Curry 101: Tikka Masala, Vegan, Vegetarian, or Chicken

July 25, 2014

They're onto us! Publisher's Weekly, the trade magazine of the book world recently published their round up of cookbooks, and my new offering, 'Indian For Everyone' was included. (Heavy dose of jumping up and down and giggling uncontrollably involved.) 

Better yet, my publisher released the numbers of my first two books - and boy have you all been buying books. I cannot thank you enough. The number is 100,000 and that's HUGE for me - still essentially the new kid on the block. Look for me in paragraph three below: 

But, enough about me. You are here to learn how to make a riveting Tikka Masala, right? First, let's set the record straight on curry. I'll say it again because so many folks are still getting their arms around it. To an Indian, curry means a great, spicy gravy. It has nothing to do with the spice blend, curry powder. In fact, I don't use curry powder in any of the three cookbooks I've written, which should tell you something. 

I know you can't get enough of Tikka Masala when you're out ordering Indian. But know that it's not a curry that many of us grew up eating. 

This dish, which is ubiquitous on Indian restaurant menus, likely had origins outside of India. According to one story, a restaurateur in England created it by combining grilled chicken, tomatoes, cream, and spices. Some say its origin was in Glasgow or Birmingham, while others (including my cousins Rahul, Vikram, and Puja) insist the recipe comes from Newcastle, their childhood home. No matter how or where it came about, we’re all so glad it did. Because it's hands down delicious. 

And, did you know that the best way to make curries is often to make up a batch and add your preferred protein in later? For my household, I will make a batch and freeze half. Then, I add chicken in for the hubbie, baked tofu for me, and paneer for the kids. Sounds like a lot of work, but it's really not. Basically, I want you to use this recipe the way you see fit for the way you eat. 

Here are your ingredients all laid out: 

Fresh grocery list: tomatoes, garlic, ginger, tomato paste, brown sugar, green chiles, sliced almonds, and onions. 

Spices: ground black pepper, unsmoked paprika, whole green cardamom pods, ground cinnamon, and the basics in your Spice Tiffin (shown in the center), cumin seeds, turmeric powder, salt, and red chile powder. 

Not bad, right? Now onto the recipe. 

Tikka Masala, makes about 5 cups

1 tablespoon ghee or vegetable oil
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 large yellow or red onion, diced
1 tablespoons plus 1 pinch of salt, divided
1 (2-inch) piece ginger, peeled and minced or grated
10 cloves garlic, peeled and minced or grated
4 large tomatoes, peeled and diced*
1 heaping tablespoon tomato paste
1–3 fresh Thai, serrano, or cayenne chiles, stems removed and chopped
6 green cardamom pods, slightly crushed
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon red chile powder or cayenne pepper
1 cup boiling water
1⁄4 cup blanched sliced almonds, toasted
2 teaspoons unsmoked paprika
1⁄4 cup / 60 mL half & half or heavy cream (optional)

1. In a heavy-bottomed, 4-quart sauté pan over medium–high heat, warm the ghee or oil. Add the cumin seeds and turmeric and cook for 40 seconds, until the seeds sizzle and turn reddish-brown.

2. Add the onion and the pinch of the salt to the sauté pan and cook, stirring occasionally, for 4 minutes, until the onion is slightly browned. Add the ginger and garlic and cook for 1 minute.

3. Add the tomatoes, the tomato paste, the fresh chiles, the cardamom, the cinnamon, the brown sugar, the remaining 1 tablespoon of salt, the black pepper, and the red chile powder to the sauté pan and bring the mixture to a boil. Keep in mind, I like the added flavor from the cardamon husks. If you don't want it that strong, take them out and just use the seeds. 

4. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, until the tomatoes break down and all the ingredients start to pull together except the oil, which will start to separate. Add the water, almonds, and paprika and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat. Here's what it looks like half way through. 

5. Transfer the mixture to a blender or use an immersion (stick) blender in the sauté pan and process until smooth. This is so beautiful - I could actually swim in it. 


6. Return the sauté pan containing the mixture to medium heat and add the half & half if using. I never need to use cream, the almonds always do the trick for me. 

7. Add in your protein of choice. The hubbie gets marinated and grilled tandoori chicken. I love baked tofu. My kids adore fresh paneer (Indian cheese) in this dish. We also saute veggies and add them in. Do whatever you like with it. You are absolutely going to love love love this recipe. 

*The easiest way to peel a tomato is with a serrated peeler, which you can pick up at any kitchen store. Alternatively, cut an X on the bottom of the tomato, and immerse in boiling water for under a minute. Remove, immerse in a bowl of cold (icy) water, and peel. 

If you like this recipe, then you are going to eat up my next book, Indian For Everyone, which has this recipe and so many more curry recipes in it. You can pre-order it now and get a FREE pdf sent to you packed with new recipes, grocery lists, and pictures of spices. 

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