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.

 

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).

 

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).

 

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.)

 

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.

 

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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