Immigrants to the United States from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are referred to as Asian Indians. The first Asian Indians or Indian Americans, as they are also known, arrived in America as early as the middle of the nineteenth century. By the end of the nineteenth century, about 2,000 Indians, most of them Sikhs (a religious minority from India’s Punjab region), settled on the west coast of the United States, having come in search of economic opportunity. The majority of Sikhs worked in agriculture and construction. Other Asian Indians came as merchants and traders; many worked in lumber mills and logging camps in the western states of Oregon, Washington, and California, where they rented bunkhouses, acquired knowledge of English and assumed Western dress. Between 1910 and 1920, as agricultural work in California began to become more abundant and better paying, many Indian immigrants turned to the fields and orchards for employment. For many of the immigrants who had come from villages in rural India, farming was both familiar and preferable. In July 1946, Congress passed a bill allowing naturalization for Indians and approximately 6,000 Asian Indians immigrated to the United States between 1947 and 1965.
From 1965 onward, a second significant wave of Indian immigration began, spurred by a change in U.S. immigration law that lifted prior quotas and restrictions and allowed significant numbers of Asians to immigrate. Between 1965 and 1974, Indian immigration to the United States increased at a rate greater than that from almost any other country. This wave of immigrants was very different from the earliest Indian immigrants—Indians that emigrated after 1965 were overwhelmingly urban, professional, and highly educated and quickly engaged in gainful employment in many U.S. cities. Many had prior exposure to Western society and education and their transition to the United States was a smooth one. More than 100,000 such professionals and their families entered the U.S. in the decade after 1965.
In general, the Asian Indian community has preferred to settle in the larger American cities rather than smaller towns, especially in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago. The Asian Indian community in the United States is an ethnically diverse one. One can distinguish among subgroups who trace their roots to different regions or states within India, who speak different languages, eat different foods, and follow distinct customs. Some of the most populous Indian groups within the United States are Gujaratis, Bengalis, Punjabis, Marathis, and Tamils.
The majority of Asian Indian Americans have retained diets rooted in Indian cuisine. Indian food is prepared with a variety of spices, including cumin, turmeric, chili powder, ginger, and garlic. All Asian Indians eat a variety of dals (lentils), beans, and chaval (rice) dishes. Hindus generally will not eat beef for religious reasons, while Muslims do not eat pork.
Tandoori, the clay-baked chicken or fish marinated in yogurt and spices, is a popular North Indian dish. Biryani, or flavored rice with vegetables and meats, is served on festive occasions, often accompanied by a cooling yogurt sauce called raita (rye-tah). Southern Indian dishes like masala, dosai crepes filled with spiced potatoes, and steamed rice cakes, are also popular.
Green chutneys made of mint or coriander accompany a variety of savory fritters like the triangular, stuffed samosas. Pickled vegetables and fruits like lemons or mangoes are popular accompaniments to meals. A variety of unleavened bread like naans, rotis, and parathas are also widely eaten.
Most Asian Indian American families continue to eat freshly-prepared Indian food for the main meal of the day and the evening meal often serves as the time when the family will get together to discuss their daily activities. The average Asian Indian family tends not to eat out as often as other American families because of the importance accorded to eating together at the family table.
Tandoori chicken is a popular Indian dish consisting of chicken marinated in a mixture of yogurt and spices that are traditionally cooked in high temperatures in a tandoor (clay oven) and also can be prepared on a traditional barbecue grill.
Tandoor cooked chicken actually dates back to the Mughal period. This delicacy was the main course at Indian feasts of that day. Other stories of its origins exist, such as the one about a man named Kundan Lal Gujral, who ran a restaurant called Moti Mahal in Peshawar before the partition of British India. Trying out new recipes to keep his patrons interested, Gujral tried cooking chicken in tandoors (clay ovens) used by the locals to cook naan bread. The tandoors are bell-shaped ovens, set into the earth and fired with wood or charcoal reaching temperatures of about 480 degrees. Gujral was able to cook the tender chickens in these ovens making them succulent inside and crispy outside. After the partition in 1947, Punjab was partitioned with the Eastern portion joining India and western Pakistan. Peshawar became part of Pakistan and Gujral found himself a refugee fleeing the upheaval by moving to India. He moved his restaurant to Delhi in a place called Daryaganj.
The dish gained so much fame that even the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru was so impressed by the Tandoori chicken at Moti Mahal that he made it a regular at most of his official banquets. Visiting dignitaries like the American Presidents Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy, Soviet leaders Nikolai Bulganin and Nikita Khrushchev, the King of Nepal, and the Shah of Iran have all enjoyed this famous dish.
The chicken gets its characteristic red color from either a lot of red chilies or the addition of red food dye. You don’t need a tandoor oven to make tandoori chicken. You can cook it over a grill or in an oven with a broiler.
2 lbs skinless chicken thighs and breasts
Vegetable oil for basting
5 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1½ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon Kashmiri chili powder (or substitute ½ teaspoon each paprika and cayenne pepper)
½ cup plain, full-fat Greek yogurt
3 teaspoons minced garlic
3 teaspoons peeled, minced fresh ginger
2 teaspoons garam masala
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon ground fenugreek
Thin slices of red onion, tomato, cucumber, lime, and mint leaves
Use a sharp knife to make shallow cuts in the chicken. Combine the marinade ingredients in a large plastic ziplock bag. Add the chicken and toss to coat evenly. Cover and refrigerate for 4 to 12 hours. I did not use red food coloring.
Preheat an outdoor grill to medium-high. Remove chicken from the bag using tongs and place it on the grill; discard the bag and extra marinade. Grill for about 10 minutes on each side, brushing with oil before turning. The meat should feel firm when you press it and register an internal temperature of 165 degrees F for the breasts and 180 degrees F for the thighs on an instant-read thermometer.
Preheat the oven to 450°F. Line a baking sheet with heavy-duty aluminum foil (for easy clean-up) and set a rack on top. Spray the rack with nonstick cooking spray or grease with vegetable oil.
Arrange the chicken on the rack, leaving space between the pieces. Roast for 45 minutes, turning once midway through until the chicken is golden brown and cooked through (be sure to turn on your exhaust fan as the oven will get a little smoky). Turn on the broiler and broil the chicken about 6 inches from the heat for 3-5 minutes, until lightly charred and crisp all over.
To finish the dish
Transfer the chicken to a large platter. Arrange the garnish slices over the chicken and seal the platter with foil. Let the chicken rest for 10 minutes to absorb the garnish flavors before serving.
Indian-Style Basmati Rice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
1 medium onion, diced
1 carrot, diced or shredded
1/2 large green chili, seeded and sliced
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup basmati rice, rinsed
1 1/2 cups low sodium chicken stock or broth
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Heat the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, chili, and ginger and stir for 3-4 minutes until the onion softens. Add rice and stir well to coat with the butter. Stir in stock, turmeric, peas, and salt. Cover with a lid and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to low and cook, covered, for 20 minutes or until the rice has absorbed all the liquid and is tender. Remove from the heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork.