I once confessed that, as a lover of wordplay, I am drawn to every recipe I see whose name substitutes “chickpeas” for “chicken.” When I recently ran into Chickpea Tikka Masala, I had to try it, even though I knew the “tikka” part of the name doesn’t quite translate. (It means “pieces,” and refers to the chunks of chicken in the original dish.)
This is a loose interpretation, to be sure, from Kathryne Taylor’s “Love Real Food” (Rodale, 2017). Besides swapping in those chickpeas, she skips the cream in the sauce and uses coconut milk — like chickpeas, a beloved ingredient in India. Unlike the Indian dish, which requires marinating chicken in yogurt and spices and roasting it before adding it to the sauce, her version has you throw canned chickpeas right into the liquid. (It bears some similarities to India’s vegetarian chana masala, too.)
Is it heresy to strip a traditional dish of so many essentials but keep much, if not all, of the name? Perhaps. According to one popular account, chicken tikka masala is itself a loose British interpretation of an Indian favorite. In the famous 2001 speech in which he declared it “a British national dish,” former foreign secretary Robin Cook said the masala sauce was added to India’s chicken tikka “to satisfy the desire of British people to have their meat served in gravy.” But in an article diving into the dish’s history for Munchies, food and culture writer Leena Trivedi-Grenier writes that chicken tikka masala is essentially the same dish as butter chicken, which she traces to Pakistan, refugee Kundan Lal Gujral and his restaurant Moti Mahal.
Of course, there were no chickpeas in it. That wasn’t the point. But for us plant-based eaters who adore everything about chicken tikka masala except the chicken, and appreciate a little wordplay, the name makes perfect sense.
Clarification: A previous version of this article referred to chicken tikka masala as a British-Indian dish, and didn’t include research that equates it to India’s butter chicken and a Pakistani refugee. This version has been updated.
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4 to 6 servings (makes about 5 cups)
Adapted from “Love Real Food,” by Kathryne Taylor (Rodale, 2017).
One 28-ounce can no-salt-added whole or diced tomatoes, with their juices
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped (about 1½ cups)
½ teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more as needed
1 tablespoon peeled grated/minced fresh ginger root
3 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
1 tablespoon garam masala (see NOTE)
⅛ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (optional)
One 15-ounce can no-salt-added chickpeas, rinsed and drained
¾ cup canned coconut milk (regular or low-fat)
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for garnish
Cooked basmati rice, for serving
Pour the tomatoes into a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. (If you have an immersion [stick] blender, you can blend the tomatoes right in their can.)
Heat the oil in a large, nonreactive skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the onion and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and translucent, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the garam masala and cayenne, if using, and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the pureed tomatoes, chickpeas, coconut milk and the ½ cup of chopped cilantro. Taste, and add more salt if needed.
Increase the heat to medium-high; once the mixture begins bubbling around the edges, reduce the heat to low to maintain a gentle bubbling. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens and the flavors meld, about 20 minutes.
To serve, spoon the rice into individual bowls and top with the chickpea masala. Sprinkle with more chopped cilantro.
NOTE: If you can’t find garam masala, you can substitute this spice blend: 1½ teaspoons ground coriander, ¾ teaspoon ground cumin, ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric, ⅛ teaspoon ground cardamom, ⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper, ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves and ⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon.
Nutrition | Per serving (based on 6): 230 calories, 8 g protein, 27 g carbohydrates, 10 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 200 mg sodium, 7 g dietary fiber, 6 g sugar
Recipe tested by Joe Yonan; email questions to email@example.com
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