Chana saag is an easy, tasty, and nutritious Indian curry with chickpeas, spinach, and tomatoes simmered with aromatic spices like cumin and coriander.
It’s a delicious and fulfilling recipe you can serve with basmati rice or breads like roti or naan. It’s excellent for a weeknight dinner and meal prep.
While trying to stay true to Indian flavors and traditions, we simplify this chana saag recipe so you can make it in your kitchen with simple pantry staples in one pot in less than 30 minutes.
Table of Contents
Dietary Note: this recipe is suitable for a vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free diet.
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What is Chana Saag?
Indian chana saag varies significantly from region to region, but in essence, it’s a vegetarian stew of chickpeas (chana) and leafy greens (saag); we use spinach.
This dish reminds us of palak paneer, another spinach-based Indian dish, and Eastern Mediterranean spinach stew, where chickpeas are simmered with tender spinach and fragrant spices.
Like in other reader’s favorite Indian recipes such as lentil curry, tofu tikka masala, and cauliflower curry, we rely on ginger, garlic, cumin, coriander, and garam masala to develop a harmonious and balanced flavor that is at the heart of Indian home cooking.
We strive for a balance of authenticity and practicality; we want to respect traditional techniques and flavors, but most importantly, we want to make the recipe easy enough so you can make it at home for a delicious and healthy weeknight dinner.
Make chana saag an even tastier dinner with a dollop of yogurt, quick pickled red onions, and a generous squeeze of lemon.
Ingredients & Substitutions for Chana Saag
Quantities are in the recipe box at the bottom of the page.
You can use canned chickpeas or dry chickpeas that you previously soaked in water for 12 hours, then boil until tender for 1 to 2 hours on the stovetop or 10 minutes in a pressure cooker (Instant Pot).
For more information on dry chickpeas, check out our guide on how to cook chickpeas.
Substitute diced paneer or firm tofu for chickpeas.
Leafy greens (saag)
We recommend spinach or baby spinach, the ones that come prewashed in a bag. They are easy to cook and taste delicious with the chickpeas.
In India, they make chana saag with various leafy greens.
So feel free to substitute mustard greens, collard greens, fenugreek leaves or fresh methi, chard, kale, and even finely chopped broccoli for spinach.
We’ve even seen chana saag made with chickpea leaves (impossible to find in Western supermarkets).
- Oil: we always use light olive oil for Indian recipes. Although not authentic, it is one of the healthiest oils, and we recommend it. Substitute avocado oil or any other neutral vegetable oil for olive oil.
- Onion: you can use white and yellow onion or replace it with shallots.
- Ginger: you can use grated fresh ginger or ginger paste.
- Garlic: you can use grated fresh garlic or garlic paste.
- Ground cumin: substitute cumin seeds.
- Ground coriander: if you have coriander seeds, you can grind them in a mortar or blend them in a coffee grinder or spice blender.
- Turmeric powder
- Garam masala: garam masala is a mix of warm spices like cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, and black pepper, among others. You can find garam masala in most supermarkets, Asian stores, or online.
- Red pepper flakes: substitute finely chopped red chilies, cayenne powder, red chili powder, or Kashmiri powder for red pepper flakes.
We recommend fresh vine tomatoes for this recipe.
Substitute canned crushed tomatoes or tomato puree for fresh tomatoes. Canned tomatoes produce a richer chana saag with a more tomatoey taste. It’s less traditional but still delicious.
You can substitute vegetable broth for water, although that’s less traditional.
Salt and black pepper
Season with sea salt or kosher salt to taste, and with a twist or two of black pepper.
Serves well with
How to Make Chana Saag
US cups + grams measurements in the recipe box at the bottom of the page.
Start this recipe by chopping the onion and the tomatoes into dice.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add chopped onion and sauté for 5 minutes until soft and translucent.
Add peeled grated ginger and garlic, ground coriander, ground cumin, garam masala, turmeric powder, and red pepper flakes.
Sauté while stirring for 1 more minute or until you can smell the fragrant aroma of the spices.
Tip: toasting the spices like this brings out their aroma.
Add chopped tomatoes, drained and rinsed chickpeas, and season with salt and black pepper.
Cook for 5 minutes on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are soft. You can add a splash of water if the pan gets dry.
Now add the water and the spinach.
It’s a lot of spinach, so you might need to add them in batches and wait a few seconds for them to wilt before adding more.
