acne + candida-safe chicken tikka masala and saag paneer

indian one of my favorite things to eat is indian food, but it can be a challenge if the dishes you love most are laden with cream and cheese. i decided to take matters into my own hands and make some acne-safe versions at home, and when searching for recipes online, was delighted at finding ones that were rated 4.5-5 stars by so many home chefs! i figured that the only substitutions we'd need to make would be to replace any cream with coconut milk, yogurt with coconut yogurt and cheese with the kite hill cheeses. the dishes were pretty simple to make, considering the rich depth of flavors that came from combining several healthy spices, a few aromatics and a squeeze of lemon. after a night out with the boys, my SO C came home smelling deliciously of shallimar, and i was instantly jealous. i went to bed with dreams of chicken tikka masala and saag paneer - my 2 ultimate faves. the next day, we made chicken tikka masala (not a totally authentic indian dish, as it was supposedly created by immigrants in the UK), saag paneer and aromatic basmati rice. i went ahead and tried making the same basmati rice recipe using quinoa for liesse (who's allergic to gluten, rice and buckwheat) and it came out pretty delish! chicken tikka masala is a dish that usually comes with grilled chicken cubes floating in a cream and tomato based spiced sauce. saag paneer is a sort of creamed spinach with fresh cheese chunk dish, with a few peppers thrown in. and the aromatic basmati rice i like to make is steamed with toasted spices like cardamom pods, star anise, cumin seeds and sauteed onions. i googled recipes and found a few - and while making the tikka recipe, i accidentally mixed up two different recipes from the same site and made some tweaks, but the dishes came out really good! so good that i've been happily eating all this for breakfast and dinner for 4 days straight.. and am kind of sad that it's all gone now (today's breakfast was the last of it). i'll just have to make another batch soon :) $$$ also - you are going to see that the acne-safe alternative ingredients are expensive and certainly add up. for instance, the paneer recipe calls for 12 oz of cheese, which translates to 3 packs of kite hill cheese ($30 worth). yes, it was a total splurge, but considering how many meals i got out of it (8+, and i shared with my SO), the high quality of ingredients (we used organic spinach, spices + local chicken, etc) and the fact that i didn't get sick from eating dairy make it totally worth it to me. if we had some restraint and didn't eat it all, we could have frozen a few servings to make some healthy and delicious dinners, great for meal planning on those nights i don't have time to cook. additionally, you don't have to use so much cheese, or you could but it into smaller cubes, or you could sub chickpea tofu instead, which would add a lot more protein. ALSO A PLUS - is that except for the white rice, these dishes are candida-safe! you can probably do some quinoa, but just don't go too crazy. woo! coyo natural yogurt CHICKEN TIKKA MASALA i mixed up these two recipes (curry stand tikka masala and chicken tikka masala), and i'll explain below the techniques i used of both and what substitutions/additions we made. we grocery shopped for the first recipe, and did step #1 of the second recipe (combined spices + yogurt, and marinated the chicken). it was when the directions said to grill the meat that i knew i had messed up and was working from 2 different versions (one on my phone and the other on my laptop)! but the ingredients were pretty similar and sauce was forgiving, so i didn't worry. everything was smelling and tasting great so i figured it all being warmed up together was going to be ok :) here's what went into the chicken marinade:
  • 1 cup plain-flavored coyo coconut yogurt (got it at rainbow - so good!)
  • 1.5 TB fresh lemon juice (recipe called for 1TB, but the lemon half i had was really juicy!)
  • 2 TSP ground cumin
  • 1 TSP ground cinnamon
  • 2 TSP pepper mix (my own homemade mix of equal parts: sweet + hot paprikas, ancho chile, salt and 1/2 part cayenne, all from rainbow grocery's bulk bins)
  • 2 TSP freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 TB fresh minced ginger (dried would work too)
  • 2 TSP salt (recipe called for 4 tsp, which sounded like a lot)
i combined all the above, and mixed in 4 halved bone-in chicken thighs. most recipes called for boneless and skinless chicken breast, but i like skin on, bone in dark meat! this all went into the fridge for about an hour. after marinating the meat was when i realized i was working with two different recipes. the curry stand recipe didn't call for marinating the meat, nor using a grill. so, we just decided to move onto preparing the simmer sauce, and that we'd just throw the marinated meat in when it was time to simmer:
  • 2 TB ghee
  • 1 diced medium white onion
  • 5 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 2 TSP turmeric powder
  • 2 TSP curry powder (we used a japanese one, 'cause it's what we had)
  • 1.5 cups of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 cups of broth (we had some leftover from pressure cooking a beef tongue, but any kind works)
  1. in a cast iron dutch oven, we heated up the ghee, sautéed the onion and garlic for a few minutes on medium heat.
  2. then, we sprinkled in some the turmeric and curry powder since we didn't put that into the marinade.
  3. the tomatoes went in, and then the marinated chicken, yogurt, spices and all.
  4. we added broth since there wasn't much liquid for the chicken to simmer in, and the yogurt and tomatoes kind of all melted together.
  5. we brought the heat to high to get the mixture to a boil and once the chicken was just barely submerged, we lowered the heat.
  6. once we had a nice simmer going, we left it alone, covered for about 30 minutes to cook through to the bone. (if you use boneless chicken pieces, your cooking time will be way faster).
while that simmered, he worked on the saag paneer and i worked on the rice (using the instant pot!). AROMATIC BASMATI RICE this is the original recipe i based our version on - i increased the spices, reduced the cumin seeds and used shallots instead of an onion. i also tried using the instant pot instead of cooking it stove top. i made this a second time subbing quinoa for the rice which also came out awesome!
