Straight from the Tandoor

Indian Tandoor

The Tandoor, an outdoor cooking oven is the equivalent of the Western Barbecue/ Barbeque. Most people seem to think that ‘Tandoori’ is a recipe. Like many of the world’s great dishes this is actually a cooking method that has become synonymous with the food that is prepared. Marinated meats, vegetables, seafood on skewers and Indian breads along the walls are cooked in tandoors only to come out as the most delicious and mouthwatering Tandoori dishes and Kebabs!

What exactly is a Tandoor?

A Tandoor is a cylindrical (almost bee-hive shaped) clay oven used in the Middle East, Central Asia, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, in which food is cooked over a hot charcoal fire. The tandoor design is something of a transitional form between a makeshift earth oven and the horizontal-plan masonry oven, and is used almost exclusively for live-fire, radiant heat cooking.

Typically a tandoor is dug into the ground or built into an enclosure. It is buried or enclosed to hold in the heat and to keep anyone from coming in contact with the outside surface. The real secret is that heat can only escape it through the top. The direct heat of the fire is reflected by the ceramic sides intensifying the heat and creating a cooking environment that easily reaches 480°C (900°F), and it is common for tandoor ovens to remain lit for long periods of time to maintain the high cooking temperature.

The tandoor cooks by a combination of heat from smoldering embers in the bottom and heat which has been retained by the thick, clay walls and is re-radiated as you cook. The intense heat cooks meat very quickly and seals in the juices, producing the distinctive and succulent results which characterize tandoori food.

The tandoor is currently a very important fixture in many Indian restaurants around the world. Some modern day tandoors use electricity or gas instead of charcoal

Tandoor Cooking

Tandoor is used for cooking certain types of Indian food, such as tandoori chicken, chicken tikka, kebabs and bread varieties like tandoori roti and naan.

Marinated meats are lowered into the oven on long metal skewers and cooked in this smoky and extremely hot environment until done. Breads are cooked by being stuck to the inside of the oven.

The secret of any tandoori dish lies in the Marinade and the marinade used in most any tandoori dish starts with yogurt. Yogurt has a natural acidity and it is thick so it holds to the meat well and keeps the herbs and spices in place. Tandoori is also flavored traditionally with ginger, garlic, coriander powder, cayenne pepper, and garam masala along with other spices and flavorings. The meat is allowed to sit in the marinade for hours or even overnight. The longer the meat is left in the marinade the better…and shorter the cooking process as yogurt acts as a tenderizer. Some times especially in the case of cooking lamb, beef or Goat meat better known as mutton, green skin of raw papaya is used as a meat tenderizer.

Vegetables are similarly marinated but not for as long as there is no tenderizing. Paneer (cottage cheese) is a popular vegetarian option for tandoori.

Tandoori Roti and Naan (Indian flat breads)

Indian Bread (roti, naan) is cooked in the tandoor by being stuck to the side of the pre-heated oven. Tandoori Rotis and Naan are best eaten with tandoori dishes and Indian Curries. Making Roti’s and Naan in a tandoor is a skill that not only requires a deft hand but also some tolerance to high temperatures. The result tho is a flat bread similar to the Middle eastern Pita bread, it’s flaky on he outside but soft in the center. It can be used to scoop other foods, or served stuffed with a filling: for example, keema naan is stuffed with a minced meat mixture (usually lamb or mutton)whereas Kashmiri naan are filled with a mixture of nuts and raisins and aloo naan is stuffed with potatoes.

Tandoori Cuisine and Recipes

Tandoori chicken is probably the most well known tandoori dishes in the world. It is a chicken dish that originated in Punjab region of India. The chicken is marinated in yogurt, and seasoned with tandoori masala. Tandoori Chicken is such a famous Indian Dish that I gave it, it’s own post…so click on the link below for more.
Read more about Tandoori Chicken ,including recipes, pictures and a video tutorial on making Tandoori Chicken

Chicken Tikka
Chicken tikka is a dish made by grilling small pieces of chicken which have been marinated in spices and yogurt. It is traditionally cooked on skewers in a tandoor and is usually boneless. It is normally served and eaten with a green coriander chutney, or used in preparing the curry Chicken Tikka Masala popular gravy (curry)dish.