Tip: you can chop the spinach with a knife before adding it in. If you use baby spinach, that’s not required.
Cook the spinach for about 10 minutes. They will soften and release water. Stir occasionally. Taste and adjust for salt before serving.
Tip: While you might be tempted to add more water, you shouldn’t need to because the spinach’s water should be enough to prevent the spinach from sticking to the pan.
Make chana saag a meal by serving it with either rice or bread.
- Rice: we recommend white or brown basmati rice.
Also, we recommend topping it with a dollop of Greek yogurt or non-dairy yogurt, a squeeze of lemon, and something pickled.
Here, we served it with our quick pickled red onions, and we loved the color-flavor combination.
Chana Saag with Coconut Milk
This variation uses coconut milk to make a creamy chana saag with a more southern Indian flavor palette.
Add the coconut milk instead of the water and simmer until the saag thickens.
You can substitute heavy, cashew, or non-dairy cream for coconut milk.
Mediterranean spinach stew
This easy and delicious spinach and chickpea stew hails from the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, where chickpeas (hummus), pinenuts, and fragrant cumin are pantry staples.
The recipe is surprisingly similar to Indian chana saag, although it has fewer spices, and it’s often topped with toasted pinenuts or almonds.
Check out our Mediterranea spinach stew recipe.
To make chana saag in a pressure cooker or instant pot, sautè the onion with olive oil for 5 minutes first, then add the garlic, ginger, and spices and sauté one more minute.
Now add chopped tomatoes, drainer, and rinsed canned chickpeas, spinach, salt, and black pepper, seal the lid, and pressure cook for 2 minutes. You might need to wait for the spinach to wilt for a second if they don’t all fit in the pressure cooker.
Quickly release the steam by manually opening the valve and taking the lid off, and you are done.
Storage & Make Ahead
Make ahead: Chana saag is an excellent recipe for meal prep as it keeps well in the fridge for days and in the freezer for months.
Refrigerator: Keep leftovers in an airtight container for up to 4 days.
Freezer: Let it cool down completely, transfer it to a freezer-friendly container, and freeze for up to 3 months.
Thaw & Reheat: Defrost in the refrigerator over several hours or in the microwave with the thawing setting. Warm in the microwave for 3 minutes or in a saucepan on the stovetop with a splash of water for 5 minutes.
More Chickpea Recipes
Find more delicious and protein-rich vegetarian meals with chickpeas:
More Indian-inspired meals
Are you in the mood for classic Indian curry flavors? Try one of these delicious one–pot dinners:
- Chana masala
- Chickpea curry
- Cauliflower curry or eggplant curry
- Curry lentil soup
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 medium onions chopped
- 3 cloves garlic grated
- 1 inch ginger grated
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon garam masala substitute curry powder
- ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes or more to taste
- 3 medium vine tomatoes chopped. Substitute 1 can of 15 ounces/400 grams crushed tomatoes
- 2 cans chickpeas 15 ounces/230 grams each can, or 3 cups cooked chickpeas
- 1 pound spinach
- ½ cup water
- 1 teaspoon salt or more to taste
- 2 twists black pepper
Serves well with
- basmati rice, roti, or naan garnish with a dollop of yogurt, cilantro, lemon juice, and pickled red onions.
- Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet/pot. Add 2 medium onions (chopped) and sauté for 5 minutes until translucent.Add 3 cloves garlic and 1 inch ginger both grated. Then add 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1 teaspoon ground coriander, 1 teaspoon garam masala, ½ teaspoon turmeric powder, and ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes and sauté 1 more minute. Stir often.
- Add 3 medium vine tomatoes (chopped), 2 cans chickpeas (drained), season with 1 teaspoon salt and 2 twists black pepper and cook for 5 minutes or until the tomatoes are tender. Stir often.
- Add 1 pound spinach, ½ cup water, and simmer on medium heat for 10 minutes until the spinach are tender. Taste and adjust for salt and heat. Stir occasionally.Tip: you might need to add the spinach in batches and wait a few seconds for them to wilt before adding more.Tip: you can chop the spinach with a knife before adding it in. If you use baby spinach, that’s not required.
MAKE IT A MEAL
- Make this a meal by serving it with basmati rice, roti, or naan.Top with a dollop of yogurt, fresh cilantro, quick pickled red onions, and a squeeze of lemon.
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