Valentines day was an alien concept for me growing up in India. I did not hear about it until I got into college (around 11th or 12th grade). Around that time Hallmark made it presence felt, unavoidably so. Giving someone a Valentines card pretty much meant asking them to be your life partner!! There was not much latitude in its meaning. And of course parents would never be happy to find out that their son or daughter gave or received a card. That is, if they even knew about the specialty of Feb 14. Yup, you got it, there was not much dating back then given the prevalence of arranged-marriages. Choosing your
spouse on your own was frowned upon, which is largely true even today. Of course things have changed quite a bit in the last decade, for better in some cases and for worse in the other.
I don’t have any noteworthy memories of Valentines day other than watching and enjoying some girls giggling silly at the boys they secretly hoped would give them a card and get instant heroine status. My special day is around the Valentines day when I knew who my husband was going to be. It would suffice to say that it had been an eventful adventure for both of us to achieve the status of a married couple. And to mark our special day, I made this Chicken Tikka Masala that we both love.
Tikka Masala is a flavorful silky sauce with cream and tomatoes. Not too hot, but rich and creamy. What was remarkable was that it was much easier to make than I thought. And some gross pantry insufficiencies lead to wonderful discoveries in substitutions–which I now call essential ingredients!! The secret was that I used roasted red bell peppers from a jar when I realized I had no tomatoes. The recipe calls for some tomato ketchup (I know I know, but trust me) which gave just enough hint of tomatoes without losing the taste reminiscent of a typical Tikka Masala. And the red pepper blended with onion and cashews and simmered in a splash of cream yielded the most gorgeous looking, silkiest sauce ever. I am now out of superlatives…so here I present.
What you need:
For the marinade:
1 lb Chicken, cut into cubes
1 cup Yogurt
1 tbsp Cumin powder
1/2 tbsp Coriander powder
1/4 tsp Turmeric powder
3 cloves Garlic, 1/2 inch Ginger–made into a paste or grated
1 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Chilli powder
For the sauce:
1 medium sized Onion, cubed
1/2 roasted Red Bell Pepper (about 1/2 cup when pureed)
1 tsp Cumin powder
1/2 tsp Coriander powder
3 Cloves, 1/2 inch Cinnamon, 2 Cardamom pods–ground into fine powder
1 tbsp Kasoori Methi (dried Fenugreek leaves, found in Indian grocery stores)
1/4 cup Cream
2 tbsp Tomato ketchup
1 tbsp Butter
1 tbsp Oil
1/4 tsp of Chilli powder, or to taste
Salt to taste
Cilantro for garnish
How to make it:
- Marinade the chicken with all the ingredients for marination for about 20-30 minutes
- Grill or pan roast the marinated chicken and set aside
- In the mean time, roast the onions in the pan with a few drops of oil unil lighlty browned.
- Add the red bell peppers and cashew and toss them around for a couple of minutes. Take if off the stove and cool until ready to handle
- Blend the mixture into a fine puree. Add a few tablespoons of water if necessary.
- Heat a pan (you can use the same pan used for roasting) with a tablespoon of oil and a table spoon of butter.
- When the butter just melts, add all the powders (clove, cinnamon, cardamom powder, cumin and coriander) and saute until their aroma wafts around.
- Add the red bell pepper, onion and cashew puree and gently saute for 3-4 minutes.
- Add the chilli powder and salt and the tomato ketchup. Mix well and add the cream.
- Crush kasoori methi in your hands before adding to the mix and cook for 2 minutes.
- Now add the grilled chicken pieces and toss to coat well in the sauce.
- Check taste and adjust salt or chilli powder as desired.
- If you want a thinner consistency add a few more tablespoons of water and a sparing splash of cream. Gently simmer for 5 minutes.
- Garnish with cilantro and serve with Naans (Indian bread) or Basmati rice.