Tag Archives: chicken

A Friend at First Bite

spicy cashew coconut chicken thighs

Spicy cashew coconut crusted chicken

chicken thighs encrusted with spicy cashew coconut pesto

chicken thighs encrusted with spicy cashew coconut pesto

It usually takes years to become really good friends with someone. But every once in a blue moon, you meet someone who Just Is A Friend. It’s like falling in friendship. They might be much younger or older or dissimilar is every way from you. But you feel comfortable with them right away and just appreciate the moments you have together. Thinking about them brings a smile to your face however long it’s been since you last saw them. Kurt Vonnegut would have said they’re in your karass.

Last night, I met someone in my karass. She’s younger than me but feels so much more worldly. She’d come over for dinner and I had changed the menu last minute from making my company chicken curry to baking chicken thighs in a spicy coconut cashew crust. It was just so hot and it was boiling in the kitchen.

It might have been the spicy coconut cashew crust. Or the fact that we cooked together, in my opinion, the best way to meet people. That it was because she is just one of the friendliest people might have had something to do with it. In any case, we made this chicken. This post is for her and all my amazing friends, made fast or slow. I know I don’t keep in touch often enough. But I do think of you all. Often. And my life is so rich for knowing you. I hope you all know who you are. And thank you.

Now I have a confession to make. I used a magical spice blend that I was given by the lovely lady who owned the guest house near Ooty when I was traveling around South India. And I don’t know exactly what goes into it. As best as I can tell, it is called Uduka Maasu Hudi and you can find the recipe if you scroll down a third of the way on the page. One of these days, I will have to make it for myself as I’m almost out.

But you can always use a garam masala blend or even better, mix 50% garam masala with 50% store bought South Indian sambhar blend. *

The rest is very easy. Like the best friendships.

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 1/3 cup cashews or 1 handful
  • 1/2 cup dessicated coconut flakes (unsweetened)
  • 2 tablespoons spice blend of your choice*
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 chicken thighs, boneless, skinless


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put all the ingredients except the chicken in a food processor and process till you achieve a pesto like consistency. Smear each thigh with a generous amount of your spicy paste. Line a tray with parchment paper and place the chicken thighs on it. Bake for 40 minutes or till the juices run clear. I like to turn over the chicken after 30 minutes.

Serve with roasted broccoli.

Enjoy and here’s to good friends.



Filed under America, India, Recipe

A Biryani (almost) fit for the Nizam

Chicken biryani with brown basmati rice

The last Nizam of the former princely state of Hyderabad in South India was the richest man in the world in his time. Accounting for inflation, his fortune still ranks as one of the world’s all time highest. The Nizam was no mere ‘His Highness’ but rather ‘His Exalted Highness’. For all his wealth, the last Nizam is said to be a miser, eccentric in many ways. He was even on the cover of Time magazine in 1937.

As the Nizams before him, he too expected only the best food to be served at his royal table. These rulers of Hyderabad, had between the 15th and 19th century, perfected the art of cooking. They took the princely Mughlai cuisine and blended it with the spicier South Indian fare. Their rendition of the Persian dish really resulted in the birth of biryani as we know it today. While most of the restaurant biryanis on offer all taste more or less the same, there are in fact many kinds of biryanis. The chefs of the Nizam are reputed to have 49 biryani dishes, the recipes for which were closely guarded.

With this historical background in mind, I felt audacious taking this popular dish and remaking it to fit my dietary needs (brown rice instead of white) and to ease the prep work in my decidedly non-royal kitchen. I also used chicken instead of the more authentic goat meat just because it is so much easier to find. The method that I used to cook biryani is a mash-up of the slow cooking Hyderabad style and the get-it-done already Lucknow style, another place in India famous for its biryani. Even still, this is likely one of the more complicated recipes on my blog. If you have questions, please post them as comments. I’ll try my best to answer them.

One layer each of chicken, rice and garnishes later

Preparing the saffron

I'm hungry!

Recipe – serves 6


  • 2 cups brown basmati rice, rinsed (Please use Indian/Pakistani brown basmati rice. American Lundburg Basmati or Texmati don’t behave like true Basmati rice)
  • 5 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt

To marinate

  • 2 lbs chicken breast, chopped into 2-3 inch pieces
  • 2 tbsp garam masala (tandoori + saag)
  • 1 tsp coriander pwd
  • 1 tsp cumin pwd
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup yogurt
  • 1 tsp garlic, grated
  • 1 tsp ginger, grated
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1/4 cup mint, chopped


  • 2 large yellow or sweet onions, sliced
  • ¼ cup cilantro, chopped
  • ¼ cup mint, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons oil
  • ¼ teaspoon saffron threads
  • ¼ cup water


  • 3 tablespoons ghee or high heat oil
  • 2 inch cinnamon stick
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 cardamom pods, slightly crushed
  • 4 cloves
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds

Put rice to soak in a steel pot for at least 1 hour. Don’t forget to add the salt.

