Ever since I started cooking Indian food 30 years ago, I’ve always enjoyed throwing a big Diwali feast for friends and family. No matter what, through all sorts of ups and downs, wildfires, floods, I’ve always managed to cook a big Diwali dinner.
Except this year.
I had Covid back in early March and spent two months in isolation, including my birthday, sick with it. I never want to go through that again, nor do I want any family and friends to have to, so I figured this would be a year without dinner parties, BBQs, etc. I was perfectly fine with that. Everything we’ve eaten in this house since late Feb, was either grown and cooked by me, (or Alan while I was sick) or just plain cooked by me. I bake our bread, and make our ice cream, and yeah do I wish I could eat out and have someone else besides the two of us cooking? Damn right I do, but as long as that’s as risky as going over Niagara Falls in a barrel, I’m not doing it. Nope. Nada. Nein, No Way.
So now that the Festival of Lights is coming up fast, and social distancing is still a must around here, what to do? Why not a scaled-down Diwali? But what to cook? I couldn’t see prepping 8 to 10 dishes just for us. That’s when my friends at Homdoor Tandoori Ovens suggested why not fire up the old Tandoor for a simpler, easier, and yet still totally festive meal. So that’s just what I did.
Since it was a holiday meal and I was using the tandoor oven, I departed from my usual fish or veg main course and decided on Tandoori Chicken as the main, with a Tandoori eggplant dish with pickled onions, a simple Indian cucumber and dal salad, and chapattis. As for dessert, since the tandoor was already all fired up, why not cook dessert in it too? So I did. Ananas Tandoor, which is tandoor marinated and roast pineapple served with rose pistachio ice cream (definitely NOT made in the tandoor) and chai for dessert.
We serve meat around here maybe once or twice a year. It usually always involves holiday cooking for friends and family, but since that wasn’t going to be happening this year I figured I’d just act as if, and serve some chicken anyway. Tandoori Chicken to be exact.
I’ve been making tandoori chicken for years on an outdoor grill or in an oven since I’ve never owned an actual Tandoor until recently. It’s a different experience cooking in one, but if you’ve ever done any sort of simple BBQ’ing, it’s not difficult. I’ve always used Madhur Jaffrey’s marinade recipe for this dish, and it truly takes very little prep. The marinade makes up the day before, the chicken is skinned and then put in it to rest overnight in the fridge. The next day, fire your cooker up and start grilling!
In all the times I’ve ever made tandoori chicken, this was the easiest since I wasn’t fiddling with charcoal, wood, and temperature changes. The tandoor oven is rock steady heat-wise, which is a BIG help in this sort of cooking. Tandoor Chicken, despite all the different spices found in the dish, is really very easy to prepare.
1 medium-sized onion, peeled and chopped
6 whole shallots or garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
A 2-inch long knob of ginger peeled and chopped
3 Tbs fresh lemon juice
8 oz plain yogurt
1 Tbs ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp garam masala
1/4 tsp ground mace
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
4 Tbs vegetable oil
2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp orange food coloring
Chicken (I used 3 large bone-in skin-on breasts, but of course this marinade is enough to cover 6 chicken legs and 3 breasts cut in half)
Put the chopped onions, garlic or shallots, ginger, and lemon juice into a blender or food processor and blend to a smooth paste.
Place the paste in a bowl large enough to hold the marinade and the chicken you are working with.
Add in the yogurt, your spices (coriander, cumin, turmeric, garam masala, mace, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, salt, pepper, Kashmiri chili, food coloring) and stir it all together with a whisk.
Now, remove the skin from your chicken breasts and cut each one in half.
Slash the chicken breasts halfway down to the bone to let the marinade sink in.
Put the chicken into the marinade and rub it in well, make sure you get the marinade into the slashes.
Place the chicken into the marinade, cover it tightly, and place it into the fridge for 24 hours.
If you are working with a tandoor oven, light it. When the tandoor is up to about 750 degrees you are ready to cook. For a regular BBQ, light it and get ready to grill.
If cooking in a tandoor, oil your skewers, thread the chicken pieces onto the skewers. Stick half of a large peeled onion on the end of the skewers that ought to keep the chicken in place and prevent it from falling off the skewers.
Place the skewers into the tandoor and angle them so that they’re leaning against one side of it. Partially cover the tandoor to keep the heat in and cook for 10 minutes, occasionally rotate the chicken skewers so that the chicken cooks on all sides.
Check after 10 minutes, if it’s not cooked through give it a few more minutes. At this high heat, it doesn’t take too long before things are done.
Lift the cooked chicken skewers out of the tandoor and slide the chicken off the skewers, garnish with chopped cilantro, pickled onions, and lemon wedges.