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Posted on Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 5 a.m.

Vegan Spicy Chana Masala slow cooks for delicious weeknight meal

By Vicki Brett-Gach


Spicy Chana Masala is an easy main dish, and will fill your house with enticing aromas.

Vicki Brett-Gach | Contributor

Chana Masala is the name of a slightly spicy chickpea stew, and also refers to the name of the complex spice blend used to make that dish. A big thank-you goes to my sister-in-law Janet, for sharing her recipe with me for Chana Masala — the chickpea stew.

She made this dish for our families one night while together on vacation in a rented house on Lake Michigan. It wowed a lot of hungry people that night, and has since found its way into my regular rotation.

In a new book called Vegan Indian Cooking, author Anupy Singla describes how to make your own Chana Masala spice blend. According to Singla, "the key to this spice mixture is the dried pomegranate seeds, which lend a needed sourness to the dish." This is a lovely book filled with good ideas. Her recipe for this spice mixture has 17 ingredients, and I am sure it is probably fantastic.

But that's a lot of separate ingredients, and Janet and I take a shortcut, using a prepared Chana Masala spice blend that makes this recipe accessible, even on a weeknight.

Although variations of the Chana Masala spice blend are made by several companies, we use one made by a company called MDH, imported from India. Consisting of nearly 20 different ingredients, this particular blend contains the required dried pomegranate seeds, along with coriander, dried mango, chili, cumin, fenugreek leaves, ginger, cinnamon and cardamom.

You can locate this spice blend at international grocery stores, and I have been finding this in Ann Arbor at Om Market, on Plymouth Road. The package runs about $1.99, and holds enough ready-to-use spice mixture to make Chana Masala several times.

This works beautifully in a slow cooker, because the chickpeas really soften while all the flavors marry. But if time is pressed, you can simmer this for about one hour on the stovetop instead.

Either way, with the intoxicating aroma of these heavenly spices, this makes a delicious and hearty meal on a cold winter night. The hardest part of this recipe might just be waiting for dinner.



1 medium onion, diced

1 clove fresh garlic, minced

1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger

3 14-ounce cans crushed tomatoes

3 cans chickpeas, drained, soaked, and rinsed

1 cup cold water

3 tablespoons, plus 1 teaspoon Chana Masala Spice Blend

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt (or more, to taste)

8 or 10 ounces frozen peas

2 cups fresh baby spinach, sliced into ribbons (optional)

Serve over hot brown or basmati rice


Add all ingredients to the slow cooker, except the peas and spinach.

Stir mixture well, cover and cook on High setting for 6 hours.

After 6 hours, add frozen peas to bubbling Chana Masala stew. Cover and allow the stew to heat the peas all the way through. Garnish with ribbons of fresh spinach, or mix directly into hot stew before serving.

Serve over mounds of hot brown or basmati rice. (Recipe concept shared by Janet Brett.)

Vicki Brett-Gach is an artist, writer, wife, mom, and enthusiastic vegan, and loves to help family and friends discover that you do not have to be vegan to enjoy delicious vegan food. Vicki understands the challenges a new vegan can face, and welcomes your questions and comments at



Thu, Feb 21, 2013 : 1:07 a.m.

We are making this dish Saturday. Do you have a suggestion for a wine to pair with it?

Vicki Brett-Gach

Thu, Feb 21, 2013 : 4:26 a.m.

Lisa, that's an interesting question. I usually serve this with Pinot Noir or Merlot, but I bet it would be very good with Chardonnay too. Hope you have a great dinner on Saturday!

K Thompson

Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 8:24 p.m.

Sounds delicious and thanks for suggestion on where to get the spices. I am curious why the baking soda is used, or whether it can be left out.

Vicki Brett-Gach

Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 9:01 p.m.

Thank you for your question, K Thompson! Some people believe that adding baking soda helps to tenderize beans. I have also read that it may even serve as a digestive aid. Others say these are both myths. But adding baking soda is suggested on the spice mixture package, so it does seem to be common practice. I am guessing you can probably leave it out, but I haven't tested this recipe without it.

Mary Bilyeu

Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 5:11 p.m.

I love Indian food, chickpeas, my crockpot ... it's all here! A fabulous meal awaits ... :)

Sarah Rigg

Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 1:48 p.m.

Yum - this is definitely going into the rotation of recipes at my house!


Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 12:57 p.m.

Sounds delicious, but how about listing more exact can sizes? 3 cans of crushed tomatoes? Is that the 14 oz size or the 28 oz size? It makes a big difference!

Vicki Brett-Gach

Wed, Feb 20, 2013 : 2:16 p.m.

Thank you very much for noticing that, Mary! I use 14-ounce cans of tomatoes, and I just added that clarification above.