Tikka masala — a rich mix of spiced chunks of meat (usually chicken) swimming in a creamy tomato sauce — is one of the most beloved Indian takeout dishes, but the dish as we know it now actually originated in the U.K., with many restaurants laying claim to it. Thanks to that checkered history, all bets were off when we wanted to come up with a slow-cooker version of this classic. Why not replace the chicken with chickpeas, and the traditional cream and yogurt with coconut milk to make a wholly satisfying vegan version?
This recipe benefits from the addition of two different tarkas, or fried spice blends, added at different times. We start by frying a mixture of aromatics and spices in coconut oil, and then blend it with water to form a spiced cooking liquid that also contains coconut milk. A bit of turmeric lends the dish its signature orange hue. This easy prep lays the foundation for a deeply flavored final dish.
After the chickpeas are slow cooked until tender, blended canned tomatoes are added in for a brighter splash of flavor. Then, just before serving, we fry some more cumin and mustard seeds with a good amount of crushed red pepper flakes, all of which gets swirled into the chickpeas for a last-minute pop of spice and heat.
We've had good luck using both dried chickpeas and canned for this dish. If working with dried chickpeas, make sure to soak them overnight and count on them taking the far end of the cooking time to become fully tender — eight hours, if not more. Canned chickpeas are quicker and practically foolproof.
We believe that the slow cooker is a tool that can help you eat well no matter your goals. With the start of the new year, we're utilizing the slow cooker to create wholesome meals to nourish us from breakfast to dinner. In the series you'll find recipes full of veggies and never short on flavor. It's time to take advantage of all this workhorse appliance has to offer.
Vegan Slow-Cooker Chickpea Tikka Masala
For the chickpeas:
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped peeled fresh ginger
1 tablespoon brown mustard seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 cups water
1 (13.5-ounce) can coconut milk, well shaken
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
5 ounces baby spinach (5 packed cups)
Cooked basmati rice and lime wedges, for serving
For the tarka:
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
Make the chickpeas: If using dried chickpeas, place in a large bowl and pick through and discard any stones or shriveled chickpeas. Cover with 3 quarts cold water. Stir in 1 tablespoon of kosher salt and let sit at least 10 hours or overnight at room temperature.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onion, garlic, and ginger, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are tender, about 5 minutes.
Add the mustard seeds, cumin, turmeric, coriander, and cardamom and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the water and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Transfer the mixture to a blender and blend until smooth (reserve the blender, no need to wash). Transfer to a 4-quart or larger slow cooker.
Add the coconut milk and 2 teaspoons salt. Add the canned chickpeas, or drain the soaked chickpeas and add to the slow cooker. Stir to combine.
Cover and cook on the LOW setting until the chickpeas are tender, 6 to 8 hours for canned or 8 to 10 hours for dried. Meanwhile, place the tomatoes in the blender and blend until smooth. Refrigerate until the chickpeas are ready.
Add the blended tomatoes and stir to combine. Cover and cook until the flavors meld, at least 30 minutes but up to 1 hour. Just before serving, make the tarka.
For the tarka: Heat the oil in a small frying pan over medium-high heat until just starting to smoke. Add the cumin seeds, red pepper flakes, and mustard seeds and fry, swirling the pan, until sizzling and very fragrant, about 20 seconds. Immediately scrape the tarka into the chickpeas.
Add the spinach and gently stir to combine and wilt. Taste and season with salt as needed. Serve warm over rice, with lime wedges on the side.
- Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.