Traditional Kerala Kadala Curry (Black Chickpea/Kala Channa)

Amma makes the best Kadala curry in the world, I kid you not. She is not particularly experimental with her cooking and relies heavily on her repertoire of simple, homely, traditional Kerala recipes passed down to her by her mother and grandmother. These handful of dishes however, are enough to light up our every meal.

This is one of her signature dishes, honed carefully over decades of practice. What I particularly love about this dish is how versatile it is. It makes for the perfect accompaniment to ragi puttu (steamed millet cakes) at breakfast and also fits in beautifully at our grand onam sadhyas . What’s also great is that you can relish this gravy with rotis, rice and appam.

This recipe takes a little time and patience but it’s worth the effort for the deep, complex and authentic flavour that you’re trying to achieve.

For mum, cooking works like muscle memory; no written recipes and no measurements. While she approximated ingredients, I accurately re-measured it. While she effortlessly navigated her way around pressure-cook time, I clumsily roasted the spices. It’s deeply intuitive for her, so I had a tough time rebuilding this recipe under her guidance. The end result was deeply gratifying, so I can’t complain 🙂

My only pro tip to get this right is to spend that extra time slow roasting the coconut-spice mixture. It makes all the difference. I hope you get a chance to try this out and enjoy this as much as we did.

Watch the step by step video of the recipe here.

Traditional Kerala Kadala Curry

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print
  • Prep time does not include the overnight soak time for pulses.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups kala channa or black chickpea/ whole bengal gram
  • 2-3 green chillis (based on your spice preference)
  • 2 tbsp ginger, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1.5 cups of grated coconut
  • 7-8 dried red chillis (de-seeded) + 1 piece for tempering
  • 1.5 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 2 large onions, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil + 1 tsp more for tempering
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • A few sprigs of curry leaves for garnish
  • 2 tsp of salt or more to taste

Directions

  • Soak the black channa/chickpeas overnight or for at least 6 hours.
  • Wash and drain the channa and transfer to a pressure cooker. Add water so that it’s just slightly above the level of the channa.
  • Add the chopped ginger and green chillies to the cooker.
  • Cook on medium heat for about 8-9 whistles or more until the channa is well cooked and softened. Allow for natural pressure release.
  • While you wait for the lentils/channa to get cooked, prepare the dry ingredients for roasting.
  • Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a medium sized pan/tawa. Once heated, add red chillies followed by coriander seeds and 1/4 of the chopped onions.
  • Saute until the onions are translucent.
  • Add the grated coconut and saute on low flame until it’s nice and toasted to a deep brown colour. Slow roasting will take around 12-15 minutes. Check the video out to know the colour you’re looking for. Make sure you do not burn the mixture, keep the flame low.
  • Allow the mix to cool. Then transfer to a blender/mixi. Add 1/2 cup water and grind it to a really fine paste. The finer the paste, the better it is. Check video to know the consistency you’re looking for.
  • Your lentils/channa should be cooked by now. Add 2 tsps of salt, stir.
  • Add the ground, roasted spice paste to the channa. Wash with 1-2 cups of water and add this to the mixture.
  • Stir and mash some of the channa against the sides, with the back of the spoon. This makes the gravy more thick and creamy. Pro tip: You can alternatively grind a small part of the channa separately and add this back to the gravy.
  • Bring this to a boil. Add a sprig of curry leaves. Stir. Let it simmer for another 2 minutes. Check salt, season if needed. Turn off flame.
  • For tempering, add mustard seeds to heated oil. Let it crackle, add a red chilli (de-seeded), remaining onions and a few curry leaves. Saute until the onions turn golden brown.
  • Remove from flame, add this to the gravy. Stir gently.
  • Serve hot with puttu (rice or millet cakes), rotis, appams or rice.

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