Chickpea Curry, South Indian Style

This south Indian style Chickpea Curry with coconut milk and spices like fennel seed and cardamom is fragrant and so delicious, you might have a hard time stopping yourself from eating it straight out of the pot. It is super easy to make and there’s nothing here that’s not absolutely great for your health. It’s also vegan, gluten-free, nut-free and soy-free, so everyone can eat it.

Chickpea curry in steel karahi with brown rice, curry leaves, chickpeas and green napkin.

I love chickpeas and recipes like Chana Masala are perennial favorites hereabouts. But when we want something that’s differently Indian and just as delicious, I make this South Indian inspired Chickpea Curry with coconut milk. It is fragrant, not too spicy, and simply divine.

The spices in this south Indian Chickpea Curry give it a unique, irresistible flavor. There are fennel seeds, which add sweetness and complexity–elements prized in Indian cooking. Some fenugreek seeds, for that undetectable, bitter yin that makes so many south Indian dishes so gorgeous. And, of course, coconut, because no south Indian cook worth his/her salt would leave it out.

This chickpea curry is surprisingly kid-friendly. Jay has been eating it for years and will often ask for seconds: a big deal because he usually balks at chickpea-based dishes. It has also been tried and tested by dozens of readers since I first posted it so many years ago, so you can be sure that if you try it you will have a winner on your hands.

Here’s the recipe for my delicious and unique chickpea curry with coconut milk. I didn’t upload step by step process shots this time because I have a short video for you that shows you the entire process–do check it out at the end of the recipe card. And do come back for seconds!

Front photo of a karahi with chickpea curry with cilantro garnish and served with brown rice with chickpeas and curry leaves scattered around.
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Why you’ll love this chickpea curry

  • It’s unique. This is a recipe inspired by south Indian flavors, but it is not a traditional south Indian curry. I created it a few years ago when inspiration struck, and it was one of those few things I actually got perfectly right the first time round. Everyone I’ve served this curry to, Indian or not, has raved about it.
  • It’s easy. You will need to blend up a spice mix but it needs just six commonly found Indian ingredients (that you probably already have if you cook Indian food with any regularity). And there’s no roasting involved. Just add them to your blender or spice grinder and push the button. The rest of the recipe takes minutes to make, especially if you use canned chickpeas, as I often do.
  • It’s healthy. There’s nothing in this recipe that is not great for you. And if you would rather not use the 1 tsp vegetable oil, you can swap it out with a tablespoon of vegetable stock to make it free of any added oils.
  • It’s friendly to all diets. This curry is vegan, of course, but it is also gluten-free, soy-free and free of nuts. You can adjust the spice level up or down, to your liking, and, like I said above, you can make it without any oil, if you wish.
Overhead closeup of a steel bowl of chickpea curry with cilantro garnish.

Ingredients for chickpea curry

  • Chickpeas. Both canned chickpeas or chickpeas you soak and cook from scratch will work for this recipe. Drain the chickpeas before using.
  • Coconut oil: Coconut oil is good in this recipe, or use any flavorless vegetable oil.
  • Cumin seeds
  • Curry leaves. These add great flavor. If you absolutely can’t find them, use 2 tbsp of cilantro and add it at the same time as you would the curry leaves.
  • Onion
  • Ginger garlic paste. If you don’t have the paste you can crush together 4 pieces garlic and a 1-inch knob of ginger.
  • Tomatoes
  • Turmeric
  • Paprika. I use this mainly for color. You can skip it.
  • Cayenne. The cayenne adds mild heat, which is important to balance out the sweetness of the coconut milk. There is very little here, ½ a teaspoon, but you can scale down further to ¼ teaspoon. Or, if you love heat, scale up to 1 teaspoon.
  • Coconut milk. Use the canned coconut milk. Stir the milk in the can before using.
  • Cilantro (chopped). For garnish.
  • Salt.

For masala powder or spice mix

  • Cumin seeds
  • Coriander seeds
  • Fennel seeds
  • Methi seeds
  • Green cardamom
  • Cinnamon stick
Overhead shot of chickpea curry, south Indian style, in a karahi with brown rice on the side and chickpeas and curry leaves scattered around and a green napkin.


Can I use a premade garam masala in this chickpea curry?

You can, but what you will get is more of a chana masala with coconut milk added. While that will taste nice, and you can certainly do that at a pinch, it will not have the right south Indian flavors because chana masala is a north Indian dish and garam masala is a spice used mostly in north India. Besides, while some garam masala blends will have fennel and some of the other ingredients in this spice mix, they will not be in the same proportions, which will change the flavor completely.

Can I make this chickpea curry with another bean?

Chickpeas are really integral to this dish to get the right flavors. If you absolutely want to use another bean in this dish, use more neutral-flavored beans like white beans.

What to serve with the chickpea curry

  • Rice, white or brown, is the perfect food to drizzle this chickpea curry over. If you want to get fancy, serve the chickpea curry over jeera rice.
  • You can also serve it with an Indian flatbread, like a roti or a vegan naan (gluten-free vegan naan recipe here).
Front photo of chickpea curry with coconut milk in a bowl with chickpeas, curry leaves and brown rice and a napkin.

Storage and freezing tips

  • This recipe tastes great freshly made but it is even better the next day when the spices and coconut milk and chickpeas have had a chance to exchange their flavors for longer and to blend into a harmonious whole. You can keep it in the refrigerator for up to three days. Freeze in a freezer-safe container for longer-term storage. Thaw and reheat before serving.
Overhead shot of chickpea curry with coconut milk in a steel karahi with brown rice and curry leaves and chickpeas scattered around.

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