A couple of months ago, I had the pleasure of attending an Indian cooking class at Spice Xing in Rockville, MD. Chef Sudhir Seth is a friend of a friend and he generously offered to share his knowledge with eight Indian cooking novices as an auction item for our elementary school.
I wasn’t exposed to much, if any, Indian food while growing up but quickly discovered my love for it while living in New York City in my twenties. There was a local chain of Indian restaurants called Baluchi’s (not to be confused with the gourmet grocer, Balducci’s) that I would wander into on my way home from work to get my fix.
Eventually, I figured I could recreate some of my favorite dishes at home, if only I had the proper ingredients. So I stocked up on turmeric, cardamom, cumin, fenugreek, chickpeas, black lentils, chutneys, etc. and experimented. With each attempt I ended up with an Americanized version of something that should have been authentic. I was stymied and pretty much stopped trying to cook Indian, settling for the all too infrequent restaurant meals.
During our lesson, Chef Seth focused on some of the more simple Indian dishes. He shared recipes that didn’t require exotic ingredient sourcing or intimidating steps. I was thrilled to come home with a small collection of do-able dishes to try on my family. The kids’ hands down favorite has been Chicken Tikka.
For those unfamiliar with Chicken Tikka, the dish consists of small pieces of boneless chicken that has been marinated in a mixture of yogurt and spices and cooked on skewers. As a home cook, cooking on a grill pan or outdoor grill as opposed to a tandoor oven, I have found the skewers not to be completely necessary. The resulting meat can be served as is, along with rice or nan, or cooked further in a tomato cream sauce becoming Chicken Tikka Masala or Butter Chicken–both absolutely delicious, saucy creations.
I think that Chicken Tikka is the perfect “entry-level” dish for the novice Indian cook. It’s a dish that doesn’t scream “Indian” to the uninitiated (although I love screaming Indian!) but tastes authentic. My kids enjoy it wrapped in nan and served with a little mango or coriander chutney, which can be purchased at the supermarket.
So give this recipe a try and who knows it just may dethrone those beloved American chicken tenders or barbecue chicken on the grill.
- 2 lbs boneless chicken thighs, cut into 2-inch pieces
- 1 c Greek yogurt
- 2 Tbls lemon juice, divided
- 1 Tbls ginger paste (or minced ginger)
- 1 Tbls garlic paste (or minced garlic)
- ½ Tbls garam masala (found in the Spice section of your local supermarket)
- 2 tsp vegetable oil
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp paprika
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
- Cilantro, handful, chopped
- Chutney (such as Major Grey’s Mango Chutney), for serving
- Basmati rice, cooked according to package directions, optional
- Nan, optional
- Marinate the chicken in half the lemon juice and a sprinkle of salt, and set aside for 10-15 minutes.
- Mix the rest of the ingredients into a smooth paste (yogurt thru cayenne pepper).
- Lift the chicken out of the lemon marinade and mix chicken into the yogurt marinade. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least an hour or up to overnight.
- Before cooking, take chicken out of the refrigerator and heat a well-greased grill pan or your outdoor grill. You can skewer the chicken or leave unskewered.
- Cook over medium heat for 8-10 minutes. Your grill should be covered or if using a grill pan, cover the pan with loose-fitting foil. Turn the chicken to cook on the second side uncovered, until done (5-7 minutes).
- Sprinkle with chopped cilantro and serve with basmati rice or nan and a chutney of your choice.