Tandoori Chicken

Indian meal

Here you will find information on tandoor clay ovens and a delightful tandoori chicken recipe, which I first made in one of my cooking classes in the early 1980’s.

Tandoor Oven Described

If made authentically in India, this chicken dish (which originated in the Punjabi region of the Indian subcontinent) is cooked in the bell-shaped tandoor clay oven; this oven is also used to make the Indian flatbread naan.  This is a cylindrical clay oven, which sets in the earth and is fired with wood or charcoal; it may also rest above the ground.  1

Where the Tandoor Oven Is Used and Its Origins

The tandoor oven is used for cooking in the following Asian regions: Southern Asia (including India), Central Asia (including some former Soviet republics), and Western Asia (thirteen of the twenty countries-fully or partly located here-are of the Arab world) and the South Caucasus.  2

In India and Pakistan, tandoori cooking became popular, when the Punjabis (from the northern part of the Indian subcontinent) embraced their traditional tandoori cooking on a regional level;  this can be seen, after the 1947 partition, when Punjabi Sikhs and Hindus resettled in such places as Delhi.   Therefore, Indians and Pakistanis traditionally associate the tandoor with the Punjabis.  3

In Azerbaijan, the tandoor oven is called a tandir, while in Armenia, it is known as a tonir, which is underground here.  4

How a Tandoor Oven Works

Burning grasses, charcoal, or wood produces the heat in the traditional tandoor oven.   Smaller electric tandoors, however, are found in some homes, especially in America; larger electrical tandoors are used commercially (see https://www.puritandoors.com/ for purchasing).

These fires within the traditional, cylindrical ovens produce a combination of live fire cooking, radiant heat cooking and hot-air, convection cooking, as well as smoking-caused by the fat dripping on the charcoal or wood.  The temperatures soar to 900 degrees F (480 degrees C); these temperatures are maintained, by the fires left burning for long periods of time.  5

The tandoor design makes the transition between a makeshift earth oven and the horizontal-plan masonry oven.  Earth ovens were communal long ago, being pits dug in the ground with smoldering wood, cooking all the family’s meals within the community.  These earth ovens were eventually lifted out of the ground, and with time, they became masonry-brick or stone-ovens.  Initially in Asia, they, however, transitioned into the tandoor ovens, which being made smaller were used by individual families.  In this way, the tandoor was created, using grasses and wood to generate the heat to cook meat and vegetables within, while flatbreads were slapped directly on the hot clay walls.  6

The heat within a tandoor is generated, by a convection current created inside, as cold air is taken in through a hole at the bottom of the tandoor. As the cold air hits the fire, it warms up, and becomes less dense, circulating up inside the cylinder.  The air previously at the top has cooled down some, and it falls back to the fire.  This convection heat is energy transferred through currents, or in this case air currents.  In turn, a process known as radiation takes place, with the clay of the oven slowly beginning to absorb and emit some of this ambient, circulating, insulated heat.  7

Etymology of the Word Tandoor

According to Wikipedia, the English tandoor comes from Hindi/Urdu tandur, which in turn comes from Persian tanur; all these names mean (clay) oven.  The Dehkhoda Persian Dictionary states that this Persian word was derived from the Akkadian word tinuru, and that this word tinuru consists of the parts tin, or mud, and nuro/nura, meaning fire.  8

Making Your Own Tandoori Oven

There are numerous versions for making your own tandoor oven found on YouTube.  Primitive Life Reborn has a great video on how to make a primitive, mud tandoor-see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSCNQ0bGolY  A less traditional, but easier design, is given at https://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Tandoor-(Clay)-Oven

Background of My Recipe

My original 1980’s receipt included red food coloring, as the spicy hot tandoori chicken in Southern, Central, and Western Asia was reddish in color, due to the abundant spices in it (cayenne pepper, red chili powder, etc.).  Along with the optional food coloring, my milder recipe from the early eighties, included instructions for the barbecuing, broiling, or baking of the poultry, as tandoors were not in abundance in the U.S. back then, as they are today.

In America, “Indian summer” meals are highlighted with barbecues; you may, however, have this prized electric appliance in your home, or even a home-made tandoori oven, thus providing the option of making this receipt the traditional way.  If not, try barbequing, broiling, or in a pinch, baking it-all these instructions are below.

