This easy chana masala chickpea stew gets an added vegetarian boost with spinach added to the earthy, Indian-spiced tomato sauce.
Rich and warming with classic Indian spices that perfume the house while it quickly cooks, plant-based chana masala is a tomato stew-ish chickpea (garbanzo bean) vegetarian version of the super popular tikka masala made with chicken, meat, or chunks of vegetables. Like my Indian butter chicken recipe, it’s served over basmati rice or sopped up and loaded into Indian naan flatbread. Chana masala is totally tasty served for either lunch or dinner, or top it with a fried egg for a pretty killer breakfast. Even better, it’s a basic one-skillet meal.
At the same time vegetarian and healthy, fiber-rich chana masala is hearty and filling too—thank you chickpeas! My disclaimer for this dish is that traditional chana masala does not have spinach in it. But I gotta say, when did a little extra healthy green leaf become a bad thing? With a container of spinach ready to rocket out of my fridge, it was a welcome superfood addition to this wholesome meal. Please realize if you’re trending authentic, you can leave the spinach out if you prefer.
What Is Chana Masala Made Of
While chana masala doesn’t actually have curry powder in it, it’s combination of other Indian spices like coriander, cumin, turmeric, and garam masala with garlic and ginger place it firmly in the curry camp.
The list of spices in this dish may seem long, but they’re all essential to enjoy the riches of this simple dish. As a side note, recipes like this one provide a good excuse to evaluate the freshness of your spice drawer—and whatever isn’t, toss it out.
What’s in chana masala with spinach:
- Chickpeas. Use canned for convenience or soak and cook your own the day before.
- Tomatoes. I use fresh cherry or grape tomatoes in this recipe. Substitute 1 ½ cups fresh chopped tomato if you prefer.
- Spinach. Fresh baby spinach leaves add lovely texture and freshness to this dish. But if you’re going the traditional route, feel free to leave it out.
- Yellow onion
- Canola or vegetable oil
- Cumin seeds
- Ground cumin
- Ground coriander
- Garam masala
- Cayenne pepper
- Kosher salt
- Greek yogurt
- Cilantro for garnish if you like
- Basmati rice and naan for serving
How to Make Chana Masala with Spinach
Sauté the onion with the whole cumin seeds. As the onion sweetens and softens as it sautés with the cumin seeds, the whole spices lose their raw edge, deepening their flavor and infusing into the onion.
Add the fresh tomato, garlic, and ginger to the onion mixture. The goal of using whole cherry tomatoes is to add more texture and sweetness fresh tomatoes provide. Cook the mixture for 1-2 minutes or until fragrant, stirring so the onion and garlic don’t burn and become bitter while tossing the tomatoes about on all sides.
Spice Up the Chana Masala Sauce
Add the dried, ground spices to toast with the onion tomato mixture. The dried spices become richer and more fragrant as they toast and brown in the oiled pan alongside the onion and tomato mixture. Stir often so they don’t burn.
Burst the tomatoes. Once the tomatoes soften, gently press on each tomato with the back of a spatula so the cherry tomatoes burst and release their liquid into the sauce.
Add water to the skillet. Start with adding ½ cup of water to make the sauce, which will combine with the rendered tomato juice to reduce and thicken as it cooks. Add up to ¼ cup more water at any time if the sauce feels too tight or evaporates too quickly.
Chana: Chickpeas, er, Garbanzo Beans
Add the drained chickpeas and spinach in batches to the skillet. Because the spinach wilts as it cooks, add it by the handful to the skillet after the garbanzo beans. Stir the mixture as it cooks for another five minutes as the chickpeas soften and the sauce thickens.
Mash the chickpeas to thicken the sauce. Use the back of the spatula to gently smash about ⅓ of the chickpeas into the sauce to thicken it and add texture.
Add up to ¼ cup more water if needed. If the sauce becomes too thick or reduces too much, add up to ¼ cup more water to loosen it as it cooks.
Garnish with Greek yogurt and cilantro. Add tang with yogurt and bright bites with fresh cilantro if desired.
Chana Masala Substitutions
- Instead of canned chickpeas, use dried chickpeas that have been cooked beforehand like in this white bean recipe.
- If using canned tomatoes, add them AFTER the dried ground spices have been sautéed with the onion, cumin seeds, garlic and ginger so the spices can toast in the skillet and not just languish in the canned tomatoes and their juice.
- Instead of spinach, try chopped kale, cauliflower, or leave it out altogether.
If you make this recipe, please let me know! Leave a rating on this recipe below and leave a comment, take a photo and tag me on Instagram with #foodiecrusheats.
Chana Masala with Spinach
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- ½ medium yellow onion , chopped
- 1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
- 1 ½ cups grape or cherry tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon garlic , pressed or minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger , grated or minced
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon garam masala
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ½ to ¾ cup water
- 1 15-ounce can chickpeas , drained and rinsed
- 8 ounces fresh baby spinach
- ½ cup plain Greek yogurt`
- 4 cups cooked basmati rice
- chopped cilantro
- Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the onion and cumin seeds and cook until the onion begins to soften, about 3-5 minutes, stirring often so the onion doesn't burn and become bitter.
- Add the tomatoes, garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes or until fragrant. Stir in the ground cumin, coriander, garam masala, salt, turmeric, and cayenne pepper, and cook for another minute, stirring often as the spices toast and coat the onions and tomatoes.
- Stir in ½ cup water and continue to cook for 3-4 minutes as the sauce thickens and the tomatoes soften, using the back of a spatula to gently press down on each tomato so it bursts and releases its juices into the sauce. Add the chickpeas and spinach, and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Smash some of the chickpeas to thicken the sauce. Add more water to loosen the sauce if desired.
- Add more salt to taste and serve over rice with a dollop of yogurt and cilantro if desired.
More Chickpea Recipe Ideas
- Moroccan Soup With Kale and Chickpeas
- Outrageous Herbaceous Mediterranean Chickpea Salad
- Greek Chickpea Salad
- Tabasco Braised Chicken With Chickpeas and Kale
- Italian Chopped Salad With Marinated Chickpeas
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