Vegan chana masala curry with creamy cilantro sauce is an easy recipe using canned chickpeas (garbanzo beans), warming spices, and tomatoes for a delicious curry made all the better with a fresh cilantro sauce made in the blender. Make this plant-based dinner in about 40 minutes and enjoy a nutritious meal the whole family will love!
Welcome to one of our easiest Indian dishes with simple ingredients. If you are new to vegan curry recipes or Indian food in general, this is a great place to start. We are big fans of our more recent Instant Pot chana masala recipe, using dried chickpeas, but this stovetop, easy chana masala recipe is where my curry journey began.
Why You'll Love This Recipe
- Chana masala, known as chole masala, represents plant-based cooking at its best. It's naturally vegan, and like all our recipes, there's no added oil required.
- The spicy flavor, the secret of this recipe, and honestly, for most Indian recipes, is all about the blend of spices and aromatics like fresh ginger, garlic, onions, and jalapenos.
- What sets this recipe apart is an easy cilantro sauce that takes minutes to make and adds a zesty flavor that plain coconut milk can't match.
Ingredients, Notes, and Substitutions
Chickpeas. Use 3 cans (4 ½ cups) of cooked chickpeas, rinsed and drained. Chana means chickpeas, so honestly, there's no authentic substitute.
Fresh tomatoes. Diced tomatoes add a bright flavor, but you can make this recipe with canned tomatoes. This isn't a tomato-based curry, so use 1 can and ½ a cup of vegetable broth. Add a tablespoon of tomato paste (tomato puree) if the sauce is too thin.
Jalapenos. Remove the seeds and white parts of the fresh chilies for less spicy heat. You can also use serrano pepper or milder green chilies. Or add extra cayenne pepper or Indian red chili powder if you don't have a fresh chili hanging around and want to adjust the spice level.
Aromatics. A combination of yellow onion, minced ginger, and garlic create the first level of flavor. 2 tablespoons of ginger-garlic paste works for a quick replacement.
Spices. I use basic Indian spices that include a mix of ground cumin, ground turmeric, cumin, coriander, and cayenne pepper. If you have whole spices, like cumin or coriander seeds, grind them first.
Chia seeds. Substitute flax seeds if necessary. Ground chia seeds thicken the coconut milk, fresh cilantro, and lemon juice. That's everything you need for coriander cream. ½ a tablespoon of chia or flax seeds will grind to 1 tablespoon.
Please see the recipe card at the bottom of this post for the complete list of ingredients with measurements plus recipe instructions.
The spice profile for this recipe is straightforward, but you can also add a little garam masala. I have a homemade garam masala spice mix and keep it filled to add extra flavor to various Indian curries. It will be slightly sweeter because it has a cinnamon stick and other warm spices.
Mango powder, which is common in Indian cooking, will sweeten the curry, but it can be challenging to find. You might also discover chana masala powder if you land in a specialty store. Investigate the ingredients first, but it can be used as a substitute for the rest of the spices.
If you want to add more greens to your curry, chopped fresh or thawed frozen spinach is an easy option. I know chana masala isn't the same as spinach curry, but if you have it, toss it in if you want.
Step 1: Use a spice grinder to break down the chia seeds.
Step 2: In a blender, add the chia seeds, coconut milk, cilantro, and lemon juice. Set it aside.
Step 3: Heat a large pan or cooking pot to medium heat, then cook the onions and jalapenos until they soften.
Step 4: Add the garlic, ginger, and the spices. Stir to blend.
Step 5: Stir in the chopped tomatoes, then cover the pan and let the tomatoes simmer for 10 minutes.
Step 6: Mix in the chickpeas and heat through.
Step 7: Stir half the cilantro cream sauce into the curry. Add the rest over the top of the curry.
- Make the cilantro sauce before cooking the curry so it has time to thicken. To save time, make it a day ahead and store it in the fridge.
- If you're serving this with rice, consider the timing and start it before cooking if necessary.
Our favorite way to serve this yummy chickpea curry is with white or brown Basmati rice. Regular long-grain brown rice is also a healthy option.
Frequently Asked Questions
Store chana masala in an airtight container for 3-4 days. You can also freeze it for 3 months
If you use canned chickpeas, making this recipe on the stove will likely be quicker than the Instant Pot. We do have an Instant Pot chana masala recipe that uses dried chickpeas, and I highly recommend a pressure cooker if you start with dried, particularly unsoaked chickpeas.
Some people find the flavor of cilantro bitter or 'soapy'. I don't recommend another green herb to replace cilantro (coriander) for the cilantro sauce. Just omit it and serve the sauce with ground chia seeds, coconut milk, and lemon juice.
More Chickpea Curry Recipes
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Vegan Chana Masala with Creamy Cilantro Sauce
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Cilantro Cream Sauce
- 1 cup light coconut milk
- ½ tablespoon chia seeds - this will grind down to 1 tablespoon (substitute with flax seeds).
- 1 cup cilantro - roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice - about ½ lemon
- 2 medium onions - chopped (2 cups)
- 2 medium jalapenos - minced (depending on the heat you like)
- 3 cloves garlic - minced
- 2 tablespoons ginger - minced
- 1 ½ teaspoons ground coriander
- 1 teaspoons ground cumin
- ¼ teaspoons cayenne pepper
- ½ teaspoons turmeric
- 4 large tomatoes - 3 - 4 cups diced
- 3 cans chickpeas - 15-ounce cans, rinsed and drained
- Timing tip: Make the coriander cream first so it has time to thicken up.
- Grind ½ a tablespoon of chia or flax seeds. This will yield 1 Tbsp.
- In a blender add 1 cup coconut milk, 1 tablespoon ground chia seeds, 1 cup fresh coriander and 1 tablespoon. lemon juice. Blend well and set aside.
- Heat a large pan or medium pot to medium heat. Add the onions and jalapenos ¼ cup vegetable broth and add the onions and jalapenos. Cook for few minutes, stirring them constantly until they soften.
- Stir in the garlic, ginger, and spices.
- Add the chopped tomatoes, then lower the heat and cover the pan. Cook the tomatoes for 10 minutes.
- Stir in the chickpeas and half the cilantro sauce.
- Serve over rice if desired and top off with the remaining sauce.
- If you don't like fresh cilantro, leave it out and make lemony coconut cream with chia seeds, coconut milk, and lemon juice.
- Substitute fresh tomatoes for 1 can of tomatoes. Add ½ a cup of vegetable broth if the sauce is too dry.
- Store leftover chana masala in the refrigerator for 3-4 days or freeze it for 3 months.
- To save time on a busy weekday, make the cilantro sauce a day ahead and store it in the fridge until you are ready to use it.
Nutritional information is an estimation only.