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We went to an extended family’s home last weekend for a Diwali (Hindu festival) party. It was a group of 15- 20 adults and little ones. We even had fireworks. Because fireworks are lit in India for any occasion but specially to celebrate Diwali. And since living in Atlanta is akin to living in India, with large Indian population and many Indian grocers and clothing boutiques, it’s only fitting the families that live here eventually started celebrating Diwali with the fireworks. The popularity of the festival in America was affirmed when we heard neighbors on other streets light their fireworks. The saying is, you can take an Indian out of India but you cannot take India out of an Indian. Last week when I went to the part of the town with all the major Indian grocers and shopping centers, I felt like I was in India. As soon as I stepped out of my car, I heard blaring Bollywood music and the stores were crowded to the brim of customers wanting to get a piece of the sale. Diwali mythically represents the battle of good winning over evil. It is celebrated with lights, hence the name festival of lights. People buy new clothes, valuables and cars on this day because it’s auspicious and the happiest day of the year. It is also the Hindus Christmas because friends and family buy presents for their loved ones.
Last weekend at the party, there was lots of food to munch on. There were appetizers as well as main course. The appetizers featured tandoori chicken, the famous red (colored) chicken ubiquitous with Indian restaurants. If made correctly, it is chargrilled and tastes spectacular. The best part of the grilled chicken is the burnt edges that add the flavor to the meat. Traditionally tandoori chicken gets its name from the oven it’s cooked in, Tandoor, a clay oven that’s heated with wood or charcoal. On the street side stands in India, vendors have one or two large clay ovens that are used to grill the chicken and make the naan, an Indian bread that’s made with all purpose flour. I have no idea how the Indian restaurants in America make theirs but it is reminiscent of the traditional tandoori chicken in India.
At the end of the party the host offered all the guests leftovers from the dinner. I offered to take the tandoori chicken. Bringing it home, I knew exactly what I was planning to do with it. Make a chicken curry with my own spin on the ingredients and recipe. Many people that order butter chicken or chicken makhani in restaurants will recognize the look of this dish. The key difference in my recipe and the butter chicken is that chicken must be grilled or baked before being added to the sauce. Ideally a tandoori chicken from a restaurant is best (or having family host a party and bringing home leftovers) but in a more realistic scenario, buying a rotisserie chicken works just fine in this. I bet this would work with roasted turkey as well, for those of us that are already looking for leftover turkey recipes.
This take 45 minutes so it’s ideal weekend dinner or entertaining guests. This recipe can be doubled. With store bought naan (or pita) and some plain rice, this is the perfect meal for dinner or entertaining. It’s especially good for a cool Fall dinner with lower temperatures and we are all trying to find ways to stay warm. The green chilies in the sauce make it spicy and that’s how it is supposed to be! Any of you that shy away from heat, this is the time to add it because heat is lessened with cream and flavors of sautéed onions and tomatoes. The key is to get the tandoori chicken or buy a rotisserie chicken from any grocery store. If using rotisserie (or leftover roasted turkey), make sure you add the extra spices (as I have noted) to enhance the flavors.
The benefit of having a recipe like this that takes time to cook is it allows you to prep the ingredients as you go. No need for having everything chopped and ready initially. But be sure to read the recipe in its entirety so you know what ingredients to have on-hand.
Tandoori Chicken in Rich Tomato Sauce
serves 2 generously
2 pounds bone-in grilled or roasted chicken pieces
1 bay leaf
2 dried red chilies
1 medium red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 inch ginger, peeled and minced
1/2 of jalapeno or another spicy green Chili*, finely chopped
1 ground Cumin (if using rotisserie chicken, use 1 1/2 teaspoons)
1 ground Coriander (if using rotisserie chicken, use 1 1/2 teaspoons)
1/2 teaspoon Garam Masala** (if using rotisserie chicken, use 1 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup tomato puree (crushed tomatoes work as well)
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1/4 heavy cream
1 1/2 tablespoons dried Fenugreek leaves***
1 teaspoon chopped cilantro, optional
*Be sure to use a spicy jalapeno or serrano pepper, the heat adds a dimension to this dish. My jalapeno is devilishly hot so I only used half. Use yours accordingly.
**Garam Masala is found in Indian stores, and the options are endless so pick one that looks good to you. In the ingredients list look for cloves, red chilies, cumin, coriander, cinnamon & black peppercorns. I’ve seen some with nutmeg and mace and those are fine ingredients to have in garam masala but not necessary. Avoid buying garam masala at an American grocery store because it can be old and off.
***Fenugreek in dried form is more flavorful than the fresh and is a better alternative in this recipe. It can be found in Indian stores.
In a 10- 12” non-stick skillet, heat butter on medium heat. When the butter has melted, add bay leaf and 2 red dried chilies. Cook the whole spices for 30 seconds and then add diced onions to the pan. Turn down the heat to medium low to allow the onions to cook for 3 minutes without burning, stirring occasionally.
Add the garlic, ginger and green chili and cook for 1 minute. Add the spices and salt and cook for 30 seconds. Increase the heat to medium, stir in tomato puree and stock. When the sauce begins to slowly bubble/simmer, reduce the heat to low. Add the bone-in chicken pieces and cook for 20 minutes, covered. It is important to cover the pan to allow the flavors to infuse the chicken.
Uncover, stir in heavy cream and fenugreek leaves and cook for 10 minutes. Taste and add salt if necessary.
Garnish with chopped cilantro, if using. Serve warm with rice and/or naan.