  • 1.5 cups white basmati rice (you can also do brown basmati for a low glycemic version)
  • 3 shallots, sliced (the recipe called for onions but we had shallots and used those instead)
  • 6-8 green cardamom pods
  • 1 TSP cumin seeds
  • 2 star anise
  • 1 2-inch cinnamon stick
  • 4-6 whole cloves
  • 1 TSP olive oil
  • 2.5 cups water
i doubled the spices the original recipe called for, because i like FLAVOR (and i cook enough to know that i wasn't going to mess this one up!). the recipe called for soaking the rice for 20 minutes before cooking it on the stovetop, which i think made it bit soggy when i cooked it in the instant pot. the instant pot site suggests to cook basmati for only 4-8 minutes, but it didn't mention anything about soaking, and the instant pot is automatically set to 15 minutes (you can't adjust it to less)... and i forgot about shutting it off early. but, after the rice went into the fridge overnight and i reheated it in the morning for breakfast, the texture was less mushy and more authentic. i think i'll try not soaking the rice next time and see what happens with the instant pot; hopefully it'll be less mushy from the get go. this is how we made the rice:
  1. we rinsed and soaked the rice for about an hour probably. (the recipe said 20 minutes but we marinated + just got the chicken tikka to simmer before we started on the rice).
  2. in the instant pot, i turned on the 'sauté' feature and poured in the oil.
  3. once it was warm, i threw in the shallots and spices and sautéed everything till the shallots were soft and starting to brown, about 3 minutes.
  4. i then threw in the rice, and made sure the oil, shallots and spices were evenly mixed into the rice. tossed everything around in the pot for about 3 minutes until everything smelled toasty.
  5. then i added the water, switched the instant pot function from sauté to rice, put the lid on and made sure to close the vent.
and like i said earlier, the plan was to cook the rice for only 8 minutes but i got distracted by helping with the saag paneer dish. i did a quick release and took the lid off to try and get the rice to cool down, thus stopping the cooking. while i made the rice C started with the saag paneer dish: kite hill soft fresh original SAAG PANEER here's the recipe we worked with!
  • 1 TSP turmeric powder
  • 1/2 TSP pepper mix (see the pepper mix in the tikka recipe above)
  • kosher salt
  • 3TB + 1.5TB oil (acne safe like safflower, sunflower, or olive)
  • 12 ounces cheese (we used kite hill soft fresh original, from whole foods), cut into 1 inch cubes (you can sub this burmese chickpea tofu instead)
  • 2 - 10oz packages of frozen organic spinach
  • 1 medium white onion, chopped
  • 2TB peeled and minced ginger (i'm sure dried would be fine)
  • 4 gloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cherry bomb peppers (these aren't hot, actually - C picked red for color)
  • 1 serrano pepper (i took the seeds out and used only half the flesh, but could have totally used all the flesh, i was afraid of the dish getting too spicy)
  • 1/2 TSP garam masala
  • 2 TSP ground coriander
  • 1 TSP ground cumin
  • 1/2 cup plain coyo coconut yogurt
  1. we combined 3TB of oil, the turmeric powder, pepper mix, 1TSP salt and cheese together and let it marinate while we worked.
  2. the spinach was left out when we got home, so it was already thawed out. we didn't bother to finally chop or puree, and left the greens as is.
  3. then we browned the cheese cubes in a hot cast iron skillet, on medium heat. no additional oil was needed since the cheese was already marinating in it. he probably spent about 5-10 minutes browning the cheese. (C turned the pan up to med-high to get the browning going; i think the water content of the almond cheese kept it from doing so).
  4. once the cheese cubes were browned, we pulled them off the pan and into a bowl and set them aside. wiped down the skillet and added the remaining 1.5TB oil to sauté the aromatics.
  5. once the oil was warm over medium heat, we threw in the onions, garlic, ginger, chiles and sautéed it all for about 15 minutes. it's an important part of the recipe to make sure this mixture turns uniformly caramelized and brown. (the OG recipe says you can add a few TB of water if you feel like the mixture is drying out and burning, but we didn't have to do this).
  6. then, add the garam masala, coriander and cumin. cook and stir often, and add a TB or two of water if needed to keep everything from burning (we didn't need to do this). we probably mixed things around for about 3 minutes.
  7. we added the spinach, some salt to taste, about 1/2 cup of water and cooked for about 5 minutes with the lid off. we just needed to cook it enough for the spinach to cook through and get soft.
  8. we turned the heat off and added the coconut yogurt and mixed it up. once well combined, we added the browned cheese cubes and gently tossed it all together.
the original recipe says to turn the stove on again and heat the entire dish through, but i don't think we needed to do this since cast iron holds heat so well. plus, we were hungry and ready to eat! CHOW TIME it was soo good! surprisingly so. like i said, we ate this day and night for the next 4 days and am already looking to make it again for team sS this week. the flavor of the chicken tikka dish were pretty robust, and i particularly enjoyed the gentle zing of lemon that the fresh squeezed citrus gave. the OG recipe called for sugar which i omitted - i tried a bit of coconut sugar in one serving which was good too, but i didn't feel like it was so amazing that i had to add it to the whole pot of leftovers. the saag was delicious too and went really well with the creamy spiciness of the tikka, but i think i'll probably up the spices and aromatics in the saag dish (maybe even double? and throw in a few of those serrano chile seeds?), and add twice as much coconut yogurt next time. EMPOWER YOURSELF! cooking is a passion of mine, so looking up recipes is a regular thing for me. but for those on the acne-safe lifestyle kick, if you don't cook much and/or don't know what ingredients your favorite dishes are typically made of, it's a good idea to do some research and survey 3-5 versions of your favorites so you can know if they are acne-safe or not. then, you can learn if you need to make subs either cooking at home or out at a restaurant. homemade indian food this time was a winner winner chicken dinner!

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