We’re Doing This Right: Channa Masala

Tonight I dropped the eldest at a homework playdate and sneaked off for a “me party.” First I went to Leon’s Frozen Custard and enjoyed a diet coke. More honest people would call this a chocolate-and-strawberry cone.

As I sat in my car licking my diet coke, I reviewed the latest installment in Slate.com’s “You’re Doing it Wrong” series. The latest edition was channa masala – how people try to whip up a batch of restaurant-quality chickpea stew. And fail. The dried chickpeas soak then stew over  hours, anywhere from two to eight. Eight roma tomatoes, two onions, myriad spices later there is a golden, steaming chickpea stew awaiting you. A classic dish, channa masala has its own spice blend (that’s the “masala”) and the textural versatility to go with the fried bread that’s called bhatura or with rice. It’s on every Indian menu I have seen from Mumbai to Milwaukee and the dish’s prominence is well deserved. In India, this was my first-grader’s go-to meal at every veg restaurant. In the non-veg restaurants it was chicken – on a stick, drowned in curry, in a pile of noodles, any way she could get it.


According to “You’re Doing It Wrong” author L.V. Anderson, American at-home channa challenges fail because folks opt out of the Indian grocery store for their shopping, instead buying at a more traditional grocery store. One example of this phenomenon: swapping out amchoor powder for lemon juice. Amchoor is mango powder in a muted mauve color.

Initially, I scoffed at folks who think they can prepare authentic Indian food from the convenience of the “ethnic foods” aisle at Pick ‘N Save. But I didn’t get into this to be all judgy. In some ways, I got into this writing thing because one of my children’s teachers told me years ago: “You’re so real.” She told me this because I was always forgetting to sign permission slips, arriving late to school, packing the kids’ lousy lunches. I am proud of none of those things. Minute failures are the voices in my ear, whispering always: “You could do better. Be more. Try harder. Focus!” Hence this writing exercise is equal parts trying to learn and succeed at something different and difficult to me, and a TMI-style confession that in many ways, on many days, getting through it all is really a lot of work for me. So there’s a pop-psychological analysis of ChutneyChallenged for you. And now I’ve just shamed myself by using the word “chuckle.”

After I checked myself for being a supermarket snob I thought back to my first couple trips to the neighborhood Indian grocer. It was hard for me to walk in, ask for help, leave myself open to a suggestion that might lead me in the wrong direction. With six different bhel mixes to choose from, how could I possibly buy the right one? Should mustard seeds be purchased split or whole? Same question applies for dalia. Harder still was buying cooking equipment. My misadventures with pressure cooker nearly reduced me to tears on New Year’s Day and I had to ask my husband to get his Gujarati on and make phone calls on my behalf to procure one.

Even tonight, when I returned to that grocery store for staples and channa masala ingredients, I experienced a few blank moments. The recipe dictates one begin with dry chickpeas. However, there are about eight different kinds of dry chickpeas: whole or split; roasted or unroasted; salted or unsalted. I asked the owner for help, and was steered immediately to canned chickpeas. I held my ground, and they took me to the masala shelf. I grabbed the channa masala from my bag  to prove our latest misunderstanding, then repeated my interest in chickpeas – nothing else. On my third request, I got there.

I posted a photo of most of the channa masala ingredients, especially the ones you may not have heard of. This whole bundle of items cost  $17.25, which does not include the rice, bhatura ingredients or tomatoes. You will see that I bought garam masala from the Spice House, a small and successful business in Milwaukee. Most of my indi-gredients are from India, Illinois or Canada. I felt better buying the garam masala local. It definitely perked up my singed chivda earlier this week and the scent is more beguiling than any smelly marker you remember from grad school. It is good stuff.


Note: Spellings vary widely in India and among Indian products here in America. Amchur powder could be amchoor. Getting used to this will demystify your every trip to the Indian grocer.

Happy shopping! Tomorrow I cook. Or maybe I’ll go bowling. What I lack in productivity and bowling I make up for in honesty, FYI.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Chutney Challenged
    Mar 17, 2013 @ 06:58:02

    My linking abilities are weak today.
    Here is the “You’re Doing it Wrong” article and recipe:
    Here is a post about buying a pressure cooker: https://chutneychallenged.wordpress.com/2013/01/10/
    Here is where I bought the pressure cooker:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


sweet valley high in a nerd-shell

Brew Beat

Covering Brewers greats from Hank Aaron to Eddie Zosky with beat writer Adam McCalvy.

Vampire Cupcakes

Bite it before it bites you.

the other fork in the road

navigating life via acute corners, wrong turns and dead ends.

The Rants of a Stay-at-Home Dad

Designed for experimentation, not expertise.

Frat House Fridays

Writing, Teaching and Tearing Down the House with a Toddler

Just A Small Town Girl...

Just your average 27 year old diagnosed with E.W.S. at birth... AKA Excessive Writing Syndrome :)


four states in four years


1 woman's journey through cancer treatment

The Creative Trust Milwaukee

fostering life-long learning through the arts

Chutney Challenged

Designed for experimentation, not expertise.


Designed for experimentation, not expertise.

still in sirsasana

Designed for experimentation, not expertise.

Farm to Table Wisconsin

– Reviving the bond between community and farmer

Everything Everywhere All of the Time

New and improved obsolete irrelevance.

Namita's Kitchen


Crappy Pictures

Designed for experimentation, not expertise.

Foodie Brooklyn Mom

My obsession with food, living in Brooklyn, and being a mom

%d bloggers like this: