There’s a secret to making chickpea and potato curry and it’s all about developing the layers of a few essential Indian spices and flavors. Yes, that simple, even for a dish like chana (chickpeas) aloo (potatoes) curry with 2 main ingredients (chickpeas and potatoes of course) and a few flavor enhancers like jalapenos, onions, and tomatoes.
It’s all about spices and layers
Don't let all these spices and layers talk scare deter you from making a great curry. You're about to discover that first, the spice list isn't so long and second, you'll be tipping several of them straight into the blender to make the sauce. It’s something I love about this recipe process, you’ll just blend up a sauce, then build the next layers while those flavors build themselves.
It wasn’t until I took my first cooking class that I discovered the concept of layering for flavor. That’s exactly the time I confirmed that there's a big difference between say, garlic and garlic powder or fresh ginger and that out-of-date dry jar in my spice cupboard. There are times and places for both, but if you want fresh-tasting, chickpea, and potato curry, grab your blender, because we’ll be using those when we make the sauce.
There are some options when it comes to using chili for this recipe. As always, you can just omit, but beyond heating a dish up, peppers add a distinct flavor, so use them if you can. I happened to have a green jalapeno, and nothing else would satisfy me once I decided I needed chickpea and potato curry, so that’s what I used. You can also use one or two Thai green chilies (the long thin ones) or a hotter red Thai chili would work as well. My point is that you can use what you have access to. Just be mindful that not all chilies are treated equally.
Is there a difference between green and red chilies?
Where we live, we often run into chili shortages. Sometimes, there are big, beautiful green jalapenos and not a red chili to be found. But I'm not about to let that stop me making curries, chilies or soups. When it comes to fresh chilies, you can easily do a bit of substitution. Don’t let the fact you can only find long green Thai chilis stop you for a minute. My general rule of thumb is that the green chilis will be a bit hotter than the red. I qualify this by stating it’s a ‘general’ rule because chilies are notoriously unequal – even within the same variety and color. We’ve all had it happen, one jalapeno superhot, the other, not-so-much.
In terms of adjusting the heat for our chickpea curry, you may want to remove the seeds from whatever chili you are using or at least remove a few. The tomato sauce is the only place we’ll add heat so you can give it a taste and add another chili or more cayenne pepper. Be mindful though, the flavor will build as the curry simmers, so you can always add cayenne at the end. You might also opt for just serving this up with some red chili flakes that can be added individually.
Why toast spices?
Just like the difference between fresh ginger and the dry, ground kind, there’s a distinct flavor difference when you toast spices. The process of toasting spices, just for a few minutes, brings out the aromatic oils and intensifies their flavors. You don't need to be a supertaster to experience the difference between toasted cumin seeds and using the ground kind. When you take a minute to toast the seeds, the warm flavor wafts through the dish without overpowering it. It's the same reason why toasted sesame seeds make better tahini (at least, that's my preference).
How do you toast spices?
The good news about toasting spices is that it’s dead easy and takes about 2 minutes. When I toast spices, it’s usually because I’m laying the first flavor layer. This is a quick step that will seriously make your chickpea and potato curry taste undeniably special. The secret to spice toasting success is simple, provide enough room so there is a single layer of spices with room to move and use a heavy-bottomed pan.
Which spices are best to toast?
Any dry, whole spice is benefited from toasting. And you don’t need to limit yourself to seeds. Toasting a cinnamon stick or a few bay leaves does wonder to bring out the subtle nuances of the flavors without overpowering your dish.
There are two ways to approach cooking with cardamom pods. I’ve tried both, the first being to hit the pods to open them, add them to the pot and after cooking, fish the pods out, leaving the seeds to spice the dish. My difficulty with this process has always been the fishing expedition. I was never good at fishing and invariably, with cardamom pods, someone ends up biting into one as they are eating their curry. My other point is that if you want to use green cardamom seeds for something like massaman curry paste, you can't exactly retrieve the pods. Now, that would be a serious fishing expedition!
For this reason, I like option two – adding only the cardamom seeds. It’s a bit fiddly at the beginning, to crush open the pods, remove the seeds and add only those to the pan to toast; however, as a failed fisherman, it works better for me.
Be prepared with chopped potatoes and onions
If you are toasting spices as your first layer, be ready to add the next ingredients, in our case the onions and potatoes cubes. This will stop the spices from burning as well as letting the onions release their natural sugars and flavor. The potatoes get a chance to soften up here but let the onions be your guide here, the potatoes will get plenty of time to cook when we do the final simmer.
Is my sauce too thin?
