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Chicken Tikka with Tomato

16 Aug

This recipe is straight-up not mine, but it has, over time, morphed into something that comes as close to anything as being my signature dish. I bring this dish to potlucks and birthday dinners, I make it for family events like last fall’s cider pressing, and once, at the request of the betrothed, I even brought it to a wedding. It has become a dish for which I am known, and there is a tiny little part of me that feels sort of bad about it. After all, I didn’t put in any work when it came to developing the recipe or testing it out to make sure that it was perfectly delicious. To make it I just crack open a book, gather things together, and use someone else’s wisdom to guide me. Other than a tiny little tweak concerning the switching of cardamom pods with ground cardamom, and the exclusion of clove that I insist on in every recipe that happens to call for clove (because if there is one spice by which I cannot abide, it is clove), this recipe is 100% Madhur Jaffrey’s.

With the simplest of preparations involving nothing more than whirling up a marinade, pouring it over some chicken, then waiting a few hours before grilling the chicken to a perfect finish, there is no simpler way to become acquainted with making Indian food. Make it enough, and people may even begin to request it from you. I take no credit for the recipe itself, but I may have to claim ownership of warning you of its charms.

There is something about the warmth of the spices—a bit of cinnamon, a hit of cumin, a good dose of cardamom—combined with the perfect bit of brightness, garlic, and onion, that makes this chicken really stand out. I know that might sound a little phony and desperate (really? Can someone feel that strongly about chicken?), but I swear it is true. If you’ve always wanted to take a stab at Indian cooking, but are at a loss over where to start, I suggest you make this dish (along with these super simple accompaniments) your inaugural entrance to the world in Indian cooking.

Last Year: Quick All Parmesan Crackers–gluten free!

Chicken Tikka with Tomato Recipe

From Foolproof Indian Cooking, by Madhur Jaffrey

For the marinade:

5 tablespoons olive oil

3 ½ tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 onion, chopped

4 garlic cloves, chopped

1-inch piece of fresh ginger root, peeled and chopped

2 tablespoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons ground coriander

¼ teaspoon ground cardamom

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

20 black peppercorns

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 tablespoon tomato puree

3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 2-inch strips

Put all of the ingredients for the marinade into a food processor or blender and process to a smooth paste.

Place the chicken pieces in a large bowl, add the marinade, and stir to mix. Cover and refrigerate for 4 to 5 hours. (I have been known to marinate this chicken for fewer than 4 hours and it turns out just fine—I have also left it to marinate overnight, for up to 12 hours, and it also turned out just fine.)

When the chicken is done marinating, preheat an outdoor grill or a grill pan over high heat. Grill the chicken pieces in a single layer, being careful not to crowd the grill surface. Discard any marinade that is left behind in the bowl. Grill the chicken for about 10 minutes total, or until the chicken pieces are cooked through, but still tender.

Serve immediately.

Niçoise Cobb Salad

2 Aug

This is the type of salad that defies definition. It is also my favorite type of salad, boasting a variety of elements, tastes, and textures. Containing elements of both a Cobb salad and a Niçoise salad, it is the type of salad that, undoudtedly, some people will declare an unholy mess and then simply disregard. Those people are making a big mistake.

I’ve long been tempted by many elements in a classic Cobb salad, but there are a few things about it that temper my enthusiasm. One is the presence of blue cheese, a cheese that I enjoy in small amounts, but when paired with eggs, bacon, and avocado, seems to provide a bit of overkill. And now that I have mentioned it, I am no fan of bacon (I know, I know—this makes me wholly unqualified to talk about food, right? But there you have it). As for a Niçoise salad, I’m nearly always a fan, what with its high presence of crisp, textural vegetables and subtly tangy dressing, but my affection always seems to falter when the salad happens to be served with canned tuna, one of the few food items I can unrepentantly admit to absolutely detesting.

