For my recipe-lovers
Even though I was born and brought up in India, I didn’t have a taste of a Dhaba curry (or at least, one that I remember) until I was 27.
We were on our way to a resort near Jim Corbett National Park, India’s largest tiger reserve - as part of an annual retreat for the startup I was working at. We spent the first couple of hours in the van talking because we all worked remotely, and it was the first time we'd seen each other in months. No Indian road trip is complete without a spot of antakshari - a picnic game where you sing songs that start with the ending letter of the last song - so we played that too. One by one, we all fell silent. Headphones were pulled out and gazes locked on the dry shrubs and trees that zoomed by outside.
A slow rumble was starting up inside my tummy when the driver pulled to the side of the road. To our left was a two-room shack seemingly appearing out of nowhere. Rickety, mismatched plastic chairs and some wooden stools dotted the five tables that were scattered outside. There were even a couple charpai (wooden cots with rope weave) in the shade where a group of truck drivers gathered playing cards.
There was no menu to choose from. A young boy in shorts with a tea-towel flung over his shoulders came out as we got settled in the chairs.
“Veg pulao, dhaba curry, aloo puri, paratha, lassi, chaas, kya lenge?”, he asked us.
The group settled on dhaba chicken curry, paratha and lassi and my tummy gave another rumble in approval. Minutes later, the food arrived.
I’m normally a paratha girl but was immediately drawn to the Dhaba curry. It reminded me of the Parsi Ras Chawal (simple tomato curry made with mutton broth) but was amazed at the layers of spice. There was a smoky umami taste which I later learned comes from fenugreek leaves, a delicious back-of-throat heat that warmed me up from the inside and the juicy, tender chicken which the waiter told us came from the owner’s farm.
I expected the Dhaba curry to be creamy and rich like north Indian food sometimes tends to be, but this reminded me of home. As did the silence that accompanied us while we all dug into the food.
Beyond Butter Chicken is a labour of love. With our paid subscription, you can access an audio cooking class once per month as well as have access to more stories every month. We have a special offer running until the end of the year
What’s a Dhaba?
Dhabas - Indian truck stop restaurants - are often overlooked in our modern rush to list the best restaurants in a certain city. When in fact, these casual kitchens dotted along major highway routes serve up some of the tastiest food you will find. The chicken served is often locally farmed, and the chicken curry they cook is almost always on the bone. Until McDonalds and the other fast food chains arrived in the early 2000s, dhabas were India's version of fast food. Honest, no-nonsense, local food served up fast.
While many dhabas on the western coast heading to Gujarat might be vegetarian, this dhaba chicken curry is something the dhabas in Northern India would serve up. It's a simple chicken curry that many homes in India cook so the taste changes depending on where you eat it. The smoky flavour in this chicken curry comes from the fenugreek leaves we add in and if you like your curry spicy, simply leave out the yoghurt.
Make Dhaba curry at home
Ingredients (serves 4)
For the marination
150 gm Dolly Mumma Tandoori Paste
1 kg skinless chicken drumsticks and thighs
For the curry
1 jar Dolly Mumma Indian Everyday Paste
1 small onion, finely chopped
2-3 tbsp ghee
3-4 bay leaves
1/2 stick cinnamon
3-4 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp fenugreek leaves
100 gm yoghurt
2 tsp chickpea flour
Salt to taste
Marinate the chicken in the Tandoori paste with a little salt. Leave for 3-4 hours
In a saucepan, add the ghee. When the ghee is hot, add in the bay leaves, cinnamon and onion.
Cook until the onion is golden. Add in the Indian Everyday paste and the tomato paste. Simmer together for 5-7 minutes.
Add in your chicken along with some water. Cover and allow to cook at medium heat for around 20 minutes until the chicken is cooked. If you have the time and a slow cooker, I highly recommend cooking this in the slow cooker instead - the taste goes up by multiple notches.
Meanwhile, bring your yoghurt to room temperature and mix in the flour.
When the chicken is cooked, lower the heat and add in the fenugreek leaves.
Mix in the yoghurt and slowly stir everything together.
Adjust the seasoning.
Serve hot with roti or steamed rice.
You can also cook this with lamb or goat meat, cooking the meat until tender. If making a vegetarian version, I recommend Shitake mushrooms along with paneer or thick-cut carrot and kumara would taste brilliant too.
Make Dhaba curry from scratch
If you don’t have Tandoori paste, marinate the chicken with ginger-garlic paste, lemon juice, turmeric, red-chilli powder and salt as per step 1.
To replace the magic of the Indian everyday paste, you’ll need to increase the onions to 4 and add in a can of tomatoes along with the tomato paste in step 3.
Before you add in your chicken, you’ll also require a couple green chillies, coriander-cumin powder, garam masala, cloves and pepper.
Oooh perfect for us as it doesn’t have coconut cream. Need to try