Cook This: Three recipes from Tandoori Home Cooking, including chicken tikka

Make Maunika Gowardhan’s tandoori chicken tikka, whole roasted cauliflower in a creamy coconut and chili sauce, and chargrilled green beans with roasted peanuts, sesame seeds, chili and lemon

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Our cookbook of the week is Tandoori Home Cooking by Maunika Gowardhan.

Jump to the recipes: tandoori chicken tikka, whole roasted cauliflower in a creamy coconut and chili sauce, and chargrilled green beans with roasted peanuts, sesame seeds, chili and lemon.

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The smoky fragrance of the tandoor dominates many of Maunika Gowardhan’s food memories. Growing up in Mumbai, the U.K.-based chef and author watched the oven’s glowing embers from behind glass at the “very old-school” restaurant Khyber. Chefs plunged long skewers of achari murgh tikka (chicken with pickling spices, mustard and chili) into its searingly hot depths and slapped flatbreads onto the sides of its sloped, clay walls. At Bukhara in Delhi, known for serving naan so large it stretches across the table, she eagerly awaited the arrival of dhungar (smoked) dal makhani, succulent kebabs and buttery tikkas pulled piping hot from the tandoor, full of warmth and flavour.

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“I will keep going back to those places. Not that they are doing anything unusual or different anymore. They’re doing exactly the same thing that they did when we were younger, but some things just never get old,” says Gowardhan.

The tandoor itself is a testament to that idea. Tandoori cooking is an ancient practice dating to 2600 BCE, according to findings at Harappa and Mohenjo-daro, archaeological sites in Pakistan. Tandoors were originally used to make flatbread, Gowardhan explains. During their rule from the early 16th to the mid-18th century, the Mughals adopted them to bake, grill and smoke many of their dishes. They even travelled with portable ovens to ensure royal kitchens included tandoori breads, kebabs, tikkas and stuffed chickens, and popularized the cooking technique across India.

After partition in 1947, a string of communal kitchens became a lifeline along the Grand Trunk Road, which runs from Kabul in Afghanistan to Kolkata in West Bengal. Tandoors were a beacon, says Gowardhan. “It was a space to have a hot meal and, inherently, to be able to feel like you were nurtured. ‘Despite all the chaos that’s going on in our lives through partition and everything else, we feel nurtured.’”

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Maunika Gowardhan
Mumbai-raised, U.K.-based chef and author Maunika Gowardhan. Photo by Issy Croker

In her third cookbook, Tandoori Home Cooking (Hardie Grant, 2023), Gowardhan taps into the rich history of the tandoor. She took inspiration from the charred, smoky flavours of the street carts and kebab stalls on Mumbai’s Mohammed Ali Road, regional favourites she has encountered on her travels across India and the classic tandoori dishes her mother replicated at home.

“We didn’t have ovens when we were growing up. And honestly, they still aren’t that common in India. So, a lot of the tikkas and kebabs that my mother would make at home, she found ways to get the flavour on them by using hobs (hotplates or burners) or frying pans or griddle pans.”

Gowardhan developed the book’s more than 70 recipes — including chicken, lamb, fish and seafood, vegetarian, breads, condiments, sides and salads, desserts and drinks — in much the same spirit, though she used her oven to mimic the heat pattern of the tandoor.

The key to building flavour in tandoori foods is marination, says Gowardhan, and the consistency must be right. A marinade should be thick enough to cling to your main ingredient, whether paneer, peppers, chicken or lamb, but not so thick that you risk overwhelming its natural taste.

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In the book, she uses a double marination technique for meat and vegetable tikkas (some marinade is reserved, which you reduce and coat the dish with at the end), chutneys, spices and spice blends, and the centuries-old dhungar method of smoking ingredients. “There’s a lot you can do with it, which lends itself to our domestic and conventional kitchens.”

Tandoori Home Cooking book cover
Tandoori Home Cooking is Mumbai-raised, U.K.-based author Maunika Gowardhan’s third cookbook.

As popular as Indian cuisine is around the world, there are dishes and techniques in Tandoori Home Cooking that are not widely known outside India, says Gowardhan. She cooks khamiri roti (a leavened bread traditionally baked in a tandoor), for example, directly over an open flame for a charred tandoori flavour. But first, she brushes the roti with water so that when she flips the pan upside down, it sticks.

