Illustration by Andrea Nebhut
This past weekend, I had the absolute privilege to discover that, according to her new album, Lana Del Rey is a self-proclaimed Cinnamon Girl. I believe the difference between someone learning to cook and someone pretending to know how to cook to flex for their school newspaper is a well-stocked spice cabinet, and I’m sure, once Lana reads this column, she would agree as well.
Growing up, my mom would dedicate a full cupboard’s worth of space for all of her spices. There were corners for whole spices: cardamom, cloves, star anises, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, two different types of mustard seeds and multiple types of dried, whole chilies. Another shelf consisted of small quantities of items rarely ever used, saffron and hing, known as asafoetida, displayed like trophies.
When Trinity finally released their grasp on me this summer and allowed off-campus housing after I paid my three-year sentence, I was excited at the prospect of finally having a kitchen to myself. My mom pulled out an old spice rack carousel, still labeled with the names of the spices that once resided in it, many moons ago. These were American spices someone probably gifted once, rarely used in my house and promptly tossed out once they expired. My mom set out to fill these empty shells. Herbs de Provence became garam masala, rosemary became turmeric and thyme became Kashmiri chili powder. It was with this inaccurately labeled spice starter kit that I went off into my new apartment, dreams to eventually build up to my own spice cabinet one day.
Like I mentioned in my last recipe, social media cooking was just kicking off when I was in high school. In the back of fifth-period Anatomy, my friend and I would watch Snapchat stories from Tastemade and The Food Network, mouths watering at the recipe videos we would never make while sharing a bag of Cheetos. It was one of these days that I first watched Vijaya Selvaraju, an Indian-American Tastemade content creator that shared recipes from her childhood while also offering an “American twist” on them.
Last year, Priya Krishna started appearing on food channel Bon Appetit, making recipes from her cookbook, “Indian-ish.” In an article for Refinery29, Krishna talks about her roti pizza, which was born out of compromise between Indian and American cuisines. This immediately brought memories of my childhood and my mom’s attempt at roti quesadillas. It was while watching these Indian-American food creators that I realized that I was craving representation in the celebrity food world.
With the boom of internet food content, there was plenty of Indian and American food, but what about those of us stuck in the middle? I craved to see more representation of the Indian food diaspora. It wasn’t until Vijaya showed me kebab corn dogs and Priya talked about her mom giving her a spices starter kit when she first moved away from home that I realized Indian food diaspora representation was something I didn’t even know I was missing.
In this recipe, I make full use of my growing spice cabinet and tweaked Indian recipes to present something I make often. As a busy college kid, quick meals are always the most beneficial, and prepping a bunch of chicken before the week starts guarantees many different meals throughout the week so you won’t get tired of eating the same thing. Grill these on a skillet or bake, and you can put them in salads or tacos or you layer them with rice in a pot to make a cheat biryani!
Indian-Inspired Chicken Marinade
- 1 lb chicken breast tenders
- ½ lime
- 2 tbsp ghee
- ½ medium-sized onion, diced
- 5 oz full-fat plain Greek yogurt
- 1 tbsp ginger
- 2 tbsp garlic
- 1 Jalapeño
- 2 small Thai chili peppers
- ¼ tsp cayenne
- ¼ tsp turmeric
- ¾ tsp garam masala
Salt to taste
Massage the chicken tenders and flatten them out a little bit more. You can skip this step, but I’m not a fan of thicker pieces of chicken, so it’s essential for me. Cut a few shallow cuts into both sides of the chicken. Set aside in a bowl.
Heat your ghee (or oil) in a non-stick skillet on medium–high heat.
Throw in your diced onions and cook until they’re soft and translucent.
Add into a food processor with your other wet ingredients and about 2 tbsp olive oil.
Once your wet ingredients are a fine paste, add your spices.
Mix it all into the chicken and massage it in for about five minutes, making sure every part of the chicken is well coated.
Cover and refrigerate at least 3 hours, or overnight.
Notes: Use chicken breast tenders because they’re cheap and healthy.
I prefer to use ghee because it’s common in Indian cooking, and it has a higher smoke point compared to butter and a nutty flavour and aroma. However, it’s pricy and not easily available, so olive oil is a perfectly acceptable substitute.
I recommend buying the single containers of yogurt and using about ⅔ of it.
Refer to my last recipe for my thoughts on Thai chili peppers.
Use more cilantro stems along with the leaves for this recipe. They’re not used much but deserve more love and work perfectly great in marinades.
OPTIONAL: Roast the jalapeño for a minute on an open flame to get a nice char and flavor before adding it in.