When it comes to comfort foods that warm my soul on a cool rainy Portland evening, the spiced dishes of India are one of my many go-tos. For a long time, I was hesitant to try my hand at cooking Indian food, because it seemed like a lot of work. While there is a long list of spices in almost every recipe, and many Indian dishes benefit from a slow simmer all day long - you can still make great Indian dishes in a short amount of time and with a small collection of spices on hand. Chana masala and palak paneer are my two favorites to make at home, so I thought it was high time I share those recipes with you fine people! 

One of the biggest ways to create great flavors in Indian dishes (and plenty of other cuisines as well!) is to start with whole spices. Once spices are ground, they start to go stale and lose their flavor really quickly. So if you're not constantly buying fresh ground spices, it's likely that all those spices you have hiding away in a cupboard are nowhere near as flavorful as their freshly ground counterparts. 

This may seem overwhelming, and like a lot of work... but I promise it isn't! And the flavor power you'll notice will totally rock your world and make it all worthwhile! The two best ways to grind spices are in a mortar and pestle (aka free therapy, and a great stress reliever after work!) and in a coffee grinder. Grabbing a cheap coffee grinder at a resale shop and keeping it on hand just for spices works great. Just give it a quick wipe after use to keep the flavors separate. 

If you get really excited about grinding spices, like we have in our kitchen... there are a ton of ways to make it easier on yourself. Just start by buying all the spices you're able to as whole spices. Then, I grind them up and keep a small amount of ground spices that I've ground myself on hand for quick and easy additions. That way it doesn't feel like a chore every time you cook. You got this! 

So, about that chana masala. If you've never had it before, chana means chickpea and masala is the name used for spice blends. So chana masala is chickpeas cooked in a highly spiced sauce, which is made mostly of tomatoes. To make it, all you need are those chickpeas and tomatoes, and your mega flavor powers of some spices, garlic, ginger, and onions. 

I love making homemade naan to serve alongside my Indian dishes, so I'll be sharing that recipe with you next week! It's a yeasted dough so it does take some time to make, but the hands-on time is relatively little! Rice always makes a great accompaniment as well, and will cook easily in the time it takes to whip this dish together. 

Chana Masala

1 Tbsp whole coriander seeds 

2 Tbsp whole cumin seeds 

1/2 tsp cayenne 

1 Tbsp turmeric

1 Tbsp paprika 

1 Tbsp garam masala (or curry powder in a pinch)

2 Tbsp vegetable oil, butter, or ghee 

2 medium onions (or 1 big one!), minced 

3 cloves garlic, minced 

1 Tbsp grated fresh ginger

1 Tbsp amchoor powder, or 2 Tbsp lemon juice

28oz can diced tomatoes (or about 2lbs fresh tomatoes), pureed 

4 cups cooked chickpeas 

  • In a small frying pan over medium-high heat, toast whole coriander and cumin seeds until they become fragrant (a few minutes). Add cayenne, turmeric, paprika, and garam masala and toast for another 30 seconds, or until fragrant. In a clean coffee grinder or mortar and pestle, grind the spices. Set aside. 
  • In a large deep pan over medium heat, heat the oil. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are translucent. Add the garlic, and continue to cook until onions have started to turn a golden brown.
  • Add the spices you set aside and stir just until they coat the onions before moving on to the next step. 
  • Add ginger, amchoor or lemon juice, and pureed tomatoes. Simmer mixture for about 10 minutes, until the tomatoes have thickened a bit. 
  • Add chickpeas, and continue cooking for 10-15 more minutes. 
  • Serve with rice or naan!