Enjoy chana masala in an Instant Pot on any night of the week

Enjoy chana masala in an Instant Pot on any night of the week
Becky Krystal discovers a restaurant-quality recipe you can whip up from the comfort of your own home

I’ve only been back to our office a handful of times since we were sent home abruptly one afternoon in March 2020. Returning and seeing my desk the way I left it was like opening a time capsule. There was a stack of cookbooks I had clearly meant to bring home, mostly, as I recall, to try to inject some verve into my Instant Pot dinner rotation.

Well more than a year after I’d set it aside and nearly three years after it was originally published, I finally started digging through one of those books: The Essential Indian Instant Pot Cookbook, by Archana Mundhe.

Indian is my favorite cuisine, and Instant Pot cooking one of my favorite ways to make my hectic life easier, but I’d only combined the two to moderate success. None of the Indian dishes I’d made in the Instant Pot really wowed me until I started making Mundhe’s. After a few roaring successes, vegetable korma and pao bhaji among them, I decided it was time to tackle my white whale.

Chana masala “is a north Indian dish that is now popular all over India,” Mundhe tells me. It’s a chickpea curry with “a creamy tomato-based gravy”, she says. You’ll find some variations among families, one of them being the addition of potatoes.

For years, I’ve been looking for a homemade chana masala to knock my socks off, but none possessed the same depth of flavour that I enjoyed in restaurant versions.

Then I tried Mundhe’s recipe, which she says was inspired by her mother’s. I mashed up the stovetop chana masala posted on her excellent blog, Ministry of Curry, and a similar chole (another chickpea curry) recipe from her book so I could keep everything in the Instant Pot. When I took a bite, I was so happy I could have cried.

The dish boasted soft, creamy chickpeas in a thick, rust-coloured sauce, dreamily spiced (but not spicy). It’s warming and oh-so-satisfying, especially when served with naan or paratha for dipping and scooping. Mundhe’s recipe ties or beats anything I’ve had in a restaurant, and I attribute its success to a few things. First, cooking the dried chickpeas in the Instant Pot in a limited amount of water and then keeping the cooking liquid retains all the savory bean flavour for the finished dish. The inclusion of black tea in the cooking water was also a game-changer, adding more depth and dark colour to the sauce.

But what really sealed the deal was the homemade chana masala spice blend, which Mundhe agrees “elevates the flavours of this dish. Premade spice blends often lose their potency in a few weeks and you may need to add a lot more of it to get the same flavours.” I highly recommend tracking down the ingredients to make it yourself. Most of them, save for the amchur (dried mango) powder, will be at well-stocked grocery stores. If you can’t find amchur, a squeeze of lemon juice at the end of cooking is a fine swap. The blend makes enough for many batches of the curry and will hold in your pantry for at least a few months, as will the spices for the next time you need to whip it up.

Once you make the spice blend, which itself doesn’t take too long, there’s very little active time (but do take a few hours to soak the chickpeas first for the most consistent results). “I love that Instant Pot allows me to do most of my cooking hands-off,” Mundhe says.

Chana masala

Active time: 30 minutes | Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Serves: 4

Make ahead: The dried chickpeas must be soaked for 4 to 10 hours.

Storage notes: Leftovers can be refrigerated for up to 4 days. Reheat in the microwave or on the stovetop. The spice blend can be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark spot for several months.

Where to buy: If you don’t want to make it, chana masala spice blends, such as MDH brand, can be found online and at Indian and some international markets.

Ingredients:

For the chana masala spice blend:

6 dried chillies (medium heat), such as Kashmiri, stems removed

3 tbsp coriander seeds

1 tbsp cumin seeds

10 black peppercorns

10 cloves

6 green cardamom pods

One (7.5cm) cinnamon stick

3 tbsp amchur powder (dried mango powder; may substitute a squeeze of fresh lemon juice at the end of cooking)

½ tsp ground turmeric

For the chana masala:

180g dried chickpeas, picked over and rinsed

830ml water, divided

2 tbsp ghee (may substitute vegetable or coconut oil for a vegan option)

1 large onion (about 340g), finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced or finely grated

One (1.5cm) piece fresh ginger, finely grated

1 tsp fine salt, plus more to taste

1 black tea bag or 2 tsp loose black tea in a mesh tea strainer (optional)

One (400g) tin chopped tomatoes (may substitute 2 medium tomatoes, chopped)

1 tbsp homemade or store-bought chana masala spice blend (from above)

Fresh chopped coriander, for garnish (optional)

Cooked basmati rice, for serving (optional)

Naan or paratha, for serving (optional)

Method:

Make the chana masala spice blend: in a large, dry frying pan over low heat, toast the chillies, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, peppercorns, cloves, cardamom pods and cinnamon stick, stirring or shaking frequently, until fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes. The peppers should slightly darken and become more pliable. Keep an eye on everything to keep the spices from scorching. Transfer the spices to a plate or bowl and let cool.

Add the toasted spices to a coffee or spice grinder and grind into a fine powder. Transfer to a container, stir in the amchur powder and turmeric to combine and store, sealed, away from heat or light until needed. The yield is about ½ cup.

Make the chana masala: in a medium bowl, combine the dried chickpeas and 2 cups of water and let soak for at least 4 hours and up to overnight (10 hours). After soaking, drain the chickpeas.

Set your 5.7L multicooker to saute (high) and melt the ghee. Once it starts to ripple, add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and saute until aromatic, about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add the remaining 1½ cups of water, nudging loose any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Stir in the soaked chickpeas, salt and tea, if using. Press cancel to turn off the heat.

Cover, set the steam valve to pressure (or sealing) and turn to high. After the cooker reaches high pressure, which takes 5 to 10 minutes, cook for 35 minutes. Allow the pressure to release naturally for 10 to 20 minutes, then do a quick release to release any remaining pressure. Check the beans; they should be soft and cooked through, but if they’re still a bit crunchy, bring the machine back to pressure and cook for an additional 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the tea bag or mesh strainer.

Return the multicooker to saute (high) and stir in the tomatoes with their juices and chana masala spice blend. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are softened and start to dissolve into the curry, 5 to 7 minutes. Taste, and season with more salt, as needed. Press cancel to turn off the heat. Ladle into bowls, sprinkle with the coriander, if using, and serve warm, ideally with rice and paratha or naan.

Variation: To make this recipe on the stovetop, pick up the recipe at the point at which you saute the onions in the ghee, but do this in a casserole dish or large frying pan set over medium-high heat. Then saute the garlic and ginger, add the tomatoes and their juices and cook for 5 minutes, stirring a few times until the tomatoes are softened.

Add the chana masala spice blend and stir well. Stir in 3 cups of cooked chickpeas (from 1 cup dried chickpeas) or two 425g tins of chickpeas, rinsed and drained, and more salt to taste, if desired. Add ¼ cup of water, or more or less to bring the curry to your desired consistency. Simmer for 5 minutes and garnish with the coriander, if using.

Nutrition information per serving (1 cup) | calories: 298; total fat: 10g; saturated fat: 5g; cholesterol: 15mg; sodium: 653mg; carbohydrates: 43g; dietary fibre: 11g; sugar: 12g; protein: 11g.

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.

Adapted from Archana Mundhe on her Ministry of Curry blog, as well as her book, ‘The Essential Indian Instant Pot Cookbook’ (Ten Speed Press, 2018).

© The Washington Post

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