While I have been cooking Indian food for years, it remains an exotic option for many, reserved for those times when you eat out or pick up take-out for home. Being who I am, I found it necessary to research the spice palate and begin making these complex tasting dishes at home. I have mastered a number of recipes and love to develop Indian menus to serve for dinner parties. It always makes me look like a kitchen rock star. They are really not difficult but do require a pantry of Indian spices. To make this job easier, I am going to refer you to a cookbook, “Six Spices, A Simple Concept of Indian Cooking” by Neeta Saluja. I am happy to say I have had the privilege of taking classes from Neeta as she is a local treasure in Madison, WI. What she has done in her book is take the mystique out of Indian cuisine by giving us a simplified view highlighting the most commonly used spices. She lists them in chapter one as asafoetida, chilies, coriander, cumin seeds, mustard seeds and turmeric. She discusses each spice in detail to help you understand its origin, quality, and usage. This is the beginning but chapter six, Beyond the Basics, includes recipes to round out an Indian meal using spices other than the basic six. Do not be afraid! You will be preparing sumptuous Indian dishes in no time. I promise. By the way, I have not had difficulty finding any of these spices. If you can’t find them locally, I suggest you look online where you can find anything. Right?
A while back I had the opportunity to introduce friends to Indian cuisine. One their favorites was Chicken Tikka Masala. There’s a reason this dish is so popular at Indian restaurants. The creamy tomato sauce, with its heady spices is deeply comforting. Armed with the right spices, it is easy to make it in your own kitchen. Pair it with naan, either homemade or commercial. This wonderful chewy bread is used to scoop up every last drop of that wildly delicious sauce. Add basmati rice and you have arrived.
Today I am featuring a recipe I recently made from Bon Appetit magazine but there are many versions out there. This one includes a couple of spices not included in Neeta’s top six; garam masala (a spice blend), and cardamom pods. Not difficult to find and you will find yourself using them often once you become familiar.
Here’s the drill.
CHICKEN TIKKA MASALA Serves 6
Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit, 4/2013
The yogurt helps tenderize the chicken; the garlic, ginger and spices in the marinade infuse it with lots of flavor.
6 garlic cloves, finely grated, or pressed
4t finely grated peeled ginger (a microplane grater is the perfect tool)
4t ground turmeric
2t garam masala
2t ground coriander
2t ground cumin
1T kosher salt
1 ½ c whole milk yogurt (not Greek)
2 lb. skinless, boneless chicken breasts, halved lengthwise
3T ghee (clarified butter) or vegetable oil
1 small onion. thinly sliced
¼ c tomato paste
6 cardamom pods, crushed
2 dried chili de arbol or ½ t crushed red pepper flakes
1 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
2c heavy cream
¾ c chopped fresh cilantro plus sprigs for garnish
Steamed basmati rice (for serving)
- Combine the first seven spices in a small bowl. Whisk the yogurt with half the spice mixture in a medium bowl. Add the chicken and turn to coat. Cover and chill for 4-6 hours. Cover and chill remaining spice mixture.
- Heat ghee in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add onion, tomato paste, cardamom, and chills and cook, stirring often, until paste has darkened and onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Add remaining half of spice mixture and cook, stirring often, until bottom of pan begins to brown, about 4 minutes.
- Add tomatoes with juices, crushing them with your hands as you add them. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring often and scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pot, until sauce thickens, 8-10 minutes.
- Add cream and chopped cilantro. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens, 30-40 minutes.
- Meanwhile preheat broiler. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and set a wire rack inside. Arrange chicken in a single layer on the rack. Broil until chicken starts to blacken in spots (it will not be cooked through), about 10 minutes.
- Cut chicken into bite-size pieces; add to sauce and simmer, stirring occasionally, until chicken is cooked through, 8-10 minutes. Garnish with cilantro sprigs and serve with basmati rice.
Do ahead: Chicken can be made 2 days ahead. Cover; chill. Reheat before serving.
I urge you to try this recipe sooner rather than later. Never tried Indian food? You may want to find a reputable restaurant in your area (ask around to get a good recommendation), gather a group of friends and order a variety of dishes you can share to get an idea of what appeals to you. I would be willing to bet Chicken Tikka Masala will be a favorite of all.
If you yearn to prepare a delicious Indian meal with a sumptuous curry or tangy chutney, do not allow the unfamiliarity of it be daunting. Get this book and try this recipe. I guarantee success and good eating!