A great weeknight dinner with the bonus of an easy clean-up
There is an Indian restaurant close to my home, and I salivate when I smell its cooking in the air. A vast amount of Indian food is vegetarian and easily adaptable to a kosher diet, but one thing I’ve missed for the past 20 or so years is tandoori chicken.
The ingredient that makes or breaks the recipe is yogurt, so it’s a recipe that I have avoided. The advent of pareve, vegan plant-based yogurts and other faux “dairy” products has been a game-changer for my home cooking and for the kosher world in general. They are not identical to real dairy products in flavor or consistency, but they surely make it easier to satisfy my cravings.
There is no reason that we can’t enjoy ethnic cuisine from around the world in a kosher home.
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This recipe takes about 15 minutes of prep work, then you simply marinate the chicken for 6-8 hours in the refrigerator and broil it in the oven. My recipe will provide a close copy of real tandoori chicken, which is made in a special clay oven — I won’t pretend that it’s as good as the real deal because the ovens that they use are not what we have in our home kitchens.
The spice mix is flavorful but not too spicy, and it will definitely bring something new and exciting to your table. If you can get the marinade pulled together in the morning, this makes a great weeknight dinner with the bonus of an easy clean-up.
2-3 packages of chicken drumsticks (10-14 pieces)
1 cup plant-based pareve yogurt
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
4-5 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced or crushed
1 teaspoon sea salt
3 tablespoons of oil with a high smoke point; do not use olive oil
1 tablespoon garam masala spice blend
2 teaspoons sweet paprika; do not substitute hot or smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (double the amount if you like more heat)
Measure all the dry spices, and place them together in a small bowl.
Heat the oil in a small sauté pan over medium-low heat for about a minute. Don’t let the oil get too hot, or it will burn the spices.
Add all of the spices at once to the pan, stirring constantly for about 2 minutes, until the mixture becomes fragrant. This brings out the aromatics of the spices, and this is what Indian food is famous for.
Remove the pan from the heat, and set it aside.
Mince the garlic and the peeled ginger. Fresh ginger is very fibrous, and it’s easiest to use a microplane tool to grate it, or simply crush it in a mortar and pestle if you don’t feel like taking the time to mince it with a knife.
Add one cup of vegan yogurt to a large bowl, and mix in the fresh lemon juice, garlic, ginger and salt.
It takes about 10 minutes for the spice mixture to cool down. Once it’s cool enough to handle, use a rubber spatula to scrape every last bit of oil and spice into the large bowl and mix well.
I wear disposable gloves for the next part. Using a sharp knife, cut 2 or 3 deep diagonal slashes across one side of each chicken leg, close to the bone.
Add the chicken to the bowl of yogurt. The slashes ensure that the spices really get into the meat. You can remove the chicken skin if you prefer; the marinade will help the chicken stay tender.
Mix well, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 6-8 hours.
When it’s time for dinner, set your oven to broil at 500 F. Line a sheet pan with foil or parchment paper and place a metal cooling rack (the kind you cool cakes and cookies on) over the sheet pan.
This creates a grill effect in the oven. A smaller rack will fit right over the pan, but you can use one that’s larger — just be sure to support the bottom pan when placing it and removing it from the oven.
If you’ve ever broiled fresh liver, it’s the same technique: The chicken sits on the top rack, and the bottom pan catches the mess. If your grate is a bit larger than the pan, be sure that the chicken pieces are not right against the edges of the grate or the cooking juices will drain into your oven and cause a big mess.
Place the oven rack on the shelf closest to the broiler; in my oven, this is the highest slot that I can place a rack.
Place each piece of chicken on the top rack, leaving a few inches between each piece. This is the best way to get grilled flavor while cooking indoors.
Take any remaining yogurt from the bowl, and gently spoon it across the top of the chicken pieces, patting it onto the chicken so that there is a thick layer across the top and sides.
Broil for 20-22 minutes, until the meat reaches 165 F on a thermometer.
I cook the chicken for about 25 minutes, but you can cook it to your preference; make sure there are some charred spots on the chicken.
Remove from the oven, and serve immediately.
This pairs well with steamed rice and/or lentils. You can make a quick raita (yogurt and cucumber dip) by pressing the water out of a cup of grated cucumber and adding it to the leftover yogurt with some lemon juice, a teaspoon of dried mint and a sprinkle of salt and cumin. This is not authentic raita, but it’s close enough and adds a wonderful addition to the spice of the chicken while using up the rest of the yogurt.
Garnish with sliced spring onions or chopped fresh cilantro, and serve with a few extra lemon wedges for those who like a little extra zing — like me!
Experiment! This is a great recipe, but if you want more of one spice or less of another, adjust it to your taste. Enjoy and bless your hands! PJC
Jessica Grann is a home chef living in Pittsburgh.