When it’s cold out, I love warming dishes. Don’t we all? Comfort food is definitely in order when the wind is howling and the mercury is falling. Mention comfort foods, and a lot of people imagine a lot of different things. Macaroni and cheese, lasagna, or pizza, perhaps? My husband would probably list chili or enchiladas as some of his comfort foods. Me? When it’s cold outside, I love Indian spices. Specifically, I love curries.
A side note to those of you not familiar with curries – curry is not a spice. Curry is not a “flavor” – there is not a specific ingredient that makes something a “curry”. What is curry, then? “Curry” is the generic term Westerners give to a variety of spiced dishes – most of which originate from India and Southeast Asia. (There are also curries in the Caribbean, South Africa, and Ethiopia, as well as other areas.) A “curry” can be wet (with a liquid sauce) or dry (without). In my mind, a curry is very often just a stew of some sort – a highly flavorful sauce that envelops any number of ingredients. There are literally thousands of ways that a curry dish can be made, and even if a dish is comprised of the same main ingredients, the mixture of spices can be so different that each curry is unique. I can’t choose a favorite, honestly. I am not an expert, and I love exploring all of the blends of spices and flavors that make up such amazing cuisine. I based this dish on the cuisine of Kerala, a state in Southern India. Kerala cuisine frequently features coconut milk, as well as cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper, ginger, garlic, coriander, cumin, and more. What I love about South Indian cuisines is that a) there is usually a good amount of heat in the spice, and b) a great many are naturally gluten and dairy-free!
I did use garam masala in order to shorten my spice list in this recipe. Garam masala is a spice blend used quite frequently in our household, and I love how it gives such a full flavor and warmth to everything it seasons. I also used Kashmiri chili powder. This is not to be confused with the ordinary, everyday chili powder that is likely in your spice cabinet. Kashmiri chili powder is much hotter. If you’re heat-averse, I suggest you dial down the measurement of this powder and add more as you see fit. I did make this dish pretty spicy, so don’t say I didn’t warn you! You can find these spices in many grocery stores, although I suggest visiting an Indian grocery if you have one nearby. The spices are fresher and much less expensive. I love making special trips to the grocery near me - they often have great deals on other wonderful ingredients, many times fresher than what you can find in the supermarkets. If you don’t have such a grocery near you, you can always order online at Penzey’s or My Spice Sage, or any number of other online retailers.
I made this dish for the boys and my husband Saturday night. (Brittany was off on a belated birthday celebration with family) My husband and I adored it, going back for seconds. The boys, on the other hand, were not fans. I think perhaps I need to try a recipe that is a bit more familiar to their taste buds – after all, when they’re not at our house, they’re more likely to eat spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, tacos, burgers, hot dogs, pizza…the same stuff most American teenagers eat. (I assumed since there were no chunks of offending vegetables in the curry, that this might be an easier win, but I suppose not.) I plan on continuing to expose them to new flavors, of course, but I also realize that I was likely not much different than they are at that age – I filled up on Taco Bell when I was in high school, and one of my favorite snacks (in the morning at school, no less!) was Cheetos with a Dr. Pepper. If my tastes can expand and improve, I have hope that they will one day embrace a great many cuisines and choose a healthy, balanced diet. That being said, my husband and I weren’t all that sorry that there was more left over for us!
Kerala Chicken Curry
1 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch dice
1 t coriander powder
1 1 1/2 t Kashmiri chili powder
1/2 t turmeric powder
pinch ground cloves
1/4 t dry mustard
1/2 t ground black pepper
1/2 t kosher salt
1 c onion, roughly chopped
3 Thai red bird chiles, stemmed (or you can substitute 1-2 serrano chiles if the Thai chiles are hard to find)
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled
2 T tomato paste
2 t grapeseed oil or ghee
2 bay leaves
1 t garam masala
1 T cilantro, chopped (can substitute a few fresh curry leaves) plus additional for garnish
1 c coconut milk
1/2 c water
Salt to taste
Toss chicken pieces in coriander, chili powder, turmeric, cloves, mustard, pepper and salt. Allow to marinate for 15 minutes. Place onion, chiles, ginger, and garlic in a food processor. Blend until it is a paste. Add the tomato paste and pulse once or twice more to blend.
Add oil to a large saute pan and heat to medium heat. Add onion mixture and cook, stirring often, until paste dries somewhat and onion is softened, about 2-3 minutes. Add the bay leaves and garam masala and saute another 30 seconds. Add the chicken and turn heat to medium-high. Fry chicken until nearly cooked through, stirring occasionally, about 4-5 minutes. Add the cilantro, coconut milk, and water and stir. Bring to boil and immediately reduce to a simmer. Allow to simmer for 10 minutes, giving it a stir once in a while. Taste and adjust salt as needed, and garnish with more cilantro. Serve over steamed basmati rice.
Makes 4 servings.