I once confessed that, as a lover of wordplay, I am drawn to every recipe I see whose name substitutes "chickpeas" for "chicken". When I recently ran into chickpea tikka masala, I had to try it, even though I knew the "tikka" part of the name doesn't quite translate. (It means "pieces", and refers to the chunks of chicken in the original dish.)
It's a loose interpretation, to be sure, from Kathryne Taylor's Love Real Food. Besides swapping in those chickpeas, she skips the cream in the sauce and uses coconut milk – like chickpeas, a beloved ingredient in India.
Unlike the British-Indian dish, which requires marinating chicken in yoghurt and spices and roasting it before adding it to the sauce, her version has you throw canned chickpeas right into the liquid. (It might seem similar to chana masala, arguably India's most popular vegetarian dish, but that curry has much more of a kick from fresh chillies, a tang from dried mango powder, and not even a lick of cream or cream substitute.)
Is it heresy to strip a traditional dish of so many essentials? I don't think so, especially in this case, because chicken tikka masala, according to most sources, is itself a loose British interpretation of an Indian favourite. Accounts vary, but in the famous 2001 speech in which he declared it "a British national dish", former foreign secretary Robin Cook said the masala sauce was added to India's chicken tikka "to satisfy the desire of British people to have their meat served in gravy".
For those of us who desire nothing more than an easy, quick, spicy, satisfying, plant-based curry, tradition can give a little. And so can the name.
Chickpea tikka masala
This vegan take on the British-Indian staple of chicken tikka masala uses coconut milk instead of cream. Adapted from Love Real Food by Kathryne Taylor.
795g no-salt-added whole or diced tomatoes, with their juices
3 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1½ cups)
½ tsp fine sea salt, plus more as needed
3 tsp peeled, finely grated fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic, crushed
3 tsp garam masala (see note)
⅛ tsp ground cayenne pepper (optional)
425g no-salt-added canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained
3/4 cup canned coconut milk (regular or low-fat)
1/2 cup chopped fresh coriander, plus extra for garnish
Cooked basmati rice, for serving
1. Pour the tomatoes into a blender or food processor and puree until smooth.
2. Heat the oil in a large skillet or casserole dish over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the onion and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and translucent, about five to seven minutes.
3. Add the ginger and garlic and cook until fragrant, about one minute. Add the garam masala and cayenne, if using, and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the pureed tomatoes, chickpeas, coconut milk and the half cup of chopped coriander. Taste, and add more salt if needed.
4. Increase the heat to medium-high; once the mixture begins bubbling around the edges, reduce the heat to low to maintain a gentle bubbling. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens and the flavours meld, about 20 minutes.
5. To serve, spoon the rice into individual bowls and top with the chickpea masala. Sprinkle with more chopped coriander.
Serves 4 to 6 (makes about 5 cups)
Note: If you can't find garam masala, you can substitute this spice blend:
1½ tsp ground coriander
¾ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp ground turmeric
⅛ tsp ground cardamom
⅛ tsp ground black pepper
⅛ tsp ground cloves
⅛ tsp ground cinnamon
Or try Karen Martini's recipe.
The Washington Post