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Veda's Masala Chicken Nuggets with Caramelized Onions & Curry Leaves

Recipe by: Veda Sankaran of Jalsa By Veda 

Serves 4

Masala Chicken Nuggets with Caramelized Onions and Curry Leaves
Photo by:  

Asha Loupy

Move over drive-thru nuggets—there’s a new nugg in town: the masala-spiced chicken nugget. Marinated in a bold mixture of garlic, ginger, turmeric and Kashmiri chilli, plus a Masala Spice Mix of Guntur Sannam chillies, Aranya pepper and Baraka cardamom, these nuggets are crispy, crunchy and highly snackable.

As a first generation immigrant growing up in small town America in the 1980s, I didn’t often see myself or my family’s food reflected in society. Straddling two cultures, I struggled to find a way to navigate between them both. Food became a tangible way to manifest that inner journey—from craving the “American” foods my friends ate as a child to wanting to learn traditional Indian recipes when I missed my mother’s cooking in college and finding creative ways to bring the flavors of my heritage and home together now. This recipe is an example of how delicious it can be to combine Indian spices with the foods I grew up with in central Pennsylvania. 

Though there are several steps involved, you can prep some of the components ahead of time. I like to make the spice mix, prepare and marinate the chicken and even caramelize the onions the day before. That way, the day-of, I can focus on breading and frying the chicken. Looking for more or less fire? You can control the heat by simply adjusting the amount of the spice mix you use in the breading and in the onions. I promise you—after making this recipe, you’ll never look at chicken nuggets the same way again!

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For masala spice mix
For the chicken nuggets
  • 1 3/4 pound boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into 1 1/2 to 2-inch nuggets
  • 1 tablespoon garlic paste
  • 1 tablespoon ginger paste
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons Masala Spice Mix
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon powdered Kashmiri Chillies
  • 1/2 teaspoon Pragati Turmeric
  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • Canola oil or neutral oil, for frying
For the caramelized onions and garnish
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 large white onion, cut in four and sliced into 1/8” quarter moons
  • 1/2 teaspoon Bindu Black Mustard seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon Masala Spice Mix
  • 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 18 curry leaves
  • Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon
  • One lemon, cut into wedges


  1. To prepare the masala spice mix, place the pepper and cardamom in a medium skillet over medium  heat. Toast the spices until fragrant, about 1–2 minutes. Transfer the spices to a small bowl and cool completely. Place the cooled spices in a spice grinder and blend into a coarse powder. Return the ground spices to the bowl, mix with the powdered Guntur Sannam chillies and set aside.
  2. To prepare the chicken marinade, mix the garlic paste, ginger paste, lemon juice, 1 tablespoon Masala Spice Mix, 1 teaspoon salt, Kashmiri chilli powder and turmeric together in a large bowl. Add the  chicken pieces and toss to coat  in the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, up to overnight. 
  3. While the chicken is marinating, prepare the caramelized onions. Heat the canola oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the mustard seeds and cook, stirring frequently, until they start to pop, about 30 seconds to a minute. Add the onions, brown sugar, masala spice mix and salt, reduce the heat to medium  and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and deeply caramelized, about 15–18 minutes. Remove the onions from the heat, leaving them in the skillet and set aside.
  4. When you’re ready to fry the chicken nuggets, set up your breading station. First, place the cornstarch on one plate. Second, place the beaten eggs in a shallow bowl. Finally, combine the flour, panko bread crumbs, remaining 1 tablespoon Masala Spice Mix and  1 teaspoon salt  on a third plate or shallow bowl. Line a baking sheet with a wire rack (you’ll be placing the finished breaded chicken here before frying).
  5. Taking a few pieces of chicken at a time, lightly dredge the chicken in the cornstarch, shaking off any excess. Dip the chicken in the egg wash, using two forks or your hands, coating the pieces completely. Transfer the chicken to the spiced flour-bread-crumb mixture and press to coat the chicken on all sides. Place on the wire rack-lined baking sheet and repeat with the remaining chicken.
  6. In a large heavy-bottomed pot, heat about 2 inches of canola oil over medium high heat to 350°F. 
  7. Fry breaded chicken pieces in batches, making sure not to overcrowd the pan, until the nuggets are cooked through and deep golden brown, about 2–3 minutes per side. Transfer the cooked chicken to a paper towel or wire rack-lined sheet pan to drain off any excess oil.
  8. Dry the curry leaves thoroughly and fry them in batches until bright green and crisp, about 15–30 seconds. (Be very careful when frying the curry leaves as the oil can splatter.) Transfer the fried curry leaves to the same rack with the chicken.
  9. To assemble, place the skillet of caramelized onions back on medium high heat until warmed through. Add the fried chicken nuggets and crumble two-thirds of the fried curry leaves into the skillet, gently tossing to combine.
  10. Transfer to a serving platter and garnish with the remaining third of the whole fried curry leaves, a little extra masala spice mix, a sprinkle of flaky salt and lemon wedges.

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