I'm a big fan of saving takeout and delivery food for true cravings, not convenience. Even the healthiest of eaters has a few culinary vices — for us, it's Indian and Thai food and pizza delivery.
Sometimes, we just want our favorite pizza delivered ("doorbell pizza" my girls called it when they were younger), and no homemade version will scratch the itch. Fine. But calling in an order of pad thai and dumplings just because we can't be bothered to spend a few minutes to make our own food is a troubling slippery slope. Delivery isn't the devil; but save it for cravings.
The key to fending off the temptation to order in takeout as a convenience on a busy weeknight is to have a few easy recipes in your toolkit that you can whip out at a moment's notice. And, it has to be easy enough to execute, even if I don't think of it until 5 p.m.
For me, bonus points if it's ethnic food. Since we don't have an Indian restaurant within a 20-minute radius of my house, I've been recreating the flavors at home.
Today's recipe, Weeknight Chicken Masala, is a bit of a recipe hack; not fully authentic, I'll admit. But the spices are easy to keep on hand (and truth: if you are missing one of them, make the recipe anyway and the world will continue to spin), the recipe is fast to prepare since it uses boneless, skinless chicken breast, and it can be made totally non-spicy or loaded up with whatever spice I have on hand, from sriracha to fresh serranos, or even just cayenne pepper.
Frozen chicken breasts won't slow you down either: microwave for a minute or two until the meat is thawed enough to cut into cubes small enough to thaw quickly. I indulge in a small amount of cream added at the end, which brings a lushness that is worth the few extra grams of fat, but feel free to sub plain Greek yogurt if you wish.
This dish hits all the marks — full of flavor, easy, inexpensive, healthy and quick. Serve it over brown rice, zucchini noodles, cauliflower rice or just plain raw baby spinach leaves for extra nutrition.
Weeknight chicken tikka masala
Start to finish: 1 hour
1/4 cup plain yogurt (Greek or regular)
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon lime zest
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons fresh ginger
3 chicken breasts, cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes
3/4 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (or cinnamon)
3/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon sriracha (optional) (or dash cayenne)
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes
3 tablespoons heavy cream (or 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt)
Chopped cilantro, for garnish
Lime wedges, for garnish
In a medium bowl, whisk together all the marinade ingredients, and stir in the chicken cubes to coat. Let sit for at least 10 minutes or refrigerate up to a few hours.
In a large heavy sauce pan, cook the onion in half the oil over medium high heat until onion begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic and stir. Add in the dry spices and stir with a wooden spoon until very fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the sriracha and tomato paste and cook until tomato paste has deep color and aroma, stirring, about 2 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes and bring to a simmer.
Meanwhile, in a large nonstick saute pan, heat the remaining oil over medium high heat and brown the chicken (remove any excess marinade). Cook the chicken on all sides until golden — it will not be fully cooked in center.
Pour the chicken cubes into the bubbling sauce, add between 1/3-3/4 cup water and let it all cook together for 10 minutes, or up to 30 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, stir in the heavy cream or Greek yogurt and serve with chopped cilantro and lime for garnish.
Nutrition information per serving: 261 calories; 98 calories from fat; 11 g fat (4 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 81 mg cholesterol; 436 mg sodium; 18 g carbohydrate; 5 g fiber; 9 g sugar; 24 g protein.
Food Network star Melissa d'Arabian is an expert on healthy eating on a budget. She is the author of the cookbook "Supermarket Healthy." Online: www.melissadarabian.net.