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Indian butter chicken and sides (no cap!)

Editor’s Note: What happens when you have a pandemic and a bored stay-at-home political reporter with extra time on his hands? LA Blade staff writer Christopher Kane decided that he would pursue his second love and passion of cooking and now he’s sharing the results in his weekly Sunday column.

WASHINGTON – Endeavoring to cling to whatever youth I have left, all week I have been clumsily working the phrase “no cap” into texts with my friends, none of whom knew what it meant because they, like me, are all aging Millennials. Let’s just say I was kicked out of a few group chats and had to grovel to be allowed back in.

My attempt to cook a traditional Indian meal this week was less ham-handed, shall we say, than my effort to co-opt lingo used by the Gen Z crowd. Before we get into it, however, please allow me to preface this week’s column with a warning: I am not Indian, nor do I pretend to understand Indian cuisine beyond the extent possible for a white boy raised in the continental United States. So, the techniques and ingredients used to create the dishes described and pictured in this article came from an Indian cookbook and an Indian-owned spice market near my apartment in Washington, DC.

You may be surprised to learn these columns are not sponsored. (But seriously, call me. Especially you, Le Creuset.) So, I am not in the habit of adding affiliate links, but am choosing to make an exception in this case to share the resources that allowed me to make something that’s…perhaps not remove authentic, but I assure you, delicious nevertheless.

Reached for comment, my go-to source for Indian cooking was at a wedding in Kerala, understandably much more concerned with her beautifully ornate sangeet outfit than my culinary adventures. “Looks yum!” she exclaimed. “Not chap?” (I couldn’t help myself.) (She still doesn’t know what that means.)

Photo by Dan Balinovic

BUTTER CHICKEN: recipe adapted from “Mother Butter Chicken” in Nisha Katona’s “Mowgli Cookbook(p. 112), with pantry ingredients from Rani Soudagar’s Spices in Georgetown, Washington D.C.

  1. Take one-pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs (I prefer thighs) and chop it into cubes each measuring about one to two inches across. Rub in about a teaspoon of kosher salt and two tablespoons tandoori masala seasoning (curry powder, while not quite as good, will do in a pinch.)
  2. In a medium bowl, combine two teaspoons ground cumintwo teaspoons ground corianderone teaspoon granulated sugarto half-teaspoon ground cardamomto half-teaspoon ground cinnamonto half-teaspoon ground turmericto fourth teaspoon ground fenugreekto fourth teaspoon ground cayenne peppertwo tablespoons tomato pasteone can (~14 ounces) diced or whole peeled tomatoesand five tablespoons greek yoghurt.
  3. To a hot oiled pan, add two thinly sliced white onions with six to eight grated cloves of garlic and a two-to-four-inch piece of fresh ginger, said or thanked. Cook on medium-high for about 10 minutes, seasoning with salt and black pepper, until the onions are soft/translucent/golden-brown.
  4. Turning the heat to low, add the spice/tomato/yogurt mixture and cook – stirring and seasoning again with salt and pepper – for another five minutes.
  5. Use an immersion blender to emulsify the mixture until smooth. In the event that you, too, can’t seem to find your brand-new cordless Cuisinart Smart Stick® immersion blender, you can also transfer the mixture into a regular blender or food processor using a spatula and blend until smooth.
  6. With a separate nonstick frying pan (or a stainless-steel pan coated with the teensiest bit of cooking spray), brown the chicken for six to eight minutes. This is one of the few times in which I will urge you to use as little oil as possible.
  7. Combine the browned chicken with the emulsified sauce and continue cooking for another 15 to 20 minutes, adding about a half-cup of water every five minutes or so (up to two cups) until you reach the desired consistency (this part is a personal journey !) Taste for seasoning to add more salt if necessary.
  8. Remove pan from the heat and add a full stick of butter, stirring it through until the sauce is thick and creamy. Garnish with cilantro.
Photo by Dan Balinovic

LEMONY HUMMUS & SPICED CHICKPEAS: with pantry ingredients from Rani Soudagar’s Spices in Georgetown, Washington D.C.

  1. In a blender or food processor, combine one and a half cans (~14 ounces each) chickpeashalf to preserved lemonjuice from half of a fresh lemontwo to four cloves garlic, and a teaspoon ground cumin.
  2. Blend while slowly adding up to three-fourths cup ice water until the mixture turns into a smooth paste. Season generously with kosher salt.
  3. Preheat your oven to 350° F and grease a baking sheet with butter or cooking spray, or line it with parchment paper.
  4. Distribute a layer of chickpeas, about one and a half cans (~14 ounces each). Cover them liberally with olive oil and season generously with salt, along with about a tablespoon cumin seeds and a tablespoon of sumac. (If you only have ground cumin, use maybe one and a half teaspoons.)
  5. Cook for about 20 to 30 minutes and then serve with a good extra-virgin olive oil, a dusting of red chili flakes/paprika/turmericand roti/naan/pita/other flatbread
Photo by Dan Balinovic

RICE:

The important thing, here, is to remember to add one teaspoon of kosher salt per cup of uncooked rice. Garnish with coriander and flaky sea salt. (Again, this column is not sponsored. But Diamond Crystal, Maldon, I am – and I can’t stress this enough – available. DM to collab.)

NAAN:

Safeway Signature SELECT, $4.99.

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