Saturday, April 5, 2008

South-Indian Style Chicken with Curry Leaves and *Bonus* Fresh Mango Chutney

Sorry about the lack of updates...most of my free time was spent watching a Star Wars marathon and the rest of it was reserved for Champions League soccer games/NCAA Basketball. Hopefully, I've gotten back on the blogging horse and won't (again) fall off!

This is one of my favorite Indian dishes. It's not your typical red, tomato-y, turmeric-y stewed chicken. Not that there's anything inherently wrong with those kinds of dishes but I prefer the intoxicating/exotic aroma of curry leaves. There's really no way to describe me, they're one of those unique ingredients that defy description, sorta like truffles. In addition, this dish, like most Indian dishes, is great due to the carefully calculated combination of spices. I neither understand how Indians build flavor nor do I understand the thought process behind it. The Indians believe that some foods warm the body, others cool the body and other foods stimulate the body etc. Apparently, this stems from the Ayurvedic belief system but I don't really get it. Furthermore, I am uniformly awful at creating my own spice blends...I've tried to improvise Indian food but it turns out crappy. I just don't have the necessary knowledge and am much better cooking from a recipe. Speaking of recipes, this one is pretty much ripped straight from Indian Home Cooking A Fresh Introduction To Indian Food.

I used to have an issue with this book because the author is a vegetarian but has included recipes for meat dishes. I couldn't fathom publishing a recipe that I hadn't tasted. It seemed....irresponsible. However, I've since learned that cooking meat dishes is fairly common for vegetarian Indians. In fact, one of the most well-regarded Indian restaurants in North America, Vij's (Vancouver), only hires vegetarian women to cook a menu full of meat dishes!!!
In addition, I've cooked lots of the meat dishes from the cookbook and they're mostly delicious! So, if it tastes good, I'm going to cook it. End of story. Having made peace with this cookbook, I can now heartily recommend it. Whew. Glad I got that off my chest!

Ingredients, slightly annotated. I am making a double recipe:
Juice of one lemon, two teaspoons of black pepper:
4 pounds of skinless chicken thighs. Mix well with the lemon juice/pepper. Set aside for half an hour. picture for specifics:
Curry leaves!So, what is a curry leaf? Well, it's NOT the secret behind the yellow powder that you find in the spice aisle at your local grocery store! Here's the Wikipedia page which informs us that the curry leaf is the leaf of a tree native to India. Ummm, not especially informative, no? Oooooh, I just remembered about this article from the SF Chronicle. I have an amazing memory for weird things like this. Anyhow, I buy mine fresh but keep them in the freezer until needed. Availability is somewhat spotty so I usually try to stock up whenever I find them in the market. This recipe calls for a total of 80 curry leaves but, for this step, we only need 40 of them.
Dry roast the spices and curry leaves in a dry pan. Roast until fragrant. It's gonna smell GREAT, trust me. All done:Let the spices/leaves completely cool and then grind to a find powder:I usually run freshly ground spices through a fine sieve. Whatever sediment doesn't make it through the sieve I re-grind and run through the sieve. I repeat until all of it is powdered.

More prep picture for specifics:
Heat a pot over medium-low heat, add oil, toss in the sliced green chile and the whole cardamom pods, red chile etc. Cover with a lid until you can hear the mustard seeds popping...they will pop and jump. One issue here...I HATE eating whole cardamom pods. It's like swallowing a cupful of perfume. However, I've not yet come up with a way to remedy this unfortunate situation...for this batch, I laboriously picked through the dish and manually removed the cardamom. Maybe a muslin bag would be a good idea. Once you've heard them pop (or if you're impatient), toss in the ground spice mix and cook/stir for 30 seconds.Add 1/2 cup of grated, dried coconut. UN-sweetened, please.Cook for another 30 seconds and then add the chicken. I try not to add the lemon juice marinade. I don't like the flavor it imparts to the final dish but you can do as you please. Cook the chicken for 5 minutes or until it changes color. Add 27 ounces coconut milk. I love the green oil that's rising to the top. I imagine that if I were able to capture a sample of The Incredible Hulk's sweat, it would look something like that green oil. Mix it all up, turn the heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes or until the chicken is tender. Halfway through, add salt to taste. And...that's it! Easy!

*Bonus* Fresh Mango Chutney
Just a little condiment to serve with the above dish. The chicken is quite spicy and rich so it's nice to have something sweet and refreshing to counter it. Here is what you need:
Mince the jalapeno. Here's what I do. Stem the pepper and cut in half:For this, we're going to remove the core and seeds:
Press flat:
Cut lengtwise into strips and then cross cut to mince:
Set aside.

For the 2 mangoes:
In the center is the mango pit. We're not going to use it for this recipe so you can do whatever you want with it...I suggest peeling the skin off and nibbling around the pit:
Use a spoon to loosen the skin from the mango flesh:
Peel the skin off:
Et voila!
Cut into chunks.

Mix the mangoes with the jalapeno and a handful of cilantro leaves. Season with a pinch of salt and fresh lime juice. If your mangoes suck (like mine), you can add a bit of sugar to create more sweetness. I finished the meal with some stir-fried cabbage. A simple, somewhat neutral foil to the stronger flavors of the mango and chicken. Just halve, quarter and de-core a cabbage. Thinly slice half of the cabbage. Heat oil in a wok, toss in 3-4 flattened garlic cloves. Toss in the thinly sliced cabbage and cook until wilted. I don't like it crunchy...I like it soft. Not mushy, but soft...there IS a difference. Serve with rice.

Time (for the chicken)- 30 minutes of prep, an hour or so of inactive cooking time.
Food cost-
Chicken-$5.00 (Costco!)
Coconut milk- $2.00
Total-$8.50...This recipe made 12 chicken thighs. I usually eat one thigh per meal so $0.71 per serving. Cheap-o.

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