To come up with my own version, I reviewed several recipes. Some started with dried chickpeas that required soaking, along with fresh tomatoes that had to be peeled and chopped, while others called for canned products. But once the ingredients were prepped, the method was similar: Fry a paste of onion, ginger, and garlic in oil. Stir in spices such as cumin, garam masala, and a mild chile powder (Kashmiri chile powder is traditional, but paprika is a common sub), and then add the tomatoes, chickpeas, and some water. Simmer until the chickpeas are soft and the sauce has thickened; then serve with rice, naan (or bhature; see “Bread on the Side”), and the salad.
But none of these versions matched the stellar examples I’d eaten in the past. Several seemed lean and austere, the kind of thing devout carnivores expect vegetarian food to be. In some, the chickpeas were so soft that they were escaping their skins; in others, they remained too snappy. And the dishes lacked the nuanced spice flavor and heady aroma that are the hallmarks of chana masala.