Makhani Me Crazy

by Sarah on September 8, 2011 · 8 comments

I’ve been talking about my strange obsession with all flavors Indian lately (although we know the whole chai spice addiction has been going on for awhile), so it probably should come as no surprise that when I was faced with leftover chicken from my successful roast last week……the only thing I wanted to make was Indian Butter Chicken.Also called Chicken Makhani (hence the post title), Butter Chicken is a dish of chicken covered in a tomato-cream sauce that was actually the first memorable foray into Indian food that I had. My stepmom travels to India for work quite often, and one Christmas she recreated the dish for us to enjoy with big pieces of oven-warmed naan. Since then, I’ve made Butter Chicken just once (pre-blog), but last Friday I developed this insatiable need to come home immediately after work and make it. I thought about it all day,* and would not be stopped…even though we were supposed to go out for Indian food for my roommate’s birthday.

*Literally. You can ask the other Foodies.

The reason I had enough time to make an entire dish in less than an hour (with photography!) was because it’s incredibly easy to make.* Well, my “fake-out, American-ized Smart Kitchen version” of Chicken Makhani is easy at least. [I’ve never actually had the “real” thing, so I wouldn’t know about that. :)]
*Also, the chicken was already cooked…but that’s beside the point.

Guess what? To make a dish called Butter Chicken, you need to use….butter.The irony (although maybe the Alanis Morisette kind, rather than literary) is that for a dish with butter in the title, you only need to use a few tablespoons. I, of course, had to healthify everything…so I just used one little pat of butter, melted down in the pan.
Chop a small onion (to get one cup of chopped onion)…

…..and finely mince about 2 inches of fresh ginger, mincing and crushing it until you get as close to a paste as you can. [But y’all know how lazy I am, so you can be lazy, too.]Put onions, ginger, and garlic (which I forgot, but you are supposed to use…) into the melted butter and allowed the onions to soften and become a bit translucent.Then…spice time! I used 1 teaspoon each of garam masala, chili powder, ground cumin, and ground fenugreek.Stir that up and let the spices infuse the onions and make your kitchen smell all delicious.*
*This was the point that my roommate said, “Why does it smell like the food we are supposed to be going OUT to eat?” To which I responded, “Sometimes, a girl’s just gotta cook.”^
^And save money?Next, it’s time for tomatoes! Having spent more time than is probably considered normal studying the back of tomato cans, I have determined many things, most importantly for this recipe that “crushed tomatoes” are really just “tomato puree” (which people only want to sell me in giant 29-oz. cans) mixed with “diced tomatoes” (which wouldn’t have enough sauciness for this recipe).In other words, crushed tomatoes are the best of both worlds.* [I like sauces with texture…you could substitute puree if you like.]
*If you’re wondering about tomato sauce, well that’s just tomato puree with spices and water.
This is normally where Chicken Makhani recipes call for heavy cream, yogurt, butter, or some combination of all three. My genius solution? Use buttermilk for Butter Chicken!
Seriously, though…it has the tang of yogurt, the creaminess of a heavier cream…and it has the word butter in it, like butter.It worked out quite nicely. (Unlike my photography in the above picture.)*
*In case you are wondering, yes, I did carry the pan back and forth to the window in between every step. This is only slightly better than the tactic I had in Virginia of going outside on the porch throughout the cooking process.
Stir in two cups of shredded (or diced, if that’s your thing) cooked chicken……and essentially you are done! [I mean finished. As Mama Smart used to say, “Only turkeys are done.” I would make a case that cookies, cakes, and other baked items are also ‘done’….but I digress.]
Let that simmer for a bit (about 10 minutes or so) to help the flavors infuse the chicken and the sauce. [In fact, I would recommend making the sauce the day before—if you can think that far ahead, or happen to be making this prior to your previously scheduled dinner plans, like I did–letting the sauce cool, and then stirring in the chicken…reheating them together the next day.]
Traditionally, I imagine this would be served with rice and naan. Because I fail when it comes to rice and naan, I chose spinach…

…and whole wheat tortillas.
I did say this was the American-ized (or perhaps just Texan-ize?) healthy, Smart Kitchen, lazy chef version of this dish, didn’t I?One I’ve never actually eaten, of course. But regardless of how close it is to the “real” Butter Chicken…it’s pretty darn amazing.

Indian Butter Chicken
(Chicken Makhani)
Serves 2

1 tbsp. butter
1 cup diced sweet onion
2 Tbsp. finely minced ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced (optional)

1 tsp. garam masala
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. ground fenugreek
1/4 tsp. salt

1 14.5-oz container fire-roasted crushed tomatoes
2 Tbsp. lemon juice (yield from 1/2 lemon)
3/4 cup 1% low-fat buttermilk

2 cups cooked boneless, skinless chicken breast, shredded or chopped
1 cup frozen green peas, thawed (optional)

1. Melt butter over medium heat into large frying pan or skillet.
2. Add onions, ginger, and garlic to the pan. Saute until onions are beginning to soften and become translucent.
3. Add spices to the onions, stirring well to combine. Cook 2-3 minutes until very fragrant.
4. Pour in tomatoes and squeeze in lemon juice. Bring to a simmer.
5. Stir in buttermilk.
6. Add chicken and peas (if using), mixing well to coat.
7. Simmer for 10-15 minutes before serving over rice [or spinach :)].


Many recipes call for crushed cashews or green peas to be added to the dish (either in, or on).If you choose that route, you might also like to serve this with some crushed pappadums (or my American-ized equivalent, Pita Bites)?Of course, there’s always Garam Masala-spiced popcorn, too! :)

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Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table September 8, 2011 at 7:54 am

Your roommates still wanted to go out after seeing this deliciousness?! Love this recipe, my Indian wave-length friend. :)

Lindsay @ The Lean Green Bean September 8, 2011 at 9:30 am

girl you NEED some frozen naan in your freezer. this looks great! as you know, we are lovers of all things indian around here!

Sara September 8, 2011 at 10:38 am

Oh my. I really need to get my butt back in the kitchen! For the past 2 weeks we've been eating freezer meals or my husband has "cooked." So, basically we've been eating lots of sandwiches and hot pockets, haha. This recipe looks delicious!

Tricia @ Saving room for dessert September 8, 2011 at 10:49 am

Never thought about using Buttermilk – but bet it was perfect! My husband LOVES buttermilk (or buttmilk as I call it). I knew we'd see that chicken again :)

Tiff @ Love Sweat and Beers September 8, 2011 at 12:58 pm

That looks so awesome. The hubs and I would both really love that. He's always asking me to cook more Indian food!

Brittany (A Healthy Slice of Life) September 8, 2011 at 5:16 pm

Oh, yes please- yum! Can you send me some with the popcorn on top? :)

Short Order September 8, 2011 at 5:47 pm

That looks awesome! Buttermilk…yum!

teabagginit September 9, 2011 at 12:14 am

Tell mama smart that Paris Hilton is "done," too. Oh, I'm bad! I love the idea of this recipe but won't be making it. I had an ex that loved makhani & now it's got bad associations (like food that gave you food poisoning).

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