This is a nostalgic dish for me.  It’s one of the first dishes Hubby cooked for me when we were in college together and it was also one of the first he taught me how to cook. Chole is a famous Punjabi dish (also known as chana masala in other parts of India).  It’s made with garbanzo beans (or chickpeas) cooked in a tangy sauce and sometimes a very spicy sauce.  Hubby had learned the dish from his mother.  When Hubby decided to come to the US, Mummy-ji gave Hubby a crash-course in some simple Punjabi favorites that would be easy enough for a bachelor to cook.  Chole was top of the list.  It’s easy and mouth-watering.

During our college days in Chico, Hubby lived in the apartment below mine with four other roommates.  Everyone was assigned a day to cook and Hubby had Monday nights. Chole was Hubby’s go-to dish, much to the annoyance of his roommates and neighboring friends.

“Everyone dreaded Monday nights because they knew exactly what was for dinner.  I always cooked chole.  Everyone started calling me ‘chole man’.”

One night, Hubby cooked chole and rice for me and my two roommates tried some of the leftovers and loved it.  Since then I have returned to chole again and again.   Though chole was one of the first recipes I learned to make, the recipe I have here has been years in the making.  Eight years to be exact. My chole has evolved from watery, to dry, to spicy and then to creamy.  When I was first making this dish, I used canned garbanzo beans which makes for an easy and quick recipe.  Now, I used dried garbanzo beans which I soak overnight and then pressure cook before using.   This requires a little more planning and time but the dried beans are so much cheaper than the canned ones that I gladly take the extra effort (which is minimal).

Chole

adapted from The Bombay Brasserie

This dish has many names: In Punjab it’s called chole and is one of the most famous Punjabi dishes.  Hubby says the best chole he ever tasted had been in the streets of Punjab, then he changed his story and said Mummy-ji made the best chole he’s ever had.  He’s also said my chole is the best…

This dish also known as chana and Bengal gram is other parts of India.  It’s made from garbanzo beans which are also called chickpeas or Indian peas. I guess the more names a dish has, the popular it is around the world!

I’ve heard some friends refer to this dish as chana masala.  Don’t be mistaken, this actually refers to the spices or spice mixture used to make chole (also known as chana…you get the idea).  The word masala refers to a mixture of spices.

Let’s talk about the spices that make this dish taste great.

I know most people steer clear of Indian cooking even though they love Indian food because the spices seem too intimidating. Indian cooking does involve a lot of spices, but that’s why it tastes so good! We just need to familiarize ourselves with them, so don’t shy away from getting great spices.  There are some basic Indian spices  used throughout many Indian dishes, even many that can cross over into non-Indian dishes, which make them a great tool to have in your kitchen.

To keep it simple, I used a store-bought mixture specifically made for this dish called…you guessed it…chana masala. All the spices that give this dish its spicy, warm and tangy flavor can be bought in one perfect mix for our cooking convenience. This is wonderful if you like things quick and simple but it doesn’t allow for a lot of flexibility.  If you buy a box of chana masala, you can only use it when making this dish.  You can’t use chana masala when making, for example, gobi subzi or palak paneer.

If you want more flexibility, or you don’t have access to a box of chana masala, you can use the alternative spices I’ve included in the ingredients list.

I’ve used chana masala as the main flavoring in this dish. Garam masala is also used to give it a little extra something and turmeric is added for a bit more color.  Garam Masala is an all-purpose spice mix which gives a dish that delicious, inherent, “Indian” quality and I use it in almost every dish.  It can be found at the Indian store and I also recently discovered it at Whole Foods. If you don’t have garam masala you can easily leave it out. I’ve made this dish using only chana masala and salt and it’s still fantastic.

This can be a very fast dish if you choose to use canned garbanzo beans.  Canned beans are soaked in a brine (water and salt) so you may not need as much salt.  I like to control the level of salt so I prefer dried garbanzo beans which need to be soaked overnight. Dried beans have an unlimited shelf life and are much cheaper, which convinces me to take the extra effort to think ahead.

Serves 5

Prep Time: 6 hours (only if soaking beans overnight)

Cooking Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

2 cups (400 g/14 oz) dried garbanzo beans (if using canned garbanzo beans measure according to the ounces per can)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 medium size onions, diced

4 green Thai/Serrano chilies (or to taste) – optional

1 tablespoon ginger and garlic paste

1 1/2-2 cups plain yogurt (the more yogurt, the more saucy the dish so use personal preference)

1 1/2 tablespoons chana masala

1/2 teaspoon turmeric (optional)

chili powder, to taste (optional)

2 medium tomatoes, chopped

1 teaspoon garam masala (optional)

*If you don’t have chana masala: substitute the amounts of chana masala, turmeric and chili powder for:

1 tablespoon ground coriander powder

1 1/2 teaspoons red chili powder (or cayenne pepper)

1 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin powder

*since you are using more powdered spices than if you used chana masala, the dish will be dryer. add more liquid to the  dish with 1/2 a cup more yogurt and  1 1/2 to 2 cups of the water used to boil the garbanzo beans.

Directions

If you are using dried beans, soak the garbanzo beans for 6 hours or overnight in a large pot or pressure cooker. The beans expand as they soak up water so generously cover them in water to ensure as they stay submerged in the water as they expand. If you are using canned beans, you can skip this step.

