This hands-off slow cooker meal brings great flavor to the table with tremendous ease. The recipe is also flexible, allowing for several complementary substitutions and additions.
For many years, I owned a slow cooker that I hardly used. It was my grandmother’s old Crock Pot, and it had a small crack down the side of the ceramic insert. While it still functioned, I eventually stopped using it. I knew that, one day, the small crack would turn into a big crack and our dinner would be all over the counter!
For Christmas several years ago, my mother-in-law gave me a brand new model that I have put to work more than I ever did my grandmother’s relic. From breakfast to dessert options, I’ve discovered a myriad of uses for it that travel far beyond the beef stew that was my original Crock Pot meal.
I make no firm claims as to the ethnic authenticity of the following recipe, yet this speedy version of an Indian classic has become a go-to dinner for me on a busy day. It’s great for casual weekend dinners with friends, too. The prep can be completed in a flash, and then the slow cooker takes over. The incredible aroma belies the ease of this comforting meal.
The complexity of this dish comes from a spice that may be new to some: garam masala. Like curry powder, garam masala is not just one spice, but a blend of many, including cumin, coriander, cardamom and cloves. Available in the spice aisle of most large grocery stores, smaller (and extremely fresh) quantities are available at the Herb Shop at Lancaster’s Central Market, for those of you who live nearby. Many stores also make it possible to buy small amounts by selling spices in bulk.
Instead of using cream, I substitute coconut milk for a healthier spin on the traditional recipe. (If you don’t care for coconut, rest assured. My husband is not a big fan and has yet to detect the swap.) I also like to garnish with mint instead of the more commonly used cilantro. It adds a fresh flavor and is a great option for those who find cilantro to be a bit too pungent. A bit of chopped cucumber adds a crisp finish and a nice counterbalance in texture.
Helpful hint: Hate to open a can of tomato paste for just a small amount?
A 6-ounce can of tomato paste contains approximately 10 tablespoons of paste. (You might think that number should be 12, but tomato paste is sold by weight, not by volume. Since it’s denser than water, the volume of 6 ounces of tomato paste is less than 6 fluid ounces.)
In a freezer bag, simply smoosh the unused paste into equal portions based on the number of tablespoon left in the can. (A butter knife works well.) Then freeze, and when needed, break off what you need!
As an option, you can scoop tablespoon-size mounds onto a pan lined with parchment paper and freeze. Once frozen solid, peel the mounds off of the parchment and transfer to a freezer bag or container and store in the freezer until needed.
Yields approximately 6 servings.
- 1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce (or about 2 cups homemade)
- 1/2 cup light or regular coconut milk (see notes)
- 1 large onion, chopped or sliced
- 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste (see notes)
- 2 teaspoons garam masala (an Indian spice blend; see notes)
- 1/4 teaspoon sugar
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 8-10, depending on size; could substitute chicken breasts)
- Cooked rice for serving
- Optional garnishes: chopped or sliced cucumber, fresh mint, and/or cilantro
In a slow cooker, combine the tomato sauce, coconut milk, onion, garlic, tomato paste, garam masala, sugar, salt (I use about 3/4 teaspoon) and several turns of the pepper mill.
Place the chicken on top, flipping to moisten with the sauce. I put a few of the onion slices on top of the chicken as well.
Cover and cook until the chicken is tender, 3-4 hours on high or 6-7 hours on low.
Remove the chicken to a plate, and shred the meat with two dinner forks. Stir the shredded meat back into the sauce and rewarm for a few more minutes.
Serve over the cooked rice and garnish with cucumbers and fresh herbs, as desired.
- If you prefer to use cream in place of the coconut milk, or that is simply what you have on hand, stir it in at the end of the cooking time.
- Tubes of tomato paste are handy when using small amounts. If using a can, you may freeze the unused portion in one-tablespoon “globs” or in an ice cube tray for future use.
- This recipe is designed to be kid-friendly and not overwhelm with spices. For more flavor, you may add an extra teaspoon or two of the garam masala and a minced jalapeño pepper or cayenne pepper for heat.
…and below is one of my very early blog photos!