Tandoori Chicken & Pineapple-Curry Cauliflower Rice


In each issue of Paleo Magazine, I share the history of a traditional recipe and adapt it to fit into a healthier paleo lifestyle. This time, we’re off to India for a taste of masala and history.


The Gem of Punjab

In the 1920s, when India was still part of the British empire—and hadn’t yet been partitioned into Indian and Pakistan—an enterprising Punjabi named Kundan Lal Gujral opened his restaurant Moti Mahal, the “Palace of Pearls.”

To give his customers something new, Gujral marinated chicken in yogurt and spices, then cooked it in the tandoor, a clay oven traditionally used to bake the breads known as naan. Shaped like a bell and stoked with wood or charcoal fires that generated 900-degree Fahrenheit heat, the tandoor produced chicken that was crisp on the outside, slightly smoky, succulent, and tender.

According to lore, Jawaharlal Nehru, the Prime Minister of India, so enjoyed the tandoori chicken at Moti Mahal, he made sure it was always on the menu when he visiting dignitaries. The Who’s Who of those tandoori chicken feasts includes defining personalities of the twentieth century, including Richard Nixon, the Shah of Iran, Nikolai Bulganin, Nikita Khrushchev, JFK, and First Lady Jacqueline, who reportedly requested the recipe.

Tandoori marinade—made with a creamy yogurt base—is seasoned with a masala spice blend that’s spiked with cayenne and chili powder. Tandoori chicken made the traditional way turns a fiery red, thanks to Kashmiri chili powder, and when a chef is generous with turmeric, the chicken takes on an orange hue.

In 1947, India was partitioned and the British returned to their chilly isle, taking tandoori chicken with them. A quick Google search reveals that restaurants named in honor of the original Moti Mahal can be found all over the U.K. and former British territories. Tandoori chicken’s cousins—butter chicken and chicken takka masala—are ubiquitous in curry shops around the world.

To make a paleo-friendly version of this classic, I replaced the yogurt with coconut milk, but kept the fragrant spices. Since you probably don’t live in a village with a tandoor oven available, I’ve provided instructions for how to cook the chicken in your home oven and on the grill. The cauliflower rice is a sweet balance to the spicy chicken, and the chutney is both cool and piquant.

Tandoori Chicken with Curry Pineapple Cauliflower Rice | meljoulwan.com

Grilled Tandoori Chicken

Serves 4-6 | Prep 10 minutes | Marinate 2 hours or overnight | Cook 30 minutes | Whole30 compliant

  • 1/2 cup canned coconut milk

  • juice of 1 lemon

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander

  • 1 teaspoon powdered ginger

  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 1 teaspoon paprika

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts (or a mix)


In a large bowl, mix everything except the chicken. Place the chicken in a large food storage bag and pour in the marinade. Seal and squish around so the chicken is coated. Marinate in the refrigerator for a minimum of 2 hours or up to overnight.


To roast: Preheat oven to 425F. Cover a large baking sheet with aluminum foil and place a wire rack on top. Arrange the chicken in a single layer on the wire rack and roast 20-30 minutes until starting to brown and cooked through.

To broil: Preheat broiler. Place the chicken on a broiler pan and broil, about 5-6 minutes per side, until starting to brown and cooked through.

To grill: Preheat the grill on high with the lid closed until very hot, about 10-15 minutes. Grill the chicken, covered, 5-6 minutes per side, until starting to brown and cooked through.

Mint Chutney

Serves 4-6 | Prep 5 minutes | Whole30 compliant

  • 2 cups loosely packed fresh mint leaves

  • 1/2 fresh jalapeño

  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves

  • 1/4 small white onion

  • zest of 1 fresh lime

  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt


Combine all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and purée until smooth. Be glad you have a nose; your house will smell awesome! Place in fridge for about an hour before eating. This will taste fresh and delicious for 3-4 days.

Oven-Roasted Curry Pineapple Rice

Serves 4 | Prep 10 minutes | Cook 25 minutes | Whole30 compliant

  • 1 head fresh cauliflower

  • 1/2 cup canned pineapple chunks (sugar-free, packed in juice)

  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced

  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds

  • 1/4 cup raisins

  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil

  • 1 teaspoon Indian curry powder

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1-2 tablespoons ghee, melted


Break the cauliflower into florets, removing the stems. Place the florets in the food processor bowl and pulse until the cauliflower looks like rice, about 10 to 15 pulses.


Cut the pineapple chunks in half. In a very large bowl, mix the riced cauliflower, pineapple chunks, scallions, almonds, and raisins. In a small bowl, place the coconut oil, curry powder, and salt. Microwave until the oil is melted, about 20 seconds, mix, and pour the oil over the cauliflower. Toss with a rubber spatula until the veggies are coated in the seasonings. Spread the rice evenly on two large, rimmed baking sheets. Roast 15 minutes, then stir the veggies, spread flat again, and return to oven for 10 minutes. Pour the melted ghee over the rice and stir to coat.

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  • Amanda says:

    The tandoori chicken and pineapple rice are a favorite in my house. I’ve never had the chutney before, but it’s going on my meal plan for this week! <3

  • Danielle says:

    The rice is cooked at what temperature? Same as roast option for chicken? (425) ?

  • Danielle says:

    HAAAAA apparently I asked the same question in 2015 on your 2009 post of this recipe. The answer is yes, the same temperature.

  • Colleen Arrigo says:

    Hi, Mel:
    I always enjoy your posts! I wanted to pass on a new food discovery (well, new to me, anyway!)–rutabaga! Due to FODMAP issues, cauliflower rice is not in my diet, but I have found that I can “rice” rutabaga and it works really well as a sub for cauliflower, with some good nutrition benefits, to boot! If you have access to rutabagas, I’d say give ’em a try, just for variety. The color of the “rice” is just gorgeous–a golden apricot hue. Anyway, enough evangelizing about rutabagas . . . thanks for all you do to keep Paleo interesting!

  • PC Jorgensen says:

    The first Well Fed recipe I ever made, back when I was just discovering Paleo. Still a favorite. Even though I’ve made nearly ALL the recipes out of ALL three books!

  • Jennifer says:

    All these years later, and this is still my favorite posted recipe(s). There is so much flavor in each dish! Easily my favorite.

  • Lauren M Barnak says:

    Thank you for doing this and having this blog. I recommend it to ALL of my nutrition clients.

  • April Kuper says:

    I printed this recipe out a few years ago when I did my 1st Whole30, but then never made it. I made it last night, and oh my goodness! SO delicious! Now I’m sad I didn’t try it sooner! My real sadness was when my son, searching the fridge for a late-night snack, ate the container of leftovers I’d prepared for my lunch! It was (obviously) a winner winner for all!