Deciding what to make for Christmas dinner was definitely not an easy task.
Turkey? Ham? Lamb Chops? Ribs? Nothing really sounded right.
“What about Salmon? Isn’t that an Irish Christmas Tradition?” That sounded pretty good too.
Sighing, I turned my attention back to my laptop screen hoping to somehow…magically…feel inspired. I moved my index finger to scroll down, and suddenly caught sight of a familiar video – Jamie Oliver’s Chicken Tikka Masala. I had watched this video months ago and really wanted to make it. One look and I knew what we were making for Christmas.
There was only problem: finding all the ingredients.
Sometimes I feel like things happen for a reason. That goes for people you meet and it even goes for cooking. Zoe and I knew it was meant to be when we first stepped into CitySuper Grocery Store and found non-dairy yogurt on sale (which I didn’t even know they carried). It was probably the biggest miracle of the day. Maybe it was our little Christmas Miracle.
The next thing on our shopping list was garam masala. I had no idea where to start. I hadn’t been back home long enough to be acquainted with where everything was. To our dismay, we discovered that most grocery stores in Hong Kong don’t carry garam masala; and the ones that did had ran out of stock. After a long search, I decided to call my younger sister for help to buy it in the last store I thought possible: GREAT supermarket.
“Oh my goodness no one understands what I was asking for!” exclaimed my frustrated younger sister. I could hear the confused voice of the manager chattering in Chinese in the background. I was beginning to think my Christmas Miracle had run out.
Luckily after a few phone calls, we did discover, rather miraculously, that my aunt owned a spice grinder. So we decided on a whim to make our own garam masala blend. Zoe had to run down to my aunt’s home to borrow her spice grinder to grind up all the spices we needed.
I don’t ever remember the preparation having to be this tedious and frustrating. To be honest, by the time we were done with the shopping, we were both exhausted. Not to mention we had forgotten to defrost our chicken and we had forgotten to buy one of the key spices: cloves. We haven’t even stepped into the kitchen and I was ready to throw my hands in surrender.
BUT I am so glad I didn’t.
Our frustrations and exhaustion melted away as we saw our Chicken Tikka come together. The warm smell of cinnamon, coriander, cumin floated in the air. I let out a sigh of relief. Next, the fragrant scent of fried onions, ginger and garlic drifted around. It was like I was at an Indian restaurant. Once the tomatoes hit the pan with the beautifully charred chicken, a delicious aroma enveloped our small apartment kitchen. It smelt like heaven.
I nervously licked my tasting spoon praying that it would taste somewhat decent. Zoe had her eyes half shut too. The first flavor that came through was the rich tomato sauce layered on with a depth of fragrance from the complex blend of spices. At the back of my tongue I could taste a subtle creaminess from the coconut milk and cashews. I picked up a piece of chicken – tender, succulent, flavorful…yum. It was as if all the cells in my mouth had been awakened by the diverse blend of flavors and spices. Wow…it was really good. I almost yelped for joy as Zoe and I gave each other a big high five. We did it.
The table looked rather beautiful that evening. The turmeric-yellow cauliflower rice; our homemade pineapple chutney; fresh coriander, roasted cashew nuts, chicken tikka masala; homemade rolls…The vibrant combination of greens, reds, yellows, browns really was quite stunning. My guests all looked ravenous when they saw our rather unique Christmas spread. I could see raised eyebrows and doubtful expressions on their faces when they looked at the “mush of pineapples “and “somewhat strange” yellow looking rice. I was nervous and simply waited to see their reaction.
“Oh wow…this is really good…” said one. The others all nodded in unison as thumbs up were given.
I felt the muscles in my shoulders loosen and my shoulders droop – it had been a long day, but it was worth it. It really took a miracle for us to put this gourmet Indian feast on our christmas table.
All I can say is that miracles do happen during Christmas. And most of the Christmas magic happens right at the heart of it – the dining table.
Chicken Tikka Masala is one the most famous Indian Curries and has become UK’s National Dish. It is well loved for its creamy tomato sauce scented with classic SouthEast Asian spices. This curry is perfect for both adults and children because of its mild flavors and of its lack of spiciness. Also, Tikka Masala can also be made with paneer, lamb, fish or you can even veganize it. This particular recipe is one that Zoe and I had wanted to try for a long, long time. The list of spices may seem long but when you taste the final product, there will be no regrets. We didn’t use any oil which makes this a lot healthier than store-brought curries. It is a winner meal that everyone will absolutely die for!
