Friday, September 11, 2009

ChaCha Chicken Tikka Masala

Mr. Wonderful loves Indian cuisine. LOVES it! I enjoy it, too, as long as it isn't overly hot/spicy. Since we've had numerous business contacts who are Indian, I spent some time a few years back learning to prepare authentic Indian food -- from scratch. It was a wildly successful experience which I thoroughly enjoyed, but the authentic style is extremely labor intensive.

One of hubber's favorite dishes is Chicken Tikka Masala, a gorgeous dish that is not difficult to prepare, but is generally constructed with generous portions of yogurt and heavy cream -- not foods that my body can enjoy nearly as much as my taste buds.

Last evening, I had about 40 minutes to prepare dinner before my next meeting and two plump organic chicken breasts to work with. We've had enough stir fry and gluten free barbeque for now and I didn't have enough skewer friendly foods on hand to do kebabs. Hubber had a road trip coming up, so I opted for a very quick preparation of Chicken Tikka Masala -- inspired by the desire to try out Chef Kathy Casey's ChaCha Chipotle Lime seasoning.

I have been dreaming in a background program about a possible milk substitute to use in cooking and baking. It seemed like the perfect time to try it out on a simple recipe.

The dish was absolute heaven! Mr. Wonderful was alarmed when he learned that I had modified the traditional approach, but after he had a couple of bites, he declared emphatically: "Next time you make this, double it -- and DON'T CHANGE A THING." Hey Mikey, he likes it!

Read More to learn my secret approach to this food homily.

ChaCha Chicken Tikka Masala

Ingredients for Marinade:

1 Cup "So Delicious" Coconut Milk Kefir, original flavor
1 TBS organic lemon juice
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp salt
2 large boneless organic chicken breasts, skinned and cubed

In a large bowl, combine kefir, lemon juice, cumin, cinnamon, pepper, ginger and salt. Stir in cubed chicken, cover and refrigerate.

Ingredients for Dish:

1 TBS organic butter (see below)
1 clove of garlic
1 small chipotle pepper, whole
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp Kathy Casey's Cha Cha Chipotle Lime seasoning
1 tsp paprika
8 oz organic tomato SAUCE -- not paste
1 Cup Unsweetened Almond Milk
4 TBS organic Coconut Milk Fat (see below)

Heat the butter in a heavy pot. Ok, it's dairy, but it doesn't bother me; subs 1-2 TBS WALNUT oil if you can't use butter. (RIP, Julia Child) Walnut Oil is the BEST substitute for butter in stovetop recipes. It is heart-healthy AND it gives you that rich mouth feel that we all miss when we eliminate butter from our repertoire. It just happened that I was out of walnut oil on this occasion.

Add the garlic and whole chipotle. Saute until the garlic is clear and the fat is well-seasoned, 1 or 2 minutes. Add seasonings and stir. This is the great trick in Indian cooking: you basically fry or saute the seasonings until they begin to turn dark and release all of their oils and flavors into the dish. Over medium heat, this will take about 3 minutes. Add the almond milk, coconut milk fat and the organic tomato sauce.

Simplest way to get good coconut milk fat (not the same as coconut oil) is to open a can of organic coconut milk (full fat variety, not the lite version) and spoon the fat off the top. Do NOT shake the can before opening. The milk will be on the bottom of the can and the milkfat will be at the top.

Stir the liquids to combine with seasonings, then simmer (really a very slow boil, so just above simmer) for about 20 minutes. The sauce will thicken only slightly, so it becomes a sort of spicy tomato gravy.

MEANWHILE, heat a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Using a slotted spoon, lift the chicken from the marinade and drop it into the skillet. It is not necessary to remove all of the marinade, but you want don't want a large pool of it in your skillet, either. Saute the chicken until cooked through, not too fast. Cooking time will depend upon the size of your cubes. I sauteed for about 7 minutes and my cubes were small enough to fit 2 or 3 in a regular cereal spoon.

Stir the sauce, make sure it isn't sticking. If it is beginning to thicken, then reduce the heat to low. DO NOT COVER the sauce, it will thin out from condensed steam.

Turn on your broiler and slide the skillet with the chicken into the oven. (Obviously, I used an ovenproof skillet and I trust you will do the same!) Broil the chicken just long enough to achieve a golden brown finish, stir/turn the cubes and broil for another couple of minutes to finish the other side.

Remove the skillet from the oven, add the chicken to the sauce and PRESTO! Quick and easy, dairy free Cha Cha Chicken Tikka Masala. Heaven!

You would think this dish would develop a sort of Thai flavor, but it didn't! It was thoroughly Indian in flavor, mild enough for me (add cayenne in the sauce if you need more heat). Serve with saffron rice and a side of fresh cantalope. The Cha Cha seasoning created the perfect balance of salt/spice/heat for my palate and I am certain that this dish will become a regular on our menu at Chez Croquet. Enjoy!

Ready to try this at home? Major ingredients available through, compiled for you right here:

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