Chicken Tikka Recipe (serves 4)

1 pint of live natural yogurt
1 Tablespoon Cumin powder
1 Tablespoon garam massala
1 Teaspoon Coriander powder
1 Teaspoon Turmeric powder
1 Teaspoon chilli/ Cayenne powder
Juice 1 lemon
8 cloves garlic – crushed
1 inch grated ginger
Red food coloring (optional)
4 Chicken Breasts Cubed
1 Lemon

Mix the spices, colouring, lemon juice, ginger and garlic up into a paste with a little water and stir in well with the yogurt to make a tandoori marinade. Marinate the chicken in the marinade for 2-60 hours. Shake off excess marinade and place chicken pieces on skewers and cook in tandoor. In the absence of a Tandoor, preheat the oven to it’s highest heat for at least 20 minutes. Cook for 15-20 minutes and check the chicken is cooked by piercing the thickest piece with a skewer, if the juices run clear it’s cooked, serve with a wedge of lemon.

Chicken Tikka Masala

Chicken tikka masala may not originally be from India but is a Desi dish based on Indian-style roast chicken chunks (chicken tikka) cooked in a curry sauce. It has been hailed as “Britain’s true national dish” but is popular throughout the world.

Chicken Tikka Masala Recipe

Prepare the Chicken Tikka as the above recipe instructions.

Ingredients for the Sauce/Curry(serves 4)
2 medium-sized onions finely chopped
6 cloves garlic chopped fine
5 pods cardamom
1 tin (400 gms approx) chopped tomatoes or 6 medium-sized fresh tomatoes chopped fine
2 tbsps garam masala
2 tsps soft brown sugar
1 cup single cream
3 tbsps almonds blanched and ground to a paste
3 tbsps vegetable/ canola/ sunflower cooking oil
Salt to taste


– To make the gravy/ sauce: Heat the oil in a deep pan on a medium flame and add the onion. Cook till soft.
– Now add the cardamom and the garlic. Fry for 2-3 minutes.
– Add the garam masala, brown sugar, tomatoes, almonds and mix well. Cook till the tomatoes are soft and a thick paste forms.
– Add the grilled Chicken Tikkas (chunks/ pieces) and stir. Cook for 10 minutes.
– Add the cream and mix well. Turn off the flame.
– Garnish the dish with chopped coriander leaves and serve hot with Naans.

Tip: To get a genuine smokey restaurant taste in your homemade Chicken Tikka Masala: Make a small bowl out of aluminum foil and place on top of the cooked Chiken Tikka Masala. Now burn a golf ball-sized lump of coal till red hot. Place this piece of coal in the foil ‘bowl’ and immediately cover the chicken dish. Allow to stand for 5 minutes. Uncover, remove coal and foil ‘bowl’, garnish Chicken Tikka Masala and serve.

Reshmi Kabab

The word Reshmi literally Silken or smooth. It’s perfect to describe these juicy and succulent kebabs. The meat gets this way thanks to the marinade in which it is soaked. Traditionally Chicken but fish, prawns or scallops can also be used instead of chicken as the marinade goes well with seafood as well.

Reshmi Kabab Recipe (serves 4)

1 kg boneless chicken cut into 2″ cubes
2 tbsps garlic paste
1 tbsp ginger paste
1cup fresh coriander leaves
2 large onions chopped
1/2 cup fresh yogurt (should not be sour)
1/2 cup almonds
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt to taste
Butter or vegetable/ canola/ sunflower cooking oil for grilling kababs

– Soak the almonds in hot water for 10 minutes so that the skins loosen. Now press each one between your thumb and index finger so that the skin splits and can be removed. Do this for all the almonds.
– Mix the almonds, coriander, onion, ginger and garlic pastes and grind in the food processor to form a smooth paste.
– Add salt to taste, the lemon juice and mix well.
– Pour this paste and the yogurt over the chicken and mix well to coat all the pieces. Cover and keep to marinate (in the refrigerator) for 24 hours.
– Put the marinated chicken pieces on skewers and grill. Lightly brush with oil to keep from sticking.
– When the chicken is cooked, remove from the skewers and serve with Mint-Coriander Chutney, thinly sliced onions and hot Naans (tandoor-baked Indian flatbread).

