How to Spice Up Your Meal with Naturally Gluten Free Chana Masala

 The moment I first tasted this wonderfully aromatic blend of spices and chick peas I was hooked.  It's wonderful right off the stove and only improves with a little time in the fridge.  So make lots!  

naturally gluten free chana masala with rice on a black plate

What is Chana Masala?

Naturally gluten free chana masala is a delicious chickpea curry that originated in the Punjab region of India.  Variations have made their way across the Indian sub-continent then around the world.  

Chana means chickpea. Masala is a blend of Indian spices. So chana masala is literally chickpeas in a blend of Indian spices.  The chickpeas and spices are simmered in a rich tomato and onion gravy.  You can then serve it over basmati rice or with your favorite gluten free flatbread.   Don't like too much heat?  That's okay, you're in control.

Is Indian Food Gluten Free?

Indian cuisine involves lots of lentils, beans, rice and chickpeas as well as cauliflower, potatoes and other vegetables.  For this reason, naturally gluten free Indian food is the perfect choice for a celiac looking for a healthy meal.  Some gluten free options you'll find at your local Indian restaurant are:

  • Aloo Gobi - potato and cauliflower curry
  • Butter Chicken - a luscious chicken curry in a rich buttery sauce
  • Tikka Masala - a British Indian dish, like butter chicken but with tangy, spicy notes
  • Vindaloo - a fiery spicy dish of meat, usually pork or chicken, marinated in garlic and vinegar 

Indian cuisine includes unleavened breads made from wheat flour, so those are off the table.  But crispy papadom is made from black gram bean flour and deep fried or cooked in dry heat until it's bubbly and crunchy.  You can also make gluten free versions of naan, chapati and paratha breads.

Pin Image - gluten free chana masala.  Chana masala in the pan and plated with white rice.

Ingredients and Spices

Chana masala ingredients


Chickpeas are a member of the legume family. They are high in protein and fiber making them a perfect addition to a vegan or vegetarian diet. Other names for chickpeas include garbanzo beans, chana, or Egyptian peas.

You can buy chickpeas dried in a bag like beans. If you do, you need to rinse, soak and cook them in advance. I like to keep things simple, so I recommend canned chickpeas for this recipe. Open the can, give them a rinse in the colander and your chickpeas are ready to make delicious chana masala.

Of course, always read labels on canned goods. Chickpeas are low risk and I’ve never seen canned chickpeas with gluten, but always check.


Tomatoes are a staple in Indian cuisine. They add color and texture to curry dishes and are rich in glutamates which provide umami flavor. Tomatoes and onions simmered together give you a beautiful flavorful thick gravy for any sauce or stew.

If you have a crop of fresh tomatoes to use up, they’d be perfect in this dish, but to keep it simple, canned diced tomatoes are perfect.


The chana masala spice mix may look a little daunting at first, but adding a few spices to your cabinet will be worth the investment.

spices for chana masala

Paprika, cumin and coriander are classics that you may already have in your cupboard. You’ll use these over and over in Mediterranean dishes, stews and chilis as well as any other Indian recipes you decide to try.

Turmeric is a key ingredient in Indian cooking. It gives Indian curries their distinctive yellow hue. Be careful though, it stains. If you think you’ve had fun getting tomato sauce out of a white shirt, wait til you spill curry on it. Turmeric is well known in the herbal remedies world. It contains a compound called curcumin which has proven antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Garam masala is an Indian spice mix. The blend can vary but it involves nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves along with cumin, coriander, cardamom and maybe some black pepper. Most well stocked grocery stores in North America and Europe carry Indian spices so you shouldn’t have trouble finding garam masala.

Chilis give you the heat and everyone has their own tolerance and preference so I always hesitate to tell you how much to use.  If you're using fresh or dried whole chilis, one to three is a good recommendation.  If you use dried crushed chilis try starting with 1/2 tsp and increase according to your own palate.  You can always add more but you can't take away.


fresh cilantro

You're likely used to cilantro in Mexican cuisine, but it’s also popular in Southeast Asian dishes. Not everyone likes cilantro. Here's an interesting piece of trivia: 23andMe identifies a gene that tells you if you think cilantro tastes like soap.

The cilantro is optional in this Chana Masala recipe so if you’re not a fan you can leave it out or substitute parsley or spinach.

Water or Stock

I often use chicken stock in my chana masala because I always have it on hand.  If you want to keep it vegan then use vegetable stock or water.

Depending on the water content of your tomatoes, you may not need to add much liquid.  The recipe calls for a cup, but I often start with 1/2 cup then add more if needed.  

Health Benefits

Have you heard anyone say, “everything that tastes good is bad for you’? Well, I call shenanigans! Chana masala tastes amazing, so let’s cover the health aspect.

We’ve already talked about the benefits of some of the ingredients; protein and fiber in the chickpeas and the antioxidant / anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin. That makes chana masala an excellent source of prebiotics to feed your gut microbiome and keep digestion running smoothly.

With trace minerals like manganese, magnesium, thiamin and phosphorus, chickpeas also help to boost your energy and immune system. The low glycemic index helps to stabilize your blood sugar.

Serving and Pairing

chana masala with white rice on black plate

Chana masala is traditionally served with basmati rice or naan bread. Naan is made with wheat so that’s out for you and me, but any gluten free tortilla or flatbread will work. It’s also delicious over mashed potatoes or even with toast. I’ve used chana masala as a baked potato topper and loved it.

Chana masala is a vegan / vegetarian dish and makes a complete, high protein, high fiber meal paired with grains or potatoes as above. But if you like to have meat with every meal, by all means add a grilled or baked chicken breast.


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Spice Up Your Meals with Naturally Gluten Free Chana Masala

By ,

Chana Masala plated with white rice

The moment I first tasted this wonderfully aromatic blend of spices and chick peas I was hooked. It's wonderful right off the stove and only improves with a little time in the fridge. So make lots!

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Yield: 9 to 12 servings
Tags: Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Vegan


  • 2 tablespoons of oil for cooking
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 1- 3 chili peppers seeded and chopped or 1/4 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon of crushed red chili flakes
  • 3 cloves of minced garlic or 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon of paprika
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon of garam masala
  • 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon of turmeric
  • 1 28 ounce can diced of tomatoes
  • 2 19 ounce cans of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup chicken, beef or vegetable stock, or water
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro or 1 cup of chopped spinach


  1. Heat oil in a large skillet and sauté onion. Then add garlic, ginger (if using fresh) and peppers.

  2. Meanwhile mix the spices in a small bowl: paprika, cumin, coriander, garam masala, salt, turmeric, ground ginger if using.

  3. Add the spices to the skillet. Stir and cook for a few minutes. As the oils in the spices are released, this will smell amazing!

  4. Add the tomatoes, chickpeas, and cilantro or spinach. Stir and bring to a boil. You may or may not need extra liquid. If so, add some or all of the stock or water.

  5. Simmer on the stovetop for about 30 min. Serve over rice or boiled potatoes.

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