chickpeas, tomato and spinach

This recipe of chickpeas and spinach, cooked in a tomato masala has become our favourite vegetarian dish.

Known as chana palak masala or chole saag it comes from the Punjabi cuisine. It is a simple and wholesome family dish.

You can adjust the amount of chilli – the amount in the recipe will provide moderate, but not excessive heat. Don’t overdo it though. As presented the flavours are nicely balanced.

For a weeknight meal, there are some shortcuts, but you cannot compromise the preparation of the spinach.

The technique of blanching and chilling the spinach was taught to me by a chef friend. This preserves the vibrant green colour of the spinach, which otherwise will become brown. This technique is applicable to most of the leafy green vegetable recipes in this book.

The big shortcut is to use canned chickpeas. Most supermarkets sell canned organic chickpeas which make a suitable substitute for the process described in the recipe below. Make sure you rinse them well if using them.

Don’t worry about the large amount of salt specified. Most of it gets discarded after preparing the lentils and the spinach.

We serve this with plain rice, or chapatis, a raita, and the best pickle we have in our pantry.

the recipe

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for the chickpeas

for the spinach

for the curry

to serve


to prepare the chickpeas

  • Wash chickpeas in several changes of water. Cover with water and leave to soak overnight.
  • Put chickpeas in a pot and add the salt and fruit salt. Cover with water, bring to a simmer and cook the chickpeas until softened, but still firm. This will take about one hour. Remove from heat and drain well.

to prepare the spinach

  • Bring two litres of water to a boil in a large pan and prepare another bowl with two litres of iced water.
  • Once the water is boiling, add the salt and turmeric to the water, then add the spinach leaves. Stir, and once the water has come back to a boil transfer the leaves to the iced water using a slotted spoon. Stir well to distribute the leaves and allow them to cool.
  • Once the leaves have cooled, remove them from the iced water and gently squeeze the water from them. Coarsely chop the leaves and refrigerate until ready to use.

to prepare the curry

  • Heat a small frypan over medium heat. Add the coriander and cumin seeds. Toss gently until the seeds start to colour and become aromatic. Remove from the heat, allow to cool then grind to a fine powder. Set aside.
  • Heat the gingelly oil in a large pan on low heat. Add the sliced onion and sprinkle with ½ teaspoon of salt. Cook gently for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and light brown in colour.
  • Add the garlic and ginger and cook for two minutes, stirring frequently, until the raw garlic smell has gone.
  • Add the ground coriander and cumin seeds, ground turmeric, and Kashmiri chilli powder and fry for two minutes, stirring often.
  • Add the drained chickpeas, tomato puree, and the water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for ten minutes, stirring gently and often.
  • Add the spinach, ½ teaspoon of salt, and the jaggery, then mix well. Bring back to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for five minutes, stirring gently and often.

to serve

  • Add the garam masala, lemon juice and chopped coriander leaves. Mix and serve.


  • A 400g can of good quality chickpeas could be used instead of soaking and cooking your own. Make sure they are well rinsed before use.
  • Gingelly oil is Indian sesame oil. It is very different from the Asian sesame oil, being much less intense in flavour. Substitute with vegetable oil if unobtainable.
  • Use salt and sugar-free tomato puree for best results. You could make your own, ensuring the seeds are excluded.
  • If you don’t have jaggery, substitute with brown sugar.

private notes

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Serving: 250 g | Calories: 246 kcal | Carbohydrates: 39 g | Protein: 12 g | Fat: 7 g | Saturated Fat: 1 g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2 g | Monounsaturated Fat: 3 g | Trans Fat: 0.01 g | Sodium: 984 mg | Potassium: 1238 mg | Fiber: 11 g | Sugar: 10 g | Vitamin A: 9921 IU | Vitamin C: 42 mg | Calcium: 184 mg | Iron: 8 mg

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