30-Minutes or Less!/ Indian Cooking 101/ Recipes: Vegan/ Recipes: Vegetarian

Indian Cooking 101: Curry for Beginners (Pindi Chana)

In my quest to dismiss the myth that Indian cooking is not for the faint-hearted and to help spread my knowledge on some simple and traditional Indian food recipes, like this Pindi Chana Curry, I have started this series called Indian Cooking 101. To make it more interactive and as helpful as I can for my readers, I welcome you to email me any questions that you may have in the process. I will try and respond to the questions personally through email, or in the next part if it’s connected to what I have already planned to discuss.

I get quite a few emails referring to a past post of mine, How NOT to Cook Indian food, from people confessing to me their creative and not so creative ways of imitating Indian flavours. As much as I love reading each and every one of them, it also sometimes makes me want to pull my eyes out when I see how much people actually enjoy Indian food, but yet, how ignorant they are about what actually goes into it. A common misdemeanour is of course, by far, the liberal addition of that yellow powdery substance known commercially as curry powder (say it with me now, YUCK!) to a quick saute of chopped onions and tomatoes.

Recipe for Chana Masala (Chickpea Curry), taken from www.hookedonheat.com. Visit site for detailed recipe.

Curry is undoubtedly one the most popular Indian dishes and can vary in style, colour and flavour depending on the region and kitchen it comes from. Although I can in no way humanly possible, map out step-by-step recipes for every curry that exists, I will try and share with you a few simple tips that I often use myself to create a lip-smacking bowl of curry with little, or no effort needed whatsoever. As with any classic dish, Indian curries vary in taste, colour and style within regions throughout the country, and every household has a secret family recipe that they claim is the best ever!

One thing to note here, however, is when I mention the word “curry”, I am clearly pointing to a gravy-based dish of either meat or vegetables. To begin with, let’s start by breaking up a curry into its basic components:

Flavour base: I often like to start with deciding the flavour base for my curry. This would be the main ingredient that would dominate the flavour of the curry dish and could range anywhere from a simple blend of spices to coconut, yogurt or tomatoes. Deciding on your flavour base before you start to prep ingredients for the cooking will also help you to estimate what spices, meat or vegetables would best compliment it.

Feature ingredient: This would usually be the meat or vegetable that would carry the dish. In many cases, more than one feature ingredient can be used, but be sure to either group items that compliment each other well, or give you a wonderful contrast. Adding peas and carrots to a potato curry would bump up the blandness of the potatoes. But combining squash and sweet potatoes together, might not be such a great idea.

Flavour enhancers: This is undoubtedly my favourite part of the curry, and by far, a highly important one. They can range anywhere from herbs, spices and condiments or sauces. When picking a flavour enhancer, keep in mind that you always want to choose something that would enhance the flavouring of the dish, and not overwhelm it. It’s often best when you get a slight hint of the flavour in the background, giving the other components of the dish enough weight to bring it out together.

To make a fabulous tasting curry, it’s always best to look at each component separately and try and combine them together in such a way that they go well with each other. For eg., if I had decided to make a coconut-based curry, then I would normally pick fish as my feature ingredient, and ginger, lemongrass, and curry leaves as my flavour enhancers. The sharpness in the ginger and curry leaves would be well balanced with the lemongrass and coconut; and the fish, being much bland in taste, would carry all the flavours fairly well.

To give you an idea of how versatile curries can be, here are three very different recipes that are simple to make and can easily be adapted to suit any kind of taste preference:

Tomato-based curry with yogurt and whole spices:

Heat oil in a thick-bottomed pan and saute some cardamom, peppercorns, bay leaves, cinnamon stick and cloves, till they begin to sizzle. Add sliced onions and green chillies, and fry for 3-5 minutes on medium-high heat till onions turn pink and tender. Stir in some ginger-garlic paste and saute for another minute or two till it starts to gives out oil. Add red chilli powder, cumin powder, turmeric, coriander powder and garam masala, and fry for a minute. Mix in chopped tomatoes and salt, and cook for a few minutes till tomatoes pulp and releases oil around the sides of the pan. Slowly stir in beaten yogurt forming a smooth gravy base.

