16 July 2012

Eats: skinny tikka masala

So yeah, London! Mr. P and I just returned yesterday from a trip to Jolly Ol’ England to celebrate the marriage of two dear friends. While we were there, we made sure to sample several foods our neighbors across the pond are known for – fish and chips, toffee, roast and vegetables, and an English breakfast.

Another of the must-try foods in London, believe it or not, is Indian food. More correctly, Anglo-Indian food, because much of cuisine brought to England by Indian immigrants has been remade for British palates. Mr. P and I made sure to try this Anglicized version of Indian food (we were in England, after all, not India) by going out for curry one evening. And there I ordered the national dish of England – which is not blood pudding or bangers and mash, but a tomato-based Indian curry, tikka masala!

We skipped Brick Lane (once ethnic, now touristy) in favor of a spruced-up local chain restaurant in Soho, which seemed more friendly to Westerners like Mr. P and me who appreciate good service (“Have you been here before? No? Okay, let me explain our menu and how this works”) and dish descriptions on the menu. And you guys, it was seriously the best meal. A “thali” complete with tikka masala, rice, yellow lentils, potatoes with spinach, white pumpkin, and naan. Oh, and a delicious chai tea I was served after asking for “whatever is good”. Masala Zone for the win!

In honor of our delicious meal in London, I thought I’d share with you today a “skinny” tikka masala recipe I tried a while back, before I’d ever had the chance to experience the real thing. In place of the traditional butter and cream, it uses one-third of a cup of plain Greek yogurt:

Which, FYI, is about two-thirds of a standard single-serving cup of yogurt you can find at the grocery. Weight to volume conversions are so mysterious. Who knows the density of yogurt, anyway?

This yogurt, plus a can of crushed tomatoes, form the base of the curry sauce. But for flavor, I also diced some red onion I wanted to use up (the recipe calls for regular onion):

I cooked the onion in some olive oil:

Then added the garlic (a few tablespoons) and spices: a tablespoon of cumin, a teaspoon of tumeric, half a tablespoon chili powder, some salt, some nutmeg, some cloves, some pepper, some nutmeg, and some coriander. All those “somes” come from the fact that I couldn’t find garam masala in our grocery store, but this recipe for a garam masala substitute worked okay (though I’d still like to find it, someday). I added all of this to sauté with the onions, “until fragrant”. It doesn’t look so appealing but mmmm, smells delicious!

Then it’s time to add the aforementioned yogurt with one can of crushed tomatoes tomato.

Technically the recipe simultaneously add the uncooked chicken, allowing it to cook in the sauce, but I also disobeyed the recipe and cooked the chicken separately by sautéing in olive oil. I was just wary about cooking the chicken in the tomatoes and yogurt for long, worrying that the yogurt would curdle. I shouldn’t have worried, though, because it totally curdles anyway no matter what.. Uh, lesson learned?

Can you see the teensy white chunks? Curdled yogurt. Somehow the reviews failed to mention that. See, if you make real tikka masala, with butter and cream, there isn’t an issue, but yogurt can’t cook for long without curdling. It didn’t taste bad, but it did give the curry sauce a weird texture.

Also, while I hadn’t ever tasted real tikka masala until recently, Mr. P had it when he visited Britain a decade ago. I asked him if this “skinny” version was a reasonable substitute, and his answer was an absolute “Nope!” Not that it wasn’t good – it’s a tasty tomato-based Indian-flavored dish! But it’s not entirely passable as real tikka masala, and the real thing is better.

Nor is it passable using coconut milk in place of the yogurt (and a little cornstarch-water slurry to thicken it up). I tried it, but no. Cream and butter are where it’s at.

So that means I’ll have to try to make the real thing sometime and hope it’s as tasty as what I had in London. In the meantime, though, this is pretty delicious if you’re craving a low-calorie Indian dish! And the perfect complement to it is some pillowy bread called naan – which I also recently made, to eat with our not-quite-tikka-masala. Recipe for that tomorrow!