A delicious restaurant-style or dhaba-style north Indian dish of chickpeas in a delicious red sauce of onions and tomato with a puffy, flaky bread, Chole Bhatura or Chana Bhatura is easy enough to make at home. A spicy chole masala sauce is served with a puffy Indian bread called a Bhatura. Vegan, nut-free and soy-free, and everything but the bhature is gluten-free.
Growing up in Bombay, it was hard to miss the delicious flavor of Udupi restaurants, which dot the city (and now other parts of the country and the world), serving fast food that is vegetarian, reasonably priced, incredibly tasty and even healthy. Udupi restaurants came to be known as such because they were, at least in the beginning, run by people from Udupi in Karnataka, a beautiful coastal state in the South of India. While the restaurants served a lot of popular south Indian dishes, like idli-wada sambar, masala dosa and uttapam, they also often catered to more diverse tastes with dishes like cheese sandwiches (slices of white bread around thick slabs of Amul cheese: remember that one?), vegetable pulao and ragda patties which are potato cakes served in a chunky, spicy pea sauce. Yum.
When we lived in India, Desi and I would meet friends after work at Kamat’s, one of a popular chain of Udupi restaurants in the city. This particular restaurant, completely unpretentious with steel-topped, easy-to-clean tables and matter-of-fact waiters, sat close to the Sterling Cinema which always showed Hollywood movies. On Friday nights, we’d often combine a quick but hearty meal at Kamat’s with a night show of whatever was showing at Sterling. At midnight, after the show, we’d dash to make it to one of the last local trains chugging out of Victoria Terminus.
Now, when I visit India, I make a beeline for Udupi restaurants when I eat out because I know for sure that’s one place I can always count on to find a delicious vegan meal. One of my favorite meals at Kamat’s was Chana Bhatura. Or maybe it was called Chole Bhatura on the menu.
This is actually a north Indian dish, usually found in roadside eateries called dhabas, but the Udupi restaurants, like I said, catered to every taste and had many north Indian dishes on the menu. Chana or chhole would both refer to garbanzo beans or chickpeas. The beans would be served steaming in a red-brown sauce alongside a big, puffy puri, or a bhatura, which is a delicious deep-fried bread. When the piping hot plate of Chana Bhatura was put in front of you, it was bliss to poke a hole in the bhatura and watch it deflate before you could tear it with your fingers, dunk it into the chana, and bite into it.
- I have various versions of Chana Masala on this blog, including a quickie version and a slow cooker version that’s free of added oils, but when I make Chana Bhatura I love to stick with the traditional recipe for Chana Masala, which is perhaps the most popular Indian food anywhere in the world. This version, which is cooked at a more leisurely pace and with a few more spices, is Chana Masala as it’s meant to be. And although it may sound like it takes much longer to make it, it really doesn’t. If you start out with canned chickpeas, you’ll be done in under 45 minutes.
- Canned chickpeas are the only canned product you want in this recipe. Your tomatoes should be fresh for the best flavor. If you want to cook your chickpeas from dry, make sure you soak them overnight and cook them until they are very, very tender.
- Caramelize your onions and slow cook your tomatoes until they break down thoroughly. Your gravy will thicken beautifully when the onions and tomatoes are cooked as they should be and your chickpeas are tender when you add them to the sauce.
- Take the trouble to find the chana masala spice mix either online or at your friendly, neighborhood Indian grocery store. Chana masala spice mix contains more ingredients than your average garam masala does, most importantly anardana, or pomegranate powder, and aamchur, or mango powder. These two spices add the depth and flavor you want in your chana masala, which an average garam masala will not bring.
- You might balk at a fried food, and you could just make or buy a naan, but if you are brave enough to make the bhatura, do. It’s not difficult, and you’ll never really taste ultimate deliciousness unless you’ve torn off a piece of the bhatura and dunked it into the Chana Masala.
- You need to add some yogurt in the bhatura dough. I use cashew yogurt, but any kind is fine. Don’t skip it– it’s important for the flavor and texture.
- Timing is important for a bhatura– you need to eat it as it comes off the stove to ensure it tastes the best. So start frying your bhaturas after you finish making the chana masala.
- Chickpeas, cooked or canned
- Ginger-garlic paste
- Vegetable oil
- Whole spices, including green cardamom pods, cloves, cinnamon and a bay leaf
- Cayenne or other moderately hot chili pepper powder
- Chana masala spice mix
- Whole wheat flour and all purpose flour, or just all purpose flour
- Vegetable oil
- Vegan yogurt
Calories: 208kcal | Carbohydrates: 27g | Protein: 6g | Fat: 8g | Saturated Fat: 5g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 155mg | Potassium: 224mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 305IU | Vitamin C: 5mg | Calcium: 35mg | Iron: 2mg