Chicken Choyela

Chicken Choyela is a popular chicken dish from Nepal usually eaten as an appetizer. It can be made with meat of your choice and grilled or boiled, then liberally marinated with different spices.

One of my best friend (Hi Nisha) has been encouraging me to feature more Nepali recipes with a step by step video tutorial. I don't know how I feel about video just yet because:  a) it's just too nerve wracking b) I need to learn how to record videos and edit  c) I am more comfortable writing than talking in front all of you, I think it's just awkward. I am slowly warming up to the idea but for now let's start with a Nepali recipe called 'choyela' that is a delicacy among Newari People.

Choyela is typically made with water buffalo, goat, chicken, or pork by either roasting or boiling the meat and marinating with different spices. In Newari, boiled choyela is called mana choyela and grilled choyela is called haku choyela, meaning meat cooked over the fire. Traditionally, haku choyela was made over the fire by using straw from rice or wheat but at home, you can do it on a charcoal grill, oven, or grill pan although you miss out on that smoky flavor.

Choyela is eaten as an appetizer like beaten rice (chiura), bhatmas sadheko (soybean salad),  chatamari (savory rice pancakes), and chana ko tarkari (brown chickpea salad). Like most traditional recipes, there are many variations depending upon who you talk to but I am sharing a simplified version that is made with a few ingredients mostly from your pantry and will come together in just about an hour.

While growing up, choyela is not something my mom made or we ate because it’s not a traditional food in Brahmins household (caste I belong to) but I am pretty pleased with my chicken choyela recipe.

Boneless/skinless chicken breast is first grilled then chopped into bite size pieces. Alternatively, you can also boil the chicken if grilling is not an option. I have shared the recipe for both boiled as well as grilled chicken choyela below.

For choyela, there are a few MUST have spices because all the flavors comes primarily from spices, which is finished off my tempering hot oil with mustard seeds and turmeric powder. Spices such as turmeric, cumin, chili, fenugreek seeds can be purchased at most International grocery stores except for Nepali Sichuan pepper (timur). Nepali Sichuan pepper is different in taste and smell from Chinese Sichuan pepper so make sure you are using the right Sichuan pepper for the exact taste. If you are in Dallas-Fort Worth area, a lot of Nepali/Indian grocery stores carry it.

Tempering, a really important step where oil is heated then, spices are fried and poured over the meat mixture brings everything together. It seriously makes all the difference because hot oil extracts flavors from spices and adds that punch to the final dish.

It is hard not to eat the entire pan when you are done making choyela but if you have the patience, let the spices work it’s magic for few hours. Leftover choyela tastes even better and you can make it 1-2 days in advance. It’s a great appetizer traditionally served with chiura (flattened rice) or use it for sandwiches/wraps.

Chicken Choyela (Grilled Version)

Serves: 2-3

Ingredients

  • 3/4 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast

  • Salt, to taste

  • 1.5 tablespoon freshly toasted cumin powder, divided

  • 1 tablespoon red chili powder, divided (use as per your taste)

  • 2 small roma tomatoes

  • 1 tablespoon neutral oil

  • 2 teaspoon turmeric, divided

  • 2 teaspoon Nepali Sichuan pepper, timur

  • 1 small knob ginger, minced

  • 4-5 garlic cloves, minced

  • 3 green onions, chopped

  • 2 teaspoon fenugreek seed

  • 2 green chilies, chopped

  • 1.5-2 tablespoon mustard oil (or can use neutral oil like canola)

  • Cilantro, for garnish

Instructions

  1. Heat a grill pan to medium-high.

  2. In a bowl, place chicken and mix 1/2 tablespoon cumin powder, 1/2 tablespoon chili powder, salt with 1 tablespoon oil. Liberally massage the chicken until the spice mix is applied evenly.

  3. Grill the chicken 8-10 minutes on each sides or until it is no longer pink and has an internal temperature of 160F. The time may vary depending upon the thickness of the chicken though.

  4. In the same pan, add roma tomatoes and let it grill until soft.

  5. Once the chicken and tomatoes are done, let it cool then cut chicken into bite size pieces.

  6. In a medium bowl, add the chopped chicken, tomatoes, turmeric, Nepali Sichuan pepper, ginger, garlic mix, chopped green onion. Taste and adjust salt and chili pepper as needed.

  7. In a small frying pan, heat about 1.5-2 tablespoon of mustard oil. When heated, add fenugreek seeds and turmeric and wait till the fenugreek seeds becomes fragrant and starts to change the color to brown-blackish.

  8. Pour the tempered oil over the chicken and mix everything again, preferably with your hand.

  9. Garnish with chopped cilantro and let it marinade for few hours before serving.

Chicken Choyela

Chicken Choyela (Boiled Version)

Serves: 2-3

Ingredients

  • 3/4 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast

  • pinch of salt

  • pinch of turmeric

  • 2 small roma tomatoes

  • 8 dried red chili pepper

  • 8 garlic cloves

  • salt, to taste

  • 8 thinly sliced ginger

  • 8 thinly sliced garlic

  • 2 teaspoon Nepali Sichuan powder (timur)

  • 1 tablespoon red chili powder, or per taste

  • 1 bunch green onions, chopped

  • 1 small handful cilantro, chopped

  • 1.5-2 tablespoon mustard oil (or can use neutral oil like canola)

  • 2 teaspoon fenugreek seed

  • 2 teaspoon turmeric powder

Instructions

  1. In a medium pot, add chicken, salt and turmeric and bring it a boil. Let the chicken cook 15-20 minutes, until it is no longer pink inside. Remove from heat, drain the water and let the chicken cool.

  2. In another pot, boil tomatoes on a stovetop or use a microwave. Keep aside.

  3. Roast dried red chili in a pan until it’s slightly dark and fragrant. Keep aside.

  4. Cut chicken into bite-size pieces into a medium bowl.

  5. Use a mortar and pestle or a grinder to make garlic-dried red chili paste. Add to the bowl with chicken.

  6. Add salt, ginger slices, garlic slices, Nepali Sichuan pepper, red chili pepper, chopped green onion.

  7. In a small frying pan, heat about 1.5-2 tablespoon of mustard oil. When heated, add fenugreek seeds and turmeric and wait till the fenugreek seeds becomes fragrant and starts to change the color to brown-blackish.

  8. Pour the tempered oil over the chicken and mix everything again, preferably with your hand.

  9. Garnish with chopped cilantro and let it marinade for few hours before serving.