Chana saag masala is one of my favorite dishes from the enormous catalog of Indian food. In his cookbook India: In Search of the Perfect Curry, Rick Stein assures me that I am not alone in this feeling, claiming chana masala is the most popular vegetarian Indian take-out order in the UK.
However, there’s no reason to order this as take-out anymore. It’s really simple to make this comforting, healthy, lightly-spiced Indian classic at home. Rick Stein’s recipe yields a delicious chana masala that requires pretty basic pantry ingredients and a minimal investment of prep time. I opted to add spinach to his recipe because more vegetables in my dinner are always a win.
I learned two important things in testing this recipe. First, Kashmiri chili powder is not equivalent to American chili powder nor is it equivalent to cayenne pepper. It’s more like paprika. So, I’ve written the recipe to call for paprika, but by all means use Kashmiri chili powder or (another powdered mild red pepper) if you have some in your pantry.
Second, there’s been a lot of glamorous press surrounding the wondrous properties of aquafaba, aka “water-bean” or the viscous liquid in a can of beans (or carton of tofu), typically discussed in relation to chickpeas. It can be used in place of egg whites for meringue, cocktails, buttercream, brownies, ice cream, mayo, … the list goes on and on. Obviously, none of those things belong in a chana saag masala, but adding the chickpea liquid rather than water thickens the stew and transforms the entire dish into an exceptionally velvety, hearty and satisfying meal.
Feel free to get creative about the greens you add, and as lazy or unlazy as you like. Chop up baby spinach, add the leaves whole, toss in frozen chopped spinach (at the 10 minutes-till-done mark), add mushrooms, replace the spinach with kale, chard, or another hearty green, or whatever other vegetable you have at hand that you’d like to use up (cooking time adjusted accordingly). Serve this alone or over some fluffy cooked brown basmati rice.
Original Source: Rick Stein’s India
Chana Saag Masala (Chickpea and Spinach Curry)
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 large onion
- 5 cloves (25 g) garlic
- 5 cm (25 g) ginger
- 2 fresh green chilies*
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons paprika or Kashmiri chili powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 15-oz can diced tomatoes or 300g ripe tomatoes, chopped
- 2 15-oz cans (625 g drained weight) chickpeas** liquid reserved
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 5 oz (or 3-4 large handfuls) baby spinach or chopped spinach leaves
- 1 teaspoon Garam masala
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice about 1/2 lemon freshly squeezed
- optional: handful cilantro leaves
Heat the oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Finely chop the onions and add them to the pan, stirring occasionally for 10-15 minutes until softened and slightly browned.
Meanwhile, crush the garlic into fine pieces and grate the ginger. Chop the chilies, discarding the cap but keeping the seeds.
Add the garlic, ginger, and chilies to the browned onions and continue sauteing another minute, until the garlic becomes fragrant. Add the coriander, cumin, paprika, and turmeric, then saute another 30 seconds. Add in the tomatoes, chickpeas, reserved chickpea liquid (or 300 ml water), and salt, then bring everything to a simmer.
Continue cooking for about 15 minutes, stir in the spinach, a handful at a time to wilt it in, cook another 5-7 minutes, then add the Garam masala, lemon juice, and cilantro leaves (if using). Add a little more salt and/or additional heat in the form of cayenne pepper to taste. Serve.
*If you don't have fresh green chilies, use 1/4-1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, a couple jalapeno peppers, or another heat source of your choice.
**If you prepare to cook your chickpeas from scratch, start with 250 g of dried chickpeas, soak them in cold water overnight, then drain them. Bring a large pot of unsalted water to a boil, add the chickpeas, and cook at a simmer over medium heat for 45-60 minutes until soft but not falling apart. Reserve a little cooking liquid, drain the rest, and proceed as instructed.