Simple Slow Cooker Chana Masala
4.46 from 48 votes

Simple Slow Cooker Chana Masala | The Full Helping

When I went to Prague last summer, I brought reading material that consisted almost entirely of food writing. One of the books was Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life, in which she describes, among other things, the role that food played in her courtship with her former partner, Brandon.

There are many sweet anecdotes about intimacy developing over meals: shared excitement over the prospect of digging into a buttered baguette and sliced radishes for dinner, spontaneous dinner salads that turned into feasts. My personal favorite is Molly’s ode to Brandon’s chana masala. In a 2006 blog post dedicated to the recipe, she writes,

Mine is certainly not the first man to make chana masala, nor does he have any sort of pedigree—ethnic or otherwise—to lend him an air of authority in Indian cookery, but he does have a palate, and a very precise one at that.

Precise, maybe, but not in a way that lends itself to documentation. Wizenberg jokes about her tendency to follow and transcribe recipes, while Brandon cooks by touch, smell, and feel. I fall into Molly’s camp—a recipe follower at heart, instinctive only through practice (heh)—which makes me glad that she’s recorded Brandon’s approach to this dish. I’ve been making it since last summer, and it’s a keeper.

Lately, it’s often easier to let something simmer in my slow cooker than to keep an eye on it over a burner. If it slow cooks, I have a chance to dash outside for errands or to focus on coursework for the DI intently, which isn’t possible for me when I know that something’s on the stovetop.

Simple Slow Cooker Chana Masala | The Full Helping

So, last weekend, as a part of my usual batch cooking frenzy, I decided to try adapting the chana masala recipe to be slow cooker friendly. It felt almost irreverent, as Brandon’s recipe is, by Molly’s telling, defined by its spontaneity and stepwise, taste-based adjustments. The recipe also starts with caramelized onions, which is a step I didn’t preserve.

For the most part, though, I kept the proportions and spices intact. I sautéed my onions, if not taking the time to caramelize them, before allowing the slow cooker to do its thing. This isn’t really my slow cooker style—for the most part, the whole appeal of the device is the fact that I don’t have to sauté or closely watch anything—but here I think it does make the recipe better. I give you the option of doing either: lightly browning the onions before the get added to the slow cooker, or not. The chana masala will taste rich and flavorful either way.

Simple Slow Cooker Chana Masala | The Full Helping

This decision aside, it’s a very simple recipe. I used my slow cooker to cook chickpeas from dry beforehand (I usually do this following Alton Brown’s instructions, on the high setting for 3 1/2 hours or so), but canned chickpeas will work nicely, too. Feel free to add more or less spice to suit your taste, especially if you know how you like chana masala or a similar dish to taste already. That modification would definitely keep within the spirit of the original dish.

4.46 from 48 votes

Simple Slow Cooker Chana Masala

Author - Gena Hamshaw
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 3 hours
Total Time: 3 hours 10 minutes
Yields: 4 -6 servings


  • 1 tablespoon neutral flavored vegetable oil, such as safflower or grapeseed
  • 1 large white or yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon freshly minced ginger or 3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 28 ounces whole, peeled tomatoes
  • 3 cups cooked chickpeas (2 cans, drained and rinsed)
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1/2-1 teaspoon salt or to taste (I use 1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt)
  • A pinch of cayenne pepper, or to taste
  • 1 1/2 cups water, more as needed
  • For serving: plain vegan yogurt, fresh cilantro, cooked rice, homemade naan or chapati


  • Optional: heat the oil in a frying pan or skillet over medium heat. Add the onions. Sauté the onions till they're gently browning, about 7-8 minutes, stirring continually. Add the garlic and cook for another 2 minutes.
  • Transfer the onions and garlic to your slow cooker. Add the tomatoes, then crush them with a spoon or a potato masher in the slow cooker. Add the remaining ingredients. (Alternately, if you don't want to sauté the onions and garlic, begin by crushing the tomatoes in the slow cooker, then add the rest of the ingredients.)
  • Cook on high for 3-4 hours, or on low for 6-8 hours.** If the mixture is too thick for your liking, you can thin it with additional water. Taste and adjust salt. Serve.


*For an oil free version, sauté with water or simply add all ingredients aside from the oil to the slow cooker
**If you don't wish to use a slow cooker or don't have one, sauté the onions and garlic as instructed in a large saucepan or wide, deep skillet. Add the tomatoes and remaining ingredients as instructed. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. Uncover and simmer for an additional 5 minutes. Taste, adjust salt, and serve as desired.

Simple Slow Cooker Chana Masala | The Full Helping

In Molly’s recipe post, she notes,

This chana masala can be served in two different styles: with a half-cup of whole-milk yogurt to smooth and soften the flavors, or sans yogurt, served with a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of fresh cilantro. I prefer the former, but Brandon leans toward the latter. Either way, this dish is even better the second—or third—day.

She’s so right about the leftovers being better as they age. I also agree that it’s lovely served either with or without yogurt; the former is less traditional but more mild, the latter spicier. I can go either way, and I tend to vary based on my mood.

As for serving, I almost always pile the chickpeas over brown rice, but last weekend I happened to have some of my homemade chapatis in the freezer, so I decided to add a few wedges of those, too—with this dish, it’s a shame not to have something to scoop up every last bean!

I’m so excited to have some of the masala now in my freezer for next week, and to have savored it pretty regularly in the last month. I hope you’ll enjoy it, too, and look forward to circling back at the end of this long week for the usual roundup.


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Categories: Recipes, Main Dishes
Method: One Pot, Slow Cooker
Ingredients: Chickpeas, Tomatoes
Dietary Preferences: Gluten Free, Soy Free, Tree Nut Free, Vegan
Recipe Features: Meal Prep

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4.46 from 48 votes (41 ratings without comment)

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Recipe Rating

  1. 3 stars
    Bland-I followed the recipe exactly but I find it just doesn’t hit like I hoped it would

  2. 3 stars
    While tasty, it definitely is not chana masala, missing much of the spice profile one would expect. Would rename it to Indian-Style Chickpea Stew perhaps to set expectations. Also, cut back on the liquids to avoid the soupiness.

    • Hi Brad, I think that this is a really good point about the recipe title. And actually, I’ve been meaning to change the title, having learned more in the last two years about the importance of not taking uneducated liberties with recipes that are not from my culture of origin. Chickpea stew sounds right. Thank you for your feedback.

  3. 4 stars
    Are you supposed to drain the canned whole tomatoes? It didn’t specify so I didn’t, but it turned out very liquify/soupy

    • Hi Leanne! You’re supposed to add the liquid and the tomatoes, like you did, but sometimes it takes extra time to simmer them in order to reach a consistency that you like—I’ll be sure to state that more clearly in the instructions. I’m sorry you had that experience!

  4. 5 stars
    What an awesome combination of flavors. I have already made this. It is very delicious and flavorful. Thanks for sharing this.

  5. I made this using the stovetop directions as I don’t have a slow cooker, and the result was amazing. I am a new vegan and this is going in my permanent rotation. Easy and delicious – thank you, Gena.

  6. 5 stars
    I made these this morning and am so glad I did. They were quick, easy and fit perfectly. Thanks for a great recipe!! i love it !!

  7. 5 stars
    I love this recipe, but dont have a slow cooker. I own an instant pot. Any suggestions how i can make it in there?

    • Hi Lana,

      I don’t own an Instant Pot and don’t want to give you the wrong instruction. If it has a slow cooking function, I’d replicate the time for it. If not, I’d imagine the cooking time is very short—but again, I’m not an expert here. Sorry not to be more helpful!