Chicken Makhani & Garlic Naan

Life is a lot like running. In high school, I used to be my cross country team’s captain. At my school, the high school cross country team was open to middle school students and I remember running my very first 5km race in the cool Autumn breeze of the 8th grade. At the time, I was oblivious to the necessary training and immense mental strength primarily involved in finishing a race. I figured I was young, agile, and fit enough to instantly become one of the faster runners. Plus, I had my lucky pair of running shoes on. Sadly, I was terribly mistaken. I recall sprinting at the starting line to get a head start and consequently shifting between brisk walks, quick spurts, and sluggish jogs. When I finally reached the finish line, there weren’t many people there. I thought it was because I was one of the first to finish. In my exhausted state, I had been completely unaware of the people that had zoomed and zipped passed right in front of me. Finish time: 46 minutes. Wow, I thought, I must be fast. For all I knew, running was a cinch.
I was so wrong. To my later embarrassment and horror, I found out that I had been one of the stragglers – the slowpokes. But instead of getting discouraged and quitting, I continued going to practice 4 times a week and races every Saturday – even if it was only to get my face so red that it looked like a gleaming ripe tomato. Or, to get that adrenaline rush that made my legs numb at the sight of the awaiting crowd and finish line. Slowly, but surely, I improved. I became faster. I started running without needing to stop or take walking breaks. Over the next few years and after countless practices and very many races, I trimmed my 5km time down to a solid 23 minutes 34 seconds. I realized that running, like life, came down to persevering, putting mind over matter, and finding the right pace.Each year is like a race. Last year, I thought valiantly to myself, 2011 is going to be a great year. It’s going to be my year, my race. With a strong finish to the Fall semester of 2010 and an out-of-state, or off-island, vacation awaiting me at the finish line, I rushed into 2011 at a sprint. Needless to say, it wasn’t everything I’d predicted not to mention, everything I’d hoped for. My hasty beginning left me winded. It led me to struggle yet again between brisk walks, quick spurts, and sluggish jogs.  But it was, without a doubt in my mind, monumental. 2011 was a year of many; 2011 was when my blog started getting more recognition from those around me, I got promoted to a job that highlights my strengths and strengthens my weaknesses, I went through a heartwrenching break up that eventually unfolded into a rare, once-in-a-lifetime kind of friendship, I moved into a new apartment with 23… I mean, 4 fun-loving & amazing roommates, I ditched school religiously, I had my share of “drama,” I found love (which I’m admittedly still learning to accept) in what literally was a hopeless place, I quit my 3-year hostessing job at the same restaurant, I worked full-time in high-end, luxury retail, I moved again, I graduated with honors (miraculously), and then – for the first time in 4 years – I returned to Korea and was briefly reunited with my family. It was the race in which I stopped and stalled, time and time again. I even took a number of short-cuts and detours that only resulted in my delayed arrival at the finish line. I persevered, but crawled like a beginner, gasping and panting, to the end of 2011.
However, this year is different. I don’t forecast a race to which I am victorious, but rather one to which I am steadfast. 2012 is, for me, a transition year. It will be a year of diligent discipline and practice. It will be a year of consciously putting my mind over the matter. Most importantly, it will be the year I strive to find balance and start running at the right pace – one that keeps me going and doesn’t leave me out of breath. 2012 is the race that will set my pace to, slowly but surely, break my own personal records in all those yet to come.Although the actual outcome of any race can be a mystery, there are some things I can be certain of along the way. Family, good food, and good company. I can be sure that luck will be with me wherever I go, though it may not always seem like luck at first, and that I will always have the vitality to keep moving forward.

Besides, if anything, I still have my lucky pair of running shoes and one of my favorite comfort foods. This Indian Chicken Makhani (Butter Chicken) and garlic naan are really, really good. The curry is almost a one-pot meal (minus the pan for browning the chicken) and it’s irresistibly fragrant and wonderfully rich and cozy. It transports you to a mystical place of silk and spices. Even the garlic naan is relatively easy to make and you won’t believe the soft and airy texture that it elicits. Brushed with a little melted (or, clarified) butter, it can win the race straight to anyone’s heart. Plus, we all know that even if it is just perseverance, a positive attitude, and the right pace that are necessary to finishing strong in a race, a little luck and some occasional comfort food couldn’t hurt!
Chicken Makhani (Butter Chicken)
Adapted loosely from AllRecipes
(Serves 12~14)*


