Friday, February 17, 2006

Kala chana (black chickpeas)

Kala chana is both the name of this variety of chickpeas and of the dish made with them - an economy of words indeed. Although kala chana or black chickpeas (actually they're brown in colour!) are a variety of chickpeas, they look and taste very different from the more common white kind (kabuli chana) that are used to make, among other things, hummous and chole. I personally like them better, because they have a stronger, earthier flavour that is not masked by the masala that is used to make the curry.

These chana can be soaked overnight in water, but 3-4 hours is usually enough to make them grow plump in the water and ready for cooking.

I also like kala chana plain boiled, sauteed in a little oil and tempered with the usual mix of mustard seeds, some dried red chillies, asafoetida powder and urad dal - they make for a tasty, healthy snack with just this tempering, or with the addition of freshly grated coconut for garnish. This dish (called sundal) is usually made as prasadam or holy offering during certain festivals, but I like to make them even otherwise.

Not this time, though... this time it was kala chana curry for my vegetarian sister-in-law, who regularly invites herself over for a home-cooked Indian meal!

Recipe for:
Kala chana


4 tomatoes, de-skinned and chopped finely (To de-skin the tomatoes, make a small shallow cut in the skin, then put the tomatoes in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Let rest for 3-4 minutes. Pour out the water and slip off the tomato skins - they will come off easily)

1 cup kala chana, soaked in plenty of water overnight
2 medium onions, chopped fine
1 tsp ginger, grated
4-5 green chillies (or to taste), minced or sliced into fine rounds
2 bay leaves
1" cinnamon stick
2 black cardamom pods, left whole
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 htsp chana or chole masala
1/2 tsp garam masala
Salt to taste
2 tsp oil
Fresh coriander, chopped, for garnish
Thinly sliced tomatoes and onion rings for garnish (optional)


1. Pressure-cook the soaked kala chana with the bay leaves, whole black cardamom pods and cinnamon stick in enough water to cover the chana fully. Do not overcook. (They should hold their shape yet be easy to mash when a little pressure is applied.) Remove the bay leaves, the whole cardamom and cinnamon stick and discard.

2. In a wide pan, heat the oil. Add the grated ginger, the chopped green chillies, the cumin seeds. Fry for 1 minute, then add the chopped onions. Fry till the onions become soft and are beginning to turn slightly brown.

3. Add the chopped tomatoes and the garam masala/chana or chole masala and stir. Add 1/2 cup water and cook till the tomatoes break down and become mushy.

4. Now add the cooked kala chana (reserving 1/4 cup) and salt to taste. Stir well to coat.

5. Add some more water if required, to make a thick gravy, and let the kala chana simmer away for 5 minutes.

6. Mash the reserved 1/4 cup of the chana and add it to the pan. Stir again. This will thicken the chana.

7. Garnish with the tomato slices and onion rings (if using), and scatter the coriander leaves on top.

8. Serve hot with rice, chapatis or puris.


Anonymous said...

Going by the pic, the end result looks delicious....would love to try this out :)

Shilpi said...

Hi Shyamala, some great work out there...follow your blog regularly. I made Kaale Chane tomight.It is more or less on the same lines as yours, but what I wanted to know what difference will the following steps make (after comparing notes on how you made it and how I went about it!):
1) Using blanched tomatoes like you did
2) Using finely chopped onions and tomatoes instead of putting it in the mixer to make a paste like I did
3)You added the whole spices to the Chana when boiling whereas I sauted them in oil - does it really matter which way we do it?
4)You added minimal masalas - just the Chana Masala..whereas I put in many others. What is the best way to go about it when masalas are concerned?
5) You added cumin at the beginning with ginger and omitted garlic. Will not having garlic affect the taste of the curry?

I guess with so many questions, I have to try making it your way once to see how different it is from the way I made it! But, it will be helpful if you can answer them! (You're an expert cook after all!)

Anonymous said...

Wow, Shilpi - so many questions! :) I'll answer them in order... but please note that all of it is just my opinion, it need not necessarily be what the expert cooks feel.

Also, I'm not really an expert cook... there are loads of others who are much more creative and experienced :) But thanks for the compliment!

Right, here goes:

1. Blanching the tomatoes & removing the skin makes them cook down to a smoother sauce, especially if you blitz them in a mixer.

2. I like the sauce to be slightly chunky textured, not totally smooth. So I dont puree the onions. Besides, I get the feeling that I cant get the raw smell out of raw onion paste unless I use a lot of oil to fry it.

3. Adding raw spices to the chana while boiling really infuses their flavour into the chana, making it more mellow. Sauteeing the spices in oil flavours the oil and gives a more robust taste.

4. You can add just as much or as little masala as you like. It depends on personal choice. I dont mind which way I make it, really :)
Sometimes I use lots, sometimes I dont.

5. Adding garlic gives an extra flavour, obviously. Not using it wont affect the taste of the chana in any bad way. It's just a variation, that's all.

Hope that helps :) Any other questions, please ask!

Shilpi said...

Thanks Shyamala!!! I really appreciate your patience to answer my queries and too so promptly!

I can guarantee, I'll turn to you now when in doubt!! A big thanks you once again :)

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Anagha Dange-Naik said...

Hi Shyamala,

was looking for a new way to make kala chana...stumbled upon ur's....and glad i did!
tried it out for last night's dinner and i think ur recipe will be a regular one in our household from now on :)
loved it! thanks a ton!

Dave said...

Hi, How many cups of water per 1 cup of Kala Chana should be put in the pressure cooker? And how long should it be cooked once the pressure builds? For a novice like me those details are really important.
thanks a lot!