Nik Sharma

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chole | Nik Sharma

Chole or Punjabi chole (this dish is from the Northern State of Punjab in India) is comfort food – the texture, the temperature, and the flavors. Breakfast, lunch, brunch, or dinner, the time of the day has never dictated my consumption of this delicious chickpea stew/curry served with freshly fried bread called bhaturas. My mother learned to make this dish from a family friend (who are Punjabi) and as one can expect over time this recipe’s been tweaked to suit our tastes.

Here are some of my kitchen notes;

  • Spices and tea form the base of the stock in which the chickpeas cook and acquire their flavor.

  • Tea does not make the stock bitter as one might expect, instead it imparts an interesting note of savoriness and color to the dish. Just to show you the difference between color of using tea and not tea when making chole – the photo above with the bright red color contains no tea, while the video where I add the amchur used tea and the color is noticeably darker). The one made with tea is my favorite and the way this dish should be made. Use Assam or Darjeeling black tea, tea bags are a good option here because you can dump it in and then tosss it out. If you use loose tea add it to the spices in the tea infuser or muslin cloth.

  • I use tomato paste instead of fresh tomatoes which shortens cooking time but also adds a much more concentrated dose of flavor and color to the dish.

  • Kashmiri chilli powder gives a smoky edge in addition to its bright red color and a mild dose of chilli heat. However, if you don’t have that hand use smoked sweet paprika and cayenne.

  • Note how I do not use any alliums – no onions or garlic. This recipe is a good example of when to use asafetida (hing). I wrote about this in my last book Season but will get into the science of this in more detail in my new book, The Flavor Equation. But in short, because asafetida contains the same aromatic chemicals that are present in alliums, they’re used as a substitute for those flavors in Indian cooking especially by several Indian communities that do not consume onions and garlic.

  • I started with 2 cups [360 g] of dried chickpeas which almost doubles in volume. But if you want to use canned chickpeas, two 14 oz [400 g] cans will work. For canned chickpeas, salt the water as instructed but skip the baking soda. You will reduce your cooking time to about half since canned chickpeas are already cooked. I throw the soaking water because I’m not fan of the smell and while this is not a

  • If you want this less hot, remove the seeds and midrib from the green chilli or skip it. Add less cayenne for less heat.

  • While cilantro is my favorite option, you can also garnish this with thin slices of red onion rings or even pickled red onions for an extra edge of tanginess.


This classic chickpea stew from the North Indian state of Punjab relies on spices for its rich flavorful broth. You can make this a day in advance but garnish it right before serving. Serve with fresh warm bhaturas .

Makes 4 servings

2 cups [360g] dried chickpeas (see my notes above for using canned chickpeas)

1 tsp fine sea salt

1/4 tsp baking soda

2 black tea bags such Assam or Darjeeling (see notes above on using loose tea)

4 cloves

4 green cardamom pods

2-inch [5 cm] piece cinnamon stick

1 black cardamom

3 Tbsp neutral oil like grapeseed or ghee

1 Tbsp cumin seeds

a pinch of asafetida (hing)

2 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder or (2 tsp smoked sweet paprika + 1/2 tsp ground cayenne)

1/2 tsp ground turmeric

1 Tbsp grated ginger

3 Tbsp tomato paste

1 green chilli like Serrano, cut into strips or minced

2 Tbsp amchur (unripe dried mango powder) or 2 Tbsp lime juice

2 to 3 Tbsp chopped cilantro

Rinse the chickpeas under running water and then soak and cover them overnight in 4 cups [960 ml] water.

The next day, discard the soaking water and rinse the chickpeas under tap water. Add 4 cups [960 ml] water to a medium saucepan or Dutch-oven. Stir in 1 tsp salt and baking soda. Add the soaked chickpeas. Toss in the tea bags. Gently crack the cloves, green cardamom, cinnamon, and black cardamom using a mortar and pestle. Place the spices in a tea infuser or a piece of muslin or cheese cloth, seal the infuser or tie the ends of the cloth if using muslin. Place the infuser in the saucepan with the chickpeas. Bring the contents of the saucepan to a rolling boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to a simmer, and cover the pot with a lid. After 30 to 45 minutes, the chickpeas will be tender and soft enough that they will fall apart. Remove the saucepan from the stove. Remove and discard the tea bags and the spices inside the tea infuser.

Place a small dry saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the oil to the saucepan. Add one or two cumin seeds to determine how hot the oil is, if the oil is hot, the seeds will sizzle (and dance). Once the oil is hot, add the cumin followed by the asafetida. The seeds will sizzle while the asafetida will foam and turn fragrant. Add the Kashmiri chilli powder and turmeric. Swirl the contents of the saucepan and cook for 30 to 45 seconds, till the spices start to get fragrant. Add the ginger and tomato paste and sauté till the fat starts to separate from the mixture, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the green chilli and sauté for 1 minute. Remove from heat and add this spice mixture into the chickpeas. To extract all the spice mixture from the small saucepan that might get stuck to the sides, add 1/4 cup [60 ml] of the chickpea cooking liquid to the small saucepan to wipe the sides down and return the liquid back to the chickpeas. Stir in the amchur. Taste and add salt if needed. Garnish with the cilantro before serving. Serve warm or hot with bhaturas.

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