Many years ago, when the Critic and I first started living together, we found that our weight was ballooning. Both of us had been rather random eaters in our single days and the sudden onslaught of calorie-laden home cooked meals and dinners out had their toll on our waistlines. I'm still trying to recover from those days. The Critic, however, really buckled down and worked on the issue and managed to lose some 30 pounds through hard work and perseverance. He took great pleasure in teasing friends and colleagues about how he managed it:
Friend or colleague: Wow, you look great! How did you lose all that weight?
Critic: I found this AMAZING pill/diet/witch doctor (depending on his mood).
FOC: That's amazing! Tell me more - I want to try it!
Critic: Nah, actually I just exercised more and ate less. Worked like a charm.
FOC: (disappointed attempt to find joke funny) Oh. Hah-hah...
And while it's true that the Critic went to the gym six or seven times a week in this period, we both credit one other factor in his weight loss: we stopped eating Indian food at the restaurant down the road once or twice a week. In fact, I think we completely avoided the place for nearly three months. (They welcomed us with open arms when we came back, I'm happy to say. I think they were afraid we'd moved away or - worse - found another lover.) We love Indian food. I first tasted it in Little India in Chicago at the ripe old age of 20 and it was love at first sight; I knew I had found a lifelong companion. When the Critic and I first dated, Indian restaurants figured prominently in our lives. We didn't care about the coconut cream or the fried pappadams: we were in love. But when we started counting calories, it had to be the first thing to go. Creamy coconut sauces, full fat yogurts, fried breads and all that glorious ghee...my favorite Indian dishes are always the richest and most caloric.
So now it's January and you've made your resolutions to eat more healthily and lose some weight. Why would you want to look at Indian food? Because it doesn't have to be caloric. Well, ideally it should. But there are a few dishes out there that aren't, and I find that a healthy dose of spiciness can make up for the loss of a lot of cream. Tandoori chicken proves my point. Yogurt (low fat or no fat works fine) and spices (no calories at all to speak of) work together to tenderize a skinless piece of chicken, which you then grill without fat on your trusty cast iron griddle pan and serve with unbuttered (but spiced) rice and a cool raita. Weight Watchers points per portion, including rice: 6. Not bad for a filling, spicy dinner.
Tandoori Chicken with Spiced Rice and Raita (serves two, 5 WW points per serving)
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
For the marinade:
1/4 cup plain yogurt
2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp hot paprika
pinch of ground cloves
2 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
1 piece of ginger about the size of a thumb, finely chopped (around 15-20g)
2-3 Tbs lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
pinch of pepper
For the rice:
50 g yellow or red lentils
120 g basmati rice
1 cinnamon stick
3-5 cardamom pods
1/2 tsp salt
For the raita:
4 Tbs plain yogurt
1/4 cucumber, cut in thin matchsticks
1/4 tsp salt
fresh coriander or mint to taste
Mix the marinade ingredients together in a shallow bowl and add the chicken breasts. Coat thoroughly and leave for half an hour. In the meantime, start the rice and raita.
Rinse the rice thoroughly and place in a pot or a rice cooker. Cover with water to about one centimeter above the level of the rice. Break the cardamom pods open with a mortar and pestle, extract the black seeds within and pound them well with the pestle. Add the cardamom seeds, cinnamon sticks, salt and lentils to the rice and cook according to the rice cooker's instructions or for 15 minutes (until tender) if cooking in a pot.
Mix together the ingredients for the raita and reserve.
Heat a griddle pan or barbecue until good and hot. Add the chicken breasts and allow them to cook for 3-5 minutes or until the meat pulls away from the griddle easily. Turn over, cover and cook for another 5 minutes or so, checking periodically whether the meat is cooked through. The combination of the yogurt and covering the meat for the second half ensures that it stays moist and tender.
Serve with the rice and the raita.
Enjoy - guilt free!