Mix the marinade ingredients together except for the chicken. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Mix in the chicken. Cover and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes till ready to use.

Prepare the onion garnish. Heat 4 tablespoons oil in a large skillet (or wok). Saute onion over medium-low heat till brown and nicely caramelized. Adding a big pinch of salt with the onions helps reduce the cooking time. Stir occasionally to prevent uneven cooking. This whole process should take about 20 minutes. The longer the time the onions take to cook, the better the flavor. Place the cooked onion in a bowl lined with paper towels to soak up the excess oil.

When the rice has soaked for an hour, heat the pot over high heat. Once the water starts coming to a boil, lower the heat to medium low and simmer for 8 minutes. Cover the pot while simmering. Once the timer goes off, remove from heat, strain the rice and put aside. The rice should be half cooked. You could also start the next step in parallel while waiting for the rice to cook.

Next prepare the base. Heat the ghee or oil in a large thick bottomed pot over medium high heat till a cumin seed thrown in the oil sizzles. (You can use the same pot to bring the whole dish together at the end and reduce your cleaning!) Fry all the whole spices for 10 seconds or till you smell the aroma of the cumin seeds. Immediately add the chicken with all the marinade. Give everything a quick stir and reduce heat to medium. Have a lid handy in case of splattering.

Let the chicken sauté for 3 minutes or till all the pieces are slightly cooked (opaque) on the outside. If you cut open a piece, it should still be pink on the inside. Remove from heat immediately.

At the point, you should have a pot of half cooked brown rice and a pot of half cooked chicken. Now comes the fun part! Remove 1/3 of the chicken and put aside. Into the same pot as the chicken, add half the rice as a layer above the chicken. On top of the rice, sprinkle part of the cilantro, mint and caramelized onion. Add the rest of the chicken as a fourth layer. Make a second layer of rice on top of the chicken. For the last layer, add the rest of the onion, cilantro and mint, saving a little bit to use as fresh garnish before serving.

Now your pot with all the layers is ready for its final step. Cover the pot immediately with a tight fitting lid. If you don’t have a tight fitting lid, cover the pot with a thin towel and then with the lid to form a tighter seal. This is important since the chicken and rice need steam to finish cooking.

Turn on the heat to a very low setting. I use ‘1’. Let your stove come up to heat and then place the pot on it. Turn on the timer to 30 minutes. Both the chicken and the rice should be perfectly cooked.


Tue Indian basmati rice means a trek to the Indian or Asian grocery store. You’re probably wondering why you can’t substitute another brown rice or use American brown basmati rice. The true basmati rice has an amazing flavor and when cooked, stays fluffy and elongates. None of this is true of the ‘American’ basmati which really should not be allowed to use the name basmati. So you *can* use a different rice but if you do, please be warned that cooking times will vary. Your biryani will still be edible but it won’t be quite as good. I know because I’ve tried it with brown basmati rice from Whole Foods and Indian brown basmati rice. Huge difference.

I highly recommend using ghee rather than oil in preparing the base. Or at least a mix of the two.

Many recipes call for red coloring. I refuse to use artificial flavors and colors in my cooking (or in my recipe kits) and prefer to make food look pretty with garnishes or natural dyes like turmeric or saffron.

Yummy brown basmati rice Biryani


Filed under India, Recipe

Chicken Tikka Masala – quintessential Indian dish?

The number one dish that comes to people’s minds when they think of Indian food is Chicken Tikka Masala. It’s on the menu of every Indian restaurant especially outside of India. And yet, this dish is not technically Indian. And in fact, chicken tikka masala enjoys the status of being Britain’s national dish!

Chicken Tikka Masala

The most popular story about where the chicken tikka masala comes from takes us back to the 1960’s to an Indian restaurant in the UK. Chicken tikka is a dry chicken dish – you can think of it as tandoori chicken made with smaller pieces of boneless chicken. A British diner at this Indian restaurant orders the chicken tikka, finds it too dry for his taste, and sends it back to the kitchen. The puzzled chef thinks on his feet, and cooks up a quick gravy with tomato sauce, yogurt and some spices. The diner loves his chicken tikka with gravy and chicken tikka masala is born.

