For my Indian Food & Culture project, I decided to make a meal featuring Punjabi flavors: tandoori chicken, saag-style spinach, spiced rice, and a mango lassi shake, following this recipe from Monica’s Spice Diary. Tandoori chicken is traditionally a dish of Punjabi extraction The preparation of the tandoori chicken was especially notable to me because it required two stages of marination (most meat dishes I like to prepare require only one)! I first let the chicken thighs rest for one hour in a mixture of salt and lime juice, and then for another hour in a covering of yogurt, olive oil, and a variety of spices. Only after that was it ready to be placed on the grill! Traditionally, tandoori chicken (as the name might suggest) is cooked in a large, cylindrical clay oven called a tandoor, but I don’t own one, so I cooked my chicken on the grill instead (with the blessing of Monica’s recipe, of course). After letting cool and seasoning with lime and salt, the dish was ready to eat, but there was something missing…
In order to complement my tandoori chicken, I also made a side of saag-inspired spinach and a bit of spiced rice, plus a mango lassi shake! Saag is traditionally a dish of sautéed leafy greens (made in a stovetop skillet) featuring most of the same spices from the tandoori chicken, often featuring paneer (an Indian cheese) in Punjabi variations. I did not blend my saag down to the traditional consistency, instead sautéeing the spinach leaves whole. For my rice, I simply added two cups of basmati rice to a rice cooker, followed by a sprinkling in of crushed garlic, cardamom pods, and turmeric powder (also to give it that nice yellow color). For the mango lassi shake, I simply blended together mango, milk, ice, yogurt, and honey—what resulted was a delicious mango-flavored drink with a consistency somewhere between a milkshake and a slushy.
Tandoori chicken finds its cultural origins in the ruins of Harappa, where researchers found a cylindrical oven that looks remarkably similar to the modern-day tandoor. The tandoori cooking method has been preserved throughout the intervening millenia, but it was not until the mid-20th century that the proprietors of Moti Mahal restaurant in Peshawar settled on the general recipe we know today. The story goes that following the partition in 1947, Moti Mahal moved to Delhi, where the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, fell so in love with the dish that his patronage catapulted tandoori chicken to national and international prominence. The history of mango lassi can trace a similar sort of history: ancient Punjabi roots and recent revitalization. Mango lassi is a particularly popular flavor, but lassi has also served as a traditional vehicle for other flavors, notably the consumption of bhang, which is a traditional preparation of edible cannabis.
All in all, it was an absolute treat to cook using authentic Indian spices and culinary techniques from the comfort of my own kitchen. The meal that I assembled worked together in a fantastic symphony of flavors: the sweetness of the mango lassi shake balanced out the spiciness of the chicken, while the rice and spinach provided a hearty base. I look forward to making these dishes again soon and continuing to explore Punjabi and Indian cuisine!
Sawhney, M. (2020, May 30). Tandoori Chicken & Mango Lassi Shake. Retrieved June 29, 2020, from http://spicediary.com/2020/05/tandoori-chicken-mango-lassi-shake/
The Times of India. (2020, April 17). The History of Tandoori Chicken: Infographics – Times of India. Retrieved June 29, 2020, from https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/food-news/the-history-of-tandoori-chicken-infographics/articleshow/75203860.cms
Fiegl, A. (2010, July 01). What’s a Lassi? Retrieved June 29, 2020, from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/whats-a-lassi-92519178/