubed to 3/4"
  • Kosher Salt To taste
  • 3 ea Lemon


Onion Base

  • In a large heavy saucepan, (I use cast iron), over high heat, melt butter, add onions and cook down, stir frequently. Add sugar and baking soda. (Do this gently, as the overall flavor of the dish depends on this)
  • When bottom of pan archives a coating of fond, add 2-3 tbsp water and scrape, (~5 minutes)
  • Repeat when fond builds up, ~ 2-3 minutes. Expect to spend 15 – 20 minutes on this.
  • When onions are completely soft and are bark brown, remove from heat and season.

Build the Sauce

  • In a food processor / mortar, add Add garlic, ginger, cilantro, and green chilies and grind into a rough paste Alternatively, just mince, very finely .)
  • In a large heavy saucepan, (again my cast iron), over medium high heat, melt a wadge of butter, and cook down the paste / fine minces from above, add the 1/2 the garam marsala, and the curry powder, It should be quite fragrant, thence add the onion base. Stir / toss to coat every thing, ~ 3 minutes


  • Add the tomato / chile mixture, chickpeas, and potatoes, add ~3/4 cup water and bring to a hard simmer, thence drop the heat to medium / medium low (looking for a bare simmer) and simmer for ~ 15-20 minutes. We are looking for a thick stew texture, where the potatoes are just beginning to break down
  • Taste season and balance flavor
  • Remove from heat, stir in the juice of 1 1/2 lemons, as well as remain garam marsala


Taste, Season and Balance flavor:
We are looking for a layered flavor, not blow your head off spice, or kill you from diabetes sweet.  And DEFINITELY NOT “DIE OF BOREDOM, BLAND” 
So adjust salt to change the saltiness (Uh, DUH!!)
Chili power / chilies for heat
Brown sugar to offset the over-abundance of heat you just added..
The onion base is truly the heart of flavor, but caramelizing onions is SUCH A P.I.T.A.   This method seems to work better than spending over an hour to get there…  Would I use this for french onion soup, ? NON!, but for an onion based sauce or gravy, sounds good to me.
Serve with Basmati rice, Hot Naan, lemon, onion, and chili slices to the side


Calories: 264kcalCarbohydrates: 33gProtein: 4gFat: 14gSaturated Fat: 3gCholesterol: 8mgSodium: 116mgPotassium: 543mgFiber: 6gSugar: 18gVitamin A: 237IUVitamin C: 27mgCalcium: 103mgIron: 2mg
Keyword Chickpea, Curry
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

  Filed under: Indian, Vegetarian

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