Every so often, Kelley, the cook in our house, likes to be challenged in the kitchen, and she asks the family to pick something for dinner. We might choose a particular dish, or we might select a country or region of the world. Sometimes the meals we choose might be classified as ethnic or exotic, and sometimes the meal is meatloaf, green beans and smashed potatoes.
Recently, we landed on Chicken Tikka Masala, an Indian dish. Basically, it's chicken marinated in yogurt and spices, then served in a tomato cream sauce.
It's a favorite in our household. It is also the dish most often chosen by people trying Indian cuisine for the first time, so it seemed like a good meal to kick off this new monthly series.
Indian food has the reputation of being spicy or hot. It can be, if you want it to be, but the reality is that there are dozens of Indian dishes for every palate. I like the way the different flavors all come through in Indian food and the variety.
I grew up on bread, beans and potatoes for just about every daily meal. Meat and chicken were added a few times a week. While these were good, I always wanted to try new things. I began to cook in my early teens with the help of my mom, and since then I've really expanded my horizons.
Chattanooga now has several markets offering a variety of ethnic foods, and the owners and workers are always very helpful if I have a question. New and old cookbooks picked up at used bookstores and the Internet are also great resources.
Throughout my years of experimenting with Indian foods, I've found that it's all about individual tastes. The list of ingredients is similar to those found in any kitchen, and a little pinch of this or a lot of that will change the flavors. I've had the good fortune of being able to observe and learn in some of our local households and seen some of the methods and ways these wonderful foods are prepared.
Grace, our 17-year-old high school junior, wanted tonight's meal to be on the mild side, so fewer peppers were used. It definitely alters the flavors and the experience. One of the beauties of Indian foods is that chutneys, which are essentially condiments, can be used to customize the food to your own tastes, whether it's sweet, minty, fruity or spicy.
The meal was served with coriander chutney, samosas, spiced tomatoes and okra, steamed basmati rice and chai. The homemade samosas, which were made using filo instead of a heavier pastry dough, were stuffed with peas and potatoes.
1 cup plain low-fat yogurt
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tikka masala paste
1 tablespoon finely ground fresh ginger
11/2 teaspoons ground cumin
11/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
21/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs, fat trimmed and cut into chunks
2 tablespoons ghee or safflower oil
1/4 cup blanched whole almonds
1 large onion, finely chopped
1-2 finely chopped green or red chilies
1 tablespoon ginger garlic paste
3 tablespoons tikka masala paste
1 tablespoon yogurt
1 (14-ounce) can fire-roasted tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup heavy cream
Chopped cilantro (optional)
In a large bowl, combine the yogurt, garlic, tikka masala paste and all seasonings.
Put chicken in the marinade; coat and refrigerate for about 4 hours or up to overnight.
Use a small skillet to heat 1 teaspoon of the oil. Add the almonds, and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly for about 5 minutes or until golden. Put the almonds on a plate to cool. Once cooled, pulse in a food processor until finely ground.
While chicken is marinating, sauté the onion and peppers in 11/2 tablespoons of ghee or oil until soft. Add ginger garlic paste and cook 1 minute longer. Stir in masala paste and simmer for 1 more minute. Add yogurt, ground almonds and tomatoes. A little water may be added if sauce seems too thick. Cook for about 30 minutes, stirring at 10-minute intervals. Remove from heat while cooking chicken.
Remove the chicken from the marinade and wipe off as much excess as possible. Season with salt and pepper, and place pieces on a baking sheet that has been coated with the remaining oil. Broil, turning once, until cooked. Remove from oven and place in pan with sauce.
Slowly stir heavy cream into pan of sauce and chicken. Cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally until sauce is slightly thickened.
Finish the dish with chopped cilantro, if desired.
Tips: Homemade masala paste is far better than store brands. However, Patak's has a good variety of pastes and sauces. You can find this brand at your local Indian grocer or at some specialty markets.
Difficulty: Indian dishes can be a little intense in the preparation, especially if you are doing an entire meal. You could just as easily have the chicken with rice and bread and reduce the amount of cooking time.
Where to try it: You can find dishes similar to this one locally at Sitar, India Mahal and The Curry Pot.