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Eric Akis: Get spicy with Indian-style chicken tikka kabobs

Cubed chicken breast is marinated with an aromatic mix of spices, threaded on skewers and grilled until richly coloured and very flavourful.
Chicken tikka kebabs are served with Indian-style tomato salad, raita, basmati rice and naan. ERIC AKIS

If you want to spice up your life and enjoy chicken and Indian-style food, try my recipes for chicken tikka kebabs and accompanying dishes.

For the kebabs, cubes of chicken breast are marinated in a yogurt/oil mixture flavoured with spices one might use when making chicken tikka masala, such as coriander, cardamom, ginger, turmeric and others. The chicken is then skewered and grilled.

Chicken tikka masala is a saucy, curry-like dish that’s so popular in Great Britain, it’s become a national dish. With my chicken tikka kebabs, there’s still a sauce, but it’s served on the side. It’s cucumber mint raita, a cool and tangy mixture that you could dollop on the plate beside the chicken, as it works well with the spices in it.

I also served a salad that was inspired by a recipe for tamatar ka salat, tomato salad, in Smita and Sanjeev Chandra’s book Cuisines of India: The Art and Tradition of Regional Indian Cooking.

It’s a colourful, simple salad with a world of flavour that only uses a few key ingredients — tomatoes, lemon juice, cumin and cilantro.

To round out the meal, you could serve the chicken with steamed basmati rice with some bright green peas mixed into it, warm wedges of naan or pita bread, and your favourite brand of store-bought mango chutney.

Chicken Tikka Kebabs

Cubed chicken breast, marinated with an aromatic mix of spices, threaded on skewers and grilled until richly coloured and very flavourful.

Preparation time: 30 minutes, plus marinating time

Cooking time: eight to ten minutes

Makes: 4 (two kebabs each) servings

2 tsp garam masala (see Note 1)

1 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp ground cardamom

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp ground coriander seed

1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp ground turmeric

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp garlic powder

1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp plain yogurt

2 Tbsp vegetable oil, plus some for the grill

1 Tbsp tomato paste

1 3/4 pound (about 800 grams) boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes

• salt to taste

Combine garam masala, paprika, cardamom, cumin, coriander, cayenne, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, garlic powder, yogurt, 2 Tbsp vegetable oil and tomato paste in a bowl large enough to hold the chicken. Add chicken and turn to coat. Cover, refrigerate and marinate chicken eight hours, or overnight.

Preheat a barbecue or indoor grill to medium-high. Divide and thread chicken on eight large metal or wooden skewers (see Note 2). Season these chicken tikka kebabs with salt. Oil the bars of your grill. Grill chicken tikka kebabs eight to ten minutes, turning occasionally, or until cooked through.

Note 1: Garam masala is an Indian-style spice blend available in the bottled-spice aisle of many supermarkets. If you can’t find it, replace with mild curry powder.

Note 2: If you use wooden skewers, to help prevent them from scorching, submerge and soak them in cold water for several hours before threading on the chicken. Do that while the chicken marinates.

Cucumber Mint Raita

This is an Indian-style cool and tangy yogurt-based sauce, flecked with shreds of cucumber, cumin seeds and chopped mint. Serve it with the chicken tikka kebabs.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: one to two minutes

Makes: about 1 1/3 cups

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

2/3 cup grated English cucumber

3/4 cup thick plain yogurt

1 small garlic clove, minced

1 Tbsp lemon juice

2 to 3 Tbsp chopped fresh mint (see Eric’s options)

• salt to taste

Place cumin seeds in a small skillet and set over medium heat. Heat and toast the cumin one to two minutes, or until very lightly toasted and aromatic. Place cumin seeds in a medium bowl. With your hands, firmly squeeze out as much moisture from the grated cucumber as you can. Add the cucumber, yogurt, garlic, lemon juice, mint and salt to the cumin and mix to combine. Cover and chill raita at least one hour before serving. It can be made many hours before needed.

Eric’s options: If you don’t like mint, replace with an equal amount of chopped cilantro.

Indian-style Tomato Salad

Here’s a simple, flavourful tomato salad bright with the tastes of lemon, cumin and cilantro.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: one minute

Makes: four servings

1/2 tsp ground cumin

2 Tbsp lemon juice

2 ripe, small to medium beefsteak tomatoes, very thinly sliced

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 Tbsp coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

Place cumin in a small skillet, set over medium heat and stir and toast until very aromatic, about one minute. Remove from the heat and transfer to a small bowl.

On a platter, arrange the tomato slices in a single, slightly overlapping layer. Mix the lemon juice into the cumin; drizzle mixture over the tomatoes. Season the tomatoes with salt and pepper. Tent tomatoes with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature one hour. Uncover tomatoes, sprinkle with cilantro, and serve.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.