Many people have never come across the black chickpea, which is a shame, because it is a very common ingredient throughout India. Black chana (chickpea) is very much like the common white chana used in chole, but has a little more bite and nuttiness. When I was growing up in India, I only saw white chickpeas at restaurants. At home, we always ate black chickpea.
There are two Kala Chana Masala recipes that I am very familiar with (Kala is Hindi for “black”). One is with gravy, and one is without. This is a wet, gravy version of Kala Chana.
Kala Chana is often eaten with puri (“Balloon bread”), but goes well with any flatbread, or rice.
Kala chana is a healthy recipe, since it contain little oil and no sugar. Chickpeas are lentils, which are an excellent source of plant-based protein.
When I make this, I used to make it in the pressure cooker, but I’ve switched to Instant Pot for convenience. It is also possible to make this on a stove, but it takes a long time to boil the chana enough to get the right texture.
When I use the Instant Pot, I prefer to saute on the stovetop, separate from the Instant Pot. Instant pots have a saute mode and there is nothing wrong with using this instead. It also saves a pan from getting dirty, so less cleanup!
While I was doing the video for this recipe I ran into an unusual problem. My onions kept turning green! It surprised me a little, but it turns out it is not a big deal. Some people believe when this happens, the onions actually taste better. It tends to happen when onions are a little older, even though I had bought mine fresh, perhaps they were on the shelf at the store for too long? Onions can also turn color when exposed to acid, but this recipe doesn’t have much acidity in it, so that didn’t seem to be the problem.
When potatoes are green, you should be concerned that they may have developed a toxic chemical from exposure to sunlight. But the chemicals that turn onion greens are completely different and non-toxic.
Customizing the Dish
Dals in general are open to customization. Every region of India has their own take on the flavor profile. For Kala Chana, you might add more or less ginger, cumin or garlic to suit your taste. And of course chilies. If you like it spicy, make it spicy, and if you don’t like spicy, just leave it out.
- 1 cup Kala chana
- 1 black cardamom
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 inch piece of cinnamon
- 6 black peppercorns
- 3 tbsp ghee or vegetable oil
- 2 large onions
- 5 garlic cloves
- 2 inch piece of ginger
- ½ tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tbsp coriander powder
- 1 tbsp chana masala (or garam masala or similar spice mix)
- 8 oz tomato sauce
- ½ tsp kasoori methi
- 1 tbsp ghee or butter
- cilantro (garnish)
Cook Kala Chana
- Wash kala chana, soak for 6-8 hours (or overnight)
- Add chana and 3 cups of water to Instant Pot (or pressure cooker)
- Add bundle of spices: cinnamon, peppercorn, bay leaves and 1 black cardamom pod. You can wrap them in cheesecloth, throw them in loose to fish out later. You can also leave them in when serving. It is typical with Indian food to have some whole spices incorporated that are not meant to be eaten.
- Cook in Instant Pot for 30 minutes. Allow natural pressure release for about 20 minutes.
- Heat 3 tbsp ghee or vegetable oil in a pan over medium-high heat
- Make a paste of garlic, onion and ginger. The easiest way is to make the paste in a blender. Add some water if needed, but the onions here will probably provide enough for blending.
- Add 1/4 tsp hing (asafoetida), 1 tsp whole cumin seeds to toast in the oil, about 20 seconds. The cumin should just start to sizzle and release a toasted fragrance. Add garlic-onion-ginger paste
- Cook until golden, about 7-10 minutes
- Add 1 chili (adjust to taste), slit into half. Make a well in the center of your paste, add 1 tsp of oil and remaining spices: turmeric, paprika (or kashmiri chili), coriander powder, chana masala, salt. Stir to mix. Cook for about 2 minutes to allow flavors to develop and incorporate
- Add tomato sauce, cover and cook, stirring every couple of minutes until the oil rises to the top (about 7-10 minutes).
- Mash 2 tbsp of your cooked channa in a bowl with a fork (you will use it to thicken your gravy). Add mashed channa and the remaining cooked chana to the sauce. Add 2 cups of water. Simmer to reduce water and allow oil to rise to the top (about 20 minutes). You may cook longer or shorter depending on how runny you like your sauce.
- Add 1/2 teaspoon of kasoori methi (fenugreek), 1/2 teaspoon chana masala, 1 tbsp butter or ghee, and garnish with cilantro.
I’ve only ever seen kala chana as a dried lentil, never in a can. So it is typically best to soak kala chana before using it. However, if you are in a hurry and don’t have time to soak your dried kala chana, you can increase the cook time in your pressure cooker to 45 minutes.
Kala chana is a great part of a weight loss plan for most people. Black chickpeas have a high fiber content, which helps get that feeling of being full without adding calories to your meal. As a dal, it is also a great plant source of protein.
Lentils like kala chana can be a challenge to fit into a keto diet because of the extreme focus on avoiding carbohydrates. For a plant-based food, lentils are very high in protein, but they still contain some carbohydrates. If you are a vegetarian attempting a keto diet, you may choose to relax the rules a little bit and include kala chana and other lentils in your diet in order to get the protein you need.
Absolutely! Kala chana and other lentils contain a lot of iron, which makes them a valuable plant source of iron. Anemia during pregnancy is risky for mother and child and vegetarians are particularly susceptible because of the difficulty of finding plant sources of iron. For this reason, including lentils in your diet while pregnant is a great idea.