When I made chickpea curry with blended tomato sauce the first time, I was concerned that the sauce was a bit thin when I poured it into the pot with the spices, onions, and potatoes. That worry resolved itself as the sauce reduced as it cooked. In the final step when you add the chickpeas, you’ll add an additional ½ cup of water. The sauce will cook down as the potatoes get down which takes about 25 minutes, but you need enough liquid to allow the potatoes to move a bit so they get done in the middle.
Yes, there will be chickpeas
It wouldn’t be chickpea and potato without chickpeas, would it? For this recipe, I used 2 cans (3 cups); however, I’ve made it with chickpeas I’ve cooked from scratch. For more on that see my instructions for chickpea soup with vegan noodles. No matter how you get there, add the cooked chickpeas before you do the final simmer to get the potatoes done. Check the potatoes for doneness by piercing them with a fork and of course, don’t pass up the opportunity to taste a ‘tato or two. Those are the perks of being the cook.
Once you allow the potatoes, chickpeas, all those spices, and the sauce to simmer up until the potatoes are tender, you are all set. Depending on the size of your potatoes, it should take about 25 minutes. That's enough time to get some rice or quinoa cooked up. It's a complete meal and unbelievably satisfying. Just fish out the cinnamon stick and bay leaves and dish it up. I added a bit more chopped cilantro, but you don't really need that. Your curry is terrific right out of the pot.
How do I reheat chickpea and potato curry?
If you are fortunate to have any left, reheating curry is a dream. On the stovetop, add a few tablespoons of water to keep it from sticking and heat on medium-low. I recommend reheating leftover rice just once and find it easiest to use a basket steamer for this.
Can I freeze curry?
Making a double batch of curry is so simple – you might just need a bigger pot. That’s it. Freeze for up to 3 months in an airtight container or even a heavy freezer bag. Set it in the refrigerator to thaw slowly. If you set it in hot water to thaw, be sure to cook it immediately or the potatoes will get mushy.
I'm always mightily impressed when I see a plate of chickpea and potato curry awaiting the arrival of my fork. I’m even more impressed when I take the first bite and the next. And although I started this recipe talking ‘secrets’ it turns out that this cooking secret really isn’t so secret after all. Good cooking, improvements in your skills or ability to make snap decisions about substitutions or techniques is simply a matter of practice with a side of persistence. That’s the secret to achieving just about any goal. Practice and persistence. Take the lessons from your successes and failures and apply both to future endeavors. Concentrate on what it feels like when you get closer to your goals – no matter how small the steps. Peace.Print
Indulge your love of potatoes with healthy and flavorful chickpea and potato curry (chana aloo curry), the deliciously spicy, gluten-free, plant-based dish.
- 4 medium tomatoes, diced (about 8 ounces)
- 2-inch piece of ginger root peeled and diced (2 Tbsp.)
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 1 jalapeno, green Thai chili or another chili
- 1 cup fresh cilantro (coriander), leaves and tender stems
- 1 Tbsp. ground coriander
- ½ tsp. turmeric
- ½ tsp. cayenne pepper (more if you want your curry hotter)
- ½ cup water
- 2 tsp. cumin seeds
- 1 cinnamon stick (3-inches)
- 5 green cardamom pods, crushed with seeds removed (you’ll be using the seeds)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 2 medium russet or other potatoes (3 cups), diced into 1-inch cubes
- 3 cups cooked chickpeas, rinsed and drained (2- 15 oz. or 400 gm. cans)
- ½ cup water
- To make the sauce, in a food processor or blender combine the tomatoes, ginger, garlic, jalapeno, cilantro, coriander, turmeric, cayenne, and ½ cup water. Blend until smooth.
- Heat a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds, cinnamon stick, cardamom seeds, and bay leaves. Toast the spices for about 1 minute, stirring constantly until the spices start to get fragrant.
- Immediately, add the onions and potatoes. Mix them in and cook for 5 minutes to let them start to soften.
- Stir in the sauce and mix well so the spices, onions, and potatoes are well coated. Cover and heat over medium-low for 5 minutes.
- Uncover and add the chickpeas and ½ cup water. Mix everything well and recover the pot. Cook over medium-low until the potatoes are tender.
- Remove the cinnamon and bay leaves. Serve over rice or your favorite grain if desired. Add fresh chopped cilantro as a garnish.
- Nutritional information includes 4 servings of the curry only. Rice or another grain is not accounted for.
- If you want to ‘fancy up’ this dish a bit, you can add 2 cups of chopped spinach or a cup of frozen peas right at the end of the cooking process. This will bulk out your dish a bit as well as give it a bit of color.
- If you cannot find cardamom pods, substitute ½ tsp. ground cardamom.
- Category: Main Courses
- Cuisine: Indian
Keywords: chickpea and potato curry