Adapted from ChetnaMakan
Ingredients – serves 8-10
- 2.5 lb Chicken Tenderloins (or breast), cut into 1″ chunks
- 1 cup Non-Dairy Yogurt
- 6 cloves garlic, grated
- 1 thumb-sized ginger, grated
- Spices: 1 tsp garam masala, 1 1/2 tsp salt, 3/4 tsp turmeric, 1 tsp chili powder, 1/2 tsp paprika
- 1 cinnamon stick, 3 bay leaves, 6 green cardamon pods, 2 tsp ground cumin
- 2 large white onions
- 1 thumb sized ginger, peeled
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 small can Tomato Puree
- 8 whole tomatoes, diced
- Spice Mixture: 1 tsp Kashmiri Chili Powder, 3/4 tsp Turmeric, 1.5 tsp Garam Masala, 1.5 tsp Ground Coriander
- 1 large bunch of fresh coriander
- 75g cashews
- 75 ml coconut milk
- 2 green bell pepper, chopped
How to Make:
- Night Before/2 hours before: Mix all the ingredients for the marinade together. Rub the marinade over the chicken. Cover and set aside for least 2 hours, or overnight.
- Soak cashew nuts in the coconut milk. Set aside.
- Chicken: Preheat oven to 350F.
- Pour the marinated chicken into a large baking tray and bake for 20 -25 minutes.
- Preparation: Blend together the cashews coconut milk mixture till creamy.
- Make sure you prepare all the ingredients before cooking.
- Separate the coriander leaves and stalks. Finely chop the coriander stalks.
- Chop onion, bell peppers. Mix together the spice mixture. Set aside.
- Curry: In a dry pan, toast cinnamon, bay leaves, cardamon, cumin over low heat until fragrant. Add a little water if sticking/burning.
- Add in the chopped white onions and allow to soften for at least 5 minutes over medium-low . (if the mixture is too dry, add in 1 tbsp of water at a time to prevent burning).
- Grate in the ginger, garlic and add fresh tomatoes. Cover and cook over medium low for 10-15 minutes.
- Add in tomato puree and chopped coriander stalks. Mix well, cover and cook over medium-low for another 10 minutes.
- Add in spices. Mix well.
- Add in all the chicken (and marinade) and chopped green bell peppers.
- Stir in the cashew nut puree.
- Taste and season. The curry should be quite thick! If it is too thick add a little more coconut milk/chicken stock.
- Serve with a drizzle of coconut milk, lemon wedges and fresh coriander leaves. This will go perfectly with cauliflower rice, naan, toasted nuts, chutney.
Refined Sugar Free Pineapple Chutney:
Adapted from helynskitchen
- 1 whole pineapple, chopped into small pieces
- 1/2 + 2 tbsp cup Apple Cider Vinegar
- 1 1/2 tsp Garam masala
- 2 tsp whole black peppercorns (or black mustard seeds)
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 6 Medjool dates, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
How to Make:
- Add all the ingredients into a saucepan.
- Simmer over medium heat for 1 hour until it softens. Stir occasionally.
- Set aside to cool and refrigerate.
- Add 1 whole cauliflower to a blender/food processor blitz until you obtain a “rice-like” pieces. Make sure you do this a small portion at a time.
- In a dry pan, add riced cauliflower, salt, pepper and turmeric (for color). Fry till heated through slightly and all the spices are mixed through.
Kashmiri Chili Powder: I used regular chili powder instead. I also used a mixture of paprika to reduce the heat and also to give it the classic red color.
Cashew Nut Milk: If you can use cashew nuts. You can substitute the coconut milk with any non-dairy milk of your choice.
Garam Masala: You can purchase this or make your own
Pineapple: Mango is a great substitute for this too! Use about 5-6 mangoes in place of the pineapples.
Vegetarian Options: See the vegan options below. Another great substitute is paneer cheese!
Vegan Options: I would suggest using tofu or vegan chick’n. Use the same procedures and marinade as you would for the chicken. Other great substitutes (which I haven’t tried) include eggplant, potatoes, cauliflower, chickpeas, sweet potatoes, bell peppers. For these vegetables you probably won’t have to marinade them, but it might be a good idea to use the spices in the marinade and rub them on; then to fry them/roast them/grill them separately before adding to the curry.