I made mom’s easiest chickpea curry recipe as part of my New Year’s resolution to get closer to my South Asian culture. Here’s how to make it.

Making chana masala, chickpea curry, according to my mother's recipe.
Making chana masala, chickpea curry, according to my mother’s recipe. Armani Syed
  • My New Year’s resolution is to connect with my Pakistani heritage by learning to cook our cuisine.
  • I enlisted the help of my mom over video call to learn some of her easiest curry recipes.
  • I started with chana masala, or chickpea curry, a vegetarian favorite my family often eats together.

The hard reality of moving out of my family home after the pandemic meant I once again had to cook for myself, and it left me craving my mom’s freshly-made curries.
Trying my mother's chickpea curry, or chana masala, recipe with fresh ingredients.
Trying my mother’s chickpea curry, or chana masala, recipe with fresh ingredients. Armani Syed
My parents were both born in Punjab, Pakistan, and migrated to the UK when they were young, bringing with them endless culinary traditions and an unrelenting sense of hospitality.

In an attempt to connect with my South Asian heritage, and to flex to my friends during dinner parties, I made it my New Year’s resolution to banish the takeout apps and learn to make traditional curries.

For the first time in my life, I decided not to cheat by using a pre-made jar, and enlisted my mom’s help over video chat to master an easy vegetarian recipe. I started with chana masala, sometimes referred to as chole masala, which translates to spicy chickpea curry. 

It was a challenge to get my mom to give quantities that weren’t determined by “whatever feels right,” but she finally put together a fool-proof recipe.
Spices and ingredients for chana masala, or chickpea curry.
Spices and ingredients for chana masala, or chickpea curry. Armani Syed
My mother is guilty of never knowing the quantities of her ingredients, usually relying on instinct or opting for a splash or dash of spices based solely on “vibes.” 

This time she reassured me that the quantities to make her chana masala are as follows:

  • 2 cans of chickpeas, ideally precooked, but as I will demonstrate in this recipe you can do this yourself.
  • A generous amount of sunflower oil — enough to cover the base of your pan by no more than 1 centimeter in depth. 
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes.
  • 1 large onion or two small ones.
  • 1 teaspoon of garlic paste.
  • Half a teaspoon of ginger paste.
  • 1 teaspoon of red chili powder.
  • 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder.
  • 1 teaspoon of cilantro powder.
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds. 
  • Half a teaspoon of salt.
  • Half a teaspoon of garam masala.
  • Fresh cilantro to garnish. 
Add sunflower oil to a deep pan until the base is covered by a depth of no more than 1 centimeter, and chop the onions.
Sunflower oil heating up and onions after being diced.
Sunflower oil heating up and onions after being diced. Armani Syed
While the oil heats up on medium heat, chop one or two onions depending on size. My mom reassured me that slicers and dicers are all welcome here, but try to keep the chopping fine. 
While the chopped onion softens in the oil, be sure to protect your hair from the clingy fragrance of onion.
Onions cooking with the spices ready to go in and the author protecting her hair from the onion's fragrance.
Onions cooking with the spices ready to go in, and the author protecting her hair from the onion’s fragrance. Armani Syed
“The aim is to get the onions to caramelize,” my mom told me over our video call, reminding me to check the heat was not too high and they didn’t burn. 

When the onions look like those photographed above, it’s time to bring out the spices.

Next, add all the spices from the ingredients list, stir the mixture, then add the ginger and garlic paste.
Spices added to onion alongside ginger and garlic.
Spices added to the onion alongside ginger and garlic. Armani Syed
Once the onions are caramelized, add the red chili powder, turmeric, powdered cilantro, cumin seeds, salt, and garam masala. Stir until the base mixture is orange in color, then add the teaspoon of garlic paste and half a teaspoon of ginger paste. Add the lid and leave on low heat for 10 minutes. 

“I always use haldi — turmeric — in homemade face masks with honey or yogurt,” my mom told me as a bonus tip.

Dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, previously told Marie Claire that turmeric is an anti-inflammatory “that has been evaluated in treating acne, brightening dark spots on the skin, and treating fine lines and wrinkles.”

So it turns out my mom really does know her spices. 

Drain the chickpeas from the tin and add them to boiling water in a separate pan. When the oil rises to the top of the onion and spice mixture, add the tomato can.
Chickpeas on boil and chopped tomatoes being added.
Chickpeas on the boil, and chopped tomatoes being added. Armani Syed
If your chickpeas are not pre-cooked, allow them to boil in hot water for 5 minutes, or as long as they need to soften.

“Take one or two out and they should squash easily between your fingers when they are ready,” my mom advised me.  

While the chickpeas cook, add a can of chopped tomatoes to the main pan and stir thoroughly. Put the lid back on and allow it to cook on low to medium heat. 

Once the chickpeas have softened in hot water, drain the liquid and take out a quarter of them.
Cooked chickpeas are divided for the next steps in the curry recipe.
Cooked chickpeas are divided for the next steps in the curry recipe. Armani Syed
Separating this quarter will come in useful shortly for my mom’s secret tip to make the chana masala even better.
Add the bulk of the cooked chickpeas to the curry’s base and stir them in.
Boiled chickpeas in the onion and spices.
Boiled chickpeas in the onion and spices. Armani Syed
Allow this mix to cook for a further 10 minutes on low to medium heat while you prepare the remaining chickpeas. 
My mom’s secret tip is to use the chickpeas she separates from the mixture to add texture, by blending them quickly in a food processor.
Boiled chickpeas in a food processor then being added to the mix.
Boiled chickpeas in a food processor being added to the mix. Armani Syed
Blitz the chickpeas for a quick minute or less in a food processor, ensuring that you don’t overdo it. 

“If you don’t have a food processor, you can use a pestle and mortar, or even a spoon to break the chickpeas into a paste,” she told me, reminding me that it shouldn’t be perfectly smooth. “You’re not making houmous,” she joked.

Add the ground chickpeas to the curry mix and stir — this should add depth and texture to the curry.

The curry should be in its final stages now. Leave it on medium heat until it looks cohesive and slightly thicker.
Chickpea curry in its final stages of cooking.
Chickpea curry in its final stages of cooking. Armani Syed
If you feel the paste sticking to the bottom of the pan, add a few drops of water and stir, ensuring that the heat is not too high.
If you thought you were done, take heed of my mother’s reminder that no curry is complete without a cilantro garnish and a final chili and salt check before serving.
Fresh cilantro and a screenshot from the author's mother about using it as a garnish.
Fresh cilantro, and a screenshot from the author’s mother about using it as a garnish. Armani Syed
After asking me for a photo of my triumphant first attempt at chana masala, my mom, ever the perfectionist, urged me over text to add fresh cilantro to the top of the curry and do a taste test before serving it to people.

She said to chop the herb finely and sprinkle it on the top or else it’s essentially “naked.”

If your chana masala tastes anything like my mother’s, you might need a tissue at the ready as its spicy kick will clear your sinuses.
Completed chana masala in a bowl with cilantro.
Completed chana masala in a bowl with cilantro. Armani Syed
The cheap and easy vegetarian dish was a favorite in my household growing up, and the leftovers can be eaten the next day for breakfast.

Yes, you read correctly, the curry can be used in a dish called halwa chana puri. As outlined by Wajeeha Nadeem on her food blog, I Knead to Eat, in , the curry can be paired with halwa, or sweet toasted semolina, and puri, a popular deep-fried flatbread. 

Serve the curry at a piping hot temperature with lightly-toasted garlic naan or plain naan.
Chana masala, or chickpea curry, served with garlic naan.
Chana masala, or chickpea curry, served with garlic naan. Armani Syed
“You can cook for me when you come home to visit,” my mom said as we wrapped up our conversation. “We’ll see about that,” I replied, knowing that nothing else quite beats her culinary skills.