Monday, May 18, 2015

Chole Bhature (Indian spicy chickpea stew and Indian puffed fried bread)

One of the many reasons why I enjoy being part of an international organization is because I have the opportunity to work with people who come from all over the world. Getting to know them and their culture is an incredible experience that helps me grow in more ways than one. It broadens my mind as well as my view of the world and its inhabitants.

We all have things in common no matter where we come from and of course, one of the things we all share is food. Having the opportunity to learn about the food culture of different countries through my colleagues is extraordinary. And sometimes those friends and colleagues also know how to cook. Some of them are very good at it.

Having the privilege to eat in their homes, see how they set the table, how they serve the food, their rituals of eating, isn’t only a culinary experience but also a cultural one. It is so exciting to be able to share it with them and I always enjoy inviting them to my own home as well and giving them a glimpse of the way Greeks eat.

Having long talks with some of them about food, recipes and ingredients from their home countries is such a valuable learning experience that I couldn’t get from cookbooks or blogs. Some of them are willing to share their recipes, others are tight-lipped and secretive about revealing anything but the names of dishes and a few are willing to share the secrets to a dish. A former colleague of mine from India did share with me the secrets to one of her beloved recipes, chole bhature, a chickpea stew served with puffed bread.

Chole refers to the chickpea stew (also referred to as chana masala) and bhature is the puffed fried bread. I helped her cook this dish at her home once and I learned first hand how to make the stew and the bread. I loved it! It was vibrant, sumptuous and astonishingly hot. I have never eaten anything hotter in my whole life and even though I enjoy spicy food, I had trouble eating that one. She was laughing the whole time I was fanning my mouth with a magazine with every bite I took and she kept insisting that it wasn’t too hot and that she usually adds more chillies. I was stunned!! More chillies than this??

She wrote down her recipe for me and of course I had to adapt it to my own palate, adding far less chillies and also substituting the Kashmiri chilli, a common type of chilli powder used in Indian cooking, for regular dried chilli powder because I couldn’t find any. I have to admit that the recipe yielded a very hot chole but one that I can tolerate.
I’ve been making this recipe ever since and it has become a staple in my home. My boyfriend loves it and I have cooked it for my family in Greece and they all love it too. It is a highly aromatic and flavorful dish, with the soft, plump chickpeas and a rich, dense sauce that is perfect to eat with the bhature, that wonderful puffed up bread which is, admittedly, a bit heavy since it is fried, but also crispy and soft and utterly addictive. My friend’s bhature was better than mine, hers had that perfect puffed up dome and was a bit crispier, but I think I’m getting better at it. Practice makes perfect, right?

Chole Bhature (Indian spicy chickpea stew and Indian puffed fried bread)

The spices are very important in this dish as in every Indian dish. Don’t use the spices that you have hidden in the back of your kitchen cabinets collecting dust for months or even years. They will be flavorless and with no aroma whatsoever. Use fresh spices and better yet whole spices that you grind yourself each time you need them.

Garam masala is a spice mix that can be found in any spice store. In the Netherlands you can find in super markets as well. You can also make it yourself following a recipe.

I always use dried chickpeas that I soak overnight and then boil before using in the chole, but you can use canned chickpeas instead if you prefer (you will need 1 kg of canned chickpeas in this case).

My Indian friend cooks this dish with ghee (Indian clarified butter) but as you will see in the ingredients list, I use olive oil. If you use ghee, the flavor will be more authentic but also heavier.

Yield: 6 servings


for the chole
500 g dried chickpeas
120 ml olive oil
4 large onions, grated or finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, grated or finely chopped
1 hot green fresh chilli, sliced thinly
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp garam masala
½ tsp ground ginger
6 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
1 heaped tsp tomato paste
450 g canned whole tomatoes
3 cups (750 ml) water

for the bhature
250 g all-purpose flour (or maida flour - a type of Indian flour)
50 g semolina flour (from durum wheat)
1 tsp baking powder
1½ tsp salt
350 g yoghurt (not Greek or thick yoghurt)
Sunflower oil, for frying

Fresh flat-leaf parsley or fresh coriander (in Indian cooking fresh coriander is always used but I can't stand its flavor), chopped, for sprinkling on top
Yoghurt (I prefer Greek yoghurt), to serve

Special equipment: colander, grater, fine sieve, plastic wrap, rolling pin


for the chole
See in this post how to prepare the dried chickpeas.

