Yes to Yummy

Homemade Tandoori Chicken (gluten-free, paleo)

June 6, 2013 Print this page

When I was younger, I used to be a REALLY picky eater. If I had my way, I’d eat Kraft macaroni and cheese every day for the rest of my life. Sure, I ate my fair share of apple slices and grape tomatoes, but for the most part, I was fairly limited in what I wanted to eat.

Around the time I was 10 or so, a switch went off. I still loved my Goldfish and pizza, but began becoming more adventurous towards more exotic cuisines and ingredients. One thing I fell in love with was Indian food.

My family lives within a half an hour of several excellent Indian restaurants, where spicy, comforting dishes were boundlessly served up. With a mango lassi in one hand and a huge chunk of naan in the other, I happily dug in to new flavors.

To this day, my favorite dish is by far Chicken Tikka Masala, and really, it was because of the sauce. When you put tomatoes and spices with a rich, creamy base, how can you go wrong?

Today, I’ve created a more health-friendly version using Aarti Sequeira’s recipe as inspiration. This recipe is not dairy free, for I feel the marinade really needs the yogurt’s acidic tang. I’d use a plant or nut-based yogurt, but unfortunately, most ones with a coconut or almond base are loaded with sugar and other additives. Once in a while, some good-quality dairy (especially if it’s fermented) is fine by me.


There are two ways to make the marinade. The first is to make your own spice blend; the second is to purchase a pre-made one. Making your own is more complicated, but yields a more complex flavor; buying a spice blend is easier, but may not produce the desired result. It’s up to you what you want to do.

Toast the seeds of 2 pods of green cardamom and 1 pod of black cardamom, 3 cloves, and 2 guajillo chilies (I got mine at Penzey’s) in a small skillet over medium heat. Once you start to smell the spices (about 3-4 minutes later), pour everything into a spice or coffee grinder and blend to a fine powder.

Add the spice mixture to a medium-sized bowl with 1 1/2 cups of yogurt (I used Green Valley Organics), the juice of 1 lemon, 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil OR liquefied coconut oil, 1/2 teaspoon of fenugreek seeds, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon of garlic powder, 1 teaspoon of ground ginger, 1/2 teaspoon of tumeric, and a pinch of paprika. Stir well to combine.

imageIf making a spice mixture seems too daunting to you, you can always buy a pre-made Tandoori spice. (I know Penzey’s has one.) Simply substitute 3 heaping tablespoons for the dry spices I used in this recipe. Make sure you still add the lemon juice and oil!

Lay out 2-3 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs in a dish and, with a fork, stab each piece like it’s Caesar. (Et tu, Brute?) I learned this trick from Aarti—it will allow the marinade to really seep itself into the meat. The more stabs, the better. (Don’t just be Brutus, be Cassius! Be Casca! Be…OK, enough with the Julius Caesar references.)

Pour the marinade all over the chicken and make sure each piece is sufficiently smothered. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, and preferably 8-24.

When your tummy starts to grumble, turn on your broiler to low and line a baking sheet with tinfoil. Place a wire rack atop it and lightly grease with some coconut oil.

Take the chicken out of the marinade and spread it out on the wire rack. Don’t toss the marinade! You’ll need it later to make the sauce.

Broil the chicken on an oven rack about 4-6 inches away from the heat source. Cook on one side until beginning to char, about 15 minutes, then flip over and cook on the other side for an additional 10-15 minutes, depending on how hungry you are and how crispy you like it.

While the chicken turns into magical tasty goodness, make the sauce. Pour the remaining marinade into a small saucepan with 2 heaping tablespoons of tomato paste, 1 tablespoon of honey OR maple syrup OR raw coconut nectar, and 1/2 cup of water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce heat to low to thicken. 

Serve the chicken with the sauce on top and your favorite vegetable on the side. I usually make this with cauliflower florets, which I toss in about a teaspoon or two each of paprika, cinnamon, cardamom, garlic powder, salt, and pepper and about 2 tablespoons of olive oil or ghee. I then roast them at 450 until soft and golden brown, about 30 minutes total.

What’s your favorite Indian dish? Leave me a comment on Facebook and let me know!

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