The words “healthful, grilled chicken” might ordinarily elicit a bored yawn, but this recipes flies in the face of that reputation with an enthralling tapestry of spices and a succulent tenderness that makes you want to dance around the kitchen, or at the very least break out into jazz hands.

The dish gets its bold flavor from an Indian tandoori-style blend of spices and aromatics – ginger, garlic, cumin, coriander, turmeric, paprika and crushed red pepper – which are whirred in a food processor with a heap of fresh cilantro, lemon juice and oil to form a pesto-like marinade. After three (or up to ten) hours in the marinade, the chicken is imbued with exciting flavor.

With the marinade still clinging to it, the chicken is then placed on a grill or grill pan, to end up boldly seasoned, moist and tender, and boasting a gorgeous deep-emerald color to boot. I used skinless, boneless chicken thighs here because their richer taste not only balances the intensity of the marinade beautifully, but also helps the meat from drying out on the grill, but you could certainly substitute skinless boneless chicken breast, if you prefer.

Finished with a bright spritz of lemon juice and a shower of fresh cilantro, this is a delectable dish that just may change your mind about healthful grilled chicken for good.

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Cilantro Tandoori-Spiced Grilled Chicken Thighs

Active time: 35 minutes | Total time: 35 minutes, plus 3 to 10 hours marinating time

4 servings

This dish defies healthful grilled chicken’s boring reputation with bold flavor and color from a pesto-like marinade made with an Indian tandoori-style blend of spices whirred with fresh cilantro, lemon juice and oil. The chicken is grilled with the marinade still clinging to it, which not only layers it with the aromatic seasonings and gorgeous deep emerald hue, but also keeps the meat moist and tender as it cooks. Skinless, boneless chicken thighs are used here because their richer taste balances the intensity of the marinade, and they stay tender and moist on the grill, but you could substitute skinless boneless chicken breast, if you prefer.

Serve with a green salad.

Make Ahead: The chicken needs to marinate for at least 3 hours and up to 10 hours before grilling.

Storage Notes: Leftovers can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.


3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon coarsely chopped peeled fresh ginger or 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1 1/4 cups fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems (about 1 ounce), plus more for garnish

2 tablespoons neutral oil such as grapeseed, avocado or canola, plus more for brushing the pan

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon water

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 pounds skinless boneless chicken thighs

Lemon wedges, for serving


In the bowl of a food processor pulse the garlic and the fresh ginger (if using) until very finely chopped. Add the cilantro, oil, lemon juice, water, ground ginger (if using) cumin, coriander, turmeric, paprika, crushed red pepper flakes, salt and pepper and puree until fairly uniform, stopping to push down the sides as needed; the cilantro will look like tiny confetti.

In a shallow, rimmed dish or zip-top plastic bag, combine the chicken with the marinade and toss to coat. Cover the dish with a large plate or seal the bag and refrigerate for at least 3 hours and up to 10 hours.

When ready to cook, prepare your gas or charcoal grill for direct-heat grilling or preheat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Brush the grates with oil. Place the chicken, with the marinade still clinging to it, onto the grill or grill pan and reduce the heat to medium. Cook without moving the chicken until it is cooked through and develops grill marks, 5 to 7 minutes. Flip the chicken and repeat with the other side; the temperature should read 165 on an instant-read thermometer.

Divide the chicken among plates, garnish with the lemon wedges and cilantro, and serve.

Nutrition | Calories: 272; Total Fat: 14 g; Saturated Fat: 2 g; Cholesterol: 141 mg; Sodium: 291 mg; Carbohydrates: 2 g; Dietary Fiber: 1 g; Sugar: 0 g; Protein: 34 g.

Cookbook author and registered nutritionist Ellie Krieger.

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