Chicken with Tomatoes and Garam Masala

March 20, 2011 · 5 comments

Inspired by trips to India, I used to make elaborate Indian dinners — back in my single, childless days.  I would research recipes and shop for ingredients during the week and spend a full Saturday cooking a series of elaborate dishes for my dinner guests.  It was great fun, and I learned a lot, but now –at least on most days– just thinking about that kind of entertaining is enough to wear me out.  I’ve missed the transporting aromas and big, exotic flavors of Indian cooking, though, and so lately I’ve set out to find delicious Indian dishes that I can pull off quickly, even on a weeknight.

This is one has become a family favorite.  The dish is quick.  The total cooking time is about 45 minutes, and the active work time is only about 15 minutes, but the rich, complex, gently spiced flavor tastes like you’ve stood over a pot for hours.  There’s also a minimum of tedious prep:  the chicken goes in the pot unbrowned, and there are only some onions and garlic to chop, and a food processor makes quick work of that.

You could build an Indian dinner around this dish (adding, say a rice dish, a lentil dish and a fresh vegetable dish), but it’s equally good as the star of a simpler show –served with plain rice or potatoes to soak up the exquisite sauce and a simple green vegetable or salad.

A note on garam masala.  Garam masala is a wonderfully aromatic Indian spice blend that varies from region to region and kitchen to kitchen, but generally the key ingredients are cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, cloves, black pepper and nutmeg.  You can make your own (there are many many recipes available online), but many store-bought blends are excellent as well, especially if they’re from a good spice source such as that doesn’t skimp on the more expensive ingredients.  (For years I made my own, but lately I’ve found that the Kalustyan’s garam masala is far more interesting than anything I’ve yet accomplished on my own.)


(adapted from Indian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey, serves 4)


5 tablespoons vegetable oil

3/4 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 cinnamon stick

6 cardamom pods

2 bay leaves

1/4 teaspoon peppercorns

2 medium onions, finely chopped

6-7 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 inch cube of fresh ginger, finely chopped

28 oz canned diced tomatoes, or about 6 medium tomatoes, chopped

About 3 pounds (1.3 kg) chicken pieces, skinned

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste

1/8 – 1/2 cayenne pepper, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon garam masala


1.  Warm a wide, heavy pot over medium-high heat for about a minute; add the oil and warm for another minute.  Add the cumin seeds, cinnamon, cardamom pods, bay leaves and pepper corns.  Stir once.

2.  Add the onions, garlic and ginger to the pot.  Stir occasionally until a deep golden brown (about 5 minutes).

3.  Add the tomatoes and chicken pieces, salt and cayenne pepper.  Give the pot a good stir and bring the liquid to the boil.

4.  Cover with a tight fitting lid and reduce the heat to low.  Simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the chicken is done through and tender.  (Stir the pot a few times during the cooking period, if you can.)

5.  Remove the cover and turn the heat up to medium.  Stir in the garam masala and cook for about 5 minutes until the sauce is somewhat thickened.  Taste the sauce and add salt if needed.

Serve with rice or potatoes and a green vegetable of your choice for a satisfying dinner, or with bread and a simple green salad for a special lunch.  This dish also keeps well in the refrigerator for several days — just reheat it on the stove for a few minutes before serving.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Nick UK March 21, 2011 at 4:54 am

Thank you for reminding me about garam masala, when I was a student I used to add it to baked beans to improve the flavour. I havn’t used it for over 25 years but will add some to the shopping list and try this recipe.

Brian March 21, 2011 at 9:06 am

Looks great! Can’t wait to try this one! Have you ever found a good recipe for naan or butter chicken?

cnordquist March 21, 2011 at 9:37 am

Thanks, Brian. I’m looking at some butter chicken recipes to try soon. So far my naan attempts have been pretty lame — have you had any luck without a proper tandoor oven? DD

Brian March 21, 2011 at 12:34 pm

No, I haven’t had any luck with homemade naan either. The best pre-made naan I’ve found is made by the 365 brand at Whole Foods. When I make Indian food, I usually make sure to pick up a package of it. I brush it with melted butter and warm it in the oven at 200 degrees while the rest of the meal is cooking.

yumzilicious October 3, 2012 at 6:29 pm

Hi! I just came across and your blog and I love it! About the naan, I’ve had excellent results with a pizza stone preheated for about an hour in the oven at 500 deg F. The naans cook in about 7-10 minutes. Try it sometime 🙂

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