Kala Chana (Black Chickpea Curry) – A Guest Post from Amee of Rabbit Food Rocks

Kala Chana (Curried Black Chickpeas)
Kala Chana (Black Chickpea Curry)

Today’s guest post is from my friend Amee of Rabbit Food Rocks. We’ve been blog buddies for a couple years now. Amee is down in Dallas, Texas. She’s Indian and today’s recipe is one of those great homestyle Indian dishes that you almost never see in a restaurant, so you have to learn to make it yourself if you want to try it. But Amee’s range is global. Check out her Scandinavian Kringler if your eyes can afford the calories! Take it away, Amee…

When I was about 11 or 12 years old, I’d ask mom what’s for dinner, and she would reply “rotli, daal, bhath, shaak” (which translates to the mundane Indian weeknight meal of “flatbread, lentil soup, rice, and side vegetable”). Sounds interesting or exotic to others, but this is actually quite dreadful to the Indian-American kid. I know my fellow Caucasian classmates were somewhere out there enjoying macaroni and cheese or spaghetti or mashed potatoes or green peas and carrots…something colorful and creamy and perhaps, even greasy…mmmmmm.

It doesn’t matter how good of a cook mom is, the phrase “rotli daal bhath shaak” is usually followed by a groan. I’d drag my feet to fulfill my duty of setting the table…and mentally prepare my stomach for implosion. And I needed to sound as disappointed as possible, in hopes that she would magically respond “No problem!! What would YOU like to eat tonight??” Mom needed to realize that everytime she served me rotli dal bhath shaak, I died a little inside. And at this rate, mom, I’d be dead before I grew boobs.

Still, you don’t have to be Indian to know that Restaurant Mom only offers two choices for dinner: Take It or Leave It. But on occasion, in lieu of the daal (lentil soup) and the shaak (vegetable), mom made a hearty kathol (general term for beans/pulses). I used to favor hearty beans over a mushy vegetable or soup. But my favorite kathol was and still is kala chana (black chickpea curry). It’s hearty, warming, and aromatic, much like a vegetarian bean-based chili. You can also use regular dried chickpeas if the kala chana are too hard to find.

Now, at 32, as I’ve grown more comfortable with re-creating mom’s dishes, this is one I continue to perfect and enjoy. …still waiting to grow boobs, though….

This is a spicy and hearty bean dish served with flatbread or naan. You can pair it with rice for a complete protein meal. This dish is often accompanied by a yogurt-based soup called kadhi, which is a perfect complement to this dish. Black chickpeas have a tough skin and are a very dense bean, so soaking overnight is a must.

Kala Chana (Black Chickpea Curry)
Serves 2-3
Vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free

  • 1 cup dry black chickpeas
  •  1 teaspoon baking soda
  •  7 cups water
  •  2 teaspoons salt
  •  4 tablespoons canola oil
  •  1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  •  1/8 teaspoon asafoetida (hing)
  •  4 dried chilies (Indian dried red chilis – if not available, chile de arbol would probably work well)
  •  3 cloves
  •  1/2 cinnamon stick
  •  1 tablespoon ginger-garlic paste*
  •  1 medium onion, peeled and finely diced in the food processor (pulse well, just before it releases liquid)
  •  2 roma tomatoes, pureed in the food processor
  •  1 teaspoon ground coriander
  •  1 teaspoon ground cumin
  •  1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  •  1/4 teaspoon chili powder (or more/less to taste) (cayenne is an ok substitute)
  •  1/2 teaspoon garam masala
  •  2-3 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro (optional)

*ginger garlic paste is 1:1 puree of ginger and garlic, but you can substitute 1″ grated ginger plus 5 cloves garlic crushed and finely diced

(Without a pressure cooker, skip steps 1-3 and do this instead: soak the beans overnight and then rinse and replace the water and cook on medium heat in a medium pot for an hour and 15 mins.  Make sure water level is at least 1″ above the beans at all times.)

