Learning Indian – Visiting India Via Your Kitchen


I’ve arrived at most things and events in my life instinctually. Although I travel and constantly discover, I am in fact always “living Indian”, even though it morphs every decade or so!

Subconsciously cooking and food seem to be at the crux of it all. Growing up in India, my family was definitely middle class. Food was always very important in our lives. Ingredients were bought daily. I remember the vegetable vendor came to our door; the milk was bought every morning and so was the meat. Although always central to the home, I must admit I never showed much interest in cooking in those early years.

They say destiny intervenes with children, and so it was when I started a family of my own in Toronto, Canada. I first began to cook regularly at home for my children, almost fanatically and not very well, I must admit. They will attest to this – my zeal for creativity and refusal to feed them anything processed resulted in the culinary juxtaposition of scrambled eggs with bananas; my son to this day abhors bananas! Cooking for my sons taught me a lot. My initial dishes were very simple. I had no cooking experience. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t cook Indian – when one begins to learn to cook Indian food, it is possible, if not preferable, to cook simply with fresh ingredients and a few of the right spices. Trial and error is a given, a necessary part of the process. Sometimes for no apparent reason I would produce a fantastic meal. And then, when I attempted to repeat my success and seemingly took care of all the steps, the result was mediocre.

I continued to experiment, with constant calls to my mother for help. Ingredients were hard to come by in Canada back then though I notice now that most grocery stores will stock more exotic ingredients and there are many ethnic stores scattered throughout most cities

Life seems to have evolved like my very first chicken curry dish. The first one I made was insipid and made from memory according to what I thought I remembered my mother doing. Of course it wasn’t what she did at all. I called her to tell her of my bland results and learned that small steps – cooking the spices slowly, waiting for the dish to release flavours before adding the meat – are important.

Like life, that recipe has changed many times as I learned different things. I consider it now complete, perfect in its way – though it still can change depending on what is available where and when I cook it. This is a wonderful aspect to Indian cuisine – you can adapt it once you learn some of the basic techniques, like pampering your spices so they open and release all their goodness. Whenever I lose confidence, I think of how this dish began compared to how it is now: the infallible, crowd-pleasing champion of my cooking repertoire.

Here is my recipe – try it, and don’t be afraid to make it your own.



1 lb tandoori chicken – cut in pieces (about 4 full breasts)

½ cup mixture of oil & clarified butter

½ litre (container) whipping cream

1 tbsp ground/finely chopped ginger

1 medium onion – diced

1 tsp hot red pepper

½ tsp turmeric

2 tbsp tomato paste

1tsp salt or to taste

1tsp garam masala

Fresh coriander & green chilies to garnish


Prepare tandoori chicken: Marinate chicken in tandoori masala for at least 3 hours and grill about 20 minutes in oven or on a barbecue until done.

In heavy bottomed pan heat oil/ghee mixture. When a drop of water sputters as dropped, add onion and ginger. Stir until onion is translucent and light brown. Add hot pepper, turmeric, salt and garam masala. Cook, stirring for about a minute and add the green chillies, tomato paste with a little water to prevent sticking to the bottom. Add cream, turn down the heat & cook until oil separates. Add chicken and cook for about 10 minutes on low heat until flavour seeps. Serve hot, garnished with coriander.

– by Ronica Sajnani

Ronica is an actress and a chef whose cooking series The Veggie Table (OMNI TV) is syndicated internationally. She is currently living in Buenos Aires, Argentina where she is learning the tango and teaching Indian cooking.