Seekh Kebab

Though originally a Pakistani dish, the Seekh kebab is equally as popular and common in India. A Seekh Kebab is essentially a spiced mince meat kebab which it threaded on metal skewers and placed in a tandoor to cook. There are hundreds of variants of this recipe so here’s one personally like but the ingredients can be tweaked to suit your taste. It can be made using anything from Mince Lamb, mutton(goat), beef or even chicken, thought the most popular are Lamb and Beef Seekhs.

Seekh Kebab Recipe

1 kg finely minced lamb or beef (mutton or chicken can also be used)
1 small onion, chopped
5 garlic cloves, chopped
1 inch piece of ginger, chopped
1 tsp each of red chilli, ground clove, cinnamon, cumin powders
2 tsp each of coriander powder, garam masala
2 fresh green chillis, chopped
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tbsp gram flour
2 tbsp cilantro, chopped
2 tbsp mint leaves, chopped
3 slices white bread
2 tsp salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 c oil for grilling and greasing the skewers

In a food processor, process the bread into bread crumbs. Add all the remaining ingredients (except the oil) to the food processor and process the mixture into a thick paste. Taste (if you can!) and adjust the salt. Keep the mixture in the fridge, overnight.

Grease the skewer. Take some mixture in your hand and using your palm and fingers, press the mixture on the skewer, to form a sausage shaped kebab, about 5 inches long. Similarly, make more kebabs along the length of the skewer. Work fast, as the meat tends to fall off.

Grill for about 20 minutes or until cooked, brushing with oil and rotating the skewers frequently.

Boti Kebab

While Seekh kebabs are made from mice meat, Boti Kebabs are actual cubes or pieces of meat. Lamb Boti Kebab is normally made from the leg of lamb meat. Traditionally whole muscle lamb meat is marinated in spiced yogurt and cooked over hot charcoal embers or a tandoor.

Lamb Boti Kebab Recipe

250 gms Meat (Lamb)
1/2 Cup curd
2 Ginger
5 Garlic flakes
1 Large onion
1 tsp Coriander powder
5 tsp Red chilli powder
1/2 tsp Turmeric powder
1/2 tsp Cumin seed powder
6 Cloves
Salt to taste

– Wash the meat and cut into cubes.
– Grind garlic, ginger, onion, coriander, cumin, red chilli, turmeric powder and curd to make a mixture.
– Marinate the meat cubes in this mixture for 1 hour.
– Stick the meat onto skewers.
– Grill it for 20 minutes.
– Garnish it with onions.

Tandoori Paneer Tikka (Kebabs)

Soft, juicy chunks of paneer marinated Tandoori style skewered and then grilled with veggies is the perfect option for vegetarians! In fact it is the most popular vegetarian tandoori dish and is relished and enjoyed by non-vegetarians just as much. It’s also a very healthy option for those health freaks out there.

Tandoori Paneer Tikka/Kebab Recipe

1 Large block of Paneer
1 Onion
1 Capsicum
1 Tomato
Few Mushrooms
Finely chopped Coriander leaves

For the Marinade:
1/2 cup Curd (plain yogurt)
1 tsp Garlic paste
1 tsp Ginger Paste
Green chili paste (2 chilies)
2 tsp Tandoori powder
1 tsp cumin (jeera) powder
2 tsp Chaat powder
Salt to taste
Red chili Powder to taste

– Cut Paneer into long 1/2″ thick cubes.
– Cut all vegetables into cubes.
– Mix all ingredients for marinade and keep aside.
– Add the left marinade to the vegetables.
– Brush the marinade to the paneer and refrigerate it for 3 hours.
– On a skewer pierce the first a cube of Onion or capsicum as a base then the other vegetables and paneer as you want
– Grill the skewers till cooked (doesn’t take long just a few minutes on each side)
– Garnish with coriander and lemon slices
– Serve tandoori paneer tikka hot with mint chutney.

