Doing Indian in our Native American lands
Before anyone gets their knickers in a twist, let me ease your minds by stating that the headline and subject matter of this column are not even close to being politically incorrect.
Though we live in Utah, which is most definitely Native American lands (primarily Ute and Navajo), doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy Indian (from India) cuisine.
If you are familiar with Indian cuisine, you have 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’s a collection of spices, herbs, and 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.
Tandoori is 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.
Raw chicken (skin removed) is marinated in a mixture of dahi (yogurt) and tandoori masala, a spice blend of roasted then ground coriander seeds, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, cinnamon stick, bay leaves, and mace.
It is seasoned and colored with cayenne pepper, red chili powder, or Kashmiri red chili powder, plus turmeric.
Masala is a combination of ground spices; garam refers to the intensity of the spices, not to the heat of the chile peppers. Also referred to as Allspice or Jamaican pepper, its aroma is similar to clove, black pepper, nutmeg, and cinnamon.
It is usually added last in the cooking process to keep it from getting bitter if cooked too long. Do not confuse Garam Masala (spices) with Marsala (wine), or you’ll be in for a big surprise if you don’t enjoy spicy food.
Garam Masala can be purchased at online herbal and spice sites, or you can 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 grind 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 does not accidentally taste like my herbal pantry.
To make Garam Masala, use whole seeds and pods which will be toasted before grinding; the toasting will intensify the flavors.
After making Chicken Tikka Marsala, may I suggest a movie for viewing while dining? The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014), featuring Helen Mirren, is the story of a displaced Indian family. They open an Indian cuisine restaurant across the street from a very fancy and classy French restaurant, run by Helen Mirren’s character.
While viewers will drool over the various recipes created throughout the movie, the story itself will tug at your heart.
Basic Garam Masala
Ingredients: 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 four months. Makes 1 1/2 cups.
Chicken Tikka Masala is 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, Chicken Fried Steak for example, and then making the gravy for it. Same idea, just another country’s cuisine.
Ingredients: 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 eight 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 four minutes; turn chicken and broil again. Remove to platter.
Makes 4 servings.
Note: this dish can be served with jasmine or basmati rice as is.
Chicken Tikka Masala
Ingredients: 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, sauté onion until softened and edges begin to brown. Add the tomatoes, and cook for six minutes. Add in garam masala and heavy cream; cook for two minutes before adding in the prepared Chicken Tikka. Coat all chicken in sauce, let cook additional three minutes. Serve over rice.
There you have it – Indian cuisine that will inspire you to explore!