A Taste of Northern India
Rajeet Singh grew up cooking alongside his mother in their kitchen in India. It’s that same feeling of home that he wants to share at Taj of India, his Northern Indian-style restaurant.
It’s a bit ironic that Singh, who trained as a chef and has more than 20 years’ experience cooking around the world, mostly cooked cuisines other than Indian before he came to Augusta. He helped start Bombay Central, then moved on to Augustino’s in the Augusta Marriott at the Convention Center. Six years ago, he had an opportunity to head his own restaurant when the original owners of Taj of India were looking to sell. He worked with them for a year at their previous location on Walton Way before opening the new Taj in Martinez.
Inside its cozy peach interior, decorated with prints of old India and carved wooden art, the restaurant is fragrant with scents of curry, ginger and other spices. In fact, nearly every dish at Taj features up to 15 different spices—complicated recipes that Singh keeps mostly in his head. But Singh has also worked hard to make sure that the spices don’t overpower the flavors of the meat and vegetables and he often adapts the level of spice to match the customer’s taste. In addition to being owner and chef, he also works the front of the house—you’ll often see him greeting customers and offering them that symbol of Southern hospitality, an ice-cold glass of sweet tea.
Lunch is served buffet style, with different offerings nearly every day. “I don’t know what I will be cooking tomorrow,” says Singh in his lilting accent, who focuses on preparing his food based on the freshest ingredients available. His Northern Indian-style cuisine contains less oil and more fresh vegetables than that of other regions of India and is exemplified in dishes like dal makhani, an earthy dish of black lentils that is rich and spicy, or eggplant bhartha, where the purple vegetable is roasted with spices, tomatoes and green peas.
At dinner service, his most popular dish is chicken tikka masala—chicken marinated in yogurt and spices and prepared tandoori style, then bathed in a spicy tomato gravy. The dish has been called “Britain’s true national dish,” but it’s just as popular in the states.
The popularity of Taj itself has come about mostly through word of mouth and Singh is planning to expand the restaurant in the coming months. His customers, says Singh, love the fact that the restaurant feels like home. “My food is family style, more like the way you cook at home,” he says. “And when they leave happy, it makes me happy.
Chicken Tikka Masala
To Prepare Chicken
1 lb. chicken breasts, cut into
1 cup yogurt
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon each cumin powder,
coriander powder, pepper
1 teaspoon ginger, finely grated
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
½ teaspoon red chili powder (optional)
1 teaspoon paprika
Salt to taste
Bamboo skewers (if grilling)
In a bowl, combine all ingredients. Stir in chicken and refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours. Preheat grill. Skewer chicken and discard marinade. Grill until done, about 10 minutes. Chicken may be cooked in marinade in a conventional oven at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. After cooking remove from marinade.
To Prepare the Sauce
2 tablespoons clarified butter
Whole spices: ½ teaspoon cumin seeds, ½ teaspoon coriander seeds, ½ stick cinnamon, 2 pods green cardamom, 1 pod black cardamom, 2 bay leaves, 2 teaspoons fenugreek leaves
1 cup chopped onions
½ teaspoon ginger, finely grated
½ teaspoon garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon turmeric
Red chili powder to taste (optional)
1 cup of chopped fresh tomatoes or
1 teaspoon honey
1 cup of heavy cream
Salt to taste
Fresh chopped cilantro, to garnish
In a heavy skillet, sauté whole spices in a pan with the clarified butter until lightly brown. Add onions and sauté until golden brown. Add ginger, garlic, turmeric and red chili powder, if using, and sauté for 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and simmer for 7-8 minutes. Let cool slightly, then blend in a food processor or blender to make a smooth paste. Return to the pan, add honey, heavy cream and prepared chicken. If sauce is too thick, add water as needed. Salt to taste. Bring to a boil and simmer until sauce coats the meat. Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with fresh cilantro.