The Tandoor can be used to make a variety of breads of which the Tandoori Roti and Naan are the most common and popular. A Roti is an unleavened flat bread usually round in shape. It’s cooked in a tandoor by sticking it to the side of the clay oven and is scooped out with a metal rod with a hook on the end. Tandoori Naan is made in the same way but is leavened bread that is shaped oblong or triangular kinda ear-shaped.

Tandoori Roti Recipe

2 cups Whole Wheat flour (atta-Chapati flour)
1/2 cup Refined flour (Maida)
2 tsp Baking powder
1/2 cup Yogurt (Curd)
1/2 cup Milk
6 tbsp Clarified Butter (Ghee)
Salt to taste
1. Sieve the whole wheat flour, refined flour(maida) and baking powder.
2. Add salt, 4tbsp clarified butter(ghee) yogurt, milk and mix well. Add water a little at a time.
3. Knead the dough until it turns very smooth.
4. Set aside under a damp cloth for at least 1/2 hour.
4. Divide into large balls of equal portions.
5. Apply some flour and roll into thick oblong/circular shaped roti.
6. Apply ghee on both sides of the roti and then bake it in a tandoor/ oven.

Some other interesting ways of making a Tandoori roti without a tandoor is by sticking it to the side of a deep cooker or pan using a little water instead of butter and turning it over on it’s side over the flame where the roti is stuck and letting it cook till brown spots appear on it.

A very unconventional method…but one I find very intriguing is making it in a toaster. Yes, you read right I said a toaster….don’t believe me?? take a look at this video. I’ve never tried it and I think it definitely won’t have the same smokey flavor as a tandoor gives it but making it at home you don’t have much options unless you have an electric tandoor so it may be worth a try.

Tandoori Naan Recipe

Naans are traditionally cooked in a Tandoor but can also be made in your oven at home. Serve this delicious dishes like Tandoori Chicken or kebabs of different kinds. The doughs bread hot, with popul for Naans needs to be made in advance so factor that into the preparation time.

1 1/2 tsps dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1 1/2 tsps sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
6 tbsps ghee (clarified butter)
3 tbsps yoghurt

– Add the dry yeast and sugar to the warm water and stir till the yeast is dissolved. Cover and leave aside for 10 minutes or until the mixture begins to froth. This indicates the yeast is active. Keep aside.
– Mix the flour and salt to taste and sift through a very fine seive. Put it into a large mixing bowl and now add the yeast mixture, 3 tbsps of ghee and all the yogurt.
– Use your fingertips to mix all this into a soft dough. Once mixed, flour a clean, flat surface (like your kitchen counter) and knead the dough till it is smooth and stretchy (elastic).
– Grease a large bowl with a few drops of cooking oil and put the dough in it. Cover and allow to rest for about 90 minutes or till the dough doubles in volume.
– Punch the dough down and knead again for 10 minutes.
– Equally divide the dough and roll between your palms to form 8 round balls.
– Lightly flour the same surface on which you kneaded the dough and roll out each ball until you have a circle, 7-8 inches in diameter (1/2 “thick). Gently pull on one edge of the circle to form the Naan into a teardrop shape. Do not pull too hard or you may tear the Naan. Instead of rolling the dough out (with a rolling pin) you can also pat it into a circle with your hands.
– Preheat your oven 200 C/ 400 F or Gas Mark 6.
– Lay a piece of aluminum foil in an oven tray (to cover) and grease it lightly with a few drops of cooking oil.
– Place as many Naans as will fit without touching each other, on the tray.
– Brush each Naan with some ghee [sprinkle with some finely chopped garlic for garlic naan or sesame seeds or some cilantro, crumbled paneer (cottage cheese)- any flavoring you may want to make it a main dish.]
– Put the tray into the oven and cook till the Naan begins to puff out and get lightly brown. Flip the Naan and repeat.
– Remove from oven and serve hot in a foil-lined basket.