The aroma of spices so saturated my skirt, I used to hang it outside, on the line. That summer I was in my early twenties, unfamiliar with international cuisine, and waitressing split shifts at an Indian restaurant. A poor student, I couldn’t say no when the cook offered me free leftovers… so most nights supper was murg kari (chicken curry) or palak paneer (spinach and homemade cheese). At first, I just tolerated it. But by the end of the summer, I was hooked.

I love food from all over, but Indian cuisine remains one of my favourites, and, surprisingly, one I can’t cook, to my satisfaction, at home. I’m hoping that will change in the coming weeks.

My local library recently added a title to the collection: Chetna’s 30 Minute Indian. I’m hoping that cooking through this book will ground me in the flavours and techniques of authentic Indian cuisine. Today I tried butter chicken… and made one big mistake.

Kashmiri chilli powder, it turns out, is spicier than ‘regular’ chilli powder.

Here’s how it went.

Prepare a marianade with 2 tbsp plain yogurt, 2 tbsp mustard oil (I had no idea what this so I used vegetable oil and a half tsp of homemade mustard), 1 tsp kashmiri chilli powder, 1 inch grated ginger, 2 cloves chopped garlic, 1 tsp salt.

Cut 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs into small pieces and coat in the mixture. Set aside a while.

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Heat some oil and butter (I also used a bit of ghee – clarified butter.) Throw in 4 cardamon pods, 1 stick of cinnamon (or a bunch of bits of cinnamon bark – all I had in the cupboard today), 4 cloves, and fenugeek leaves (I used the seeds because I had no leaves – I’ve never heard of them).

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Once the spices sizzle, add 1 tsp of garam masala (available at the Bulk Barn), 1 tsp honey and 1 tsp of REGULAR chilli powder (my mistake was thinking that if I used kashmiri chilli powder for the sauce, too, my curry would taste extra authentic…). Then, add a few cloves of chopped garlic and after a minute or two, add some strained tomatoes (I used a jam-sized jar of homemade tomato sauce).

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Transfer the chicken to a baking dish and bake at 450 F for 15 minutes. Once done, add to the sauce.

Add some cream. (I added extra, hoping this would dull the heat of the dish a bit.)

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Serve with rice or naan (or both) – and – if it’s spicy, add lettuce and yogurt to the plate in some form, so that you can cool your mouth between bites.

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By the end of our meal our gums were numb, our tummies full, and we felt very happy. We used to enjoy an Indian buffet in Brampton (Ontario, Canada), which is a great city to visit if you want excellent Indian food. Since the pandemic, all of our meals are at home. Hopefully, with a bit of tweaking, I’ll soon be able to cook dishes as tasty as the ones we used to enjoy at India’s Taste!

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