Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Easy Chicken Makhani

Last weekend a friend of mine (hi E!) came over for dinner. The plan was to cook some Indian dishes together so she could learn some new things about preparing Indian food. Unfortunately, I think I am about the worst person to learn from in the kitchen. I could never have my own cooking show (as much as I like to pretend that I already do) because I rarely have any idea what I'm doing. Mostly, I just add ingredients and taste along the way. I never make a dish without tasting it about a gazillion times in the process. I never make one of those meals where you have the first bite and say "WOW. I can't believe this is so good." Because before I sit down to eat, I already know how good it is or how much it sucks. Of course, this is definitely not true for baking. But that's another story.

Since I'm pretty sure that E learned nothing from our cooking "class", I am dedicating this post to her -- complete with actual recipes for some of the dishes we made.

The first recipe is for Chicken Makhani - a popular north Indian dish of chicken cooked in a creamy tomato sauce. Traditionally this dish is rather artery-clogging, so I lighten it up a bit by using milk and yogurt to replace most of the cream. I also made a vegetarian version for myself, using chickpeas instead of chicken - chickPEAS, chickEn - they're practically the same thing, no?

Chicken Makhani

For chicken
*1 Tb butter
*1 Tb olive oil
*2 lbs, boneless skinless chicken breasts, cubed (see below for vegetarian version)**
*1 onion, sliced
*4 cloves garlic, chopped
*1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
*1 tablespoon cumin
*1 teaspoon coriander
*2 teaspoons paprika
*1 teaspoon garam masala (how to make your own)
*2 teaspoons crushed red pepper

For sauce
*2 cups tomato puree
*2 Tablespoons milk
*1/4 cup plain yogurt
*1 tablespoon heavy cream
*1 or 2 dried chili peppers (optional)
*1 tablespoon sugar
*salt, to taste

1. In a large pan, melt the butter and heat the oil. Add onions and cook until slightly softened.
2. Add the chicken and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander, paprika, garam masala, and crushed red pepper, and continue cooking chicken until outsides are browned (chicken will finish cooking later in the sauce). Remove just the chicken pieces from pan (LEAVE onions, garlic, and spices).
3. In the same pan, add tomato puree, milk, yogurt, and cream. Cook over low-medium heat for about 5 minutes. Return chicken back to pan along with the dried chilis, sugar, and 1-2 teaspoons of salt. Cook for an additional 8-10 minutes until chicken is completely cooked.

**For vegetarian version, substitute chicken with 2-3 cups (depending on how saucy you like it) cooked chickpeas. Follow step 1 above. Add garlic, ginger, and all spices. Cook for 3-4 minutes. Follow step 3 above adding the chickpeas instead of chicken.


  1. I am totally the same way in the kitchen! I am always sticking my spoon into whatever I'm cooking to taste test it and it drives my family crazy! I want to cook more indian food...definitely going to have to try this. It looks amazing!

  2. Indian food is such a wonderful blend of complex flavors. I can only imagine that it is a must to taste, and taste again. :-)

    Great recipe!

  3. The colour is dazzling. The whole dish looks so amazing!!!

  4. Funny, I'm a taste as you go person too. I think it's actually a good thing - no surprises at the table. This looks like a tasty dish, love that hot red color.

  5. The thing about tasting....I learned the hard way to do more of it. Once, years ago, I was in a strange kitchen and made a cake for someone housebound. Her dry ingredients were in cannisters. It never occurred to me the second largest cannister would contain salt and not sugar. Well, it was an interesting cake to say the least. So I now taste even cookie and cake dough!

    The chicken dish looks really good....hope your friend E appreciates you did a blog just for her!

  6. Beautiful dish! I bet the use of yogurt didn't detract from the rich flavour the cream would have added. Well done, I'm quite hungry now. :>

  7. I'm crazy for Indian food... Especially the flavor of garam masala. I am bookmarking this recipe for use shortly! Lovely photos, as well.

  8. If if could smell it I know it would smell devine! Looks great anyway. I make something similar but with 1/2 the tomato and replacing the yoghurt and cream with light coconut cream. And yes, I agree it's about taste all the way!

  9. Murgh makhani!!! Everyone is making murgh makhani around the blogosphere! I was planning on making this dish a few weeks ago, but I haven't had the time. I can't believe how red your dish is without the use of food coloring. That is fantastic! It looks great. Good job!

  10. This looks so delicious! I'm having an Indian food fit lately, so this is perfect for Saturday's dinner :)
    I'm doing sooo much tasting during cooking, too. During baking as well, but that's different. I only taste the batter after it's all combined, and it's not really for adjusting the ingredients -- it's just so yummy.

  11. It's me again. While writing my shopping list for the weekend, I noticed that according to your recipe, it's either 2lbs chicken or 1 1/2 cups of chickpeas. Isn't 2lbs of chicken much more than 1 1/2 cups? Should I really use just 1 1/2 cups chickpeas for the whole amount of sauce?

  12. Thank you everyone for the comments!
    Conny, you are right. The 1 1/2 is half the recipe. I usually use 3 cups, but you might find that to be too much chickpeas for the amount of sauce. I would recommend using between 2 - 3 cups of chickpeas. Thanks for pointing that out. I will update it.

  13. Splendid! I am eating the chickpea version right now.

    I substituted tomato paste and water for the tomato puree. (Hard to find tomato puree in stores here, and fresh tomatoes are out of season.)

    Next time, I would cut the sugar, and I'm going to try adding fine-chopped spinach towards the end. An Indian food cart near here makes beatific spinach and chickpea curry, and I think it would go well here.

    (That cart is the India Chaat House at SW 12th & Yamhill in Portland. Two big meals' worth of delicious curry and naan, plus chai, for $5.)

  14. David -- I'm glad you enjoyed it! Spinach sounds like a great addition.