In Hamlet, Act 1, Scene III, William Shakespeare gives Polonius the lines:
“This above all: to thine own self be true
And it must follow, as the night the day
Thou canst not then be false to any man/Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!”
This means, simply, be honest with yourself, and do the right thing. By doing so you will be seen to be ‘true’.
It’s a good maxim to live by. And increasingly so in this topsy-turvy world of ours where all the other certainties are eroded daily – let’s not follow the classic Shakespearean plot and either kill each other or die miserably. That would be too boring.
Food, like life, is a precious thing. Throw it away, disrespect it, adulterate it … and you do that to yourself ultimately.
Food is a great metaphor or conduit for some of the larger questions in life.
The act of making food is an act of both destruction, and creation. The blend of ingredients comes with a story, a past and a present state, and one that has yet to be. Where and how you buy your food has impacts on the world around you, and the welfare of communities elsewhere.
For me, making good food is about respecting myself and the people around me. It’s an act of love, given without judgement or expectation.
Oh that life could be so pure however!
I do shop at supermarkets, but I also try to shop at local stores and markets, especially for fresh ingredients. For a £1 you can usually get a whole scoop of garlic bulbs, fresh singer, tomatoes, and veg of all kinds. £5 and you could feed a family of four for a week! But sometimes in the whirl of life’s storms you have to compromise. Today whilst rushing about I bought some free range, organic, chicken thigh fillets. A quick tandoori style chicken dish came to mind. I haven’t made it yet, the time isn’t there, but I will soon. If you’d prefer, you can always substitute a firm fleshed fish for the chicken, just ask your fishmonger.
In case you’re wondering, a tandoor is a style of oven commonly used across Turkey, Central Asia and India. Originally made from earthenware, it was used to bake or roast pretty much everything. Nowadays, a grill or oven works just fine.
This dish is inspired by Indian food, but it isn’t actually an Indian dish, though the techniques and flavours are unapologetically so.
Is it original? Probably not. Someone, somewhere will have made something similar, but this is my take on it. The way the Chicken is treated is inspired by watching my mother make Tandoori Chicken, though even with a well developed taste memory I can’t quite match the flavours to hers, and it’s too late to ask now. Close, but not quite. That’s the magic of food I guess.
So, here goes …
Tandoori Chicken Salad
What you’ll need to make this dish for two people. You can pick up a lot of the ingredients from local markets for very little so do use them, they’re a great community resource.
- 4 chicken thigh fillets (skin off) – squeeze half a lime over them to start the tenderising process and so that the flavours you will be adding are absorbed. You can also use a good firm fleshed white fish for this dish.
- 4 generous tablespoons of yoghurt (not Greek yoghurt) – this tenderises the meat in its marinade
- Flavours – take 4 cloves of garlic and chop finely; a teaspoon each of coriander seeds, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, cloves, black peppercorns. Grind them roughly in a mortar and pestle … add a teaspoon each of smoked paprika powder, turmeric powder, salt and red chilli powder, add to the yoghurt and mix
- Lettuce – the crisper Kos lettuce type has a lovely sweet flavour, take around 6 to 8 leaves and chop them roughly
- Tomatoes – a handful of those gorgeous oval ones with a tart but sweet flavour are ideal, halved
- A carrot, grated to add colour, texture and natural sweetness
- A shallot marinated in some lime juice and half a teaspoon of sugar. Why marinate the shallots? Well, it takes that onion-like sting out of them. You can use a red onion if that’s what you have to hand too. But the marinading process is all important to prevent the dish being overpowered.
- A rich, oily, Indian lime pickle or a fresh lemon pickle
- A small handful of mint, chopped chives and coriander leaves (no stalks – you can use the coriander stalks to flavour another dish)
Combine the flavours with the yoghurt and rub into the meat, set aside for an hour, wash hands thoroughly.
Assemble the lettuce and tomatoes and dress with marinated shallots and a tablespoon of the pickle, you can add a little light oil (not olive oil), mustard oil works well. Toss in the mint and coriander leaves too.
Get the grill on as hot as it will go. Place some foil on the tray and lay the chicken fillets on to it, flat and with marinade and all. Grill for as long as it takes for the meat to brown slightly. A little crispiness here and there is fine. Then turn on the oven as high as it will go for around 15 minutes, or until juices from the meat run clear, turning once to prevent burning.
Once cooked, chop the chicken into bite sized chunks and add it to the salad.
If you have home made water pickles to hand you can serve them on the side to accompany this dish, or even add a couple of tablespoons (without the water) to the dish.
If you want to bulk the dish out slightly you could add a handful of halved boiled potatoes to the salad.
It’s a perfect lunch dish for two on a summer’s afternoon.
How I long for the time to do just that! But until then, as I cook, I’ll have time to think. And we all need that.
“This above all: to thine own self be true”