Chicken tikka, fresh out of the oven

There is however an alternate story that suggests that chicken tikka masala was first made in India. Colleen Taylor Sen writes in Curry, A Global History that Kundan Lal Gujral, the owner of Moti Mahal restaurant in Delhi, invented the tandoori chicken and butter chicken as a way of using up leftover tandoori chicken. Butter chicken, roasted tandoori chicken in rich tomato, butter and cream sauce is said to be a precursor to chicken tikka masala. Chicken tikka is basically the same as tandoori chicken. the only difference is that the pieces are boneless and they are usually skewered before cooking. Whatever the origins of the dish, these stories remind me how much the cuisine of any culture is influenced by so many others.

And so, when I asked my husband what he would like for dinner if I were to cook Indian food, he promptly said “A chicken curry would be awesome with some chapathis!” So I did make this for dinner and it was great.

So here’s my version of chicken tikka masala. I’ve made it without using heavy cream and it is still yummy. But by all means, if you prefer it with cream, use it. If you are curious, this recipe was husband approved.

Chicken Tikka Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons plain yogurt
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1 teaspoon cumin, ground
  • 1 teaspoon coriander, ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/2 teaspoon clove, ground
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1.5 lb chicken breast cut into 2-3 inch pieces

Spices for Chicken Tikka marinade

Mix the marinade ingredients together except for the chicken. Taste the marinade and add more salt or cayenne powder if desired. Keep in mind that the ‘masala’ gravy will tone down the flavor a bit. For tenderest results, marinate the meat for a few hours.

You have a couple of options on how to cook the tikka. You could skewer the chicken pieces and grill them (so the small pieces don’t fall through). You could broil them on medium for 3-4 minutes on each side or till just cooked. Or if you’re like me and can’t find your broiler pan, you can bake it at 450 degrees F for 10 minutes or till the chicken is just cooked. If it is still a little pink on the inside, that is fine. The chicken will simmer in the curry for a few minutes. Prepare the masala while the chicken is cooking.

If you prepare the chicken tikka ahead of time, remember to not overcook and cover tightly before refrigerating. This will ensure tender rather than chewy pieces of chicken in the masala.

Saute cumin and bay leaves and then onion

Cook down the tomato juice

Add yogurt or cream – I used Mimicreme’s cream substitute

Masala Ingredients

  • 1 yellow onion, finely diced
  • 3 ripe tomatoes, medium dice 2 and juice the other
  • 2 jalapenos sliced lengthwise (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon coriander powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • 1/2 cup of yogurt or cream (For non dairy version, use Almond/Cashew cream or thick coconut milk)

Heat the oil in a saucepan or wok over medium high heat for roughly 3 minutes or till a cumin seed thrown in lightly sizzles. Add the cumin and bay leaves and allow to sizzle for 10 seconds. Stir fry the onion and chilis till onion is golden brown, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and add the remaining spices. Give it a quick stir before adding the tomato juice. Once it gets to a boil, add the tomato. Cook down the sauce till thicker and there is a thin film of oil on top, about 15 minutes. Add salt to taste before adding the chicken tikka.

Taste and decide if you want to add yogurt. If the sauce is too spicy for you, adding yogurt will help. Simmer on low for a few minutes. Garnish with cilantro and serve with rotis, chapatis, or naan.

Chicken Tikka Masala is ready to eat!


Filed under India, Recipe

Ideas for July 4th – Part 1

July 4th is still a few days away but I’m already thinking of what food to take with me to the party! One of the things that I love most about the US is the diversity of cultures and how better to celebrate July 4th than to include other cuisines?!

So from now till Friday, I’ll share a recipe idea a day. Maybe you’ll help me decide which one of the three to actually make.

The recipe for today is, perhaps predictably, Tandoori chicken! If you have one of our Tandoori chicken kits, I hope you’ll use it! If not, here’s a simplified recipe. You’ll note that the recipe does not call for food coloring. I think the tandoori chicken looks great with just all natural ingredients!

Picture taken by Christopher Bachmann Photography for Veena's Market


  • 2 lbs Chicken drumsticks, skin removed
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 1 bell pepper, sliced


  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coriander powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, ground
  • 1/4 teaspoon clove, ground
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated ginger
  • 4 tablespoons plain yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil


  1. Mix together all the marinade ingredients in a large glass or plastic bowl the night before. Taste and add more salt / lemon juice as necessary.
  2. Make gashes in the meat deep enough to reach the bone – 2 or 3 per drumstick.
  3. Add the chicken to the bowl and rub the marinade all around the meat making sure to get marinade into the gashes as well.
  4. Cover and leave overnight.
  5. Heat grill to medium high. Remove excess marinade from the meat before grilling. You can use the remaining marinade to baste with. Also grill the sliced onions and bell pepper.
  6. Serve the drumsticks with a side of vegetables.
  7. Enjoy with an ice cold beer!

Picture taken by Christopher Bachmann Photography for Veena's Market


Filed under America, Holiday, India