Chicken Tikka Masala –

I have taught Indian cooking classes for almost 3 years now and have had the privilege to meet some great folks. Along the way I have shared a little something about me and this flavorful, diverse, not-really-that-complicated cuisine that I was fortunate to grow up with.


The most requested recipe I teach is Chicken Tikka Masala. Which always intrigues me because Chicken Tikka Masala may not really be an Indian dish! The lore behind the creation of this wildly popular Indian restaurant staple is varied to say the least. Some stories have it as a marriage between Chicken Tikka (tikka meaning small bites) from the Mughal era and the need for gravies brought to India by the British. Other stories point to the origin in north India around the late 1940’s as an off shoot of Murgh Makhni (better known as butter chicken). Still more tales say it originated in England  in the mid-20th century.

No matter the story, it has become one of the best known Indian dishes, so well-known that British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook claimed it as Britain’s national dish in 2001.

This recipe is a perfect example of the complexities I love so much about Indian cuisine. To build flavor in an Indian dish I urge my students to check for the following steps in recipes:

  1. Fat – choose the proper fat. Different oils, ghee, butter can alter the dish right from the get go. For example, in this dish I use ghee to give a rich flavor.
  2. Tardka – use whole seeds and/or spices to flavor the fat. The possibilities are endless – cumin seeds, coriander seeds, whole spices, whole dried chilies, whole lentils; the list goes on and on.
  3. Aromatics – use onions, garlic, ginger, shallots and/or green chilies to provide the next layer of flavor.
  4. Dry Spices – add powdered, ground dry spices such as ground cumin, ground coriander or a mix of spices such as garam masala. Usually these spices are turned into the hot oil mix to help ‘cook’ the spices to make sure they don’t taste raw.
  5. Fresh – use fresh herbs/citrus to finish the dish. Use fresh chopped cilantro, a sprinkling of raw onions, and/or a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime juice for this final layer of flavor.

As you familiarize yourself with Indian cooking, you will start to recognize these steps.

Traditionally, chefs cook the boneless chicken in a tandoor oven. Then the cut-up, cooked chicken is added to the tomato/onion sauce which is thickened with cream.

Since most of us don’t have a tandoor oven handy in our home kitchens, we can improvise by using a very hot oven. In fact the recipe for cooking the chicken is quite similar to my recipe for Reshmi Chicken, although the spices are slightly different. Please don’t skip this step! Putting raw chicken into a tomato sauce will result in rubbery meat – not at all the texture we want in this dish 🙂

Additionally I have changed the original recipe by removing cream and using yogurt instead. Make sure to add the yogurt a bit at a time, incorporating each spoonful completely so that the yogurt doesn’t curdle. A mild, fresh yogurt is best, if too tart – the dish will become sour.

Lastly – as with most onion/tomato based sauces, do take your time to cook down both the onions and tomatoes – taking time with these steps will make a world of difference in the depth of flavor achieved.

Chicken Tikka Masala
Yield 4-6



Chicken Marinade:

  • 1 tsp. salt
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 3 Tbsp yogurt (not greek)
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • ½ tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast


  • 1½ yellow onions, finely chopped (about 9 ounces)
  • 6-8 medium tomatoes diced or 1 28oz can diced tomatoes
  • ¼ cup ghee, butter or oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 3 inch piece of ginger, minced or finely shredded
  • Whole Spices
    • 1 stick cinnamon
    • 4-5 whole cloves
    • 2 bay leaves
    • 3-4 green cardamom pods
    • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • Dry Masala (dry spices)
    • 2 tsp coriander powder
    • 2 tsp cumin powder
    • ¾ tsp red chili powder
    • 1 tsp turmeric powder
    • 2 tsp kasoori methi powder (dried fenugreek powder)
    • ½ tsp amchur powder (dried mango powder)
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup yogurt (not greek)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste (optional)
  • ¼ cup cilantro, chopped
  • up to ¼ cup cream (optional)


To marinate chicken:

  1. Place chicken breasts in a shallow container. Cut 3 slits into chicken – making sure not to cut all the way through the meat.
  2. Sprinkle both sides of chicken with salt and lemon juice. Let sit for a few minutes.
  3. In the meantime, combine 3 tablespoons yogurt with garam masala, chili powder and cumin. Cover chicken with yogurt mixture and allow to marinate at least 15 minutes and for as long as overnight.
  4. When ready to make the dish, arrange racks in oven so that one rack is in highest position.
  5. Pre-heat oven to 550F. Place marinated chicken breasts on a baking sheet covered with foil (or a silpat).
  6. Once oven reaches temperature, place chicken in oven and cook for 15 minutes or until chicken is cooked thru. Remove chicken from oven and allow to rest. Chicken should be browned and a bit charred on top.

