I have a confession to make. I use boxed spice mix for South-Asian food sometimes. Especially for Pakistani dishes like chapli kabab because I grew up in a very Indian household and Pakistani spices and dishes were exotic.We didn’t know how to replicate them and didn’t dare try. So when my mother discovered boxed mixes for dishes like chapli kabab and nihari (slow-cooked beef shank curry), we were all elated to get our favorite restaurant dishes at home (at least in our own home, as opposed to at our Pakistani friends and neighbors). Who can say no to these scrumptious, flattened, spiced meat “cookies”, fried to a golden perfection? Certainly, not me! So, naturally, when I started cooking, I too used these spice mixes without hesitation. Until I took a relaxing trip to the Indian grocery store last week because, as a mother of four, sometimes I just need a break. And grocery shopping is a vacation, comparatively speaking. As I was cruising the aisles, I stopped and reached for the box of chapli kabab mix. Then, as I scanned the ingredients which has become a habit, I thought to myself, “Why don’t I make chapli kababs from scratch? It can’t be that hard.” And I heard myself exclaim, “Challenge accepted!.” The two other older Indian women looked at me with puzzled expressions. They didn’t share my enthusiasm, clearly.
It starts with a mortar and pestle and some whole spices and do they smell amazing! Coriander seeds, cumin seeds, red pepper flakes, and pomegranate seeds are gently crushed together to create an intoxicating aroma that makes me salivate thinking about the perfectly crisp patty that I will be indulging in shortly. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, you can just as effectively grind them in a spice grinder or coffee grinder (I keep one just for spices). Just don’t grind it too fine, you want to get some texture to the spices. In the last year especially, I have been focused on eating minimally processed foods and incorporating fresh fruit and vegetables into my family’s diet, to instill healthy habits in my childen. And honestly, it really isn’t that much harder to make alterations to our favorite foods so that they are aren’t so nutritionally vacant. My version of chapli kabab is healthier. I replaced the beef/lamb with ground chicken breast (you can use boneless, skinless ground thigh meat if you prefer) and shallow “fry” the kababs, in a non-stick pan brushed lightly with oil. The result: spicy, tender, flavorful kababs with only a fraction of the fat. And I can’t even tell the difference, other than the chicken chapli kabab not leaving a greasy residue on my fingers. I’m about to give away another BIG secret: I use chia seeds in these chapli kababs, to cut back on carbs from the flour that is traditionally used as a binder and to keep them gluten-free. This way, I can add a little of chickpea flour and it works wonders, while giving the kababs another layer of flavor that plain flour won’t provide. Plus, the chia seeds add a lot of nutritional bulk. Once fully mixed, the mixture will be sticky. That’s a good thing. To form patties, just lightly grease your hands, or wet them completely, which is how I like to do it (so I don’t add too many more calories with the oil), form into thin patties, about 1/8 inch thick. Some people prefer to form all the patties and then freeze for 15 minutes to make the mixture easier to handle. I prefer to form the patties with wet hands and slide them directly to the pan they’re being cooked in. Both methods are equally effective but being the impatient person that I am, I can’t sit around and wait for those entire 15 minutes!
I never use cooking spray directly on my non-stick pots and pans. Why? Because the soy lecithin found in cooking sprays, if it doesn’t burn off, adheres to the non-stick coating, leaving a sticky residue no matter how much you clean it. Before you heat the pan, add 1/2 a tsp of oil and brush it with a regular basting brush or use a paper towel to gently coat the pan. This will protect the coating and prevent the food from both sticking to the pan and absorbing less oil. I use both a brush to coat the pan and an oil sprayer like this one. I also generally don’t go more than medium high on the flame to ensure even cooking in a non-stick pan.
Don’t crowd the pan, add only enough kababs that comfortably fit in the pan. I can fit about 3-4 and still have room to flip and maneuver. If you overcrowd, the kababs will lower the temperature of the pan and simply steam rather than cook, and you won’t get that nice crispy, crust. And the result are these light, tender, moist, spicy, kababs that you will find yourself unable to stop eating!
- 1 lb ground chicken (breast or boneless, skinless chicken thigh)
- 1 medium tomato, seeded and finely diced
- 1 medium onion, finely diced
- ¼ cup cilantro, finely chopped
- 1 tsp minced garlic
- 1 tsp minced ginger
- ⅓ cup chickpea flour
- 2 tbsp chia seeds
- 1 whole egg
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp whole coriander seeds
- ½ tbsp cumin seeds
- 1 tbsp pomegranate seeds
- 1-2 tsp red pepper flakes (adjust to desired spice level)
- 1 tsp chili powder
- ½ tsp turmeric
- vegetable oil to brush pan or shallow fry
- Crush cumin, coriander, pomegranate, and red pepper flakes in a mortar and pestle to form a coarse powder, or grind in a spice grinder. Set aside.
- Squeeze out excess water in chicken and add in a large bowl. Combine chicken, garlic, ginger, salt, onions, tomatoes, cilantro, chickpea flour, egg, chia seeds, chili powder, turmeric, and spice mixture. Mix well.
- Wet hands or rub lightly with oil. Form golf ball sized balls and flatten into thin patties, about ⅛ inch in thickness. Freeze for 15 minutes if desired, to make patties firmer.
- Coat a non-stick pan with vegetable oil and heat on medium flame. Add 3-4 patties at a time. You should hear a sizzle as your put the patties in the pan. Cook each side for 2-3 minutes, until golden brown. Remove and repeat with remaining kababs, oil pan between each batch of kababs.
- Serve with hot naan or chappati, chopped tomatoes and sliced onions if desired.