“There are parts of it that have always stayed with me, and I’ve never really seen it. There are some recipes that are not seen everywhere.” This is also one of the reasons she decided to share one of her favourite street foods from when she was a teenager: keema baida roti, which she cooks on the stovetop.

“It’s a layered bread and you basically stuff it with spicy minced lamb, and then you break an egg on it and then you make a little parcel, and you pan-fry it. I kid you not. There’s nothing better than a baida roti, some chutney and life is good,” says Gowardhan with a laugh.

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“These are memories that I’ve had from the age of 16, 17. (Writing Tandoori Home Cooking) really gave me an appreciation for the fact that I’ve lived such an amazing life. It would have been a shame not to document this. Because it is a cooking technique that’s been part of my world and a lot of people’s world and still is to this day in India.”

TANDOORI CHICKEN TIKKA

Tandoori chicken tikka
“This tandoori chicken tikka has been a constant in my cooking repertoire for as long as I can remember,” says Maunika Gowardhan. Photo by Issy Croker

Serves: 4

You will need wooden skewers soaked in cold water for 30 minutes

640 g (1 lb 6 1/2 oz) boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-size pieces
Butter, for basting and cooking (see note)
Juice of 1/2 lime
Generous pinch of chaat masala

For the marinade:
3 garlic cloves
2.5 cm (1 in) ginger root, peeled
6 tbsp Greek yogurt
2 heaped tsp chickpea (gram) flour
1 1/2 tsp Kashmiri chili powder
1/4 tsp garam masala
2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp saffron strands, crushed
1 tbsp dried fenugreek leaves (kasoori methi), crushed
Pinch of sugar
Salt, to taste

Step 1

To make the marinade, grind the garlic and ginger with a splash of water in a blender to a smooth paste. In a large mixing bowl, combine the yogurt with the chickpea flour. Mix well to get rid of any lumps and form a thick paste. Add the ginger and garlic paste, chili powder, garam masala, coriander, cinnamon, saffron, dried fenugreek, sugar and salt. Stir well, mixing everything to a smooth consistency.

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Step 2

Put 2 tablespoons of the marinade in a small bowl and set aside.

Step 3

Add the chicken to the bowl and mix well to make sure each piece is coated in the thick marinade. Cover the bowl and leave to marinate in the fridge for 2-3 hours, or preferably overnight.

Step 4

Preheat the broiler to a medium heat. Line a baking tray with foil and place a wire rack over the tray.

Step 5

Thread the chicken pieces onto the soaked wooden skewers and place them on the wire rack. Place the tray under the grill and cook for 17-18 minutes. Turn the skewers halfway through the cooking time and baste with the melted butter until the chicken is lightly charred around the edges and cooked through.

Step 6

Meanwhile, transfer the reserved marinade to a small frying pan. Place over a medium heat and cook, stirring continuously, for 5 minutes until the marinade reduces and thickens. Add 2 teaspoons butter and turn off the heat. Transfer the cooked marinade to a bowl.

Step 7

Take the chicken off the skewers and add it to the bowl with the marinade along with the lime juice and chaat masala. Stir well to make sure the chicken is evenly coated. Serve warm with salad and naan or roti.

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Note: You can amp up the flavour even further by using Gowardhan’s smoked butter (recipe follows) to baste the chicken.

SMOKED BUTTER

Smoked butter
Maunika Gowardhan uses the dhungar method to smoke butter for basting. Photo by Issy Croker

Makes: 1 small jar

You will need 1 x 250 g (8 3/4 oz) jar, sterilized
250 g (8 3/4 oz) butter
1 medium piece of coal

Step 1

Melt the butter in a saucepan with a lid. Set aside.

Step 2

Turn a gas burner to a high heat. Using tongs, place the piece of coal directly in the open flame. Turn it a few times as it begins to heat up and glow.

Step 3

Turn off the heat and drop the piece of hot coal into the melted butter. It will begin to smoke. Cover the pan with a lid and leave the smoking coal to infuse the butter for 1 hour.