  1. Soak the beans with the baking soda in 3 cups water overnight. Drain water.
  2. Fill the pressure cooker with the soaked beans, add 4 cups of fresh water. Add the salt to the water, and pressure cook for 3 whistles (12 minutes). Turn off the heat but do not open the pressure cooker.
  3. After 45 mins or later, open the pressure cooker and drain the beans.
  4. Heat canola oil in a wide saute pan or wok (pan should be at least 3″ deep) on med-high heat. Add asafoetida, mustard seeds, chilies, cloves,and cinnamon stick. Fry for about 1 to 2 mins until fragrant but not burned.
  5. Add onions to the pan and cook for 4-5 mins or until onions soften and become translucent. Add ginger-garlic paste (or substitute) and cook for 1-2 mins.
  6. Add tomatoes to the pan, stir well, and then add coriander, cumin, turmeric, chili powder.
  7. Cook for 5 minutes, mixing well. Add garam masala and beans. Cover and simmer on low for 20 mins, stirring occasionally.
  8. Turn off heat, garnish with cilantro, and serve over rice, or with flatbread, parathas, or naan.
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Posted by Michael Natkin on Wednesday, January 25th, 2012 in Gluten-Free or modifiable, Main Courses, Recipes, Vegan or Modifiable, Weblogs.

24 Responses to “Kala Chana (Black Chickpea Curry) – A Guest Post from Amee of Rabbit Food Rocks”

  1. January 25, 2012 at 7:40 am #

    Awesome sounding recipe and loved the intro to it. Very fun! My mom was definitely in the Take it or Leave it camp, so I can definitely relate to that. Can’t wait to try this recipe!

  2. January 25, 2012 at 7:46 am #

    What a beautifully written piece. Loved the story and can’t wait to try the recipe!!

  3. Phoebe
    January 25, 2012 at 9:12 am #

    I’m a New England girl and I adore kala chana! Keep a bag on hand always. Such a nutritious and delectable snack. A curry is not the only way:  my Rajasthani (indian) mother-in-law sautées warm cooked kala chana in cumin seeds, blk mustard seeds, curry leaves (key), and a teeny bit of oil, and then dresses them with cayenne pepper, and either fresh shredded green mango or tamarind sauce, and then salt and chopped tomato.  *Divine!!*

    RotLI (vs roti) and shaak (vs sabji) surprised me, Amee– that’s not Hindi, right? Curious to hear what region in India your mom’s cooking comes from!

  4. January 25, 2012 at 9:40 am #

    I’ve never heard of black chickpeas before…but this dish looks delicious!

  5. January 25, 2012 at 9:50 am #

    Thanks Michael for allowing me to write “boobs” on your site. :) Thanks so much for the kind introduction and the opportunity. Phoebe – We are from Gujarat. And the version you mentioned is one of my favorites: a common way to serve it as Indian street-side chaat. The best!

  6. January 25, 2012 at 9:56 am #

    Well I’ve been trying to up the rating to PG-13 anyhow! Thanks for guest posting. I love getting to introduce my readers to other folks that have a unique point of view on food.

  7. January 25, 2012 at 10:27 am #

    Thanks Michael, this looks and, i’m sure, tastes delicious. I’ve never heard of pre-soaking beans in baking soda though. What’s that for? Does it help to remove that oxalic acid?

    • January 25, 2012 at 10:35 am #

      I believe it softens the skins, though I’ve never done it myself.

