After a decade in England, I feel like Indian cuisine is a staple in my home. Since we don’t have our local delivery any more, I’ve taken to making my own favourite dishes, getting closer and closer to a curry house flavour. Luckily, my kids were very young when they were first introduced to tandoori and dahl (lentils), one of my preferred mild dishes too, so making it at home is very familiar and comforting to us all.
I usually make this when it’s a good day to grill. The chicken can be done in the oven (200C/450F for 20 minutes), but it tastes amazing if it’s been fired up. If you’re super organised, you can put together the chicken and yogurt to marinate all day or overnight, but giving it a good thirty minutes is still fine. I let the chicken tenderise in the yogurt for at least as long as it takes to finish the lentils and rice, so it’s nice and hot of the grill for serving. The lentils will just get better the longer they simmer, and you can top it up with a bit of water all day long.
Now, it’s worth noting that in the UK, you’re more likely to find Tandoori Masala pre-mixed, but it can be achieved in the States, or you could make your own mix. Local Indian groceries are always well stocked with spices, ghee, rice and lentils at fabulous prices. They usually even have the coconut milk priced more competitively, and certainly bulk buying rice and lentils is an economic no-brainer. I found a brilliant little shop right here in my own Seattle suburb, so try a visit to the little guy and you may be pleasantly surprised at their selection and prices. Most pre-mix Tandoori will be mostly E-numbers to achieve that Tandoori orange, so feel free to simply mix dry spices (see below) for the same, additive-free, flavour.
- 3 large boneless chicken breasts (or on the bone if you have more time to grill)
- 3-4 TB Greek yogurt
- 1 heaped TB Tandoori Masala or a dry mix of turmeric, coriander, ginger, paprika, cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, salt and chili powder (a good shake of each into a small bowl usually does the trick and allows you to add more of the flavours you enjoy most)
- 1 cup chopped white onion (frozen is fine) / 1 medium onion
- 5 cups/800g red lentils/masoor dahl
- 1 cup shredded or julienned carrot (approx. 1 medium carrot)
- 1 heaped tsp minced/grated garlic (I buy large jars of minced garlic)
- 1 heaped tsp minced/grated ginger (this really is best freshly grated)
- 1 heaped TB Tandoori Masala or mix as above
- 2 TB ghee (clarified butter) or 1 TB vegetable oil
- 1 cube dry chicken stock or 1 tsp concentrated stock
- 400 ml tin of unsweetened, first-pressed coconut milk (don’t bother with low fat versions, you want the cream)
- 1 tsp brown or muscovado sugar
- 2-4 cups water
- 2 cups/400g jasmine rice
- 4 cups chicken stock (1 cube dry stock in 4 cups water)
- 1 cup frozen peas (optional)
First things first, you can slice the chicken into large cubes, or buy chicken tenders to save time, but be sure the pieces won’t fall through the grill (if you’re using a bbq).
Mix the yogurt and dry spice together well in a large mixing bowl before adding the raw chicken. Give it a good mix to really coat the chicken, and then cover the bowl with cling film/plastic wrap and find a space in the fridge.
The longer the chicken has a chance to canoodle with the yogurt, the better. Don’t worry if it doesn’t look bright orange, you don’t need that much ‘stuff’ in your dinner.
Once your chicken is set aside, give your lentils a really good rinse. This is not a step to be missed, because the lentils will be ‘dusty’, and they will produce a bubbly foam when boiling if you don’t. (I usually use a small strainer inside a larger bowl to submerge the lentils and shake ‘em up under water 4 or 5 times, until the water I’m draining is clear.)
Next step, start your onions in the ghee or oil over a med-high heat. I suggest using a wide based pot or pan so you get more browning and less stewing. (I wouldn’t suggest trying to use normal butter if you can’t find ghee, it’s just going to burn.)
As the onions just begin to sizzle, add the garlic, ginger and dry spices and stir it pretty continuously to avoid the dry spices burning.
Add the lentils, carrots and dry or concentrated chicken stock and coat everything with the onion/spice mixture before adding about 1.5 cup of water and reducing the heat to med-low.
Open the tin of coconut milk and, if you’re lucky, the cream will be separated from the water. Put a small whole on one side and larger whole on the other to drain just the water, holding your spoon in the way to keep back the cream. If it hasn’t separated, it’s no biggy, just add the whole can. If it has, keep the near solid cream for adding at the end.
The reason I try to keep the cream until the end, it doesn’t need to reduce with the rest of the water, and adds a smoothness to the dahl. Let me stress, though, that this isn’t a necessary step, just a texture enhancer.
Once you’ve added the coconut water, reduce and cover for about ten minutes.
Now is the perfect time to start your rice. I just make a standard pot of rice, but use chicken stock instead of water. This adds flavour, salt and fat in one step, instead of using butter, salt and water. I’ve also been known to add about a cup of frozen peas to rice from the beginning, as well as a pinch of cardamom powder, but these are optional. I try to use veg anywhere I can, and even the smallest bit of flavour cooked into the rice is very kid-friendly.
Stir your dahl occasionally to be sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom, adding a bit of water to keep it from getting too dry if needed. Once the lentils and carrots are nice and soft, taste test to add any salt and a teaspoon or so of the brown sugar. Allow the mixture to bubble a bit longer and then add the coconut cream if you’ve held it back. Mix in thoroughly and then turn the heat to the lowest heat, just to maintain the warmth. The dahl will stay liquid as long as the lid is kept on while you grill the chicken, but the moisture will escape and dry it out if you leave it uncovered for long.
Turn off your rice when it’s tender, but leave it covered until time to serve.
On a high grill flame, place the chicken pieces nicely spread apart onto a greased grill (I usually use a bit of veg oil on a paper towel/kitchen roll and wipe the grill before I turn it on). Keep the lid closed for about 5-7 minutes and then turn the chicken over and repeat. The less you move the pieces, the better you’ll be at getting crispy bits and a bit of yogurt char. Yum.
Depending on the size of the pieces, 10-15 minutes should be plenty, with one roll over in the middle and keeping the lid closed. Be careful not to overcook the chicken in pursuit of char, it’s better to have moist chicken. If in doubt, always cut open your biggest piece first to check it’s cooked through.
My kids can’t get enough of the coconut dahl served over rice, and I cut up a piece of the chicken into tiny pieces mixed in if they’re interested. I don’t worry if they aren’t up for the chicken, though, because lentils have protein and are super healthy. And filling! Our whole family love this meal, and it all makes for great leftovers. I love to nibble the cold chicken bites (if any are left) the next day, and a scoop of rice and dahl in the microwave makes for a two minute lunch/dinner!