Chickpea tikka masala: It’s not traditional, but it sure tastes great
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.)
It’s 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 British-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 might seem similar to chana masala, arguably India’s most popular vegetarian dish, but that curry has much more of a kick from fresh chiles, a tang from dried mango powder, and not even a lick of cream or cream substitute.)
Is it heresy to strip a traditional dish of so many essentials? I don’t think so, especially in this case, because chicken tikka masala, according to most sources, is itself a loose British interpretation of an Indian favorite. Accounts vary, but 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.”
For those of us who desire nothing more than an easy, quick, spicy, satisfying, plant-based curry, tradition can give a little. And so can the name.
Chickpea tikka masala
Serves 4 to 6 (makes about 5 cups)
This vegan take on the British-Indian staple of chicken tikka masala uses coconut milk instead of cream. 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 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 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)
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (optional)
One 15-ounce can no-salt-added chickpeas, rinsed and drained
3/4 cup canned coconut milk (regular or low-fat)
1/2 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 1/2 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: 1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander, 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin, 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric, 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom, 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper, 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves and 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon.
Per serving (based on 6, using regular coconut milk; without rice): 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.