Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Easy Tandoori Chicken (and my Super-Secret Cart o' Spices)

I'm interrupting my normally scheduled blog post (i.e. more National Parks!) to bring you an awesome recipe I discovered just last week. It has all the perfect attributes - healthy, tasty and simple - and it's so good I've already made it twice! I love this recipe because it's strong on flavor, short on prep time and allows me to dip liberally into my horde of precious spices.

You see, I have a bit of a spice problem (no, not that kind!). Some people have a spice rack, others a spice drawer or maybe even a spice cupboard. I have a spice cart. I inherited the cart from a friend a few years ago and have kept it fully stocked ever since. I've already mentioned my love of grocery store tourism, and spices and condiments are my favorite souvenirs (well, and cheese - but dairy doesn't keep nearly so well). I've brought back cloves from Poland, truffled oil from Croatia, curry powder from Uganda, liver dumpling seasoning from Germany and countless other ethnic treats. Many of my spices get used on a near-daily basis, but there are a few that, from routine or lack of familiarity, stand unused for weeks or months at a time.

Until this week, my tandoori masala (imported from the marvelous Mill Road in Cambridge) was one of these neglected spices. But no more! In one week, I've worked my way halfway through the bag - enough to worry that it will soon run out. It's funny how attached I get to my spice-souvenirs; I can remember where each one was purchased, and using them never fails to bring back memories of our favorite trips. Sadly, when a spice or condiment is used up, there's one less opportunity to remember - so it helps when the dish they're featured in is extra-delicious and worthwhile.

This tandoori chicken may not be very authentic (unfortunately, I don't own a tandoor oven) but it's about as simple and tasty as it gets. The dish relies on a yogurt-based marinade which you can whip up in minutes. Pop the whole thing in the fridge overnight and it'll be ready for cooking by dinner. The hot, smoky flavor of the curry is tempered by the addition of lemon juice (which also softens the meat) and the creamy, plain yogurt. I add a bit of crushed red pepper for extra kick but this is optional, or you could also replace it with red or green chili for a different kind of heat. Ginger and a bit of garlic complete the flavor profile, but you don't need a spice cart to get creative with some additions of your own! Though I serve the finished product with sauteed veggies and brown rice, I imagine it would also be great over bulgur, barley or quinoa.

Simply Delicious Tandoori Chicken
makes 4 generous servings

6 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into large chunks (about 2 inches)
3 cloves garlic, crushed, or 3/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper, or 2 small fresh chili peppers
1-inch piece fresh ginger, minced, or 1/4 tsp ground ginger
1 cup plain yogurt
1 1/2 Tablespoons tandoori masala spice
1 1/2 Tablespoons lemon juice
Salt and Pepper to taste

In a small mixing bowl, combine crushed garlic, ginger and crushed red pepper, flattening against the sides of the bowl with a spoon to make a paste. Add yogurt, lemon juice and masala spice mix. Stir until well combined. Mixture should be smooth and creamy (and bright orange!).

Place chicken breasts in a large bowl or casserole and cover with yogurt mixture. Stir to coat. Cover and place in refrigerator overnight (4-6 hours will do in a pinch, but overnight is better).

When ready to cook, remove chicken from the marinade and place in a lightly greased oven proof dish, taking care not to overlap chicken pieces. Discard leftover marinade.

Bake in a preheated oven at 400 ° F for about 20-25 minutes or until juices run clear and chicken is no longer pink inside (internal temperature should reach 170 °F). If desired, broil the chicken for a few minutes to brown before serving (this last step is designed to replicate the effect of a tandoor oven, but is optional). Serve with rice and vegetables - preferably green ones to showcase that gorgeous orange color!

A few notes: You'll notice that I've given fresh and dried alternatives for most of the spices. Since Matt and I are still settling into our new place, I don't have many fresh ingredients on hand. I've used dried ginger, garlic and crushed red pepper both times and thought the flavor was excellent - but I'm also eager to try it with fresh items when I get the chance! For the yogurt, I've used both regular (actually nonfat) and Greek, and have found that I actually prefer the regular version. The only difference I noticed was in the thickness of the marinade (which you discard, anyway), so I'd rather save my precious Greek yogurt for something more texture dependent.

This simple dish appears impressive because of the eye-popping color and bold flavor. You can thank turmeric - a golden-hued spice that was once known as Indian saffron - for the color. Other ingredients of tandoori masala include, ginger, garam masala, cumin and cayenne pepper. Sounds spicy, huh? But since the finished product is not overpowering or overly hot, it makes a great introduction to Indian cuisine and an excellent way to add some South Asian flavor to your menu rotation!

This post linked at:
33 Shades of Green: Tasty Tuesdays
A Southern Fairytale: Mouthwatering Mondays
Make Ahead Meals for Busy Moms: Melt in Your Mouth Monday
Home Sweet Farm: Delectable Tuesday
This Chick Cooks: These Chicks Cooked


  1. Hey Rachel, where are you guys settling down? Btw, I love grocery store tourism too! Hope you're well.


  2. That recipe sounds just perfect being high in flavor and quick to make! I wanted to invite you over to show off your recipe at These Chicks Cooked Recipe Spotlight today. Have a great day :)

  3. Jenn - we've finally settled down in Tennessee, north of Nashville. It seems we have a lot in common! I love checking out local grocery stories every time I go somewhere new!

    Katie - thanks for inviting me. I've linked up and enjoyed browsing the other recipes!

  4. No way, I love Nashville, I was just there. I'll just have to come back I guess! :)

  5. What I wouldn't give for some of that spice. That chicken looks like something that I would really enjoy.

  6. If I ever find a fresh bag, I'll have to send you some! It's not so easy to find Indian spices in the States but I had no problems getting them back when I lived in Europe. Sadly, they're all expiring...but I've still been using them!

  7. This looks yummy, Ill have to try it sometime I love Indian food! I am making, or should I say my husband is making chicken tikka masala for dinner and I'm making homemade naan! Yum!

    1. Oooo - I wish I could come over for dinner! That sounds wonderful!