Tandoori, although more popularly associated with chicken tandoori, is actually a style of cooking using a tandoor, which is a clay oven that looks like a jar. It’s a type of cooking most closely identified with Punjab cuisine. The fire is placed at the bottom of the oven so that food cooks three different ways: over an open flame, in a convection environment created by the shape of the tandoor, and simply by heat emanating from the clay. Tandoors can get up to 900°F! I’ve always wanted to have one, but alas I am relegated to using my oven to create tandoor-style dishes. In this case, I’ve taken the elements found in tandoori chicken (namely, the red chile curry yogurt marinade and sauce) and applied them to sweet potatoes to create this spectacular meal.
Serve these with a side of cucumbers and coconut flavored daal or apples and lentils to make this into a complete meal.
For a super easy cheat, check out end of the recipe. Also, if you want to make a more traditional tandoori “chicken,” I provided instructions for using meatless strips at the end of the recipe.
The Toasted Spices
2 guajillo chiles (use 2 tablespoons of chili powder if you don’t have these or 2 tablespoons of paprika for a mild version)
1 chile de arbol (use a pinch of cayenne pepper if you don’t have a chile de arbol)
1 teaspoon of coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon of black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon of cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon of fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon of fenugreek seeds
1/4 teaspoon green cardamom seeds
The Untoasted Spices and Marinade
1 cup of plain soy yogurt
1/4 cup of peanut oil
Juice of 2 small limes
1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon of paprika
1/2 teaspoon of freshly grated turmeric or 1/4 teaspoon of dried ground turmeric
3/4 teaspoon of salt
8 cloves of garlic, minced
2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon of agave nectar
1/3 cup of water
Sweet Potatoes and Garnish (see below for other options)
3 medium-size white sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1″ cubes
1 lime, cut into 8 wedges
1/4 cup of chopped fresh cilantro
Remove the stems and seeds from the guajillo chiles and then tear the chiles into small pieces. Heat a pan to just under medium heat. Take all the ingredients from The Toasted Spices section and toast them for 2 to 3 minutes. The spices should smell very fragrant, but if you see any smoke coming from the pan, remove the spices immediately. Grind the spices into a powder.
Note: If you are using chili powder and/or cayenne pepper, do not toast the powders. They burn very quickly. Just mix them with the toasted spices after you grind them.
“It’s hard to think about Indian food without thinking about spicy dishes, but before anyone brought chiles back from the New World, the only real heat in Indian food came from ingredients like ginger.”
Take all the ingredients from The Untoasted Spices and Marinade, except for the agave nectar and water, and whisk them together. Mix in all the ground toasted spices so that all the spices in the recipe are combined with the yogurt and oil. Transfer 1/3 of this mixture to a smaller bowl and combine the smaller portion of the mixture with the 1 teaspoon of agave nectar and 1/3 cup of water. Set this aside.
“If you want a spicier version, mix some minced serrano chiles into the 1/3 portion of reserved marinade. The fresh chile will create a better contrast with the rest of the dish than if you just added in more cayenne pepper or chili powder.”
Take the peeled and chopped sweet potatoes and toss them with the larger part of the marinade. Let this sit for an hour.
“Because the sweet potatoes are fairly hard, the marinade won’t infuse them very well. Letting the marinade sit is actually more so the flavors of the marinade can meld together.”
Heat your oven to 375°F. Transfer the sweet potatoes and marinade to a baking dish, cover it with foil, and bake this for 40 minutes. Remove the foil. Turn the oven to 550°F and bake the sweet potatoes for 10 more minutes. Remove the sweet potatoes from the oven, plate them, and garnish them with cilantro. Serve a couple lime wedges on the side of each plate.
“Keeping the oven around a medium heat heat allows the marinade to slowly penetrate the sweet potatoes without overcooking anything. Covering the dish traps moisture, keeping the ingredients hydrated. Uncovering it and cranking the heat up at the end will lightly caramelize the sweet potatoes and marinade and mimic, in part, a tandoori oven.”
Make It Simple
If you want to forgo measuring and toasting all those spices, combine 2 tablespoons of chili powder, a pinch of cayenne pepper, 1 1/2 teaspoons of garam masala, and 1 teaspoon of yellow curry powder with the yogurt, oil, lime juice, and salt. This will give you a quick approximation of all the spices used in the standard recipe without having to toast and grind them. Follow the rest of the recipe as is.
Using a Meat Alternative
For a meaty texture, you can use Beyond Meat strips or the Chicken-less Strips from Trader Joe’s. If you use these, let them marinade for 3 to 6 hours. The marinade will penetrate the strips better than they will the sweet potatoes, so it’s worth marinating them for the extra time. When you bake these, bake them initially at 550°F for 6 to 7 minutes, uncovered, then turn the oven down to 375° and bake them, covered, for another 10 minutes. I like to place these on skewers once I’m done baking them to make them easy for guests to pick up and eat.
You can also make these using super firm tofu. The most popular brands are from Wildwood and from Trader Joe’s. Cut the tofu into 1″ cubes and marinate it for 5 to 6 hours. Bake it as you would using the Meat Alternative instructions save that you should bake them at 550°F for only 5 minutes.
Chop the tempeh into 1″ pieces and marinate it overnight, at least 6 hours, but the longer the better. Bake it at 375°F for 40 minutes, covered, then uncovered at 550°F for 5 minutes.
Tandoori eggplant is one of my absolute favorite tandoori dishes. Cut the eggplant into 1″ x 2″ pieces. You will only need to marinate it for 1 hour. Bake the eggplant, covered, for 25 minutes, then uncover it and bake it at 550°F for 10 minutes. It should be soft, but not mushy, when it comes out of the oven. If the eggplant cubes look like they are collapsing, take them out of the oven immediately. They are already done!
1 Large Bowl
1 Small Bowl