dairy-free · food · healthy living · recipes · what's for dinner?

to meat or not to meat ~ chicken tikka masala and chana masala

We recently invited a couple for dinner for the first time.  Sometimes, that first meal you share with someone can cause a little anxiety.  You wonder what their favourite foods are, if they have allergies, intolerances or dislikes.  Are they okay with some spice, or are they partial to their food being plainer?

This particular couple leans to the health-conscious side, and the wife is a vegetarian.  That works for me.  I don’t mind cooking healthy food–in fact I rather prefer it, most of the time.  I don’t need to eat meat for every dinner; I enjoy vegetarian meals on occasion.

I decided to do two Indian dishes: a chicken tikka masala and a chana masala.  Tikka simply means pieces and masala indicates a mixture of many spices. Chana is a type of small chickpea.  Add basmati rice, fresh, home-made naan, roasted sweet potatoes and a salad and we were good to go.  Don’t forget fudge-y paleo brownies for dessert (these are so good, you won’t miss the sugar, flour or milk at all).

Remember my anxiety?  I sent her a note (I do usually ask about food allergies) to see if they had a taste for spicy food and my intents with the menu.  I was given a thumbs up. Pheeewww.  What a relief.  I am often overwhelmed by planning a menu.  It’s not uncommon for me to consult my personal panel of foodies…my family.  They’ll at least get me started. When I remember to meal plan for the week, I always ask each one what meal they would like that week.

Anyway, without further ado, here are the recipes for each of my main dishes.

to meat or not to meat


Chana Masala

In a skillet, heat a splash of oil and add:

  • 1 onion, chopped

When softened and browned, add:

  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh ginger, minced or grated (I use my handy-dandy microplane)

Saute for a minute or so.


Now it’s time to add some spice:

  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 1 teaspoon chili pepper paste (or 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne)

Stir and let the heavenly aroma fill your kitchen as your spices warm.



  • 1 cup of vegetable broth (if you’re not need it to be vegetarian, you can add any kind of broth)

If you want to finish the recipe in your skillet continue on.  Otherwise, transfer this mixture to an oven-proof dish. (I wanted my skillet to make the next recipe and the naan.  Also, it’s very hard on the seasoning of your cast iron skillet if you cook tomatoes in it.) We love our cast iron dutch ovens.  This small one is made by Cuisinart; we got it on clearance at Winners-HomeSense.



  • 1 can of plum tomatoes, break them up with your spoon,  (or use diced tomatoes)
  • 2 cans of chickpeas, drained (aka garbanzo beans)
  • a spoonful of sugar
  • salt and pepper, to taste



Cover and cook (simmer) stovetop for 30 minutes, or transfer to dutch oven and bake for 1 hour in a 350 degree oven.

Before serving, squeeze a little lemon juice and sprinkle chopped fresh cilantro on top and serve over rice, or with naan (or both, like me…’cause ya just can’t decide).  You could also add more chili pepper and salt and pepper, if needed, at this point.


Chicken Tikka Masala

Begin by making a marinade for the chicken.

  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced or grated (again, I used my microplane)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder

Mix well.


Cut into bite-sized pieces:

  • 2 pounds of skinless, boneless chicken breasts or thighs (or a combination)

Stir into marinade mixture to evenly coat chicken pieces.  Let sit for about half an hour.


While that’s hangin’ out together, begin ‘roasting’ your red peppers (or you could just buy a jar of ’em and skip this step) for your flavour-boosting puree.

Preheat your lightly greased skillet on medium heat.

Prepare your red pepper.

  • 1 red pepper, seeded and cut into four to six pieces (you want them fairly flat)

Place in skillet and cover until charred and soft, turning once or twice.  Move them to one side and add:

  • 1 onion, diced

Cook until onions begin to soften.


Stir in:

  • 1/4 cup cashews
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon grated ginger

Sauté for two or three minutes.  Remove to a bowl or blender and allow to cool.

Melt a spoonful of butter with a spoonful of oil in your now empty skillet and warm your spices, until aromatic:

  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon garam masala

Mix the spices with the roasted peppers medley and process in a blender until a smooth puree.


Drizzle your pan (yes, same one!) with oil and brown the meat.  It will continue to cook in the oven.


If you are cooking this stove-top, skip to combining ingredients.  Otherwise, transfer chicken into a dutch oven, casserole dish or oven-proof dish.

Combine with chicken:

  • flavour-booster puree
  • 1 can plum tomatoes, broken up with spoon
  • 1 can coconut milk


Cook at 350 degrees for 1 hour.  Squeeze a little lemon juice over top, garnish with fresh, chopped cilantro (if desired) and serve over rice or with naan.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take photos of the finished product–we were all hungry! Indian cooking can be a little time-consuming, but the flavour is well worth the effort!  I was able to prepare these two dishes ahead a little early, then popped them in the oven when the time was right.  This gave me a little breathing room for prepping the rest of the meal.

Try some type of masala dish tonight…you won’t be disappointed!

Time not on your side?  Cook up this simpler crockpot version of chicken tikka masala.

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Linking up with these lovelies:

Talk of the Town #119 at Hunt and Host



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