To make sauce:

  1. Heat a large pan on medium high heat. Add butter or oil and when hot add whole spices – cumin seeds, cinnamon stick, cloves, bay leaves and cardamom.
  2. Once cumin begins to sizzle, add onions. Cook onions until golden and edges are browned.
  3. Now add garlic and ginger, stir and cook for 30 seconds or so. Remove seeds/whole spices before continuing to the next step.
  4. Add tomatoes. Keep stirring and smashing the tomatoes to break them down and to keep the mixture from scorching. Cook tomatoes until you see oil/butter separating from the reduced tomatoes. The mixture will look shiny and be several shades darker at this point. This may take up to 10-15 minutes.
  5. Once tomatoes are cooked properly, reduce heat to medium-low and add dry masala – cumin, coriander, chili, turmeric, kasoori methi, and amchur powders. Stir to incorporate and coat the spices with the tomato mixture. Cook for 2-3 minutes.
  6. Add yogurt spoonful by spoonful – incorporating each addition completely before adding more.
  7. Once all yogurt is completely incorporated, add enough water to break up sauce and make it the consistency you desire.
  8. Add ¼ – ½ of mixture to a blender. Blend and then add back to pot.
  9. Now add salt and pepper to taste. Stir and then add tomato paste if desired. Stir to incorporate.
  10. Cut chicken in 1” pieces and add to sauce.
  11. Allow mixture to simmer 5-10 minutes to heat chicken and marry flavors.
  12. Drizzle in cream if using. You can either leave it as it or mix the cream into the sauce.
  13. Sprinkle cilantro on top – Serve with naan or rice.

Yield 4-6 servings


Please be sure to use a mild full fat or low-fat plain yogurt – that is to say nothing too tart, especially not a greek yogurt.


Vacation Memories – Chicken Cafreal

In November of eighth grade my parents whisked me off to India for a 2 1/2  month adventure. We landed in Mumbai in the middle of the night, gathered our luggage and took an overnight train to Vadodara – my birth city. After a brief reunion with both my paternal and maternal grandparents, aunts/uncles/cousins and extended family – we left for a tour of North India.

We visited Agra and the Taj Mahal, Delhi and the Lal Qila (or Red Fort), and continued as far north as Mussoorie, a hill station in the foothills of the Himalayas. Highlights included seeing the Taj Mahal and other historic sites in person,  eating red carrots with lime juice, salt and red chili from street vendors and meeting the Prime Minister of India – Indira Gandhi. She was most gracious and made sure that my brother and I had a picture with her.

From left: Indira Gandhi, my brother, Mom, myself and Dad

After a brief return to homebase for my Uncle’s wedding, we continued onto the second part of our adventures. Renting a Matador (India’s version of a mini-van) we travelled with my father’s parents and sister. Yes – we drove from Vadodara , along the western coast to the very tip of India – KanyaKumari and then back up the Eastern Coast to Bangalore.

The trip was exotic, spiritual, educational …. and absolutely memorable.

A highlight of the trip: Goa on India’s west coast. By this time in the trip, I was getting pretty homesick – it was Christmas and I missed the familiar sights and sounds of the holiday. Fortunately, we arrived in Goa right on Christmas Day! Originally a Portuguese colony, Goa, and its major city Old Goa, still showed influences from its’ Christian heyday. As we drove through town we saw lights, paper lanterns, wood stars and decorated casuarina trees. Not quite the Christmas I was used to – but believe me it was close enough!

Fast forward to now – DH and I recently held our first dinner party after the kitchen renovation. I wanted to make something new. While researching recipes I came across a Goan dish called Chicken Cafreal (or Galinha Cafreal). A dish served mainly at festivals and special occasions, it has elements of Indian, Portuguese and Mozambique cooking – with influences from peri-peri sauce. It seemed perfect for my menu – so I set to making the recipe my own.

The base of the dish is comprised of  coriander, onions, garlic, roasted spices, lemon juice and sugar-cane vinegar. Unable to find the sugar-cane vinegar, I added tamarind paste instead – it ended up a good substitute and even added a touch of sour to the dish. Additionally the dish is usually made with a cut-up whole chicken, but I have had great success with bone-in thighs. Oftentimes the dish is finished off with a splash of rum – adding to its exotic profile.

Serve the chicken over a bed of fried potato wedges garnished with raw onion, lemon and chili slices and chopped cilantro. You cad add the portuguese influenced bread pav (or pao) to soak up extra sauce. Note – I baked my potatoes to make a healthier meal.


