Chole or Chana Masala is a popular North India dish made with chick peas/ Garbanzo Beans. Chick peas are a good source of lean protein. Garbano beans and flour is used in soups, stews , curries , breads and deserts. It is perfect to be scooped up with any bread or served over rice. This dish is so popular that the pre-packaged Chole Masala is available in almost every super market in India.
We loved Chole Bature as a snack. Don’t get me wrong – I still love it, but now a days I and DH end up sharing one :-). Looking back downing a fully puffed football sized fry bread seems a bit incredible- but guess when you are 18 and active the calorie counts didn’t matter. A fry bread being embraced by the everyone is by no means a surprise, but extending the love to a healthy dish – well that says something , don’t you think ?
Essentially chole is garbanzo beans cooked in an aromatic tomato onion gravy. The mix of spices is a delight to the taste buds. All the Chole mixes in the store shelves have the same basic ingredients, with each brand adding its own exotic touches like – black salt , anardana (pomegranate seeds) , amchur (dried green mango powder) and so on. If you find a brand you like, as many do, use that as the base and adjust the spice levels as you cook.
Read on for a step by step explanation to make fail proof Punjabi Chole. This vegan version is full of fresh flavors. The spices are rich but not overpowering. For me the best part of this dish is not the masala , but in the perfectly cooked buttery beans. For this reason I prefer the pale garbazo beans in this dish, where as when I make the Kerala style Kadala Curry the beans have to be the dark skinned ones.
The base for this dish is onions . Rough chop the onions and saute in a little oil along with a couple of cloves and few cumin seeds. Once it begins to turn color add the sliced ginger and garlic. Stir and cook till the onions turn light brown. Turn off the heat and cool for a few minutes . While the onions are cooling remove the seeds from the tomatoes and chop it into big chunks. Process the tomatoes in a blender and set the puree aside.
Transfer the cooled onion to a blender jar and pulse till a coarse paste is formed. Wipe the pan clean and heat another spoon of oil in it. Add a few cumin seeds and let it crackle. If you are a fan of Kasoori Methi, in the dish this is the time to add it . Wait for the fragrances to fill the air. Transfer the onion paste to the pan and stir fry till oil begins to separate. Reduce the heat and add the spices. If you have a favorite brand of chole Masala use it , but the dish tastes good even if made with just a little garam masala. Once the spices are heated add the tomato puree and let it cook until the mix begins to turn dry and the oil begins to separate. Mix in salt according to your taste.
This is the time to add the beans. For precooked/ canned beans reserve 2 to 3 tablespoons of the beans and stir in the rest along with enough water to cover it. Blend or mash the reserved beans and a dd to the dish. Mix everything together and cover and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes. Taste and adjust salt and spices. If needed add more water and reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes until the gravy thickens to desired consistency.
Another way to cook is to transfer the tomato onion paste to a pressure cooker / instapot along with the beans and water. This does not require precooking of the beans. Cook according to the directions for beans or about 6 to 10 pressure release whistles for a buttery soft beans. Or you set the slow cooker and let it cook for 4 hours. Both these options have the advantage of using uncooked beans.
Garnish with chopped onions and cilantro before serving.
Try Chole is one of my favorites – Amritsari Kulcha (Aloo Kulcha), or Naan or any of the other flat breads from the Indian subcontinent.