Applied Lesson

A few of the restrictions brought on by Covid-19 may seem to have settled some.  Back in the spring, life appeared to be drastically changed, but now things may no longer appear to be ‘hot as an oven’-and tandoori ovens get up to 900 degrees F (480 degrees C).

A semblance of order seems to have been restored, since the early March outbreak of this virus and all its complications.  Nevertheless, we take nothing for granted, but remain alert.  The word of God instructs us:

“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.”    1 Peter 5: 8, 9.  (King James Bible)

To be sober is to be clear-headed, or alert, while vigilance requires circumspection, or being cautious about what we say or do.

We know that our thoughts form the basis of our spoken words and actions; thus, it is imperative that we tend to our thought life carefully.  If we do not, we can unknowingly give Satan access to come into our lives with his destructive ways; this can take place as we let our thoughts play out in words and actions that inadvertently lead to damage.

Through his mercy and grace, our Redeemer Jesus aids us in this, when we ask him to; therefore, we do not mistakenly commit sins of ignorance, or worse yet those of commission, which have consequences of destruction in the natural.

In this way, hell’s heat cannot touch us!

Enjoy my hot-from-the-oven tandoori chicken recipe below.

References:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tandoor and https://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/tandoori_chicken/
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tandoor
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. http://www.renegadekitchen.com/blog/diy-tandoor-oven
  7. Ibid.
  8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tandoor

­

tandoori chicken

Tandoori Chicken  Yields: 6 servings.  Active prep time: 1 hr/  Cooking time: 30 min/  Inactive prep time for marinating: 9 1/2 hr.

6 thigh/leg parts  (Our local Fred Meyer sells seasoned thigh/leg pieces at the meat counter, but you will want to ask for unseasoned ones, for $1.29/lb.  They also carry a pre-packaged Heritage Brand, with 4-5 pieces in a package for $1.09/lb.)

2 tbsp lemon juice, divided

1 1/2 tsp salt, divided

8 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped fine

2 tbsp grated fresh ginger

1 tsp ground cardamom, or 1 1/2 tsp seeds

1/2 tsp garam masala

1/3 tsp ground cumin, or 1/2 tsp seeds

1 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp red food coloring, optional

2 c plain, whole milk yogurt  (I prefer Sierra Nevada Grass-fed, Whole Milk Yogurt, as it is thick, rich, and most healthy; another option is plain Greek yogurt.)

  1. cutting five to six gashes in chicken

    If frozen, thaw chicken two days ahead in the refrigerator.

  2. Nine and a half hours before serving, or better yet a day ahead, remove skin from chicken and cut five to six deep gashes in each piece, cutting all the way through the meat (see photo above).
  3. In a small bowl, mix 1 1/2 tbsp of lemon juice and 1 tsp salt.  Rub each piece with this mixture and place in a pan, covering loosely with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for one and a half hours.
  4. cover thigh/legs with sauce

    With a mortar and pestle, food processor or blender, pulverize: garlic, ginger, cardamom, garam masala, cumin, cayenne pepper, and remaining 1/2 tbsp lemon juice and 1/2 tsp salt.

  5. Mix yogurt, spices, and optional food coloring.  Spoon sauce over the front and back sides of each piece of chicken, covering well; lay in a pan and spoon more sauce on top of these thigh/legs.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and marinate in refrigerator for eight hours-or overnight.  See above photo.
  6. finished product

    Cook over charcoal, in tandoori oven or BBQ.  May also cook under a broiler for 25-35 minutes, or until done.  A final option is to bake this in 400-degree oven for 30-45 minutes, or until there are no red juices present, when a knife is inserted in center.  See photo.

  7. Enjoy!

West African Bobotie (Lamb or Beef Baked in Curry-Custard)

bobotie

Discover the health benefits of turmeric, while delighting in this national West African dish bobotie-made with turmeric.

