Ever since taking an art history class on Indian painting and sculpture in college, I have wanted to visit India, and even before that I loved eating Indian food. Everything about it appeals to my taste buds, the bold use of spices, the subtle (or in some cases fiery) heat, and the coolness of yogurt raita that I often accompanies the curries.
One of my favorite parts about going out to eat at an Indian restaurant for dinner is how many dishes I get to sample. In my family, we always share some samosas and pakora, a few curries, a daal (lentil dish), and a tandoori baked naan or paratha bread. The combination of flavors on my plate always entice me back for another serving, I just can’t help myself.
When I moved to New York from the Washington DC area, my favorite Indian restaurant quickly became a small vegetarian restaurant that serves a combination of Southern and Northern Indian food. Although they make some great dosas, my favorite dishes on the menu are the samosas and the chana masala (chickpea curry). Samosas in many restaurants can be disappointing, either too bland or too greasy, or both. The samosas at this restaurant are brimming with spices and are perfectly crispy on the outside. The chana masala is gingery and bright, containing fresh herbs and a nice dose of sautéed onions, tomatoes, cumin, and coriander. However, I can’t always make it downtown to eat at this restaurant, and to be honest, I like experimenting at home when I can.
A few weekends ago I decided to make my own version of an Indian chicken curry, loosely based off of Jamie Oliver’s recipe for chicken tikka masala. I have made this recipe before, and each time I remember why I love it. The first step involved marinating chicken in a pureed mixture of toasted spices, ginger, garlic, fresh cilantro, and yogurt. My best piece of advice is to marinade the chicken overnight if you have time, because the yogurt tenderizes the meat and ensures that the chicken stays nice and juicy after it is cooked. After allowing the chicken to marinade, I add the chicken to a sauce made of sautéed onions, more spices, and tomato sauce. Although Jamie Oliver discards the yogurt marinade and cooks his chicken under a broiler, I just add the yogurt and the chicken to the tomato sauce in the pan because the yogurt adds extra creaminess to the sauce without the need to add extra cream or butter. And to be honest, I didn’t feel like taking the time to broil the chicken. Even though it can’t compare to my favorite Indian restaurant, this curry perfectly satisfies my craving for Indian food.
Indian Chicken Curry
Loosely adapted from Jamie Oliver’s chicken tikka masala
- 1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 2 teaspoons garam masala (can be purchased in some grocery stores and at specialty stores)
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon curry powder
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- ½ cup fresh cilantro leaves
- 1.5 cups low fat or whole plain yogurt
- 1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts
- 2 tablespoon olive oil or butter
- 1 medium onion, finely diced
- A pinch of cayenne pepper
- 1 cup canned pureed tomatoes or finely chopped tomatoes
- ½ cup water
- Heat a sauté pan over medium-high heat and add one tablespoon of olive oil and the mustard seeds. Cook mustard seeds until they begin to pop. As soon as they start to pop (being careful, because the seeds will try to pop out of the pan!!) add the cumin, paprika, one teaspoon of garam masala, the coriander, curry powder, ginger, and garlic to the pan. Sauté for an additional 1-2 minutes and then remove the pan from the heat.
- Combine the cilantro and yogurt in a food processor with the toasted spices and process until smooth.
- Cut the chicken breast into 1-inch pieces and place in a large bowl. Pour the yogurt marinade over the chicken and combine well. Cover and refrigerate for 3 hours or overnight.
- 30 minutes before you plan to serve the meal remove the chicken from the refrigerator and place a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium low heat. Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and the onion to the pan and sweat over low heat until the onion in translucent and soft.
- Add one teaspoon of garam masala and a pinch of cayenne to the pan and cook for an additional 1 to 2 minutes.
- Add the tomato sauce and water to the pan, increase the heat, and bring the mixture to a simmer. Lower the heat and simmer for an additional 15-20 minutes.
- Add the chicken pieces and the yogurt marinade to the pan and cook for an additional 7 to 10 minutes, or until the chicken is fully cooked through.
- Season with salt and pepper if needed.
- Serve over steamed basmati rice and garnish with fresh cilantro.
Additional serving suggestions: raita (homemade or store bought), yogurt, naan bread, daal, mango chutney.