3 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 shallots, finely chopped
1 white onion, chopped
7 tablespoons butter
8 teaspoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons ginger garlic paste (I made my own using freshly grated ginger and minced garlic)
4 teaspoons garam masala
4 teaspoon chili powder
4 teaspoon ground cumin
3 bay leaves
1 cup plain yogurt (preferably non-fat)
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups skim milk
1 cup tomato puree
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3-4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-size pieces
3 cups buttermilk
4 teaspoons garam masala
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup water

cilantro, chopped (optional)
cashews, chopped (optional)


Season bite-sized chicken liberally with salt and pepper and place in gallon-sized freezer bag (or lidded container) and pour buttermilk over them, then swish it around so that all parts are covered. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours but preferably overnight.

Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a large pot or heavy saucepan over medium high heat. Saute shallots and onion until soft and translucent. Stir in butter, lemon juice, ginger-garlic paste, 4 teaspoons garam masala, chili powder, cumin and bay leaves.

Cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add tomato sauce, and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in heavy cream, milk, and yogurt. Reduce heat to low, and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently. Season with salt pepper. Remove from heat and set aside.

Heat 2-3 tablespoons oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Remove chicken from buttermilk brine and drip off any excess. Cook chicken until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Reduce heat, and season with 4 teaspoons garam masala and cayenne. Stir in a few spoonfuls of sauce, and simmer until liquid has reduced, and chicken is no longer pink. Stir cooked chicken into sauce. Let simmer 20 minutes.

Mix together cornstarch and water, then stir into the sauce. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes, or until thickened.

Serve with basmati rice & garnish with cilantro and cashews, if desired.

*The serving size depends. Every time I make this, it disappears instantly. There is not one who does not get up for seconds. Even thirds, perhaps.


Garlic Naan
Adapted ever so slightly from AllRecipes
(Makes about 14 individual naan)


1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1/4 cup white sugar
3 tablespoons milk
1 egg, beaten
2 teaspoons salt
4 cups bread flour, plus extra for kneading
4 teaspoons minced garlic
1/4 cup butter, melted


In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Let stand about 10 minutes, until frothy. Stir in sugar, milk, beaten egg, salt, and enough flour to make a soft dough.

Knead for 6 to 8 minutes on a lightly floured surface, or until smooth. Place dough in a well oiled bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and set aside to rise (preferably in a slightly warmer location or at room temperature). Let it rise 1 hour, until the dough has doubled in volume.

Punch down dough, and knead in garlic. Pinch off small handfuls of dough about the size of a golf ball. Roll into balls, and place on a tray. Cover with a towel, and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.

At the end of the second rising, preheat large pan to med-high heat. At stove side, roll or hand-tug one ball of dough out into a thin mis-shapen . Lightly oil pan. Place dough on pan, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until puffy and lightly browned. Brush uncooked side with butter, and turn over. Brush cooked side with butter, and cook until browned, another 2 to 4 minutes. Remove from grill, and continue the process until all the naan has been prepared.



  1. Hide

    This is one of my favorite!!! Great writing with your inspiration… Life is short, however nobody wants to rush, but rather enjoy! Life is song, let’s sing together:)

  2. malia

    mmmm i’m so sad that i didn’t get to try it due to work but it looks delicious! =) maaaybe ONE day i will be inspired to make this dish because altho im not a huge fan of indian food, i do like chicken and i do like naan =) but as for today…after reading this post i am now refreshed and inspired to keep running the race of life and excited to see what this next chapter in our lives as “non-students” has to offer =)

  3. Christine

    I absolutely loved this dinner!!! It was awesome!!! Just when I thought that nothing could get any better than that fabulous dinner you made after a long day at work and an even longer study session… You’re blog post about it was amazing and inspiring!!! You never cease to amaze me Monani!!!! As a best friend and sister to me, we have seen each other through it all, ups, downs, turn arounds, and then some… Nothing makes me more happy to see you doing so well now, and at a stable and grounded place… You, your writing, photographs, everything has progressively become better and better… I’m so blessed to have such an awesome talented person in my life… You were always my biggest cheerleader, and without you I don’t know how I’d ever get through those hurdles life throws at me… So I guess what I’m trying to say is, keep being you, and amazing at your crafts and you can only get better…Do your thang, 2012 is your year;)

  4. Kasha

    What a beautifully positive and inspiring blog. I love seeing your potential bloom forth each time I read a blog entry! KEEP ‘EM COMING!! =) Love you. Will be trying this recipe once I start giving myself a breather! <3

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