This curry base would go extremely well with chicken, paneer, mushrooms, and potatoes. A variation on this recipe can be seen here – Dahiwali Chicken Curry

Coconut-based curry:

Toast dried red chilies, cumin seeds and coriander seeds till fragrant. Grind in a food processor to a fine powder and set aside. Heat oil and saute garlic and curry leaves till fragrant. Add onions and fry for a few minutes till tender and pink. Add ground spices and turmeric, and fry for a few seconds before adding coconut milk.

This curry base would go extremely well with chicken, fish, tofu, and many leafy greens like spinach and bok choy. A variation on this recipe can be seen here – Coconut Chicken Curry

Tomato-based, tangy curry:

Add mustard seeds and curry leaves to warm oil and allow to sizzle. Once they begin to splutter, add sliced onions and fry till lightly browned. Add tomatoes, garlic, chilli powder, turmeric and salt, and cook for 5-6 minutes till tomatoes pulp. Add tamarind extract and stir to blend well. Add water and green chillies, and cook covered for 15-20 minutes.

This curry base would go extremely well with chicken, fish, and almost any vegetable. A variation on this recipe can be seen here – Hot & Sour Chicken Curry

These are just a few guidelines and examples to help you understand the versatility of Indian cuisine. By all means, trust your instinct and experiment flavours with love with those new to you, and you never know; you may just create a masterpiece!


Special equipment recommended: Pressure Cooker
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time20 mins
Total Time30 mins
Servings: 4
Author: Meena, www.hookedonheat.com


  • 1 cup dried chickpeas soaked overnight
  • 2 tbsp cooking oil
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 medium onion finely chopped
  • 2 green chillies finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
  • salt to taste
  • 1/2 tsp red chili powder
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1/2 tsp amchur powder dried mango
  • 1 tsp anardana powder dried pomegranate seeds
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • 1 large tomato finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • water as needed
  • fresh coriander leaves chopped for garnish


  • Boil pre-soaked chickpeas in enough water in a pressure cooker till soft.
  • Heat oil in a deep pan and saute cumin seeds till they begin to sizzle. Add in onions, green chillies and ginger-garlic paste, and fry till lightly browned. Stir in salt and spices, and fry for a few seconds.
  • Add in the chopped tomatoes and tomato paste, and cook for a few minutes to combine well. Add chickpeas and about a cup of water, and let cook on low heat for 8-10 minutes.
  • Garnish with fresh coriander leaves. 


Serve warm with Naans, Puris or Rice.

Tried this recipe? Leave a Comment and let me know, also Rate it by clicking the number of stars on the recipe card. Want to share your version with me? Tag me on Instagram @hookedonheat



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  • Reply
    October 19, 2011 at 3:09 AM

    5 stars
    this is my favourite. thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Reply
    August 27, 2011 at 4:07 AM

    5 stars
    nice recipe. Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply
    August 4, 2011 at 8:39 PM

    5 stars
    Wow! That’s an exhaustive and wonderful way of showcasing Channa! Kudos!

  • Reply
    June 25, 2011 at 2:39 PM

    5 stars
    A mouthwatering combination of ingredients. The picture looks delish.

  • Reply
    January 14, 2011 at 8:01 PM

    5 stars
    Hi Meena,
    I am absolutely new to this ‘Food-Blog’ world and have very recently started mine too, still working on the theme and layout ! Absolutely enjoyed reading your blog and congratulation on your book 🙂

    Our Saturday lunch will be Pindi Channa

  • Reply
    November 13, 2010 at 10:18 PM

    5 stars
    This is my fav…looks super yum perfect for rotis

  • Reply
    September 20, 2010 at 5:03 AM

    5 stars
    Luv pindi channa…have been checking out for the recipe….bookmarked urs…looks so tempting and delicious

  • Reply
    Ankita Karkera
    August 30, 2010 at 3:41 AM

    5 stars
    Hi Meena,

    I was browsing for Pindi Channa recipe when I came across your blog.. Superb detailing and it’s interesting to see the way you put it out for us. Keep up the good work 🙂

  • Reply
    August 22, 2010 at 10:45 PM

    5 stars
    Hi Meena,
    Came across your website about a year ago and I am now addicted to pindi chana!!!
    I do a variation with many vegetables and put it on rice for the complete protein. Thanks so much for this.

  • Reply
    ahmed foods
    August 7, 2010 at 10:07 AM

    5 stars
    I enjoyed this recipe.

    My one regret was the pomegranate seeds. They were not a powder as it came out of the package (despite what the package claimed). That made the recipe “gritty”. I’d either pound the seeds before use, or omit next time.

  • Reply
    May 9, 2010 at 6:27 AM

    5 stars
    Hi Meena,
    Thank you so much for the “Curry Base” information…truly appreciated!
    Love your website…
    Barbara in Toronto

  • Reply
    March 25, 2010 at 2:43 PM

    5 stars
    Hello Meena,
    I have been browsing through your website for recipes from time to time for the past 2 months or so and I would like to say I am quite impressed. Your recipes are easy to prepare and I am not dissapointed after reading the ingredients as most of them can be found in my kitchen at all times. I realize that you have not added any recipes since Dec, 08, please continue adding more of your delicious recipes. Thankss

  • Reply
    March 22, 2010 at 12:02 PM

    5 stars
    Hi Meena,

    what a beautiful website!
    I have been looking for curry recipes on the web and yours seem too delicious!!!
    I live in Mexico and have problems finding some of the spices, as eg the curry leaves.
    Is there anything I could use instead?


    • Reply
      March 23, 2010 at 10:00 AM

      Hi Sofie! Curry leaves are not something you can substitute, so I’d suggest simply leaving them out from the recipe.

  • Reply
    Tim Garrett
    November 13, 2009 at 3:34 PM

    5 stars
    This is a great site…i recently started cooking indian food. somewhat intimidating at first, but have had some good success. Even my kids are trying it. Winnipeg has some a healthy population of south asians and some good indian food stores, so looking forward to doing some shopping and trying lots of your recipes. Thanks.

  • Reply
    September 16, 2009 at 11:24 AM

    5 stars
    Good post. I ditto you take on that disastrous thing they call curry powder. I also boil some tea and add a cup of tea water to the channa. It helps digestion and improves the color – a trick I learnt from my Punjabi MIL.
    BTW I am excited to try out your chicken noodle recipe this week. It looks so yumm.

  • Reply
    July 9, 2009 at 9:41 AM

    5 stars
    Wow, really impressed with the variety of curries you can whip up. I’ll definitely be trying out a few.

  • Reply
    April 16, 2009 at 6:41 PM

    5 stars
    hi meena
    how do u get such a good colour in your dishes? pindi channa looks delicious

  • Reply
    February 19, 2009 at 4:40 PM

    5 stars
    HI, All ur recipes have lovely visuals. It makes me WANT to make them all..having said that, I tried ur Fried Egg Sambal and was it yummy or what!!! I prefer more gravy though so I used 3 eggs for the same masala portions. Also did not have tomato paste so used ketchup!! Was still tasty though..thanks much..will be trying more of ur recipes. Keep ’em coming 🙂

  • Reply
    February 12, 2009 at 2:56 PM

    5 stars
    Oh my, that looks so, sooo good. You know I’ll be trying this recipe.

  • Reply
    January 20, 2009 at 4:46 PM

    5 stars
    Meena, Love your blog – The photographs are to die for. It would be fantastic if you could do a primer sometime on how you compose and take such wonderful shots.
    Thanks, Anu

  • Reply
    January 18, 2009 at 5:06 AM

    5 stars
    I’m so keen to try tomato-based, yogurt based and tomato tangy !

  • Reply
    January 11, 2009 at 10:45 PM

    5 stars
    Just made this and it was amazing. Perfect heat.

