Chicken Tikka Masala

FullSizeRenderFans of Indian food will love this smokey chicken dish, layered with rich spices in a creamy tomato sauce. My son Justin had been hinting that I try a curry dish sometime, but then he got bold and Facebooked me this recipe for Turkey Tikka Masala from The New York Times. It’s a dish that uses leftover Thanksgiving turkey, so I thought I’d give it a whirl. When I realized I didn’t have enough leftover turkey to do the dish, I opted to use fresh boneless, skinless chicken thighs. I had my husband Rich grill them on his Big Green Egg to get that Tandoor-tender treatment. This dish was utterly amazing, and that’s an understatement.

We’ve often wondered why all these Indian dishes that taste so similar have vastly different names, so I did a little research. Apparently, the names differ depending on the region, so a “rogan josh” can taste the same as a “marsala” as they use the same ingredients. “Tikka” refers to chicken cooked in the Tandoor (a cylindrical clay oven), and “marsala” is a sauce made with tomatoes and onions OR a mixture of spices, depending on your source of information. 

And what exactly is garam masala, other than a spice required in Indian recipes that you don’t have on hand? It’s a mix of peppercorns, cinnamon, cloves, mace, cardamom, bay leaves, and cumin—and is sometimes referred to as a “curry.” An Indian curry stew is usually a blend of coriander, cumin, and turmeric, and sometimes chili peppers. There’s no curry powder actually in curries. Curry is a word invented for the British or by the British to describe the delicious stews they “discovered” during their colonization of India.

But enough with the history lesson! Back to the food! I did a few things differently than the original recipe—like I didn’t puree the sauce, and I used half and half, instead of heavy cream. My other adjustments to process and ingredients are reflected below.

Serves 6

For Meat Marinade

2 teaspoons garam masala
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon smoked Spanish paprika
4 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 teaspoon sea salt
6 cloves garlic, finely grated
4 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger
1 cup plain Greek-style yogurt
1¾ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs

For Marsala Sauce

4 tablespoons ghee, divided
1 large onion, chopped
1 teaspoon cardamom
1-2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon garam masala
1½ teaspoons sea salt
2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic, minced or finely grated
1 serrano pepper, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
2 cups half and half
¾ cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
Juice of 1 small lemon (optional)

3 cups cooked basmati or jasmine rice

To make the marinade: Combine the garam masala, coriander, cumin, paprika, turmeric, salt, garlic, ginger, and yogurt in a bowl and stir. Add chicken thighs and toss to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.

To make the masala: Add 3 tablespoons of the ghee to a Dutch oven set on medium-high heat. Add onion, cardamom, bay leaf (or leaves), paprika, pepper flakes, garam masala and salt. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are golden and tender, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Make space among onions in center of pot, and add the remaining 1 tablespoon ghee. When ghee has melted, add ginger, garlic, and serrano pepper, and sizzle for about 10 seconds. Stir into the onions. Stir in tomato paste, then add tomatoes and juice from the can, crushing tomatoes with your hands as you add them. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring often, until the liquid is almost gone, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Add cream and chopped cilantro to the pot. Taste and add salt if needed. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens, about 40 minutes. *

While sauce is cooking, grill chicken until done, and no pink remains in center. Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces. Stir into masala sauce, and serve over cooked rice. (If adding lemon juice, stir in just before serving. I forgot the lemon, and did not think it needed it!)

*NOTE: The original recipe called for pureeing the sauce in a blender at this point, before adding the chicken in. I thought that was an unnecessary step, but might try that next time I make this so the sauce is creamier. And there will be a next time for this tasty dish!

Indian Spiced Beef Wraps with Cilantro Mint Sauce

FullSizeRender 2This meat dish has so much flavor it could convert a vegetarian. I’m not a big fan of beef, but I absolutely LOVE all the crazy spices—cilantro, ginger, cumin, coriander, fennel, turmeric, and even cinnamon—packed into this recipe. The contrast between the spiced meat and the chilled cilantro mint yogurt sauce is perfect. Add the fresh cucumber slices and sweet cherry tomatoes, and it’s a dish to die for. In fact, I once thought a guest of ours actually WAS dying (or had broken a tooth) when I served this meal. My son Justin had brought home a pack of starving college guys, and I thought they’d appreciate some quality meat, served up in a format they probably weren’t getting in the school cafeteria. His friend Brady starting moaning after his first bite, and I looked up in alarm. “Are you OK?” Brady sheepishly smiled and said, “I’m fine! It’s just sooooo GOOD.” The others laughed, but concurred.

The original recipe directions said to mix meat, herbs, and spices together and shape into meatballs or sausages, skewer them, and grill them. I tried that the first time I made this, and it was a ton of work, and then the meat didn’t stretch as far as I would have liked. So now I just mix it all together and brown the meat in a pan, and it works great. Now to give credit where credit is due. I got this recipe from the Lunds & Byerly’s Real Food magazine some time in 2010, I’m guessing. I don’t have the exact date recorded with my magazine clipping, but I remember about when Justin would drop in with that particular crew. Good times had by all. 

Makes 6-8 servings

For Spiced Meat:
1½-2 pounds quality lean ground beef (or lamb—if you like lamb…)
¼ cup plain yogurt
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
¼ cup finely chopped scallions (aka: green onion, Tom)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
½ teaspoon ground fennel
½ teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

For Cilantro Mint Sauce:
½ cup plain yogurt
3/4 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves
¼ cup chopped fresh mint
2 scallions, cut into 2-inch pieces
½-inch piece of peeled fresh ginger, quartered
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 clove garlic, quartered
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon salt

Serving suggestion:
Flour tortillas*, or corn tortillas (for gluten-free option)
1 cucumber, sliced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 yellow onion, sliced (optional—sometimes we want these, sometimes we don’t!)
Crumbled feta cheese

To make meat: Combine beef, yogurt, cornstarch, and all the herbs and spices in large frying pan. Cook until no pink remains in meat. Keep on low heat until serving.

To make sauce: Combine all ingredients in a food processor, and pulse until smooth. Can chill until serving.

To serve wraps: Briefly heat tortilla on hot griddle, then top with warm spiced meat, cucumbers, tomatoes, feta, and chilled yogurt sauce. Fold in half and eat like a taco. Get ready to be amazed at the flavor explosion in your mouth.

*NOTE: I love to take this recipe up even ONE MORE NOTCH by making my own tortillas. I sometimes do these a day ahead and store in frig with parchment paper between them, and then reheat on the griddle right before serving. Just like the spiced meat, they are truly moan-worthy.