Thursday, May 12 2022

Any restaurant that has an entire drink list page dedicated to gin and tonic variations will instantly win favor. Cassia delivers just that, as a nod to India’s colonial heritage.

In a striking underground setting off Auckland CBD’s Fort Lane, clever lighting makes this dining room anything but a dark underground bunker.

Cassia is a modern Indian restaurant, and the “modern” part of the equation is very important: this is definitely not your usual joint of butter chicken and garlic naan.

Sid and Chand Sahrawat outside Cassia, one of the two restaurants that have sealed their reputation on the Auckland food scene.


Sid and Chand Sahrawat outside Cassia, one of the two restaurants that have sealed their reputation on the Auckland food scene.

Cassia is dear to the hearts of its owner-operators, Sid and Chand Sahrawat, who opened this second restaurant following the success of their highly regarded gourmet restaurant Ponsonby Sidart.

* The Indian food revolution is a victory for our taste buds
* Recipe: Baked Tandoori Chicken with Mint Cilantro Relish

A place in Cassia has become in demand because of its approach to Indian cuisine.


A place in Cassia has become in demand because of its approach to Indian cuisine.

At Cassia, Sid has used his award-winning culinary prowess and skills, along with the flavors of his native India and Chand’s, and combined them with New Zealand’s finest meats, seafood and vegetables. The results are a total joy.

The farm pork receives the vindaloo treatment, beautifully plated with apple and ginger, and the Delhi duck sees a confit duck leg covered in a sumptuous, richly spiced sauce.

The restaurant may be below street level, but it's far from an underground bunker.


The restaurant may be below street level, but it’s far from an underground bunker.

Cassia epitomizes contemporary New Zealand cuisine – a fun atmosphere, well-trained and friendly staff, an amazing drink list, and delicious food. It’s these things combined that made it Metro Magazine’s Restaurant of the Year in 2016 and 2017. Innovative and interesting, but also accessible, well thought out and, above all, utterly delicious.

For 8 to 10 people

Tandoori chicken:
2 teaspoons of salt
juice of 1 lemon
800g boneless, skinless chicken thighs, each cut into 3 pieces
100g plain unsweetened yogurt
1 tablespoon of crushed ginger
1 tablespoon of crushed garlic
2 heaping tablespoons of tandoori chicken masala spice blend
1 tablespoon of Kashmiri pepper powder
canola oil, for cooking

Mix of spices:
15g cumin seeds
10g coriander seeds
20g fennel seeds
5g peppercorns
4 cloves

50 ml canola oil
2 onions, finely chopped
80g of ginger-garlic paste
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
1 tablespoon of Kashmiri pepper powder
400g crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons of vinegar
25g of sugar
5 fresh green peppers, thinly sliced
100g of achar masala (marinating spice from a specialized Indian grocer)
150 g fresh tomatoes, diced

To serve:
baby rocket
baby nasturtium leaves

For the tandoori chicken, combine the salt and lemon juice in a large bowl, add the chicken thighs and toss to coat. Cover and set aside for 15 minutes.

In another bowl, whisk the yogurt until it dissolves, add the ginger, garlic, tandoori masala and chili, mix well until blended and add to the bowl of chicken. Wearing gloves, massage the marinade into the chicken, then cover the bowl or put the chicken and marinade in a zippered bag and place in the refrigerator overnight.

Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and bring to room temperature about an hour before cooking. Heat a barbecue griddle or grill pan over medium to high heat, add a drizzle of canola oil and cook the chicken pieces for about 3 minutes per side. Put aside.

For the spice blend, toast all the spices in a small pan for 2 minutes, until aromatic. Grind all the spices together in a coffee or spice grinder. (You can prepare an additional spice blend and store it in an airtight container.)

For the sauce, place a saucepan over medium heat, add the oil and cook the onions for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender. Add the ginger and garlic paste and salt to taste, and sauté for 2 minutes. Lower the heat, add the spice blend, turmeric and chili powder, and cook, stirring, for 6 minutes.

Add the canned tomatoes, vinegar and sugar and cook, about 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens. Add the green chili, achar masala and fresh tomatoes and cook, stirring, another 2 to 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Add the cooked tandoori chicken to the sauce and heat until heated through. Serve hot, garnished with cilantro and nasturtium leaves.

Chef’s Note: Marinate the chicken overnight to allow the flavors to develop fully.

* Extract reproduced with permission from New Zealand Restaurant Cookbook by Delaney Mes; recipe © Cassia. Photography © Liz Clarkson, 2017. Posted by Penguin NZ; RRP $ 50.00. Outside now.

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