    • January 30, 2012 at 11:04 am #

      Marina – I do it because my mommy told me to. :) But really, it’s supposed to make the beans softer. She also adds it before putting it in the pressure cooker too. But not always. We aren’t very consistent or textbook cooks. :)

  8. January 25, 2012 at 12:15 pm #

    This sounds fantastic, and I love your writing style. Heading over to check out your blog now :)

  9. January 25, 2012 at 12:54 pm #

    Oh how I wish I could have a taste of this. I just got a bag of black chickpeas and have been excited to try cooking with them,

  10. January 25, 2012 at 3:18 pm #

    In my book, Indian spices are the warmest and most comforting. Ever. This sounds so great. And, good luck w/the boobs, Amee. ;) lol

  11. January 25, 2012 at 4:50 pm #

    This looks so yummy. I’ve noticed the black chickpeas at Whole Foods lately, but haven’t tried them yet. I wonder if they’ve got more antioxidants because of the color. I can’t wait to pick them up now : )

  12. January 27, 2012 at 9:14 pm #

    This looks absolutely delicious. Would love for you to share your gorgeous pictures with us at foodepix.com.

  13. Dave
    January 30, 2012 at 9:51 am #

    Amee, Love the recipe. My family is really fond of the black chick peas. I’ve come across Indian recipes where regular chickpeas (kabouli chana) are cooked with the addition of black tea. I’ve tried it myself and, while it doesn’t seem to add to the flavor, it turns the tan chickpeas a darker shade of brown. I’ve often wondered whether the tea is added just so the kabouli channa will look like the more desirable kala chana. Have you heard of this?

    • January 30, 2012 at 11:03 am #

      Dave – thanks for the comment..interesting. I have never heard of adding tea in order to color/stain chickpeas, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Kala chana is actually a very common bean in Indian cuisine in India, just not common here in the States. So if you can find it in an indian store, then go with it. Otherwise, I would substitute with regular chickpeas.

  14. John
    February 8, 2012 at 5:21 am #

    My wife made this last night. It was pretty good. I can’t detect any substantial flavor difference between regular chana and the black chana. There IS a texture difference — the black chana’s skins retain a slightly chewy texture. Aside from tripling the recipe (leftovers for lunches!), we followed it exactly. Despite the 18 hour soak and the 45-min cooldown, I still found the chana a little too chewy for my tastes, which surprised me a good deal. If you like your chickpeas as soft as the ones that come in a can, you’ll need to cook this even longer.(!) If we were making it again, I might also go with a couple more tomatoes to increase the acidity of the dish a little bit. It’s clearly the sort of recipe where small variations are not critical.

  15. February 13, 2012 at 2:19 am #

    Great guest post and recipe. Black chickpeas are not usually found in most supermarkets but did locate some at the Indian grocery store in Ramle and at the Ethiopian Spice Store close by. Will need make ginger/garlic paste and I am ready to try this.

  16. February 28, 2012 at 7:16 pm #

    I’ve actually heard and seen (thou never tried it myself) of adding tea bags while cooking chick peas. The tea bags help give it a darker color which is similar to the way the north indians cook it and the way it looks.

  17. July 27, 2012 at 3:31 am #

    I just can’t wipe the smile off my face upon reading your post. Not only that I’m becoming eager to try this dish (along with all the many mouth-watering recipes I’ve seen here) but I really had fun reading your witty post. I guess most moms are like yours. Too bad for those who have moms who are trying so hard to be a good cook, but they’re really not. Thanks a lot for this! :)

  18. Rio Thomas
    March 2, 2013 at 7:41 pm #

    I LOVE this dish, and can’t wait to try this version. After our local Food Coop quit carrying black garbanzos, I panicked, then I felt SO fortunate to find the seed available from the lovely folks at Uprising Seeds. I fell in love with this fetching plant, esp the lovely flowers and its endearing,fuzzy little pods! link to uprisingorganics.com

  19. Karthik
    February 18, 2014 at 3:59 pm #

    @marina I am not sure about oxalic but soaking black chickpeas with baking soda and hot water quickens the softening of beans. But i don’t use baking soda, I soak the black chickpeas previous night in hot water and cook it for dinner next day. sometimes i drain the water and again fill with hot water just to quicken the softening process

  20. lovelight
    January 8, 2015 at 12:41 pm #

    hehehh, I loved this post. I’m Gujarati & totally relate. Good luck with all your cooking & yumness.

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