How Turmeric Grows

Turmeric comes from a herbaceous tropical plant in the ginger family, Curcuma longa.  Our herb is its dried underground stem, or rhizome-the horizontal, underground stem of this ginger “root”.  This special underground stem structure has been developed for nonsexual reproduction.  In other words, a rhizome can “clone” itself by forming a storage organ that can produce its own roots and stem and become an independent-but genetically identical-plant; this is seen in sunchokes and all ginger “roots” in the ginger family, of which turmeric is one.  In potatoes and yams, these swollen underground stem tips are called tubers.  1

Turmeric’s Preservation Process

Turmeric rhizomes are steamed or boiled in slightly alkaline water, in the making of this spice; this sets the color and precooks the abundant starch; then, these stems are sun-dried.  Though turmeric is usually sold pre-ground, some ethnic and whole foods markets may carry it fresh or as dried rhizomes.  2

Whole Turmeric Likely Provides Different Benefits

This whole turmeric, as found in certain health and ethnic grocers, may provide different health benefits.  Studies of its pre-ground form focus mostly on its constituent curcumin, which is just one of its curcuminoids (the other two being bisdemethoxycurcumin and demethyoxycurcumin).  Turmeric also contains volatile oils, or aromatic terpines, such as tumerone, athlantone, and zingiberene.  All these different substances are associated with unique health benefits.  3

The Flavor Components of Turmeric

Turmeric’s aromatic terpenes of turmerone and zingiberene give this herb a woody, dry earth aroma; it also has a slight bitterness and pungency.  (For detailed information on flavor components found in herbs, see Sage Turkey Delight.  4

The Origins of Turmeric

Turmeric appears to have been domesticated long ago in India, probably for its leading characteristic of deep yellow pigment; the word curcuma comes from the Sanskrit for “yellow”.  (For another reference of words for food, taken from Sanskrit, see Laban Bil Bayd.)  In the U.S., turmeric has been primarily used to color mustards and provide their nonpungent filler; in addition, it also has been used in prepared curry powders, where it makes up 25-50% by weight of these blends.  5

Its Present Popularity Is Based on Its Health Benefits

In whfoods.org, George Mateljan observes that despite the past wide use of turmeric in cooking over several thousand years, now researchers are continually surprised by its wide-ranging health benefits, as a supplement.  He lists some of these as: anti-inflammatory benefits, decreased cancer risk, support of detoxification, improved cognitive function, blood sugar balance, and improved kidney function.  He goes on to claim that it may also lessen the degree of severity in certain forms of arthritis, as well as certain digestive disorders.  6

Some of its strengths as a spice are: turmeric helps retain beta-carotene in certain foods such as carrots and pumpkin, in the cooking process.  Studies also show that turmeric may greatly help prevent the formation of heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which have been found to be so damaging, in the grilling of meat.  7

Curcumin Is Best Taken as a Supplement

Today, health experts focus mostly on curcumin, one of the curcuminoids found in turmeric.  It is best to take curcumin as a supplement, rather than to try to absorb its benefits through cooking with it in spice-form.  Consuming curcumin with black pepper enhances its absorption by 2000%, because of the piperine in pepper.  Be sure to check your supplements to insure they contain piperine.  Curcumin is also fat-soluble, so it is advised to take it with a fatty meal.  8

My Past with the Recipe Bobotie

When I was studying food in Peru in 1985, I met a couple from West Africa.  Upon learning about my work, they were anxious to share their personal receipt for their national dish bobotie, but I declined it, saying I already had this in my repertoire back home.  How often I have regretted my quick retort!

Applying Lessons in the Kitchen to Life

As we were exploring in my last entry on nkyemire, everything is about “keeping our kitchens clean”.  We tidy all up, as we go along in the cooking process, as well as in our lives; this way we don’t end up with an overwhelming mess at the end, in either our environments or our beings.

Humility is key to accomplishing the above, as is balance.  In the final analyses, we must admit that of ourselves we are without the power to effect lasting change.  Balance, however, is required, for without our fervent participation, God also is unable to effect permanent change within us.  We can-must-ask for humbleness of mind and stability in our beings, for he loves to help those who seek him.

References:

  1. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p. 263.
  2. Ibid., p. 430.
  3. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=78
  4. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p. 430.
  5. Ibid.
  6. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=78
  7. Ibid.
  8. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/top-10-evidence-based-health-benefits-of-turmeric#section1

finished product

Bobotie  (African Lamb or Beef Curry-Custard Dish)  Yields: 8-10 servings.  Total prep time: 2 hr/  active prep time: 40 min/  baking time: 80 min.

2 tbsp butter

2 med onions, chopped

2 lbs ground lamb or beef  (Organic ground beef is $5.95/lb at Trader Joe’s, and our local Grocery Outlet usually carries ground lamb for $6.49/lb.)

