Until a few months ago, I had never eaten Indian food. I mean the kind from India. I have eaten Native American food plenty of times—it’s built into the cuisine of my state and region. But the kind from India, I had avoided.
I avoided it first because I was told since childhood that I wouldn’t like it. “It’s got curry in it. You won’t like curry” they said “it smells”, they said…
And they were right. I didn’t like it. Of course I never actually tried it. But since I was told I wouldn’t like it, I didn’t. I am reminded of a quote from one of my favorite authors…..It is from the book Illusions, by Richard Bach.
Argue for your limitations, and sure enough, they’re yours
It resonates with me because it has so much basis in truth. Basically, it means that whatever your mindset is, is what happens. You create your own reality.
So I never ate Indian food. But I did eat some Thai food. Guess what a lot of Thai food has in it? Curry! And I liked it. I liked it a lot.
I finally decided to make some a few months ago. Start modestly, I thought. Start with Chicken Tikka Masala, since it isn’t really Indian. I mean, it’s all the Indian flavors, but it was born in England, so it must be pretty tame, right?
It wasn’t hot or too spicy. But here’s the thing about Indian food that I think is so off-putting for so many people.
It’s. Got. A LOT. Going. On.
Flavor overload. For someone who isn’t accustomed to so many layers of flavor, it can be really jarring. A big ol’ slap upside the head. For starts, there are cardamom, ginger, which stateside we are accustomed to mostly in desserts. Then there are more exotic spices, like turmeric and garam masala.
As my Tikka Masala was cooking, I thought—“Holy God, That stinks. Must. Not. Vomit.”
That is no lie.
When it was done cooking, I wanted to just toss it in the garbage. I really didn’t think I could do it. Taste it, I mean. But then I thought “if Andrew Zimmern can eat fetid meat and lutefiske, by God, I can taste the Chicken Tikka Masala”
Sweet Baby Jesus. It was amazing. My uber finicky 16 year old—you know, the one that only eats chicken nuggets and pizza—he ate two plates full of it.
But my hubs and my oldest child would not be taken in so easily. Nope. It stunk, and they had NONE of it. Whimps, I say! I would have to ease them into Indian food, obviously.
So, then I looked at some other Indian recipes, and when I saw butter chicken, I thought “this could be the one”. In fact, except for a couple of the spices, this could be Mexican food…I went about creating a recipe that I thought I could sneak onto their sensitive (read: finicky) palates.
As I was cooking it, Reagan walks in, looks at the chicken browning in the pot….
Reagan: ”Whatcha cookin?”
I know of course, that he had no idea what that was. But he heard butter, and he LIKES butter. And he heard chicken, and he LIKES chicken. SO, natch, Butter Chicken would be acceptable.
A few minutes later, with the peppers and onion added to the pot, and the rice simmering on the next pot over, my hubby walks up, peers in…
Hubby: “Hmmmm. Chicken fajitas?”
Me: “Sure…. Something like that.”
As my two boys, and Max’s friend Nathan, and I sat down to eat, Nathan says “Oh, Indian food…yumm”
Geez, Louise…..Thanks, for blowing my plan, Nate!!
Anywho…..they all enjoyed it. The cumin, peppers and tomato were a much more familiar smell when cooking, so they willingly tried what was for them a very exotic offering. And they liked it. It was close enough to fajitas, rice and tortillas that it wasn’t too scary, I guess. In fact, so as not to admit having eaten Indian food, Reagan dubbed the meal “Indian Fajitas”.
My husband finally got up the brass to try it late that night, after I was in bed, but he came to whisper in my ear that he tried it, and he liked it, and he ate all of it.
Victory. Was. Mine.
Butter Chicken Serves 6-8
- 2 tablespoon peanut oil
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in 2” chunks
- 1 small white onion, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 large green bell pepper, chopped
- 1 large red bell pepper, chopped
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 2 teaspoons garam masala
- 3 teaspoons ground cumin
- 3 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons black pepper
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground white pepper
- 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
- ½ cup plain greek yogurt (I use Fage)
- 2 cups half and half (I use fat-free)
- 2 cups crushed tomatoes
- –Jasmine rice
- –Naan flat breads
- –chopped cilantro
- –sriacha sauce
Heat oil and butter in a very large skillet (with lid), or a Dutch oven, over medium high heat. Add chicken and cook, stirring occasionally until browned on all sides. Add garlic, onion and peppers, and cook for 5 minutes more. Add all of the spices, and stir to combine. Allow to cook for 2 minutes. Add yogurt, lemon juice, half-and-half and tomatoes. Stir to combine. Reduce heat to medium low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes, while you start your rice cooking according to package directions. After 20 minutes, remove lid, and allow to simmer until sauce is thickened, about 15 minutes. Serve with rice and warm na’an or pita. Chopped cilantro and sriacha sauce are also nice accompaniments.