Chicken Tikka Masala with Pasta Sauce

What do you do when you really want to make chicken tikka masala (CTM) but don’t have the ingredients that differentiate CTM from a plain ol’ chicken curry? Nor do you have the time to even make proper chicken tikka?

You take shortcuts. Lots of them.

Step 1: Shuffle through the pantry, messing up your mom’s neat organization of various foods, ingredients, and snacks.

Step 2: Panic when you realize you don’t have tomato sauce, tomato paste, or even tomatoes. There’s no heavy cream in the fridge. What now?

Step 3: Adapt. React. Readapt. Apt.
Sorry, I couldn’t resist. Whoever got that reference gets a brownie point which may or may not be redeemable for an actual brownie.

The only ingredient we had that was remotely close to tomatoes or tomato sauce was….pasta sauce. Plain ol’ marinara sauce. It’s basically tomato sauce with Italian seasoning…right? Sure.

We didn’t have heavy cream either, and not much milk. We did, however, have the tub of sour cream which my dad had accidentally bought in a much-too-large size. So I ran with it. And here’s my rough estimated recipe (I’m writing this a couple of days after the fact because I hadn’t planned on sharing the inauthentic recipe but decided to nonetheless because if it happened to me, it could happen to others too. Right? Sure.)

Halal Pakistani Chicken Tikka Masala with Pasta Sauce

Ingredients

  • 2 huge boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into little cubes (I don’t know how many pounds it was, and I understand this is a really important detail but……oh well? I will update this detail when I weigh some chicken later this week)

  • 2 tbsp canola oil or butter or ghee

  • 1 tsp minced garlic

  • 1 tsp minced ginger

  • 1 tsp cumin powder

  • 1/2 tsp paprika

  • 1/2 tsp turmeric

  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

  • 1 tsp salt

  • 1 1/2 cups pasta sauce

  • 1 cup sour cream

Recipe

Halal Chicken Tikka Masala with Brown Basmati Rice
  1. Heat up the oil in a deep skillet or large wok. One that is big enough to hold all of the chicken plus the sauce. Eyeball it!

  2. Add the ginger and garlic to the hot oil and stir. Let ‘em sizzle in the oil and bloom a bit.

  3. Then add all of the spices and stir, stir, stir. It’ll smell and smoke up a bit, so you might want to turn on the exhaust on your range hood.

  4. Once the spices have bloomed a bit as well, add the cubed chicken breast.

  5. Stir to mix the chicken with the spices, and then drop the heat to medium-low. Cover and let it cook for 5-10 minutes (depends on how small you cut your pieces. You want it to to be almost cooked through/solid white).

  6. When the chicken looks nearly cooked through, take off the lid and mix it around. Now is the time to add the rando—the pasta sauce. Mix and let it simmer for a few minutes.

  7. Next, stir in the sour cream until it’s fully incorporated.

  8. Garnish with some cilantro (which I didn’t have on hand) and serve! With naan or rice!

Gulabi "Pink" Kashmiri Chai

Kashmiri chai is not a beverage that I have a nostalgic attachment to, but it is one that I’ve heard mentioned in my mom’s stories of her childhood in Lahore, Pakistan. Thus, winter often reminds me of Kashmiri chai.

Winter Kashmiri Chai Mount Baldy

Other names for this chai include Noon Chai, Gulaabi Chai, and Namkeen Chai. Recently, Kashmiri chai has become quite common all around the world. You can even find it at David’s Tea. While I find it mildly annoying that a Canadian tea company is profiting off of the exoticism of Kashmiri chai, I’ll commend them solely for the unobjectionable truth that Kashmiri chai is delicious enough to appropriate (ha!)

What is Kashmiri chai exactly?

Kashmiri tea leaves are actually a type of green tea!

Kashmiri tea leaves are actually a type of green tea!

This magical Kashmiri pink milk tea is actually a green tea which turns reddish-brown during the cooking process (more on that below); add white (milk) to red (tea) and you get PINK! A kindergartner can do it! Just kidding, that isn’t the safest idea. Alas, I digress. This particular type of green tea is found in Kashmir. I want to say it’s exclusively grown in Kashmir but don’t quote me on that. What I do know is that it is not the common Jasmine green tea that you find in most places. The point is—authentic Kashmiri green tea is not the easiest to find. For those of you who don’t have a relative or friend to bring/mail you some from Pakistan, I managed to find some online at Khana Pakana (more affordable than the blend from David’s Tea).