The only logical thing for me to do, of course, was merge the two salads together, along with a few unsanctioned ingredients that I thought seemed like a good fit. I’ve been on a big sweet potato kick lately (the dark, thick-skinned type that is often referred to as a yam), so when I was mentally constructing my hybrid salad, I knew I wanted to include a bit of sweet potato in lieu of the standard red potato often found in a Niçoise salad (except when it’s not, as some salad purists insist that a Niçoise salad must only contain raw vegetables). I also included cucumbers, because it’s tough to forgo their crisp coolness when constructing any type of salad, and since I was already bringing shame to the name of both salads, why not just keep going?

Culinary liberties in full effect, this salad came together wonderfully. The lemony shallot dressing provides a lovely balance to the creamy egg and avocado, and the piles of fresh vegetables just make everything seem so crisp and friendly. The best aspect of the salad, I think, just might be that, with its ratio of vegetables to protein, it makes a suitable, satisfying meal for both cold nights and warm afternoons. Totally inauthentic as it may be, it’s still awfully fantastic.

Niçoise Cobb Salad Recipe

Strictly speaking—though there is nothing really strict about this salad to begin with, it being a total deconstruction of two different salads—both a Niçoise salad and a Cobb salad include fresh tomatoes, but I didn’t have any lying around. Feel free to add some. You can also add some really nice, salty olives to the salad, as found in a classic Niçoise salad.


1 tablespoon finely minced shallot

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

½ teaspoon Dijon mustard

½ teaspoon fresh chopped tarragon, or a pinch of dried tarragon

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper to taste


1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes

1 tablespoon olive oil

salt and pepper

1 boneless, skinless chicken breast

2 large eggs

4 ounces turkey bacon or regular bacon

handful of fresh green beans, ends trimmed

½ an avocado, peeled and sliced into cubes

½ a small cucumber, sliced into coins, then half moons

1 small head of Bibb lettuce leaves, or a similar type of tender lettuce (I used some Tom Thumb lettuce from our garden), rinsed and drained

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

On a heavy baking sheet, combine diced sweet potatoes, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss with your hands to evenly coat the potatoes with oil, then place in oven and roast for 20 minutes, until the potatoes are soft on the inside and caramelized underneath. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

While the potatoes are roasting, season the chicken breast on both sides with salt and pepper, then grill over medium-high heat (an indoor grill pan is just fine for this) until cooked through, about 5-7 minutes per side. Remove from heat and set aside to cool a bit, then dice into cubes.

In a medium saucepan, place eggs in just enough water to cover them. Place pan over high heat until the water comes to a steady boil. Immediately remove pan from heat, cover, and allow eggs to cook in hot water for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, remove eggs from pan and place in ice water to cool. When cool, peel then slice each egg in half lengthwise.

While eggs are cooking, cook turkey bacon or regular bacon until crisp, then remove them to a paper towel-lined plate to drain and cool a bit. When cool, crumble into medium-small pieces.

Drain the water from the saucepan in which you cooked the eggs, then refill with about 2 inches of water. Bring water to a boil over high heat, then add green beans and boil rapidly for 2 minutes, until the beans are crisp-tender. Drain immediately and rinse under very cold water.

To make the dressing, combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk together until thoroughly emulsified and quite thick.

To assemble plates of salad, divide half of the lettuce leaves amongst two plates. Divide and arrange half of the sweet potatoes, chicken, eggs, turkey bacon, green beans, avocado, and cucumber on top of the lettuce leaves on each plate. You can arrange everything in neat rows, as in a Cobb salad, or you can place things in individual piles around the lettuce, as in a Niçoise salad. You can also just dump everything on top and call it good. Drizzle salads with dressing.

Makes 2 large salads. You can also divide the recipe amongst 4 plates for lighter servings of salad.

Smoked Spatchcocked Chicken

26 Jul

Sometimes I do not, in fact, do all of the cooking around here. Occasionally, when he is blessed with the time and inclination, my husband will tackle a dish, and I could not be more pleased to watch him do so. Because that is what I do: I watch. Or, if I am feeling unencumbered in other areas of my life and I don’t need to catch up on work or mundane house-related tasks, I sit and read. What I don’t do is intervene. My husband is not a frequent cook, but he is an enthusiastic one, and I would never want to rob him of that quality. If I hovered around him and poked at things while he toiled away in semi-unfamiliar territory, I am sure that the only thing I would accomplish would be the act of making him super nervous and more than a little annoyed. If he has a question for me I answer it, but that’s about the extent of my involvement.