2 lg eggs

1/4 c milk

2 slices bread, broken in small pieces

1/4 c dried apricots, chopped small

1/4 c raisins

1/4 c blanched, slivered almonds, chopped

2 tbsp sugar

1 tbsp curry powder

2 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp salt  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; an inexpensive fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco for $4.95 for 5 lbs.)

5 lg bay leaves  (It’s preferable to get these in bulk at your favorite grocery store, so you can choose large bay leaves, if possible.)

Topping

1 egg

3/4 c milk

1/4 tsp turmeric

  1. sweating onions

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  2. In a large sauté pan, sweat (cook until translucent) onion slices, in hot butter; see photo.  Add lamb or beef, salt and pepper generously, as salting meat heavily while cooking adds greatly to flavor; cook until browned.  Remove from heat.
  3. In a large bowl, combine egg, 1/4 c milk, and bread crumbs; mash bread with a fork.
  4. bay leaves pressed into meat

    Add apricots, raisins, almonds, sugar, curry, lemon, and salt.  Blend well.

  5. Using a slotted spoon, remove cooked meat to the fruit/almond mixture. Mix well and place in a 2-quart casserole.  With hand, spread out evenly and press down firmly.
  6. Gently press in bay leaves, using a finger to make a hole in meat, prior to placing in the bay leaf (see photo above).
  7. custard topping poured over meat mixture

    Bake uncovered for 20 minutes.

  8. Meanwhile make topping in a small bowl, by beating egg, milk and turmeric lightly; set aside.
  9. After 20 minutes, pour topping over mixture in casserole (see photo).
  10. Bake 40 more minutes; at which point, take out bay leaves.
  11. Continue baking until custard is completely set, about 20 additional minutes; see photo at top of recipe.  Serve with rice and chutney and experience heaven!

Curried Chicken/Cheese Ball

curry/chicken/cheese ball

curried chicken/cheese ball

This incredible hors d’ouvres dates back to the early 1980’s.  My mother’s best friend, in our small Rocky Mountain village, became my treasured ally. She and her husband moved to East Glacier Park, when he retired as a screenplay writer. Talbot Jennings was so famous that a prominent New York City television station featured his movies, such as The King and I, for a whole week, before he died.

This illustrious couple traveled the world during the production of these films; thus, Betsy schooled me in her prodigious cosmopolitan ways.  I thoroughly enjoyed sitting under her tutelage, as she prepared me for the lions at Trafalgar Square and exceeding more, prior to my moving to London.  I believe she was even more excited than I, about my valiant relocation to Tokyo half a decade later.

The voluminous New York Times brought the vast outside world to Betsy every weekend.  She was forever clipping articles to prepare me for my numerous sojourns.

With this same spirit, starting in 1982, she helped me to grow as a historical caterer. My creative mentor was always sending me gifts, which she ordered from the New York Times.  Ingenious gadgets were among a wide array of superlative food items. Many of these imaginative tools still grace my kitchen today.

While I was doing my early work in Billings, Montana, I journeyed to my hometown each year, where I catered multiple theme dinners per visit. The eight-hour drive across the wide expanse of the Big Sky Country thrilled my tender soul. How I delighted in approaching the backdrop of my beloved mountains, as I gazed across those colossal open prairies.

Once there, I spent many hours drinking in wisdom at Betsy’s feet.  During one of these relished trips, she offered this  delectable cheese ball to me.  I was enamored with it then and still am today.  Then it was a frequent hors d’oeuvre at my gala catered events;  today it is still my constant contribution to every holiday meal, at which I am a guest.

May you make this blessed appetizer a family tradition as well!

Curried Chicken/Cheese Ball  Yields: 2 1/2 c.  Total prep time: 3/4 hr/ active prep time: 30 min/ inactive prep time: 15 min.  Note: you may make this a day ahead.

8 oz cream cheese, softened

1 c slivered almonds

1/2 c unsweetened coconut, finely grated  (Available in bulk, at our local Winco and other stores.)

2 tbsp mayonnaise  (Best Foods excels all other mayonnaise.)

2-3 tbsp Major Grey’s Mango Chutney  (3 spoonfuls gives full-bodied sweetness.)

1 tbsp curry powder, or to taste

1/2 tsp salt  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; a fine grind Himalayan salt is available inexpensively at Costco.)

3-4 frozen tenderloins  (Natural chicken is best; Trader Joe’s works well for quality and cost.)

