Thursday, 17 February 2011 | 11 comments

Chickpeas in spicy tomato gravy (or; how Sarah learned to be less intimidated by Indian cooking)

I love spicy food. I love Indian food. I love chilies and cumin and coriander and garlic and I love how often, in Indian cuisine, all that spice is topped off with a cool, tangy yogurt raita to take the edge off. But—and I know I’m not alone in this—I am very intimidated by Indian-style cooking.

Ingredient lists a mile long and potentially hard-to-find items are commonly-cited as reasons to avoid cooking many Indian dishes. But for me, the turn-off is that Indian cooking simply doesn’t come intuitively. Cooking for me is a pretty sensory and non-stressful experience. I fudge the amounts of ingredients. A lot. Louise and I recently joked that we just read the ingredients lists in recipes…or sometimes, only the recipe name itself. Yet I wasn’t raised cooking Indian food, and that intuition simply isn’t there.

My hesitance to make my own Indian food is a serious catch-22, as someone who is frequently disappointed by the quality of Indian takeout. But if I won’t make it myself, there’s no room to complain, right?

Then the  March issue of Food & Wine arrived, promising me “A Lesson in Indian Cooking”—a preview of Sanjeev Kapoor’s new book, “How to Cook Indian.”  I bought chickpeas the next day, because the recipe for sauced chickpeas sounded like my perfect entry point into that mysteriously spiced world of Indian fare.

This dish is traditional Punjabi, called called masaledar chholay. It’s simple, and good for you, with a nice protein and fiber punch from the chickpeas. But what I like best about it is that (after you have the few spices you need for Indian cooking) this is one of those dishes that you could throw together with standby ingredients already in your pantry. Since it comes together in about 20 minutes (surprisingly), this makes it a perfect candidate for those nights that I come home late from work and need food. Quick. Because my blood sugar is low and all I’ve had is far too many cups of coffee since a noontime lunch (I’m trying to cut back, okay?) and my jittery hands can barely throw the skillet onto the range.


So, without further ado:

Masaledar chholay (Chickpeas in spicy tomato gravy)

Adapted from Food & Wine, March 2011

You could absolutely use fresh tomatoes, and I bet it would be delicious. But it’s winter, so we went with organic, no-salt canned. The equivalent is probably twoish large tomatoes, diced. For the chickpeas, remember to pick through carefully for dirt, then soak overnight. Alternatively, you can use two large (15-ounce) cans of chickpeas, but I think canned chickpeas taste a little metallic-y and never seem to get soft enough. Oh, and have I jumped on my soapbox yet about veggie broth? I’ll save it for another day. Suffice it to say if you can’t get your hands on a veggie broth that you could drink enjoyably, use water instead. I don’t want to open up the can of worms that is cilantro, either. I love cilantro, but knowing that there would be leftovers and that a certain tall lanky vineyard apprentice who cannot stand cilantro might be eating the leftovers, I didn’t use it…this time.

You will need

  • 1 head of garlic; all cloves peeled
  • 2 fresh jalapeños, or 2 tablespoons canned/pickled
  • 1 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cayenne (or more. If you’re like some people who like their mouths somewhat on fire before the raita hits you)
  • 2 cans no-salt diced tomatoes
  • 1 pound dried chickpeas. soaked overnight, or two 15-ounce cans of chickpeas, rinsed
  • 2 cups good vegetable broth
  • Salt to taste
  • Cilantro for garnish
  • Plain yogurt


In a food processor, combine garlic, jalapeños, and ginger to make a paste. In the skillet, heat the olive oil and saute the onions on high for about three minutes. Reduce heat and cook until onions are browned. Add garlic-jalapeño-ginger paste and stir until fragrant (about 2 minutes). Add cumin, coriander, and cayenne, stirring well. Stir in the tomatoes and simmer until thickened, 5-10 minutes. Add the chickpeas (drained) and broth (or water) and simmer for another 10-20 minutes, until chickpeas are well-flavored. Salt to taste. Garnish with cilantro and top with a dollop of plain yogurt. (I can see this being good with creme fraiche, too.)

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§ 11 responses to Chickpeas in spicy tomato gravy (or; how Sarah learned to be less intimidated by Indian cooking)

  • I love the way you described your hesitations to cook Indian food. I feel exactly the same way. I love the stuff, but the flavors are unfamiliar to me and so I shy away from ever making it and stick with what I know. I like that the ingredients for this dish are totally manageable and can be found in a typical, well-stocked grocery store. I’ll be sure and give this a try!

    I love your blog by the way. I just stumbled upon it and I’m so glad I did. Your pictures are gorgeous and your writing style is lovely. I’ll be sure and visit more often!

  • I just stumbled upon your site, and it has been added to my list of favorites! I love your recipes, photos, and commentary. Especially this post on Indian Food; I, too, have been anxious about entering the world of Indian cooking. Thanks! :)

  • Brian

    Something I usually do in a similar recipe is to include the onion in the food processor with the ginger and garlic, add a bit of water and it makes a really nice onion paste that really gets the onion flavor in every bite once cooked. Then just cook it all in the skillet until it takes a turn towards fragrant and then add the spices. It also helps the final result be more saucy/gravylike.

    I just found out about your blog from another blog (Tea and Cookies: I really like what you are doing here. Well written and beautifully photographed. I also agree that indian food can be a bit intimidating at first. Once you have the spices though it’s not too scary. It gets more natural after a bit of experimentation.

  • jeff

    Love your pictures and posts. I’m a big Indian foodie myself and highly recommend 660 Curries as a great book to get into the genre. Also, if you spotify, here’s a little music ( to set the tone for some down home curry.

  • Devyn

    Hi Sarah,

    I am also new to your blog and am having so much fun browsing the archives. I really appreciate your approach to cooking and I am so glad to have found you!

    I have one question about this recipe: The chickpeas do not need to be cooked before being added to the skillet, right? It sounds like they need to be soaked then will cook along with the rest of the dish, but I just wanted to be sure. Thanks so much for your help!


  • eroica

    Would love to try this but what size are the cans of tomatoes?

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