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Friday, April 29, 2011

A Taste of India: Butter Chicken Masala

Tonight, I decided to brave an unknown territory: Indian cuisine. All things considered, the meal I produced didn't turn out all bad for a first try! I have been craving Indian food lately, yet don't have the dinero to go out to a nice restaurant. So, push comes to shove and you must take matters into your own hands. I began the night before by marinating cubed chicken breasts in allegro marinade (amazing tenderizer and available only at Lunds). Today, I ran over to the best Indian market in town, Little India located on 1835 Central Ave NE in Minneapolis. I knew I wanted to make butter chicken, an Indian classic with tomato, cumin, clove, cinnamon, garlic, cream, coriander and butter. Because I don't have all of these spices in my pantry, I bought a ready to cook spice packet, available at most groceries. Butter chicken is known to be a rich, silky flavorful dish packed with comfort (mine didn't quite match up). I knew I wanted to add some vegetables such as peas and spinach. I found a bag of "pigeon peas" thinking they would be similar to our sweet peas... not so much. When I got around to cooking the sauce, the peas would not soften, they are a tough veg, I was not familiar with using. 

For a bit of background: 
Pigeon peas are both a food crop (dried peas, flour, or green vegetable peas) and a forage/cover crop. They contain high levels of protein and the important amino acids. In combination with cereals, pigeon peas make a well-balanced human food. The dried peas may be sprouted briefly, then cooked, for a flavor different from the green or dried peas. In India, split pigeon peas (toor dal) are one of the most popular, being an important source of protein in a mostly vegetarian diet (Wikipedia). 

Back to the story, in order to properly accompany my Indian dinner, I bought frozen naan bread which I baked and toped with fresh garlic and olive oil. Naan bread is a popular South Asian flatbread, usually cooked in a tandoor oven, creating pockets of air from the heat, and a soft chewy constancy inside. To me, Indian food is nothing without this amazing bread to dip the lovely sauces in. When I came around to making the sauce, I added too many peas, which crowded the pan and decreased the silkiness and richness of the butter masala sauce I love so much. Like I've mentioned earlier, the peas never completely softened, making them a bit hard to eat. The recipe calls for a dash of cream to be poured in at the last minute, yet I used milk instead because I had no cream. I believe this altered the effectiveness of the dish. Without the cream, the sauce falls a little flat. In conclusion, I am glad I decided to brave the unknown, because next time I try my hand at Indian, I'll know all the do's and don'ts, so stay tuned!

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