This Masala chicken is crunchy, spicy – and ready in 30 minutes

FAST AND FLAVORFUL: Masala Chicken is among the simplest main dishes featured in "Chetna's 30 Minute Indian," the latest cookbook from Chetna Makan. Scott Suchman/For The Washington Post

When a cookbook or food website claims to offer quick-to-make, delicious dishes, I always have hope in my heart tinged with trepidation as I dive into the recipes. Too often we have to sacrifice flavor if we want it fast.

In her latest cookbook, "Chetna's 30 Minute Indian" (Mitchell Beazley, 2021), Chetna Makan delivers on the title's promise. The book grew out of her time during the pandemic lockdown when she shared a recipe each day with her fans on YouTube and Instagram. While she embraced long, involved recipes that are great for lazy weekends, she got a lot of feedback from folks who wanted "ease and speed."

So, she shifted gears and her fifth cookbook grew out of that effort.

"I have tried to keep the deliciousness of these recipes intact, specially devising then repeatedly testing them to cut down on the time involved but not the flavor," writes Makan, who was a semifinalist on "The Great British Bake-Off" in 2014 and won a holiday version of the series in 2016.

The recipes include main dishes as well as snacks, sides and breads. She also offers ideas for how to mix and match the recipes to create meal plans, which I appreciated. She recommends serving her simple, cool cucumber raita with this chicken dish, for example.

She acknowledges that while each of the more than 80 dishes in her latest cookbook can be made in 30 minutes, most require an action-packed half-hour of chopping, stirring and cooking.

The recipe featured here, however, is among the simplest main dishes in the book. She toasts chickpea flour in a skillet and then mixes it with aromatic spices and yogurt. That mixture is tossed with boneless, skinless chicken pieces until well coated. The pieces are then pan-fried in just a bit of oil until a golden, crunchy crust forms on the outside.

Makan writes that after she developed this recipe, she couldn't stop making it. I felt the same way. If you love well-seasoned fried chicken, give it a try.

The dish is habit-forming with the spices Makan recommends, but I experimented a bit and discovered that the preparation is tasty with variations as well.

Try it using bone-in chicken thighs if you have a bit more time, and substitute your favorite dry spices – a combination of dried basil, oregano, parsley and thyme with a bit of garlic and onion powder was terrific – or just use a favorite spice blend. (Don't want to fry? You can bake the chicken in a 375-degree oven in a lightly greased baking dish for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until cooked through with an internal temperature of 165 degrees.)

Makan recommends serving it with your favorite chutney and either white rice or naan.

Masala Chicken

Adapted from "Chetna's 30 Minute Indian" (Mitchell Beazley, 2021).

30 minutes

4 servings

Chetna Makan says that after she developed this recipe, she couldn't stop eating it. We know why. The crispy, well-seasoned exterior gives way to the juicy chicken inside. This will be best if made with the recommended spices, but, we do offer substitutions. Or, try this same preparation, but substitute some of your favorite dry spices or a favorite spice blend. Serve with your favorite chutney (Makan recommends a ginger-chili chutney), and with white or brown rice or naan.

Storage notes: Leftover chicken can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. To reheat, place in a 350-degree oven or toaster oven for about 10 minutes or until heated through.

Where to buy: Kashmiri chili powder, dried fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi), black salt, garam masala and ginger-chili chutney can be found at Indian markets and online.

Note: If you can't find Kashmiri chili powder, use 3/4 teaspoon smoked paprika and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper. If you cannot find dried fenugreek, substitute ground yellow mustard or a teaspoon of Dijon mustard. Fine sea salt or table salt can be substituted for black salt. You can make your own garam masala.


1/4 cup (1 ounce) chickpea flour (may substitute all-purpose)

1/4 cup plain yogurt

1/2 teaspoon black salt (see Note)

1 teaspoon Kashmiri chili powder (see Note)

1 teaspoon dried fenugreek (See Note)

1/2 teaspoon garam masala (See Note)

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

4 to 6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 2-inch pieces (about 1 1/4 pounds total)

3 tablespoons sunflower or vegetable oil

Ginger-chili chutney (optional)

Cooked white or brown rice, for serving (optional)

Naan or flatbreads, for serving (optional)


In a large cast-iron or nonstick skillet over low heat, toast the chickpea flour and stir constantly until it starts to darken, about 2 minutes. Transfer the toasted flour to a large bowl and carefully wipe the pan clean.

To the bowl containing the flour, add the yogurt, salt, chili powder, fenugreek, garam masala and cumin and stir until well combined to form a thick sauce. Add the chicken pieces and toss until well coated.

In a skillet over medium heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the chicken pieces in a single layer – it's OK if some pieces are touching. Cook, undisturbed, for 4 to 5 minutes, until the chicken turns brown and crisp. Watch carefully and reduce the heat if the chicken starts to burn. Flip the pieces and continue cooking until the chicken is golden on all sides and cooked through to an internal temperature of 165 degrees, 3 to 5 minutes. Thicker pieces of chicken may take a bit longer. Serve with chutney and rice or naan, if using.

Nutrition per serving (1 chicken thigh) | Calories: 302; Total Fat: 17 g; Saturated Fat: 3 g; Cholesterol: 120 mg; Sodium: 442 mg; Carbohydrates: 6 g; Dietary Fiber: 1 g; Sugar: 2 g; Protein: 30 g

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian's or nutritionist's advice.


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