Saturday, October 20, 2012

Doing Indian in Native American Lands.

Now before anyone gets their knickers in a twist, let me ease your minds by stating that my title is not even close to being politically incorrect. I live in Utah which is most definitely Native American lands (primarily Ute and Navajo), but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy Indian (and that's from India) cuisine. Fooled you good, didn't I? We're here to enjoy cooking, so lets leave politics to others, shall we?

Now if you're familiar with Indian cuisine, you've probably heard of or tried curry, tandoori and masala.  Curry is a basic term for dishes originating not just in India or Pakistan, but Thailand, Japan and most Asian cultures. It is a collection of spices, herbs, dried and/or fresh chile peppers which gives a dish its particular taste and heat. Often the curry plant will be confused as the main ingredient for curry, but this is not so. The plant resembles lavender in structure, but smells and tastes similar to sage. I highly recommend it for jazzing up chicken salad.

Tandoori is actually a method of cooking using a clay, cylindrical oven called a tandoor. A most popular dish is Tandoori Chicken, an Indian and Pakistani dish consisting of roasted chicken prepared with yogurt and spices.
Masala is a combination of ground spices; garam refers to the intensity of the spices, not to the heat of the chile peppers. It is usually added last in the cooking process to keep it from getting bitter if cooked too long. Don't confuse Masala with Marsala which is a wine, or you'll be in for a big surprise if you do not enjoy spicy food.

Today's blog post will be dealing with Masala; now while you can go online and purchase packaged Masala, you can also make your own at home.  If stored in an airtight container, the powder can last up to four months. While you can use a mortar and pestle or a blender to ground up the spices, I recommend a typical electric coffee grinder. I have two, one for grinding up my coffee beans and one for grinding up herbs and spices. I labeled the latter one, so my coffee doesn't accidentally taste like my herbal pantry. To make Masala, you are using whole seeds and pods which will be toasted before grinding; the toasting will intensify the flavors.

Basic Garam Masala


2 cinnamon sticks, broken into small pieces
4 bay leaves
1/2 cup cumin seeds
2/3 cup coriander seeds
2 Tbsp whole black peppercorns
1 Tbsp whole cloves
2 small dried chile peppers (stems removed, but not the seeds)
1/2 tsp whole nutmeg, broken into small pieces
1/4 tsp ground mace


In a medium skillet, over medium-high heat, add all the ingredients except the nutmeg and mace; stir often until the cumin seeds darken to a deep brown. Do not worry if the ingredients crackle or smoke a little; it's all part of the toasting process.

Remove to a bowl to let cool before grinding. Once cool, add the nutmeg and mace to the bowl; work in batches to add the ingredients to the grinder and grind to a fine powder.  Store in an airtight container for up to 4 months.   Makes 1 1/2 cups.

The above is a photo of Chicken Tikka Masala; it's basically a two part process where you would make Chicken Tikka, then make a sauce using the Masala mixture. Feeling scared? Just think of it as making a basic meal, for example Chicken Fried Steak and then making the gravy for it. Same idea, just another country's cuisine.

Chicken Tikka


1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/2 tsp minced fresh garlic
1/2 tsp minced fresh ginger
1 tsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp canola oil
1/2 tsp chili powder (ancho or cayenne)
1 tsp each ground turmeric, cardamon and fennel
1/4 tsp Garam Masala
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into cubes
2 Tbsp butter, melted


Mix all ingredients, except chicken and butter in a medium bowl and transfer to large plastic sealable bag.  Add the chicken and make sure to coat completely; seal the bag and refrigerate 8 to 12 hours; the longer the better.

Preheat broiler; line a large jelly roll pan with parchment paper and brush the paper with the melted butter.  Remove the chicken from the bag and discard any excess marinade; spread the chicken out on the buttered paper.  Place under the broiler for 4 minutes; turn chicken, broil again; remove to platter.

Makes 4 servings.

Note: this dish can be served with jasmine or basmati rice as is.

Chicken Tikka Masala


3 Tbsp canola oil
1 medium red onion, diced
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1/2 tsp Garam Masala
3/4 cup heavy cream


In a large skillet, over medium-high heat, saute onion until softened and edges begin to brown; add the tomatoes and cook for 6 minutes.  Add in garam masala and heavy cream; cook for 2 minutes before adding in the prepared Chicken Tikka.  Coat all chicken in sauce, let cook additional 3 minutes.  Serve over rice.

There you have it, Indian cuisine that will give you the bravery to explore more.

Mary Cokenour

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