How is it pink? Do you use food coloring?

Food coloring is for red velvet cake and that’s about it. Food coloring does not belong in tea or drinks at all. Stop it, Starbucks, you bug-coloring-weirdos.

The answer is science—polyphenols found in green tea are naturally yellow at lower pH levels (so, more acidic). Adding baking soda (which is alkaline, basic, higher pH level) to the tea once it is already being extracted/brewed will make the polyphenols change color. The tea magically transforms into a deep, reddish brown color. Add milk (which is also basic with a higher pH level, and is white in color) and you’ll get an opaque pink tea!

How do I make it?

  • 2-3 cups of filtered water

  • 2 tablespoons of Kashmiri green tea leaves

  • 3-4 cardamom pods, crushed

  • Cinnamon stick, broken into a small chip (overall size/area should be the size of a dime)

  • ~1/4 teaspoon of baking soda

  • 1 cup cold filtered water

  • 1-1.5 cups of whole milk

  • A pinch of salt

  • Chopped pistachios (for garnish)

When reading recipes and instructions, it can be difficult to understand what various stages or steps look like which is why I have created the video posted above. Its purpose is to show you the cooking process, so please refer to it to ensure you’re ready to move on to the next step within the directions.

Crushed cardamom is a key ingredient in Kashmiri chai.

Crushed cardamom is a key ingredient in Kashmiri chai.

  1. Start out with 2 cups of filtered water in a stainless steel saucepan. Begin heating it on the stove on medium heat. Add the Kashmiri green tea leaves, cardamom, and cinnamon to the water.

  2. Once the tea begins to boil, bring the heat down just enough to keep the tea simmering/bubbling for about one minute, or until half of the water is left. It’ll look like there are a lot more leaves than water. Add the remaining cup of filtered water, and bring it up to a boil, then let it continue simmering for about 7-10 minutes.

  3. You’ll notice the water has reduced once again. This is when you add the baking soda. It’ll foam up and look scary but that is just the initial reaction of the alkaline bicarbonate soda with the acidic tea. Swirl the pan around or stir the tea with a spoon to thoroughly mix the baking soda in.

  4. Now leave it alone! Seriously, let it simmer for about another 10 minutes. SIMMER, not boil. About 4-5 minutes after you add the baking soda, you’ll notice the bubbles/foam have a pink/red outline (refer to video at 20 seconds). This is a great sign!!

  5. The water level will go down again, but this is when the cold filtered water comes in. Pour the cup of cold water into the reduced-down tea (which will now be a reddish tone—30 seconds in my video). People say this “shocks” the tea, but I’m pretty sure what they mean is the cold temperature stops the reaction (of baking soda with the tea) and the cooking of the tea. Why add one cup? Because we want to make sure you don’t end up with just a baby shot of Kashmiri chai!

  6. Bring this back up to a rolling boil and then turn off the stove. Go ahead and strain the tea leaves, cardamom, and cinnamon out.

  7. Next you’ll want to mix the milk with the water. In the video, I had already poured the measured milk into another saucepan, and then I poured the strained tea into it. However, I actually recommend pouring the milk into the tea in case you boiled the tea down more than anticipated. You don’t want to add too much milk because it’ll overpower the delicious taste of the Kashmiri tea! Add just enough milk to make the tea opaque but not too light. Everyone has their own preferences but I like my chai (any type of chai) more creamy than watery.

  8. Bring the tea + milk mixture to a boil (it’ll foam up beautifully and make you want to cry…50 second timestamp). POUR AND SERVE!

The appeal of Kashmiri chai might be its color, but its slightly-odd feature is that it’s traditionally served with salt instead of sugar. Yes, salt. Perhaps Pink HimalayAN SALT?! SINCE THE HIMALAYAS ARE ABOVE PAKISTAN? Anyway, I recommend having a pinch of salt (or sugar if you’re a non-traditional newb like myself) in the cup when you pour the chai; this way, it mixes into the chai while you pour and everyone can customize their drink’s salty/sweetness.

Lastly, Kashmiri chai is served topped with crushed/chopped pistachios (they add a beautiful color as well as texture) and is often paired with some naan khatai or shortbread cookies!

Enjoy!