South Indian chana masala step-by-step recipe with video and photos.
About this recipe
Chana masala or chole masala is a Punjabi dish made using chickpeas or garbanzo beans. The Punjabi chickpea curry is hugely popular and also a part of restaurant menus. But if you go to a South Indian restaurant (like the popular Saravana Bhavan) and try the chana masala, you will be surprised to find a chickpea curry that tastes unique and different from the regular chana curry. It is also called channa kurma in some places.
The South Indian channa masala is very different from what you get in Indian restaurants and is made using fresh coconut and whole spices that are subtly different that the ones used in Punjabi chana curry made in North India. The use of coconut and poppy seeds adds richness to this curry. Punjabi chole also has a deep dark color that comes from boiling the chickpeas along with a tea bag. Some spices used in Punjabi curry (like dry mango powder or pomegranate seeds) are not used in this South Indian recipe.
The North Indian style of chickpea curry has a curry base made using onions, tomatoes, and ground spices. While the South Indian style of chickpea curry uses onions and tomatoes, it gets its unique and distinctive taste from the use of fresh coconut and whole spices (which is a substitute for the chana masala powder). Also, the onions in the onion-tomato gravy are fried until they are golden brown, like how it is done in restaurant-style Punjabi chana masala.
This chana curry goes well as a side dish not only with rice, coconut rice, jeera rice, and naan but also dosa and poori. Healthy, unique, and delicious chickpea curry is vegan, gluten-free, and a good source of plant-based protein.
The recipe I am sharing here is made using an Instant Pot pressure cooker. Don't worry about the list of ingredients - they are all common Indian spices easily available in Indian grocery stores. Read on for ingredients, full instructions, and useful tips to make this unique and delicious South Indian chickpea curry.
Related: Steamed masala vada.
Chickpeas: I have used dry chickpeas (Kabuli chana) which need overnight soaking. See the tips below if you are using canned chickpeas.
Coconut: This curry gets its distinctive and unique taste from the use of fresh coconut.
Spices: We need whole spices to make this curry. I am using cinnamon sticks, green cardamom, cloves, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, dried red chili, ground turmeric, and poppy seeds to make the masala base. I am also using mustard seeds and bay leaves for the tempering.
Aromatics: We need onion, ginger, and garlic.
Other ingredients: Curry leaves, tamarind, green chilies, and cilantro (coriander leaves).
- Replace whole coriander seeds with coriander powder and dry red chilli with red chili powder.
- Skip tamarind in the masala paste and add lemon juice to the finished curry.
- Add one teaspoon of garam masala powder to the finished curry.
- Green chillies can be added to make it spicier.
- Olive oil or any neutral cooking oil can be used to make this dish. You can also use ghee for a richer taste.
Soak the dried raw chickpeas in water for 6-8 hours (or overnight). Drain all the water and rinse the white chana in fresh water 2-3 times (step 1)
In a mixie jar or grinder, take dried red chili, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon stick, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, and poppy seeds. Grind into a fine powder. To this powder, add tamarind, coconut, turmeric powder, and jaggery. Add ½ cup of water and grind into a smooth paste (steps 2 and 3).
Set the Instant Pot in saute mode and heat oil (you can use olive oil or any neutral cooking oil). Add mustard seeds and let them splutter. Next, add bay leaf, curry leaves, ginger, garlic, and green chili. Saute for one minute (step 4). Add the chopped onions and saute for 3 minutes, until the onion turns translucent (step 5).
Add the tomato puree and ground masala paste. Mix well and saute for 5 minutes until the raw smell goes (steps 6 and 7).
Drain the soaked and washed chickpeas. Add the soaked chana along with 3½ cups of water (steps 8 and 9). Mix well and secure the lid of the IP. Set the IP in pressure cook mode on high pressure for 25 minutes (step 10).
Let the pressure release naturally for 10 minutes, then do a quick release of the pressure. Open the lid and mix well. Top with cilantro (step 11).
Serve hot with poori or chapati.
Use whole spices to make authentic-tasting South Indian chana curry. However, if you do not have access to whole spices, use ground spices instead although this may alter the taste of the curry when you use spice powders.
Grind the whole spices into a powder before adding coconut to make the masala paste. This will ensure no big bits of spices end up in the curry.
You can add some spinach leaves to this curry.
Dried chickpeas versus canned chickpeas
Dried chickpeas must be soaked overnight (or for at least 8 hours), the soaking water discarded, and then used to make this dish. But if you have not planned ahead for making this curry, you may substitute it with canned chickpeas. Drain all the liquid from the canned chickpeas and rinse them in fresh water before using them.
Raw dried chickpeas absorb a lot of water when soaked. In this recipe, I am using 2 cups of dried chickpeas, which gives me just over 5 cups of soaked chickpeas. If you are using canned chickpeas, drain the liquid and measure 6 cups of cooked chickpeas for this easy recipe. Use enough water to cover the chickpeas (around 2 cups) and pressure cook for 5 minutes instead of 25 minutes.
If you want to use dried chickpeas but have not soaked them overnight, soak them in boiling water for one hour. Bring water to a rolling boil in a large pot and turn off the heat. Add the dried chickpeas and cover the pot. Let it sit for one hour and then rinse it thoroughly and use it as per this recipe.
This dish goes well with any Indian flatbread like naan or poori. It can also be served with rice-based dishes.
This South Indian chana masala gravy is:
- unique and different from the regular chhole masala,
- vegan and gluten-free,
If you liked this recipe, please don't forget to give a 5-star rating and leave a comment below.
South Indian Chana Masala (Instant Pot)
- 2 cups dried chickpeas
- 2 tablespoon oil
- 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 1-2 bay leaf
- 1 sprig curry leaves
- 2-3 cloves garlic
- 1 small piece ginger
- 1-2 green chili slit
- 1 large onion
- ½ cup tomato puree
- 2 teaspoon salt adjust as per taste
- 4 cups water divided
- ¼ cup cilantro
To grind together:
- 6-7 dried red chili mild version
- 5-6 cloves
- 2-3 green cardamom
- 2 sticks cinnamon
- 2 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
- 1 small piece tamarind
- ½ cup coconut fresh or frozen
- ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
- Soak the dried chickpeas in water for 6-8 hours (or overnight). Drain all the water and rinse in fresh water 2-3 times. Set it aside.
- In a mixie jar or grinder, take dried red chili, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon sticks, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, and poppy seeds. Grind into a fine powder.
- To this powder, add tamarind, coconut, turmeric powder, and jaggery. Add ½ cup of water and grind into a smooth paste. Set it aside.
Making the curry:
- Set the Instant Pot in saute mode and heat the oil. Add mustard seeds and let them splutter.
- Next, add bay leaves, curry leaves, ginger, garlic, and green chili. Saute for one minute.
- Add the onions and saute for 3 minutes, until the onion turns translucent.
- Add the tomato puree and ground masala paste. Mix well and saute for 5 minutes.
- Drain the soaked and washed chickpeas. Add it along with 3½ cups of water.
- Mix well and secure the lid of the IP. Set the IP in pressure cook mode for 25 minutes.
- Let the pressure release naturally for 10 minutes, then do a quick release of the pressure.
- Open the lid and mix well. Top with cilantro and serve hot.
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