This vegan chana masala – or chickpea curry – is spicy, hearty, and comforting. Combining nutritious chickpeas and a flavourful base, it's a simple, healthy, and gluten-free dish that's perfect with boiled rice or homemade pilau rice and vegan raita.
The rich tomato sauce is traditionally offset with tangy mango powder or dried pomegranate seeds, which I replace with some lemon juice. I also mash or blend the sauce before adding the chickpeas in order to make the curry thicker and smoother.
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What is chana masala?
Chana masala – literally 'chickpeas with mixed spices' – is a curry dish consisting of high-protein chickpeas, tomatoes, aromatics, and spices. It is arguably the most popular vegetarian dish in India and South Asia.
Featuring simple store-cupboard ingredients in the form of tins and dried spices, chana masala has become a staple in vegetarian and vegan cooking across the globe.
Is chana masala vegan?
Like many classic Indian dishes, chana masala is traditionally vegetarian but not vegan. This is due to the ghee (clarified butter) used, as well as any yoghurt or cream mixed into the sauce.
It's very easy to make chana masala vegan by simply using cooking oil (coconut or other), and then topping off with plant-based yoghurt or plant-based cream/crème fraiche. Same goes for dishes like this brinjal masala (aubergine curry).
Is homemade curry healthy?
While curry from restaurants or takeaways is undoubtedly delicious, it’s often very high in fat since it’s cooked in copious amounts of oil or ghee (clarified butter). Making it at home is almost always a healthier option, even if it includes coconut milk (like this sweet potato dal).
I’m no health fanatic, and I love a takeaway as much as the next vegan food blogger, but it’s nice to have some control sometimes. It’s also a lot cheaper to make your own.
Side note: ghee isn’t vegan, so if you want your takeaway or restaurant meal to be vegan then you’ll need to check that dishes can be cooked in some form of vegetable oil instead. Given the rise in both veganism and lactose intolerance among the population, I’ve found that most UK establishments are more than happy to cater for this.
Tinned v dried chickpeas
This recipe calls for tinned chickpeas, but if you get the chance I'd highly recommend cooking dried chickpeas from scratch:
- They taste better than their tinned counterparts
- They are creamier inside but also have more of a bite
- You have full control over any additional flavours and textures
- They work out cheaper than tinned
- They’re easier to store in bulk
- They don’t contain additives, preservatives, or firming agents
What you'll need
Like many curries, the key to a good chana masala lies in the spices you put in. This recipe uses:
- Ground cumin for warmth and depth
- Ground coriander for some floral notes
- Ground turmeric to add earthiness
- Chilli powder for extra heat and flavour on top of the fresh chilli
- Garam masala to boost the seasoning
To take things up another level in terms of spice and flavour, see the 'Variations and Tips' section below.
How to make vegan chana masala
Heat the oil in a large pan on medium heat. Add the onion and stir occasionally for 6-8 minutes, followed by the garlic, ginger, and chilli. Cook for a couple of minutes.
Once those have softened, add all the dried ground spices (cumin, coriander, garam masala, chilli powder, and turmeric) and mix well. After a couple of minutes, stir in the tomato puree, chopped tomatoes, bay leaves, and salt.
Cook for 5 minutes to allow the ingredients to blend together.
At this point, you have the option to thicken the curry and make it a little smoother. Pulse a few times using a hand blender, or mash through the sauce using a potato masher.
Temporarily remove the bay leaves and any additional whole spices you might have added (see notes), adding these back in once you're done.
Next, add in the drained chickpeas along with 100 ml of water. Stir well and cook for 10-15 minutes. If you want to loosen the sauce, add a little more water.
After 10-15 minutes, add the lemon juice, stir in the freshly chopped coriander, adjust the seasoning, and then serve.
- Boiled basmati/white rice
- Homemade pilau rice
- Naan bread / puri / chapati
- Roasted cauliflower
- Ultimate vegan mashed potatoes
- Baked potato
- Crispy baked potato wedges
- Plant-based yoghurt or crème fraiche
- Homemade cashew cream
- Fresh coriander
Yes, this recipe is 100% gluten-free along with GF sides such as rice.
Feel free to add any other ingredients such as spinach, mixed peppers, or cooked potato cubes.
Refrigerate for up to four days, then simply reheat in the microwave or in a pan with a splash of water to loosen it up. Like many curries, this chana masala gets even better after a day or two in the fridge.
You can freeze chana masala in sealed containers or resealable bags for up to six months, making this a great meal to prepare in advance.
Variations and tips
- Pro-level spice: If you want to take this recipe up a notch, temper some whole spices in the oil before adding the onion. To the hot oil, add a cinnamon stick, 3-4 cardamom pods, 3-4 cloves, and a teaspoon of cumin seeds. Heat for 30-60 seconds, being careful not to burn them, and then proceed with the rest of the recipe (you may want to use slightly less dried cumin and garam masala).
- Tomatoes: If you don't have tinned tomatoes, you could replace these with approx. 10 whole fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped.
- Quantity: If you want to make this recipe stretch further, simply add an extra tin of tomatoes and/or chickpeas and adjust the seasoning to taste.
- Make it healthier: This recipe is already pretty healthy, but you can swap out the coconut oil if you want to really cut down on saturated fat.
See recipe notes for more details.
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More vegan recipe ideas
If you liked this recipe, you may also enjoy:
- 15-Minute Chickpea Stew
- Chickpea Stir-Fry with Peanut Sauce
- Aloo Palak (Potato Spinach Curry)
- Vegan Goulash (Hungarian Stew)
- Black Bean Curry with Cashew Cream
- Creamy Jackfruit Curry
- Sweet Potato & Black Bean Chilli
- Lemony Butter Bean Stew
You can also check out my full list of vegan mains.
Easy Vegan Chana Masala (Chickpea Curry)
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil (or other cooking oil)
- 2 medium onions, finely chopped
- 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 inch piece of ginger, finely chopped
- 1-2 fresh chillies, finely sliced (more or less depending on how you like your heat)
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander
- 2 teaspoons garam masala
- 1 teaspoon chilli powder
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 tablespoon tomato puree
- 2x 14 oz (400 g) tins chopped tomatoes
- 2 dried bay leaves
- ½ teaspoon salt (plus more to taste)
- 2x 14 oz (400 g) tins chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- ½ cup (100 ml) water (plus more if necessary)
- Large handful fresh coriander, chopped (optional)
- Juice of 1 lemon (optional)
- Heat the oil in a large pan on medium heat. Add the onion and stir occasionally for 6-8 minutes (or until soft and starting to turn golden).
- Next, add the finely chopped garlic, ginger, and chilli and cook for a couple of minutes.
- Once those have softened, add all the dried ground spices (cumin, coriander, garam masala, chilli powder, and turmeric) and mix well.
- After a couple of minutes, stir in the tomato puree, chopped tomatoes, bay leaves, and salt. Cook for 5 minutes to allow the ingredients to blend together.
- At this point, you have the option to thicken the curry and make it a little smoother. Pulse a few times using a hand blender, or mash through the sauce using a potato masher. Temporarily remove the bay leaves and any additional whole spices you might have added (see notes), adding these back in once you're done.
- Next, add in the drained chickpeas along with ½ cup (100 ml) of water. Stir well and cook for 10-15 minutes. If you want to loosen the sauce, add a little more water.
- Vegan Biryani with Chickpeas
- Spicy Tofu Jalfrezi
- Vegan Rajma Masala
- Creamy Jackfruit Curry
- Chickpea & Cauliflower Coconut Curry
- Vegan Lentil Dal
- Sweet Potato & Black Bean Chilli
- Lemony Butter Bean Stew
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