Sunday, January 17, 2010

Chicken Curry

I am a firm believer that good food is the world’s best medicine. Modern science has revealed that spices and vegetables are the most potent medicinal foods (something practitioners of Aruveydic and Chinese medicine have known for centuries). International cuisines use these natural healers more than conventional American food; however, one of the best side-effects of having a diverse population is that we Americans have access to foods from all over the globe. Friends (including my husband) from many different countries have exposed me to dozens of different herbs and spices. My love affair with cookbooks has allowed me to experiment with many of these "exotic" ingredients and novel cooking methods (this has only increased my obsession with all things edible)!

Lately I’ve been on a kick with Indian food – mostly cooking vegetarian bean dishes and cauliflower dishes. Today I made my first chicken curry. This dish contains lots of healthy ingredients including onions and garlic both of which contain elements that benefit the cardiovascular system. It is also contains spices such as cumin and coriander, which improve digestion. Most notably, it is contains turmeric, a mildly flavored spice that gives curry its signature yellow-orange hue. Turmeric is an anti-inflammatory agent that can relieve conditions from arthritis to hepatitis-C, it is also said to improve brain function (particularly memory) and it has strong cancer-fighting abilities (at least 30 medical studies show it reduces or inhibits the growth of tumors). Sounds like a super food to me!

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I strongly recommend you purchase the spices for this recipe from an ethnic grocer – if you don’t have an Indian or Middle Eastern shop nearby, try a Hispanic market. You will save money and get fresher spices.

In preparing this dish I drew on a recipe for "Kukra nu saak" from a lovely book titled, Cooking with My Indian Mother-in-law by Simon Daley and Roshan Hirani. I highly recommend this book - it is full of scrumptious recipes with very clear instructions and sweet family anecdotes. Okay onto the recipe (it’s kind of long, but don’t be intimidated), it is amazingly delicious!

Chicken Curry (Kukra nu saak):
1 Whole Chicken (around 4lbs) cut up and skin removed
3 Tablespoons of Oil
1 Cinnamon Stick
3 Medium Onions, quartered and thinly sliced
1½ Inch piece of ginger, finely grated
3-4 Large Garlic Cloves, finely minced
1 teaspoon Salt
1 Tablespoon Chopped Cilantro Stems
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 14oz. can diced tomatoes
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon garam masala spice blend (or a combination or cinnamon, cumin, black pepper, cardamom and nutmeg)
1 Tablespoon cilantro leaves

1)Put oil in a large pot, warm over medium heat. Add cinnamon stick and onions. Cook, stirring often until onions are lightly browned, approximately 15-20 minutes.

2)While onions are cooking use a mortar and pestle or a bowl and the back of a spoon to mash the garlic, ginger and salt into a paste (it’s okay if it is slightly chunky still)

3)Once the onions are brown add the garlic-ginger paste, cilantro stems, coriander, cumin, chili powder, and turmeric to the pot. Cook about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste, combine well. Let the mixture cook about 5 minutes or until you begin to see the oil separate from the tomato mixture around the edges (this is called “oil pooling” and it lets you know the base sauce it ready).

4)Add the chicken pieces, stir to coat and let cook 5 minutes. Add enough water to come about half-way up the chicken (about 2 cups), cover and let simmer on medium-low heat for 30-40 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.

5)Add the garam masala and cilantro leaves, stir and taste to see if more salt is needed. Let simmer uncovered 10 minutes.

We served our chicken curry with steamed brown rice, peas and a cucumber salad. I'm already excited about eating the leftovers tomorrow!

**Because it's just the two of us, I only made half of the recipe and we still had plenty of leftovers. You can also easily turn this into a vegetarian dish by substituting cooked chickpeas for the chicken (2 14 or 15oz cans should be about right).

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