As much as I love to cook, I hate to cook every night of the week. Some nights I’m too cranky or tired or distracted to cook. We’ve all been there. We all know we should peel ourselves off the couch, get off our phones and do something with the vegetables slowly wilting in the fridge. Some nights we do just that, making ourselves feel like accomplished and mature human beings. Other nights we scoff a handful of roasted peanuts, pop some bread in the toaster, or stand at the fridge spooning leftover raspberry jelly straight from the bowl. It’s not classy, but that’s real life.
I’m terrible at meal-planning. When I do cook mid-week it goes something like this: peer into the fridge, see what vegetables need using up, try to identify some sort of relevant (and available, i.e. not frozen) protein, steam/roast/stir-fry together and try to get it on my plate within 30 minutes and provide enough leftovers to eat at work the next day. Inevitably, I churn out a million variations on the same 10 basic recipes that I’ve been cooking for years. This is 100% OK because it’s generally tasty, healthy, thrifty and efficient, which is exactly what I want in my mid-week meals. But…it can also be a little boring.
I blame my reduced wine consumption for this situation. Pouring a glass of red used to be my signal to get creative in the kitchen nearly every night. Like Pavlov’s dog, that first sip of elixir got my juices flowing and I would haul out a recipe book. I used to sip and chop and sip some more, churning out roast chicken, complicated curries and beef stew – mid-week! I thought nothing of eating at 9pm or later. I can hardly comprehend that now.
I’m telling you all of this so that you understand that this recipe – Oven-Roasted Chicken Tikka with Sweet Potatoes & Cauliflower – is completely achievable in anyone’s mid-week life. I have a pretty well-stocked spice rack, so the only pre-planning that I had to do was to add fresh green chilli to the weekly shopping list and remember to get the chicken breasts out of the freezer the night before. I admit that it does look like a long list of ingredients, but the recipe is very forgiving. If you’re missing two or three of the spices, then just leave them out and maybe bump up the ones you do have a little. Same with the vegetables – replace what I’ve suggested with whatever you have that is suitable for roasting. Ignore the optional finishings if you don’t have the time or inclination. This recipe might be a long way from traditional Chicken Tikka Masala, but it’s a reinterpretation that works for my schedule.
The most time-consuming part is preparing the ginger and garlic. You can chop these finely before mixing with the spices, but I find that it is quicker to bash them about in a mortar and pestle (and I’m sure that this improves the flavour too). Once you’ve coated the chicken with the yoghurt and spices, set them aside while you prepare the vegetables, then throw it all on a baking tray and roast until cooked. The resulting meal is so colourful and tasty that you will make yourself proud. Aaaaand if you should happen to find yourself pouring cereal into a bowl tomorrow night, well, at least you can comfort yourself with the memory of that time you achieved mid-week Chicken Tikka (without the aid of wine, no less).
Oven-Roasted Chicken Tikka with Sweet Potatoes & Cauliflower
For the chicken:
2cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
4 cloves of garlic
1 fresh green chilli, sliced
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp ground chilli powder
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp ground cumin
3/4 tsp sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup yogurt
4 chicken breasts or the equivalent weight of chicken thighs or drumsticks
For the vegetables:
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2cm chunks
1 small or half a large head cauliflower, cut into 2cm-wide florets
1 red capsicum, seeded and cut into 2cm-wide chunks
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
1/4 tsp salt
To finish (optional):
A few thin slices of red onion
Pinch of salt
Roughly chopped parsley or coriander
Using a mortar and pestle, pound the ginger, garlic and fresh chilli with the salt, sugar and ground spices until the mixture becomes a smooth paste. Transfer the paste to a medium bowl and stir in the yoghurt. Add the chicken breasts or pieces and coat the chicken with the thick paste. Cover and leave to marinate for 15 minutes, or (in the fridge) up to one day.
Remove the chicken from the fridge about 30 minutes before you wish to cook it so that it comes to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 220°C / 425°F. Line a large baking tray with aluminium foil and coat with 1 Tbsp of the olive oil. Prepare the sweet potatoes, capsicum, cauliflower, salt, cumin seeds and mustard seeds and add them to the pan along with the remaining 2 Tbsp oil. Toss together until the vegetables are evenly coated with oil and spices.
Remove the chicken from the bowl and nestle the pieces between the vegetables. Place the tray in the oven and bake for 20 minutes, then toss the vegetables to ensure they are cooking evenly. Return the tray to the oven for 10-20 minutes more (i.e. 30-40 minutes total roasting time), until the chicken and vegetables are cooked.
While the dish bakes, prepare some lightly pickled onion by placing the slices of onion in a small bowl. Sprinkle with a little salt and the juice of half a lemon. Ensure that all of the onion is coated in the salty lemon and set aside to cure. When the chicken and vegetables are cooked, top with the pickled onion rings and chopped fresh parsley. Eat with yoghurt and a spritz of lemon.