Chicken Cafreal

Yield 4

For Paste (Marinade):

1/4 tsp. green cardamom seeds
10 cloves
10 peppercorns
1 inch cinnamon bark
1 tsp. cumin seeds
2 cups fresh coriander (stems and leaves)
4 cloves garlic
1 inch piece of ginger
2-3 green chilies

1 lb bone-in chicken thighs (about 4)
1 small onion (about 4-5 ounces), chopped finely
3 tbsp. coconut oil
1/2 tsp. tamarind paste

For Potatoes:

1 lb yukon gold potatoes, sliced into 1/8″ inch thick wedges or slices
olive oil to drizzle
salt and pepper to taste

For Garnish:

1/2 onion – thinly sliced
2 tbsp. coriander leaves, chopped
4-5 green chillies, either left whole or thinly sliced
1-2 lemons, wedged
Several splashes of rum


  1. Cut 2-3 slits into the chicken pieces – making sure not to cut all the way through the meat.
  2. Sprinkle the meat with salt and juice of 1/2 lemon. Rub into meat.
  3. To prepare marinade begin by heating a pan over medium heat. Add whole spices and roast until seeds turn slightly darker and you can smell the spices.
  4. Add roasted spices to a blender and blend till powdered.
  5. Add ginger, garlic, coriander, green chili and lemon juice to the blender and blend until a paste forms. You may need to add a bit of water to loosen it up – but try to minimize the amount.
  6. Reserve 2 tbsp. of marinade and set aside. Add the rest to the chicken. Rub in thoroughly, cover and set aside for at least 1-2 hours or better yet overnight.
  7. Heat oven to 400 degrees F.  Put potato wedges/slices into a mixing bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Make sure each piece is covered with oil and seasonings.
  8. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Arrange potatoes on parchment paper in a single layer.
  9. Bake potatoes in oven until brown and cooked through – about 30 mins.
  10. While the potatoes are baking, start chicken. Heat cast iron skillet ( or any heavy frying pan) on medium-high heat. When hot, add 2 tbsp. oil.
  11. When oil is hot, add chicken to pan in a single layer. Cook until browned on one side (about 4 minutes) then flip and cook till browned on second side.
  12. Remove chicken from pan and set aside.
  13. Heat a new pan over medium-high heat (I  like to use a sauté pan, but any frying pan or skillet will work), and add 1 tbsp. oil.
  14. Once hot, add chopped onions and sauté until golden.
  15. Add reserved marinade, tamarind paste, 1 cup water and salt to taste. Mix well and bring to a simmer
  16. Add chicken to pan with juices, cover and reduce heat to simmer. Cook until chicken is cooked through.
  17. Splash with rum, and squeeze juice of 1/2 lemon over chicken
  18. To plate – place cooked potatoes on a serving platter and serve chicken on top. Garnish with lemon wedges, thinly sliced raw onions, chili slices and cilantro.
  19. Serve warm with buttered pav.

Notes – feel free to use only one pan to both sear the chicken and finish the dish. I use two (despite the extra clean-up) because I feel I get a better sear on the chicken. But either way will work.

Please let me know if you have any questions!






Lasaan Vali Jhinga – Shrimp with garlic (ok lots of garlic)

My husband turned vegetarian during college. Partially a gambit to lose weight and get healthy, partly to follow a more traditional, Indian diet. His jobs have always involved travel to the far east and finding filling vegetarian fare is always a challenge. Afterall one can only eat so many eggs, fruit and toast at the all you can eat buffets. Always a practical person, DH decided to add shrimp to his rotation.

One of his favorite shrimp dishes is this Lasaan Vali Jhinga. Garlicky, spicy, and incredibly easy to make – it’s the perfect dish to serve guests as an appetizer or as a quick meal with rice and a vegetable side or salad on a busy night.

Lasaan Vali Jhinga 


Yield: 4 servings for an entrée, 6-8 servings for an appetizer


  • For Marinade:
    • 1 lb Shrimp – peeled, deveined, washed and patted dry
    • 1/4 tsp Ground Turmeric
    • 1/4 tsp Chili Powder (or more to taste)
    • 1 tbsp Oil
  • To Prepare Dish:
    • 2 tbsp Oil
    • 1/2 tsp Black Mustard Seeds
    • 5 cloves Garlic (finely chopped)
    • 1 Green Chili (finely chopped) – (or more to taste)
    • Juice of 1/2 Lemon
    • 1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)
    • Freshly ground pepper to taste
    • 2 tbsp finely chopped Cilantro



  1. Put clean and dry shrimp into a bowl, add 1 tbsp oil, turmeric and chili powder – massage into shrimp – set aside.
  2. Heat oil in pan – over high heat.
  3. When oil is hot, add mustard seeds.
  4. Once they pop, add garlic and stir until garlic is light brown in color -this goes fast, keep watch so the garlic doesn’t burn.
  5. Now add green chili and stir.
  6. Add shrimp – stir over high heat until opaque – 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat once cooked – shrimp will turn opaque.
  7. Squeeze lemon juice over shrimp.
  8. Sprinkle with salt, black pepper, and cilantro.
  9. Serve Immediately


  • I buy my shrimp from Whole Foods – from their seafood cold case. I usually buy the 21-30 count for entrée portions or 16-20 count for appetizer portions.
  • You could make the dish with shells on – my family prefers shrimp peeled and deveined.
  • Same thing with tails – personal preference here.
  • You can prepare shrimp earlier and keep in a container or plastic bag in the fridge until ready to use.
  • If serving as a main – you can serve on top of rice, or with a green salad.

Share the garlic, er love!

Take care,