It only seems fitting, then, that the story of this recipe be told purely in pictures. I had a great time snapping process shots of this dish, in no small part because I was not the one making the dish, so I never had to stop what I was doing, rinse off my hands, position the camera, take a shot, and then go back to cooking. I just did what I always do when I am not the person cooking: I watched. And when the chicken was done, I did my most favorite thing of all: I ate the meal and I enjoyed it immensely. With the smoky flavor of the tender, herb-scented chicken, lightly glazed with a garlicky and sweet sauce, it was certainly the easiest part of the entire process.

Last Year: No Bake Fresh Peach Pie

Other adventures in smoking things include this foray into making smoked salmon at home and this experiment making smoked ribs, Indian-style.

Smoked Spatchcocked Chicken Recipe

Adapted only slightly from BBQ25 by Adam Perry Lang

Two 3 ½-4 pound chickens, spatchcocked (butterflied), thighs and legs slashed. To spatchcock a whole chicken, cut out both the entire backbone and the breastbone, then splay the chicken out flat and trim off any excess fat and tissue. Here is a good video tutorial on how to do so, though for this recipe you won’t need to cut the entire chicken in half as is done at the end of the video.

Ingredients for Brine:

¼ cup sea salt

1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

10 garlic cloves, crushed

3 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves

2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves, or 1 teaspoon dried

2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, or 1 teaspoon dried

6 cups cold water

2 tablespoons canola oil or vegetable oil

Ingredients for Baste/Glaze

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

5 garlic cloves, crushed

juice of 1 lemon

¼ cup honey

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon water

For Smoking:

2 cups of wood chips, soaked in cold water for 1 hour, then drained. We used apple wood chips, but alder wood or another mild wood would also work well.

Brine Chicken:

Combine all the brine ingredients in a large bowl or a large sealable plastic bag. Mix and crush the ingredients with your hands, directly or through the bag, squeezing them to release the maximum flavor. Transfer half the brine to another bowl or bag.

Put the chickens in the brine, transfer to the refrigerator, and brine for at least 3 hours, and up to 24 hours.

Smoking the Chickens:

Set up your grill for indirect grilling.  If you have a two burner gas grill, this will mean setting one burner on medium high heat and leaving the other burner off.  If you have a three burner gas grill, it will mean setting the two outermost burners on medium high heat and leaving the middle burner off.  If you have a charcoal grill, you will be raking your hot coals into two piles on opposite sides of the grill, leaving an empty space in between.  After preparing whichever grill you have, place a drip pan under the grates in the portion of the grill that is not lit or covered with hot coals. The temperature should be around 300 degrees.

Drain the chickens and dry with paper towels. Lightly rub the chickens all over with the canola oil.

Toss the pre-soaked wood chips onto hot coals (if using a charcoal grill), or, if using a gas grill, place wood chips in a smoker box made specifically for gas grills (such as this one), or wrap your wood chips in a tight pouch of aluminum foil with holes punched in the top (as demonstrated here), then place the box or pouch of wood chips under the grill grate, directly on top of a burner.

Put the chickens skin side up on the well-oiled preheated grill and cook, covered, for 45 minutes.

While the chicken cooks, combine all the baste/glaze ingredients in a small bowl.

Baste the chickens and continue to cook, covered, basting every 15 minutes, for 45 minutes, or until the chicken is done: the juices should run clear when a thigh is pierced, and the thickest part of the thigh should register 165 degrees Fahrenheit on an instant-read thermometer.

Transfer the chickens to a cutting board, skin side up, and allow to rest for 10 minutes before cutting each chicken into 6 pieces (from each chicken there will be 2 breasts, 2 thighs, and two drumsticks).

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