The first time I had Indian food, I was a freshman at Berkeley. I had this crazy roommate from Marin who can only be summed up by the phrase Dirty Hippy. I mean this with no disrespect to hippies, as she was quite literally dirty. While I fault her for only changing her sheets once the entire year, and remember her in-my-room-at-9am-when-I-just-got-out-of-the-shower-omg-go-away friends fondly for reminding her to shower, she still gets credit for introducing me to the wonders of Indian cuisine. Still resistant to anything too new, I ordered a chicken biryani dish. She ordered chana masala and urged me to try some. I fell in love with chickpeas and the flavors of the country right then and there. In the following years, a good friend and I would stop in every two weeks to share two naan, rice and an order of chicken tikka masala while we made fun of people on Telegraph Avenue. While this friend and I no longer live in the same city, we still get together to people watch, even if it has to be done while eating bacon-wrapped asparagus at Disneyland. Fortunately for us, with the advent of unlimited texting, we are able to do it in a much more subtle manner, in more crowded places, and from 300 miles away (woo cell cameras). So yes, Indian food bonding leads to life-long friendships that allow you to indulge in your immaturity now and again.
Continuing on, my law school was located in a city that lacks any sense of ethnic food (or good food for that matter). I’m not kidding. It took weeks of searching to find the two places in a city of 2.8 million that made char siu bau (steamed bbq pork buns). Anyway, the three Indian restaurants in the city were not particularly good and left me craving something better. Now back in California, I am surrounded by Indian food and markets. Not completely sure where I am going to end up when I finally get a job, I decided to try my hand at some dishes. A few weeks ago, I went into a local Indian market and spoke to the proprietor. He steered me away from most of the prepackaged spice mixes, saying that the only real reason to use them is when you need an ingredient that is very hard to find alone (dried mango powder, anyone?). Picking up some ingredients, I tried my hand at chana masala. It was a decent attempt, but not quite there. So I decided to try my other favorite dish.
This is an altered version of the Cooks Illustrated recipe, which was widely recommended on Chowhound. I increased the garam masala, added cumin and a pinch of sugar, and reduced the amount of cream. My tomato products were also on the low-sugar, low-salt side of the spectrum (please check your labels! It’s better if you control sugar and salt), and I used a low fat yogurt. The sauce tastes exactly like my favorite Indian restaurant in Berkeley/San Francisco. I made it yesterday so the flavors could meld longer, and I seriously wanted to devour it with the matzo on the counter. Oh, and this is the third time I’ve made naan, and it was good, too.
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon table salt
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts , trimmed of fat
1 cup plain yogurt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, diced fine (about 1 1/4 cups)
2 medium garlic cloves , minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 fresh serrano chile, ribs and seeds removed, flesh minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 1/2 tablespoon garam masala
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
2 1/4 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1. Combine cumin, coriander, cayenne, and salt in small bowl. Sprinkle both sides of chicken with spice mixture, pressing gently so mixture adheres. Place chicken on plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 to 60 minutes. In large bowl, whisk together yogurt, oil, garlic, and ginger; cover chicken in this mixture, cover and refrigerate for a few hours.
2. Wipe the excess yogurt off of your chicken and cook it. You can do so on a BBQ, on a grill pan, or under the broiler in your oven.
3. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until light golden. Add garlic, ginger, chile, tomato paste, and garam masala; cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, sugar, and salt; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in cream and return to simmer. Remove pan from heat and cover to keep warm.
I prepped my ingredients so they were easy to add in batches.
My garlic, chile, etc. are in a bowl. I added the sugar and salt into the tomato can.
4. Let chicken rest 5 minutes, then cut into 1-inch chunks and stir into warm sauce (do not simmer chicken in sauce). Stir in cilantro, adjust seasoning with salt, and serve.
Naan (From Manjula's Kitchen)
2 cups AP flour
1 teaspoon dry active yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
Pinch of baking soda
2 tbs oil
3/4 cup lukewarm water
2.5 tbs plain yogurt (Greek or regular is fine; if you don’t have any, you can substitute with sour cream; but if you do so, do not add salt, as the sour cream already has some)
1. Dissolve yeast and sugar in lukewarm water.
2. Sift salt, baking soda and flour together.
3. Mix oil and yogurt in with yeast mixture; slowly mix in flour mixture.
4. Knead until dough is smooth. Oil a bowl, and cover dough until it doubles in volume.
5. Place a shelf in your oven as close as possible to your broiler (ours is on top). If you have a pizza stone, set it on the shelf. If not, use an upside down metal pan or a baking sheet that can withstand the heat. The idea is to approximate a tandoori oven as close as possible.
6. Preheat to 500F.
7. While your oven is preheating, separate the dough into 6 pieces, and roll it out to desire thickness on a well-floured surface (thinner gets crispier naan, whereas thicker gets more doughy naan).
8. Place 1-2 naan on your pizza stone. Cook for 2-3 minutes, until golden brown. I suggest keeping an eye on it with the oven light on, as it will cook quickly. Also employ a pair of tongs to remove from the stone.
Note: Getting the naan onto the pizza stone seems to be challenging to me. I don’t really worry if it doesn’t retain it’s perfect shape. I will, however, use my tongs to fix the dough if its edges fold over when I throw it onto the stone. It still tastes just as good even if it ends up looking like Texas.