As a big fan of the Food Network and an even bigger fan of Bobby Flay, I have seen Tikka Masala made and mentioned countless times. This Indian Food Culture assignment was the perfect opportunity to bring inspiration from the Iron Chefs and Indian cuisine into my own kitchen with a slight twist of using tofu instead of chicken. Which considering tofu doesn’t carry much flavor within itself it created a great vehicle for testing out these new Indian spices and is just another substitute for chicken similar to paneer but in this case tofu allows for this recipe to be lactose free and gluten free!
Tikka Masala is a modern day Indian dish that finds its place in Indian history by returning to the Mughal Empire. The great Mughal emperor Ashoka created his infamous edicts to enforce the idea of religious nonviolence attitudes, this including banning the needless killing of animals (including chickens). Simply by substituting the chicken (the meat often used in Tikka Masala) with tofu, Tikka Masala is easily a vegetarian-friendly dish that would’ve been beloved by the Indian people of the 200 BCEs.
However, the true history of Tikka Masala finds its origin in the 1950’s – 1970’s when a customer complaint inspired chef Ali Ahmed Aslam to use a tomato sauce (similar to curry) in response to the chicken being too dry. This addition immediately became popular and quickly spread as a new staple of Indian cuisine. The chicken dish being adapted to “Tikka Masala,” “masala” representing the flavorful curry paste added to the “tikka” which represented the yogurt marinated chicken.
Breakdown of Spices Used:
Garam Masala – used in marinade
“Garam Masala” translates to “hot spice mix.” This spice mixture includes: black pepper, cumin, clove, cardamon, and cinnamon. It originated in Northern India and gets hotter in flavor as it spread South.
Kashmiri Chiles/ Kashmiri Red Chili Powder – used in marinade and curry
These chiles are usually dried and come with mild heat. They are known for the vibrant red hue they add to Indian dishes. The Kashmiri Chili was introduced to Indian cuisine in the 1500s by Portuguese traders. These chiles are also used to create the red chili powder common to a wide variety of Indian dishes such as Bhaji or curries. It is similar to the cayenne pepper and since the heat is so mild it is sometimes used for color and is a staple in an Indian kitchen.
Cumin seeds – used in curry
Cumin seeds originate from Syria (around 200 BCE) to East India but are majorly used in India today. They are dried fruit seeds that bring minimal flavor but develop a wonderful smell in the kitchen. Cumin seeds also have been carried in tradition, during travels or wedding ceremonies, to symbolize faithfulness and also was believed to keep chickens from wandering off (I found this comical because traditional Tikka Masala uses chicken).
By cooking Tofu Tikka Masala I was surprised at the sweetness of this Indian dish. It was reminiscent of pumpkin pie with a slight after kick of heat. Since I am lactose intolerant which meant using lactose free yogurt and almond cream as mild adjustments to this recipe, I believe this created a dish slightly sweeter in taste than typically served. I was fond of the wonderful aroma this brought to my apartment and would love to try this again. I also learned from researching the spices and other Indian dishes that many ingredients are used again and again. For example, garam masala contains cinnamon but the curry recipe used a cinnamon stick; cumin seeds are also used to make garam masala. I think this signifies the unity of flavors that creates the strong food culture known to India.
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