I didn’t set out to make a recipe called Tomato Sauce Chicken. Indeed, I just wanted to enjoy some allergy-friendly Chicken Tikka Masala and since most Indian simmer sauces are cross-contaminated with nuts, I set out to make a quick and easy version myself.
We had enjoyed (jarred) Tikka Masala sauce in the past, but once my younger daughter’s peanut and tree nut allergies came to light, I stopped serving it until I could come up with a safe alternative. That meant that my older daughter, who does not have food allergies, spent a few months without being exposed to this favorite dish of mine. In that time, of course, her autonomy and neophobia skyrocketed, so when she was offered the dish her immediate response was:
“I don’t LIKE chicken tikka masala!”
[Cue me channeling Mom Tiger] “But have you TRIED chicken tikka masala?” (♫ You gotta try new foods ‘cuz they might taste gooooooood! ♫“)
“I don’t WANT it!” she said, pushing her bowl away.
(Meanwhile, allergy baby is happily devouring her portion. 50% win?)
Anyway. My older one ate some broccoli and rice that I was also serving and I didn’t stress about it. I also didn’t give up on the dish, since the rest of the family really enjoyed it and my husband and I had been missing out on Indian food due to potential cross-contamination for quite some time.
So the next time I served it (this recipe makes four batches) I changed my tune slightly:
“Who wants Tomato Sauce Chicken?” I sang out.
Tomatoes ✓ Sauce ✓ Chicken ✓ All three of these things are foods that my daughter is familiar with. She was ever-so-slightly suspicious of the dish given its presentation, but she was willing to give it a try this time around and, as I suspected, she liked it.
Now, I’m not a fan of lying to kids about food when it comes to things like sneaking vegetables into a dish. But was this really lying? I mean, I could have called it Red Goobaldi Gock too but it wouldn’t have changed anything about the dish. I just consider the name change a way of making the food more understandable for her, the same way I tell her that the sun “goes to sleep” at the end of the day rather than explaining planetary rotation to her at the end of a long day…
Research actually shows that when foods have a fun name (think Incredible Hulk Sticks rather than green beans) kids are more likely to try them. Tomato Sauce Chicken is actually kind of boring in comparison, but I think the same general concept of making the food feel more familiar and approachable applies.
How do you make foods more approachable for your kids?
Also, a note on this recipe: I am by no means a skilled Indian chef, nor do I have aspirations to learn (maybe one day??) I’m just a mom who was really missing Indian food! So if you are looking for an authentic tikka masala recipe, I’m sure there are better resources out there for you. When I started looking at most of the tikka masala recipes out there, I was overwhelmed by the many steps involved (which I’m sure are ultimately what makes authentic recipes so great). My recipe aims to get the general taste of tikka masala onto my dinner table with fewer steps and less cleanup!
Tomato Sauce Chicken (Tikka Masala)
A from-scratch, allergy-friendly version of tikka masala sauce that's doable for any busy parent.
To Prepare the Sauce
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium onion roughly chopped
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 tbsp fresh ginger (I use three Dorot cubes)
- 3 tbsp garam masala
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp salt
- 3 tbsp corn starch
- 2 28 oz cans tomato sauce
- 1.5 lbs chicken breast cubed
- 2 cups rice cooked
- cilantro chopped, optional
To Make the Sauce
Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet.
Add the onions, whole garlic cloves, ginger and other seasonings. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes.
Sprinkle corn starch over the mixture and cook an additional 2-3 minutes.
Transfer the mixture into a blender. Add tomato sauce. Blend until fully incorporated.
Divide cooled sauce into four two-cup containers. Freeze if not using right away.
Heat 1-2 tbsp olive oil. Saute cubed chicken, stirring occasionally, until cooked through.
Add sauce to chicken and stir to combine. Simmer 5-10 minutes.
Serve over rice with optional chopped cilantro.