I love a good Indian buffet and Nashville’s got some. Sitar, Bombay Palace, Woodland’s Vegetarian in West End and Taj Indian on Nolensville Road are a few favorites. With the exception of meatless Woodland’s I head immediately toward the steaming pans of tandoori chicken and the tikkas while Mindy makes us a plate of wilty Indian iceberg salad and papadum.
A corner of warm blackened chewy naan stuffed with beautiful red tandoori chicken and grilled onions is the benchmark bite for me. This popular Indian and Pakistani dish is chicken seasoned with various combinations of red chile or cayenne pepper, cardamom, cumin, tumeric, fennel seed, (plus salt and usually food coloring) mixed with yogurt, and cooked in the clay tandoor oven. It’s one of those foods (like sushi and Chinese) most of us usually enjoy in a restaurant, not at home.
We’ve made some tandoori chicken with success (see our Indian Picnic menu), but we finally landed the most simple cheater chef solution to the challenge of tandoori at home (with no tandoor, although I’d be surprised to find one in use at the Indian joints around here). As is sometimes the case, the solution was under our noses, in the pantry.
In fact, there are several to-be-discovered solutions in that pantry.
These seasoning mixes are always available at the ubiquitous Patel Brothers Indian Market which you may have in your town. Obviously, the choices are many and they share similar ingredients so it’s easy to get lost in the selection. These boxes work in plenty of applications, as well. The vegetable curry mix is great tossed with any vegetable before roasting in the oven or into a skillet (like okra, for example). So, try some and see what you like.
For tandoori style chicken on the grill try this. A couple hours before grilling (or the day before) combine the seasoning, the chicken, and a little fresh lemon juice in a sealable plastic bag, massage well, and refrigerate. The traditional yogurt is optional. From the photo below you can see that we used yogurt on some thighs, but not all. Frankly, we couldn’t tell a difference. For the chicken, use what you like but we prefer dark meat and these boneless, skinless thighs make this dish simple to pull together and the dark meat only dries out if you wander off and leave your post. Dark meat grills well and is tender and delicious.
Mindy’s Cool Napa Cabbage Indian Slaw is a spot-on match for tandoori grilled chicken. Chopped Napa cabbage tossed with yogurt and mayonnaise, the tangy bite of lemon, and earthy toasted cumin seeeds.
Note about grilling the thighs: To encourage the seasonings to stick to the chicken and not the grill grate, carefully place thighs on the grill and don’t move or flip them for at least 5-7 minutes (unless the heat is too high and something is burning). All grills are different so timing is approximate, but if the chicken resists when you lift it with tongs, leave it where it is another minute or so. Otherwise the exterior seasoning and cool color you’re working for will tear off the chicken and stay on the grate.
You can buy frozen or packaged naan to scoop up the chicken and slaw, but if you want to make your own here is our friend Jennifer’s favorite Naan recipe. Hot skillet is a must.
- 2 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- Heaping tablespoon of packaged tandoori chicken seasoning mix, like Shan's
- 2 heaping tablespoons yogurt (optional)
- Juice of one lemon
- Lemon slices
- Onion slices
- In a sealable plastic bag combine the chicken, tandoori seasoning mix, lemon juice, and yogurt (optional). Massage well and refrigerate a couple hours or overnight.
- Heat the grill to medium-high.
- Saute the lemon and onion slices and set aside.
- Remove the chicken thighs from the bag and grill until the internal temperature reaches 175F in the thickest part of the thigh.
- Note about grilling: help keep seasoning on the chicken (not the grate) by waiting until the thigh easily lifts off the grate before flipping it over. If the thigh resists being lifted by tongs, leave it be another minute or so.
- Serve whole or sliced into sections with sauteed lemons and onions and plenty of basmati rice and warm naan or pita bread.
- 1/2 cup Greek yogurt (or plain regular yogurt)
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 1 to 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons toasted cumin seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 8 cups thinly sliced Napa cabbage
- Whisk together the yogurt, mayonnaise, lemon juice, and cumin seeds in a large bowl. Add the cabbage and toss until well coated. Season with salt.
- Toast the cumin seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 3 minutes.
- You may think it's weird that the slaw yields less than the amount of cabbage called for. The cabbage tends to compress when dressing is added.