While the chickpeas are boiling, add the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan and place over medium-high heat. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the onions and garlic and sauté for about 12 minutes or until soft and slightly browned, stirring continuously so they don't catch. Add the green chilli and sauté for 2 minutes. Add all the spices (cumin, coriander, turmeric, chilli powder, ginger, garam masala and cardamom pods) at once and sauté for 2 minutes stirring continuously. Add ¼ cup (60 ml) of the water and “deglaze” the pan scraping any bits that have stuck to the pan. Add the tomato paste and sauté for 1 minute. Then add the tomatoes and crush them with the back of a spoon. Add salt and 1 cup (250 ml) of the water and stir well. Bring to the boil and simmer over medium-low heat with the lid open until you have a thick sauce that is not too dry. It will take around 10 minutes. Add the cooked chickpeas and the remaining 1½ cup (375 ml) water and stir well. Bring to the boil, put the lid on the pan and simmer over low heat for 15-20 minutes. A few minutes before it’s ready, taste and add more salt if needed.

Note: remove the cracked cardamom pods from the pan as they are unpleasant to eat. By now the seeds should have fallen off from inside the pods and the seeds have a pretty awesome flavor.

for the bhature
Sieve the all-purpose flour, the semolina flour and the baking powder into a large bowl, and add the salt and the yoghurt. Knead until you have a firm dough. It may be slightly sticky to the hands but that is fine.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave the dough to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Empty the dough on a clean surface and divide it into small balls (the size of a golf ball). You should end up with about 16. Oil each ball slightly with sunflower oil and roll it out with the rolling pin until very thin. Be careful not to tear the dough or make small folds or the bread will not puff up during frying.

Fill by ⅓ with sunflower oil a medium-sized, high-sided, heavy-bottomed pan. Heat the oil over medium-high heat. The oil should be hot enough for the dough to puff up quickly but not too hot otherwise the dough will catch and it will take a very dark brown color. The first bread will be a test run. I always keep that first one for me to eat.
When the oil is hot enough, place the rolled out dough gently into the oil, and using a slotted spoon, gently and continuously press the top of the dough, aiding it to puff up. When the bread puffs up, the dough separates, it puffs up and a large air pocket is created inside. Once it puffs up, and it takes on a golden color on the bottom, using the slotted spoon, gently flip it over and fry until golden. It should not take more than 2-3 minutes in total. Remove with the slotted spoon and place on a plate covered with paper towels to absorb the excess oil.
Continue frying the rest of the bhature.

Serving the dish
Serve the chole in big bowls, top them with yoghurt and a good sprinkling of chopped parsley or coriander and eat with the hot bhature. Cut pieces of the bhature and use the pocket to scoop up the chickpeas.

The chole will be even more flavorful the following day. The bhature are best eaten hot/warm.



  1. What a unique and awesome sounding dish! Indian food is one of my faves and I definitely don't make it at home enough.


    1. Thank you Sues! It is definitely worth trying making. And it's so easy!

  2. Miam miam miam! I save it! For later, when i will have some time... xx thanks cathy

  3. Magda, your chickpea stew looks amazing ( and so does that fried bread)! I love that you and your colleagues share recipes. How fun!
    Hope you're well my friend,

  4. Ooooh Magda, this looks so delicious, exactly the kind of food I love. I often make Indian-influenced chick pea stews, but I have never been lucky enough to learn first hand from an Indian. I definitely want to try this. Also, I agree with everything you wrote regarding sharing recipes, traditions, cultures with others.

    1. If you enjoy Indian flavors you must make this, pronto! :)

  5. Mark and I both love Indian food - it is the cuisine we turn to for comfort. The spices add such warmth and make us content, even on the gloomiest of days when we lived in New England. We will definitely be giving this a try - and will report back! xo, David

    1. Magda - I made the chole for guests last evening and it was a huge hit. I made my own gram masala, which was easy and so fragrant. I did not, however, make the fried breads - instead, I served it with rice, a raita made with Greek yogurt and cucumber, and a homemade kumquat chutney. It was truly delicious - thanks for the recipe! xo, David

    2. I'm so glad you liked it David! Thanks for your feedback. The accompaniments you made sound delish!