  • Reply
    January 4, 2009 at 9:48 PM

    5 stars
    I made this for dinner tonight, with some chapati, very yummy, i’ve been searching through your blog, and i want to make just about everything! thanks for the inspiration, and all the hard work!

  • Reply
    Jun, IndoChine Kitchen
    December 8, 2008 at 2:24 AM

    5 stars
    I am loving you already!

    What a great blog you have here, can’t wait to check out some of the recipes. I am a great great Indian food lover. On our trip to Chennai two years ago, I couldn’t stop munching on everything in sight that was edible.

    Sadly, in Manila, where we lived – Makati neighbourhood, the Indian restaurants were so expensive, it simply didn’t worth it. Now back in Medan (Indonesia), the Indian restaurants are so much pricier than I originally thought it would be.

    I will try some of your recipes. I hope I can get the spices from our local Indian food supply store.

  • Reply
    December 1, 2008 at 1:17 PM

    5 stars
    Very nice blog and i like your presentation…

  • Reply
    Culinary Schools
    November 30, 2008 at 9:37 PM

    5 stars
    Great Recipes, i have been reading this “Intro to Indian” post regularly

    Thanks for posting

  • Reply
    White On Rice Couple
    November 30, 2008 at 6:14 PM

    5 stars
    This is such a valuable source of information, we all need to book mark it! Wow, thanks for this amazing, informational series. I feel like I’m so much smarter now when it comes to Indian curry. Now i just need to get in the kitchen and start making it!

  • Reply
    Dana McCauley
    November 22, 2008 at 9:48 PM

    5 stars
    Great info! I’m definitely inspired by your words of wisdom. Thanks.

  • Reply
    November 22, 2008 at 5:13 PM

    5 stars
    A famous chef on a cooking show here recently said her favorite spice was “curry.” As you can imagine, that had me screaming at the screen, “CURRY IS NOT A SPICE.” I’m not Indian, but this is a pet peeve of mine.

    I’ve tried a lot of different chole recipes, but never quite found one that’ been perfect. Never quite tangy enough. I think this sounds promising as it seems to have a lot of souring spices. can’t wait to try it.

  • Reply
    November 20, 2008 at 7:53 PM

    5 stars
    Yeah, yuck to the ‘yellow curry powder’, the biggest misconception with Non-Indians trying to prepare an Indian curry.
    Pindi Chana looks hot, spicy and finger-licking!

  • Reply
    November 20, 2008 at 3:11 PM

    5 stars
    THANK GOD!! Finally someone slates that blasted ingredient – the curry powder! The problem is the long list of ingredients we use. Sadly, I can see the draw of the stuff when it replaces so many spices in one dusting…

  • Reply
    November 20, 2008 at 12:51 PM

    5 stars
    Hey! it is always a pleasure to see you! So glad that the series continues!

  • Reply
    Happy Cook
    November 20, 2008 at 11:18 AM

    5 stars
    The channa curry looks so delicious. Beautiful

  • Reply
    November 19, 2008 at 11:39 PM

    5 stars
    yay! finally the blog is updated. i love your indianfood blog since i love indian food, and each time i open this everyday it has never been updated..so WELCOME BACK !! and keep posting yummy recipes


  • Reply
    November 19, 2008 at 11:17 PM

    5 stars
    Hi Meena,
    I came across ur blog a few weeks ago….
    I’ve been waiting since then for a new recipe of urs..
    I loved ur recipes…the pics…the ingredients….everything look so awesome.
    they have a malaysian touch….though we dont consider much of meat in our meals….i feel like trying all ur appetizer/curries…….

  • Reply
    November 19, 2008 at 9:39 PM

    5 stars
    Hi Meena, I come across to your blog first time. Nice blog with different recipes. I have bookmarked a couple of recipes and have to try them one by one. 🙂
    About this pindi chana, this is a common curry in our Gujarati people. My mom used to make this yummo…without onion-tomato but adding a clove of smashed garlic. We generally serve it with Gujarati Kadhi-roti and rice. And a what a coincidence…I have soaked chickpeas for today dinner. 🙂
    Thank you for your recipe here. Would like to visit again. 🙂

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