Since the tandoor migrated to India from Iran, tandoori kebabs and breads have become a cipher of North Indian cuisine throughout the world; cleverly-spiced marinades and fierce heat working wonders on almost any food item. And the time-tested techniques translate perfectly to barbecue, too. Whether the weather’s fine and the sun shines, or attempts to rain on your parade, an Indian grill-up is the perfect way to add spice to any summer.
The tandoor tradition
The searing-hot, charcoal or wood-filled clay oven is synonymous with South Asian grilling, and plunging skewers of marinated meat into its 450-degree depths is a cooking method familiar to any fan of North Indian cuisine. Over time, tandoori cooking has been elevated to a fine art; clever cooks skillfully taming the flames to yield everything from juicy kebabs to whole grilled fish to fluffy flatbreads. As the temperature drops at the day’s end, in go items to be cooked low and slow the whole night long; like rich black dal and kheer.
Bringing a touch of tandoori to the BBQ
If, like most, you lack access to a tandoor, let your barbecue become your best friend. By banking the coals to a single side, you can control your cooking, placing short-seared, spice-marinated skewers and fast-blistered flatbreads over the scorching ‘direct heat’ zone; long-simmering dal and allowing large pieces of meat a low, slow linger at the other, cooler end.
Tips and tricks
- Tenderise tough meat cuts with natural acids like papaya, pineapple, or green mango; or flatten out with a meat mallet.
- Paneer is a great vegetarian option – the Indian cheese is less salty than halloumi and far more flavoursome than tofu.
- Use a little mild grated cheese in a malai-style marinade – it helps it stick, keeps meat moist, and forms a delicious crusty coating.
- Step away from the food dye! Powdered beetroot, turmeric, saffron and Kashmiri chilli all add colour AND flavour.
- You can cook more than protein on the grill – including flatbreads, spice-rubbed potatoes, and even dal; the latter prepared in a pan as the embers die down.
- Small, tender items like vegetable chunks, prawns, paneer or cubed meat are best threaded onto metal skewers and cooked quickly over a high heat; whilst larger, tougher pieces of meat and whole, hardy veg prefer things low and slow.
- Pimp your protein – the addition of a simple kachumber-style salad, cool raita, and fresh-baked bread will turn a few grilled goods into a fine feast.
- Sweet imli sauce is a gorgeous flavouring for grilled meat – but don’t apply before it hits the heat, or the sugars will burn. Brush on mere moments before food has finished cooking, or use as a dip.
- For a taste of the tandoor indoors, light a piece of ghee-soaked coal set on a foil trivet in a pot of food with a tightly-fitting lid – adding an open-flame smokiness to any food you fancy.
Get geared up
You’re sure to relish cool customer Pratap Chahal’s multipurpose chilli condiments. Whether you have a yen for the fruity fire of green chilli, red chilli’s rounded, rich warmth, or something smoky to enhance flame-kissed flavours, there’s one in the capsule collection to suit.
If you’re a cook with all the ideas but none of the gear, check out Spice Kitchen’s professional skewer selection. Specially-sourced to fulfill a range of applications, you’ll find everything from wooden-handled, square-sided kebab skewers to metre-long hook-and-paddle contraptions for those blessed with a tandoor.
Tiny little tubs, big, big flavours – each gold tub-let contains a morsel of marinade made to the Mistry’s mysterious family recipe. The highly-concentrated flavours go far and there’s a formula to flatter any food type; whether what you’re sticking on the barbie is shrimps (or any other seafood), meat, or vegetables.
Drop just a couple of droplets of any of Holy Lama’s intense liquid spice extracts into any marinade for deep, lingering flavours you’ll be savouring for a long time. By eliminating any crushing, grinding, grating or getting your hands dirty, you might think you’d be eliminating taste – but you’d be wrong. No mess, no bits, no fuss – just vibrant va va voom.
Ranjit Rai’s definitive grilling guide was first published by Penguin Books India. Its latest incarnation brings tried-and-tested tandoor techniques to Western cooks; featuring seventy recipes for everything from kebabs to fish to bread, via marinades, tenderisers, chutneys and relishes.
For extra indulgence, flame-cooked flatbreads should be brushed liberally with gorgeously-golden ghee both during cooking and immediately afterwards. For a glaze to amaze guests, combine ghee with spices and honey to use on all manner of meat or slather on sweetcorn cobs.
Good grilled grub comes to those who wait – so if your fate is to sit around nursing a grumbling tum whilst the barbecue alchemy occurs, pop open a pack of pappads and get munching. Crunched up and sprinkled over salads, they add extra texture and a super savour.
Limca & Thums Up
An Indian barbecue needs appropriate refreshment – so what better than this pair of subcontinental stalwarts? India’s own answer to 7-Up and Coca Cola, both sodas possess their own inimitable allure. Their be-logo-ed glass vessels, meanwhile, add a decidedly Desi accent to the decor.
This canny kit contains multiple masalas, a handy shopping list, namecards, and a suggested song list. Follow the comprehensive cooking instructions to feed eight the following feast: shammi and paneer-pepper kababs with two chutneys, naan, tandoori chicken, baingan bharta, dum aloo, koshimbir, sweet Mumbai mess, and iced chai.
Made from recycled steel in India, these lightweight, portable kadai-style fire bowls mirror the design of old cooking pots, oxidising and aging for an excellent aesthetic. Choose a size to suit from a trio of options, then get grilling on the rectangular barbecue rack that sits across the centre of the coal-filled bowl.
Host Pratap isn’t doing a great job of keeping these so-called ‘secret’ sizzling soirees quiet – the second annual event is in hot demand. After tucking into tandoori chicken with lime leaf & dhania and wood-fired ribs served with sweet potato chaat, corn muffins and roti, smoky bbq beans, salad and Mojo Risin’ Chilli Relishes, followed by summer berry, elderflower and ginger trifle, you might well need a nap in the hammock that’s to hand.
Secret Garden Summer Barbecue | 12 July | 2pm – 6pm | £35 pp BYOB | thathungrychef.com
Fancy a tandoori treat but want to cheat? On lazy sunny Sunday afternoons, Bromley’s Cinnamon Culture is hosting Indian barbecues on the terrace. Pick from a pair of platters featuring flavoursome items including classic chicken tikka, lamb chops, smoky seekh kebabs, and fat prawns, all accompanied by naan and salad.
Cinnamon Culture | 46 Plaistow Lane, Bromley, Kent BR1 3PA | cinnamonculture.com
- For more inspiration on Indian beverages for your barbecue, click here
- To read more about Holy Lama Naturals, click here and here
- To read more about That Hungry Chef, click here
- To read more about Mistry & Co., click here
- To read more about Indian-style barbecuing from Good Things magazine, click here
Main image credit:Maunika Gowardhan’s Kandhari chicken