Balti Chicken

From the first time I put really good Indian food in my mouth, I new I was hooked. When I was in college in central Arkansas, I frequented a delicious Indian restaurant in Little Rock called Star of India for the buffet on Wednesdays…no one had class on Wednesdays. I am not a buffet person by any stretch of the imagination, but this restaurant has an intimate buffet setting and everything is always fresh. The owner has the best memory of anyone I know. He remembered me years later after coming to the restaurant.

I got an inside look at the makings of authentic Indian food from my best friend’s mom during this formative period of my life. She was born in the Punjab region of India. I specifically requested to watch her cook to learn the secrets behind her spices and methods. One lesson I learned early on in cooking many Indian dishes that have onions in the base is that you have to cook the onions down to the point where they are gooey and have lost most of their volume. This adds a savory flavor to the dish that you cannot get any other way. It will take about 20 minutes to achieve this, but it is worth the wait! Even when you see an Indian recipe that does not tell you to cook the onions down, you can bet that it will add an extra level of flavor if you do. It is also really important to slice the onions as thin as possible. This helps them break down faster.

Spring has finally arrived in northwest Arkansas and farmer’s market are opening in just a few weeks in Fayetteville. This means lots of fresh produce and local meats so I wanted something with a good amount of fresh vegetables in the mix. The closest good Indian restaurant is 40 minutes away so I have made it a priority to refine my skills in the subcontinent’s lush cuisine.

This dish goes really well over basmati rice and/or naan bread. To make it vegetarian, all you have to do is leave out the chicken. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 1 lime
  • 1 lb chicken breast or tenders in bite size chunks
  • 3 tbsp coconut oil or butter
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped in very thin slices
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 inch piece of ginger, minced
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom powder
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1 tsp mango powder
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 cup of water
  • 2 red or orange bell peppers
  • 1 jalapeno pepper
  • 2 tbsp heavy cream or yogurt (low fat option)
  • chopped cilantro for garnish
  • basmati rice

Directions

  1. Place chicken chunks in a bowl and squeeze the lime juice over them. Let marinade for at least 10 minutes.
  2. Melt coconut oil in a large sauce pan over medium heat. Add cinnamon stick and cook until flavor emerges for 5 minutes. Add the onion and cook for about 20 minutes until it becomes sticky and looses most of its volume. This is very important! This will add so much flavor to your dish! Stir occasionally to prevent it from burning.
  3. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for 3-5 minutes until flavors emerge. Add cardamom, cumin, turmeric, coriander, mango powder, garam masala, salt, tomato paste and stir. Add chicken and cook for 3-4 minutes until pink is gone from the outside. Add one cup of water, bell peppers and jalapeno.
  4. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, adding a bit of water if needed to reach the desired thickness in sauce. Remove from heat, add heavy cream and stir. Garnish with cilantro and serve over basmati rice.

Recipe tip: add one teaspoon of sugar if you like just a hint of sweet with the dish.

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