1-9 oz box Original Wheat Thins

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Roast almond slivers for 10 minutes.  Remove and cool on a plate.
  2. If you are using frozen tenderloins, thaw in warm water.  Cook chicken in salted boiling water.  When center is white, after inserting a knife, remove chicken from water and cool in refrigerator on a plate.  Do not overcook to avoid toughness.
  3. Mix all the above ingredients except the chicken and almonds.  Note: it works best to insert a regular teaspoon in the narrow jar of Major Grey’s Mango Chutney, when measuring it.  Be sure to use well-rounded teaspoons, as each approximates a tablespoon, for which the recipe calls.
  4. Chop roasted almonds with a sharp knife; add to cream cheese.
  5. Leave this cream cheese mixture out at room temperature, while waiting for the chicken to cool.  When meat is cool, cut it into small pieces; finally, mix chicken into cream cheese very gently, as not to shred it.
  6. Criss-cross two large pieces of plastic wrap; place chicken ball in the center of wrap.  Surround ball with this plastic covering and refrigerate on a small plate.
  7. Soften ball at room temperature before serving, to facilitate the spreading.
  8. Surround with crackers on a decorative serving plate.  This is a winner!

Curried Pineapple Ahi Tuna

Curried pineapple ahi tuna

curried pineapple ahi tuna

I had a fresh pineapple crying out to be used and a dinner guest about to arrive. This easy, outstanding dish resulted that tantalized my company. The sauce may be prepared ahead of time; you may cook the tuna just prior to serving it.

Nearly every person in my family (parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews) possesses this gift of developing imaginative, delicious recipes. Many are, or have been, professional chefs.  My brother Paul and sister Maureen were the backbone of inspiration behind my family’s restaurant high in the Rocky Mountains, at the east entrance to Glacier National Park in Montana.  This establishment belonged to my family for just over 50 years; it was famous in its day for its cherished food.  Paul and Maureen brought their polished innovations to our eatery.

My sister has taught me so much about cooking with optimum health benefits.   She is a master at creating beautiful foods that nourish body and soul.  I am so indebted to her for her nutritive excellence in my skills.

Intuitive wisdom about the preparation of ailments is in my family’s genes. It’s my fundamental inheritance:  I just know how to cook. My “formal” training in this endeavor is limited to one day, as a visitor, at Cordon Blue Cooking School in Paris, France.  The lesson was taught in French, of which I understood very little, but the dishes looked, smelled, and tasted glorious!  Note: I am the only one in my clan that applied higher education in food history to our joy of cooking.

Curried Pineapple Ahi Tuna  Simple and superb!  Yields: 4 servings.  Total prep time: 1 1/4 hr.

1 1/2 tbsp oil  (Coconut or avocado oil is best, as olive oil is carcinogenic when heated to high temperatures.)

1 med yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced

3 lg carrots, thinly sliced at a diagonal

10 oz frozen broccoli florettes, partially thawed  (Trader Joe’s has a good buy on organic.)

2 tbsp butter

4 tbsp flour

1-15 oz can of chicken, vegetable, or fish broth

2 c of fresh pineapple, cut in small pieces  (May substitute well-drained, canned crushed pineapple.)

4 ahi tuna steaks

salt and pepper to taste  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; an inexpensive fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco.)

Brown rice, cooked according to directions on package

  1. Caramelize onions, by melting 1/2 tsp of coconut oil in a large frying pan, over medium heat.  When a small piece sizzles in oil, add rest of onion.  Reduce heat to med/low; stir every several minutes until onions begin turning in color; then, stir every minute until they are a dark brown.
  2. Heat remaining coconut oil in another pan; add carrots and broccoli and cook until tender. When done, add cooked onions.
  3. Melt butter in a medium saucepan. Add flour. Whisk and cook over a medium heat for 30 seconds. Slowly add broth, whisking well with each addition. Cook until thickened, stirring with whisk. Add pineapple (sauce will get runny with fruit.) Cook, whisking, until thickened again-it won’t be quite as thick.  Add to vegetables in the large frying pan. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  4. May set aside at this point and finish, by cooking tuna, just before serving.
  5. Wash tuna steaks and pat dry. Salt and pepper generously.
  6. Place steaks in hot sauce mixture and poach. DO NOT OVERCOOK.
  7. Serve with rice.