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Not-butter chicken with brown basmati pilaf

Serves 6


We created this version of the classic butter chicken as a way of exploring a lighter, dairy-free version. We prefer to make the dish using ghee, but if you need to be strictly dairy-free, use coconut oil instead.
Yes, this dish is different to the original but it’s still great, and even better after a day or two, so feel free to make it in advance. It also pays to start this recipe a day ahead to soak the cashews and the rice, if you like.

1/3 cup (80 g) ghee or coconut oil 2 kg (4 lb 8 oz) chicken thighs,
bone in and skin on (use other cuts if you wish)
400 ml (14 fl oz) tomato passata
(puréed tomatoes)
3 cardamom pods
200 ml (7 fl oz) coconut milk Roasted cashews (optional) and
coriander (cilantro) leaves,
to serve
Lime wedges, mango chutney and lime pickle, to serve

SPICE PASTE
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon ground fennel seeds ½ teaspoon ground
coriander seeds
½ teaspoon fenugreek
½ teaspoon ground cardamom ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
(or more to taste)
½ teaspoon ground black peppercorns (use Indian long pepper if available)
2/3 cup (100 g) raw cashews,
soaked for 8 hours
1 onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves
5 cm (2 in) piece ginger,
minced or finely grated 2 cm (¾ in) piece fresh
turmeric, minced or finely grated

PILAF
2¼ cups (450 g) brown basmati
rice (ideally soaked in water for 4–8 hours)
1 tablespoon ghee or
coconut oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
½ cup (75 g) small currants,
soaked in water until plump, then drained
Small bunch mint,
leaves chopped
Small bunch coriander
(cilantro), leaves chopped

RAITA
2 cups (520 g) natural yoghurt 1 Lebanese (short)
cucumber, grated
1 teaspoon garam masala Juice of ½ lemon

For spice paste, combine all ground spices in a small frying pan and dry-roast over low heat for 1–2 minutes until fragrant. Drain cashews and place in a food processor with onion, garlic, ginger, turmeric, ground spices and 2 teaspoons salt. Blend until you have a smooth paste, adding 50–100 ml (1¾–3½ fl oz) water to loosen, if necessary.

Melt ghee in a heavy-based saucepan over medium heat, then add chicken thighs, skin-side down, and fry gently for 5 minutes until golden. Turn and fry for a further 2 minutes to seal, then remove from pan.

Add the spice paste, allowing it to sizzle and bubble for 1–2 minutes but not catch and burn. You want the paste to take on a little depth of colour here. Stir in tomato passata, cardamom pods and coconut milk, then bring back to a simmer. Return the chicken to pan, submerging it in the sauce. Cover with a lid, reduce heat to low and simmer very gently for 25–30 minutes until chicken is cooked through and sauce has thickened and darkened.

Meanwhile, for pilaf, bring a saucepan filled with plenty of water to the boil. Rinse rice well, then stir into water with 1 teaspoon salt. Bring back to a gentle simmer, stir rice to prevent it sticking, reduce heat to medium and simmer for 15–20 minutes until tender. Drain, return to pan and cover with a lid for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork.

While rice is cooking, heat ghee in a small frying pan over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until caramelised, about 10–15 minutes. Once the rice is cooked and fluffed, stir onion through rice, along with currants and herbs.

For raita, mix all ingredients well in a bowl and season to taste. Garnish rice with cashews and coriander and serve with curry, raita and lime wedges. We also like to serve this with mango chutney and lime pickle.