Step 4

Stretch a muslin cloth over a sieve (wire mesh strainer). Strain the smoked butter through the lined sieve into a sterilized jar, discarding the coal. Store in the fridge and use as required for basting tikkas and kebabs.

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WHOLE ROASTED CAULIFLOWER IN A CREAMY COCONUT & CHILI SAUCE

Whole roasted cauliflower in a creamy coconut and chili sauce
“Traditionally, cauliflower florets are cooked in a tandoor, but for ease of cooking I have marinated a whole cauliflower in spices, including the leaves and stem, and then roasted it in the oven,” says Maunika Gowardhan. Photo by Issy Croker

Serves: 4

1 large cauliflower
1 heaped tsp ground turmeric
Pinch of salt
800 mL (27 fl oz/3 1/3 cups) creamy, full-fat coconut milk
Handful of slivered or crushed almonds, to garnish
1 tbsp finely chopped cilantro leaves, to garnish

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For the marinade:
3 tbsp melted ghee or butter
2 garlic cloves, finely grated
5 cm (2 in) ginger root, finely grated
1 1/2 tsp Kashmiri chili powder (or mild chili powder)
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
Generous pinch of saffron strands
Salt, to taste

Step 1

Trim the excess outer leaves from the cauliflower and cut across its base so that it sits flat.

Step 2

Pour enough water into a large, deep saucepan to cover the cauliflower. Add the turmeric and a pinch of salt to the water. Bring the water to a boil over a medium heat and then submerge the cauliflower, upside down, in the boiling water and cook for 7-8 minutes. Remove the cauliflower from the pan, drain and set aside for 20 minutes while you prepare the marinade.

Step 3

In a bowl, combine the melted ghee or butter with the grated garlic, ginger, chili powder, ground cumin, nutmeg and saffron. Season to taste. Place the cauliflower on a plate and cover it in this spiced marinade, coating all the florets, stems and crevices.

Step 4

Preheat the oven to 200C fan (425F/gas 7).

Step 5

Pour the coconut milk into a deep roasting tin or baking dish and stir in any remaining marinade. Place the cauliflower in the tin and roast in the hot oven for 50 minutes. Halfway through the cooking time, baste the cauliflower with the coconut milk. The coconut milk will reduce and thicken, and the cauliflower will cook all the way through.

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Step 6

Serve warm, cut into thick slices or wedges and garnished with the almonds and cilantro.

CHARGRILLED GREEN BEANS WITH ROASTED PEANUTS, SESAME SEEDS, CHILI & LEMON

Chargrilled green beans with roasted peanuts, sesame seeds, chili & lemon
“You can prepare this recipe in advance and warm it through just before serving,” Maunika Gowardhan says of her chargrilled green beans with roasted peanuts, sesame seeds, chili and lemon. Photo by Issy Croker

Serves: 4-5 as a side

2 tbsp white sesame seeds
600 g (1 lb 5 oz) green beans, trimmed
3 tbsp vegetable oil
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 tbsp salted roasted peanuts, coarsely crushed
2 tbsp coriander seeds, coarsely crushed
1/2 tsp Kashmiri chili powder
2 tbsp roughly chopped cilantro leaves
Zest and juice of 1 lemon

Step 1

Warm a large, dry frying pan over a medium heat. Add the sesame seeds and toast for 1-2 minutes, shaking the pan often. Tip the toasted sesame seeds onto a plate and set aside.

Step 2

Turn up the heat to high. Working in batches, if necessary, add the green beans to the same pan and cook for 7-8 minutes until they begin to colour and char slightly.

Step 3

Transfer the charred green beans to a plate and set aside. Lower the heat to medium. Heat the oil in the pan, add the garlic and fry for 20 seconds. Return the green beans to the pan, stir well and add the crushed peanuts, coriander seeds, chili powder and the toasted sesame seeds. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes. Season to taste. Turn off the heat, add the lemon zest and juice.

Step 4

Serve the green beans warm with the chopped cilantro scattered over the top.

Recipes and images excerpted with permission from Tandoori Home Cooking by Maunika Gowardhan published by Hardie Grant Publishing, June 2023, RRP $53 Hardcover.

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Originally posted 2023-10-06 12:00:44.