Chana Masala, or chickpea curry, is one of my all-time favourite meals, but everything is better with spinach, right? So when I created this recipe I decided at the last minute to throw in some spinach and make it a Chana Saag. The word ‘saag’ doesn’t specifically refer to spinach (that would be ‘palak’) but to any type of leafy green, commonly mustard greens. I love the flavour and texture of spinach but you could substitute any green you like. If you use a sturdier green like kale, add it earlier in the recipe than the spinach is added.
For this curry, I’ve added a little tamarind for a subtle sourness and a squeeze of coconut nectar for sweetness. With the right flavour balance, these ingredients really take a dish to a new level. I’ve also added a little Indian black salt, or Kala Namak. This ingredient is often used in vegan cooking to provide an eggy taste (don’t worry, this recipe calls for a small amount which won’t make your curry taste like eggs) and is readily available in Indian grocery stores.
Although you can use canned chickpeas in this recipe, I really recommend cooking your own from dried if you have the time. Home-cooked chickpeas have a lovely flavour which I don’t think you really get with canned chickpeas. I’m all for convenience, but in a dish where chickpeas are the main ingredient I really think cooking your own makes all the difference. Additionally, you can get large bags of dried chickpeas in large supermarkets or Indian grocery stores for mere pence, making it much cheaper than using canned.
To cook your own chickpeas, soak dried chickpeas overnight or for a minimum of four hours; you’ll need about one and a half American measuring cups of dried chickpeas to get enough for this recipe. Once soaked, drain the chickpeas and place in a large pan. Cover with water. You will need several times the volume of water compared to chickpeas so make sure the chickpeas are covered by a few inches of water. Place on a high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for about 90 minutes. Check on them often, adding more water to the pan if needed. Drain and use or store in an airtight container in the fridge until needed.
Olive oil spray
1 tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp fenugreek seeds
2 bay leaves
1 ½ onion, peeled and chopped
4 tomatoes, quartered
1” piece ginger, peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
Small handful coriander stalks
3 cups cooked chickpeas, or 2 x 400g cans drained and rinsed
1 tsp garam masala
½ tsp turmeric
¼ tsp kala namak
1 tsp tamarind paste
½ tsp salt
½ tsp coconut nectar or other sweetener
- Place a large saucepan or frying pan over a medium heat and spray with olive oil. When hot, add the cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds and bay leaves and cook for about 30 seconds until fragrant. Add one-third of the chopped onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 5-10 minutes.
- Place the remaining onion, tomatoes, garlic, ginger and the coriander stalks in a blender and blend until smooth. Add to the pan with the chickpeas, garam masala, turmeric and black salt along with 400ml water. Cover partially and cook over a medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes.
- Add the salt, tamarind and coconut nectar, mix well, taste and adjust the seasoning. Add the spinach, along with a little more water if needed, and stir. Cover partially and cook for 10 minutes. Serve with rice or chapattis.