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A&E >  Cooking

Masala chicken from Chetna Makan is crunchy, spicy and ready in 30 minutes

This quick recipe doesn’t sacrifice flavor.  (Scott Suchman/For the Washington Post)
This quick recipe doesn’t sacrifice flavor. (Scott Suchman/For the Washington Post)
By Ann Maloney Washington Post

When a cookbook or food website claims to offer quick-to-make, delicious dishes, I always have hope in my heart tinged with trepidation as I dive into the recipes. Too often, we have to sacrifice flavor if we want it fast.

In her latest cookbook, “Chetna’s 30 Minute Indian” (Mitchell Beazley, 2021), Chetna Makan delivers on the title’s promise. The book grew out of her time during the pandemic lockdown when she shared a recipe each day with her fans on YouTube and Instagram.

While she embraced long, involved recipes that are great for lazy weekends, she got a lot of feedback from folks who wanted “ease and speed.” So, she shifted gears, and her fifth cookbook grew out of that effort.

“I have tried to keep the deliciousness of these recipes intact, specially devising, then repeatedly testing them to cut down on the time involved but not the flavor,” writes Makan, who was a semifinalist on “The Great British Bake-Off” in 2014 and won a holiday version of the series in 2016.

The recipes include main dishes as well as snacks, sides and breads. She offers ideas for how to mix and match recipes to create meal plans. She recommends serving her simple, cool cucumber raita with this chicken dish, for example.

She acknowledges that while each of the more than 80 dishes in her latest cookbook can be made in 30 minutes, most require an action-packed half-hour of chopping, stirring and cooking.

The recipe featured here is among the simplest main dishes in the book. She toasts chickpea flour in a skillet and then mixes it with aromatic spices and yogurt.

That mixture is tossed with boneless, skinless chicken pieces until well coated. The pieces are then pan-fried in just a bit of oil until a golden, crunchy crust forms on the outside.

Makan writes that after she developed this recipe, she couldn’t stop making it. I felt the same way. If you love well-seasoned fried chicken, give it a try.

The dish is habit-forming with the spices Makan recommends, but I experimented a bit and discovered that the preparation is tasty with variations, as well.

Try it using bone-in chicken thighs if you have more time, and substitute your favorite dry spices – a mix of dried basil, oregano, parsley and thyme with garlic and onion powder was terrific – or just use a favorite spice blend.

(Don’t want to fry? You can bake the chicken in a 375-degree oven in a lightly greased baking dish for about 15 to 20 minutes or until cooked through with an internal temperature of 165 degrees.)

Makan recommends serving it with your favorite chutney and either white rice or naan.

Masala Chicken

Adapted from “Chetna’s 30 Minute Indian” (Mitchell Beazley, 2021).

¼ cup chickpea flour (may substitute all-purpose)

¼ cup plain yogurt

½ teaspoon black salt (see note)

1 teaspoon Kashmiri chili powder (see note)

1 teaspoon dried fenugreek (see note)

½ teaspoon garam masala (see note)

½ teaspoon ground cumin

4 to 6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 2-inch pieces (about 1 ¼ pounds total)

3 tablespoons sunflower or vegetable oil

Ginger-chili chutney (optional)

Cooked white or brown rice, for serving (optional)

Naan or flatbreads, for serving (optional)

In a large cast-iron or nonstick skillet over low heat, toast the chickpea flour and stir constantly until it starts to darken, about 2 minutes. Transfer the toasted flour to a large bowl and carefully wipe the pan clean.

To the bowl containing the flour, add the yogurt, salt, chili powder, fenugreek, garam masala and cumin and stir until well combined to form a thick sauce. Add the chicken pieces and toss until well coated.

In a skillet over medium heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the chicken pieces in a single layer – it’s OK if some pieces are touching. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes until the chicken turns brown and crisp.

Watch carefully and reduce the heat if the chicken starts to burn. Flip the pieces and continue cooking until the chicken is golden on all sides and cooked through to an internal temperature of 165 degrees, 3 to 5 minutes. Thicker pieces of chicken might take a bit longer. Serve with chutney and rice or naan, if using.

Yield: 4 servings

Note: If you can’t find Kashmiri chili powder, use ¾ teaspoon smoked paprika and ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper. If you cannot find dried fenugreek, substitute ground yellow mustard or a teaspoon of Dijon mustard. Fine sea salt or table salt can be substituted for black salt. You can make your own garam masala.

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