Drain the garbanzo beans and cover again in fresh water. To cook the beans there are two options:

If you are using a regular pot: bring the beans to a boil then lower the heat to medium or medium-low to bring down to a simmer for 40 minutes or until the garbanzo beans are soft and can easily be squished when pressed with a spoon.

If using a pressure cooker: you get to cook this dish much faster! A pressure cooker will cut down the cooking time of the garbanzo beans from 40 minutes to 10 minutes.  I highly recommend them.   I have two types of pressure cookers.  One is the whistling type, which releases the pressure in short loud bursts.  The other one I have releases pressure in a steady stream and so the whistling is continuous.  Both types will cook for the same amount of time, about 10 minutes.

  • If using the “whistle” type: let it whistle 3 or 4 times
  • If using the “steady release” type: let it steadily release for 10 minutes
Then remove the pressure cooker from the heat and let the pressure naturally drop before opening, about 10 more minutes.
While the garbanzo beans are boiling away, heat the oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and the salt (and green chilies if you are using them) and fry the onions until they turn light brown, stir occasionally so they don’t burn, about 8 minutes. Add a tablespoon of ginger and garlic paste and cook for another minute or two, till the smell of cooked garlic fills the kitchen.
Add two chopped tomatoes.  let them cook for 10 minutes till they loose their shape and turn the onion mixture a bit saucy.
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While the tomatoes are cooking, mix together the 1 1/2-2 cups of yogurt with 2 tablespoons of chana masala and a teaspoon of turmeric.  Use a fork to whisk them together.  I like to use Mountain High all natural plain yogurt in full-fat.  I like this brand for it’s thicker texture.  We always use the original full-fat version but I went to grab it and saw we were all out so I walked the half a block to our Safeway to get some.  They only had low-fat and fat-free in the plain flavor so I settled for low-fat.  I think it will make the dish a bit more watery than I had intended so I’ll probably adjust the amount of water I add later.
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Add the yogurt to the saucepan once the tomatoes are done.
TIP: the yogurt can curdle when you add it all at once while the pan is one the heat.  To try and avoid curdling the yogurt, take the pan off the heat and add the yogurt in small batches, fully incorporating each batch, so it slowly changes temperature.
 Put the pan back on the heat.  Stir consistently for 3 minutes.
Then add the garbanzo beans and a cup of water.  Mix well and let it simmer for 2 minutes.  Sprinkle on a teaspoon of garam masala, check the taste and adjust the salt or the other spices if needed.
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Let the mixture simmer for another minute to take in the finishing touches.  Sprinkle on some chopped cilantro and serve hot. If serving later, cover and reheat when ready to eat.
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If you try the recipe, let me know how it goes.  Write me a comment or send me an email here.
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Chole

adapted from The Bombay Brasserie

Serves 5

Prep Time: 6 hours (only if soaking beans overnight)

Cooking Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

2 cups (400 g/14 oz) dried garbanzo beans (if using canned garbanzo beans measure according to the ounces per can)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 medium size onions, diced

1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

4 green Thai/Serrano chilies (or to taste) – optional

1 tablespoon ginger and garlic paste

1 1/2-2 cups plain yogurt (the more yogurt, the more saucy the dish so use personal preference)

1 1/2 tablespoons chana masala

1/2 teaspoon turmeric (optional)

chili powder, to taste (optional)

2 medium tomatoes, chopped

1 teaspoon garam masala (optional)

cilantro, chopped; to taste (optional)

*If you don’t have chana masala: substitute the amounts of chana masala, turmeric and chili powder for:

1 tablespoon ground coriander powder

1 1/2 teaspoons red chili powder (or cayenne pepper)

1 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin powder

*since you are using more powdered spices than if you used chana masala, the dish will be dryer. add more liquid to the  dish with 1/2 a cup more yogurt and  1 1/2 to 2 cups of the water used to boil the garbanzo beans.

Directions

If you are using dried beans, soak the garbanzo beans for 6 hours or overnight in a large pot or pressure cooker. Drain the garbanzo beans, cover again in fresh water and bring to a boil, then lower the heat to bring down to a simmer for 40 minutes or until the garbanzo beans are soft and can easily be squished when pressed with a spoon. If using a pressure cooker, bring it to a whistle for 10 minutes, or 3-4 whistles and let the pressure drop before opening.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and the salt (and green chilies if you are using them) and fry the onions until they turn light brown, stir occasionally so they don’t burn, about 8 minutes. Add a tablespoon of ginger and garlic paste and cook for another minute or two. Add two chopped tomatoes.  let them cook for 10 minutes till they are soft.
While the tomatoes are cooking, mix together the 1 1/2-2 cups of yogurt with 2 tablespoons of chole masala and a teaspoon of turmeric (optional).  Use a fork to whisk them together.
Add the yogurt to the saucepan once the tomatoes are done.  Stir consistently for 3 minutes.
Add the garbanzo beans and a cup of water.  Mix well and let it simmer for 2 minutes.  Sprinkle on a teaspoon of garam masala, check the taste and adjust the salt or the other spices if needed. Let the mixture simmer for another minute.  Sprinkle on some chopped cilantro as a garnish and serve hot. If serving later, cover and reheat when ready to eat. When reheating, you may need to add a bit more water, the mixture tends to dry as it cools down.
Published on: Aug 5, 2011

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