Just smell the Curry
Indian and Arabic food is always a love-hate-not sure ideology with most Americans. Basically you’ve tried it and loved it, or tried it and hated it, or refuse to try it out of fear of something different. My experiences with colleagues have usually ended with the “not sure” standpoint where they smell the curry in the air and immediately assume they may not like the food.
My first exploration into the cuisine was when my brother and I worked in a dotcom with many professionals of Indian descent. They would take us out for lunch sometimes to many of the fine restaurants in the area, and you would get the whole picture of the cuisine and culture. The curry, mint, ginger, etc…with Bollywood videos playing on a TV. At first I was a bit “eh” on the heavy spice of most of the food, but grew to like it when I ended up in some venues where they didn’t go too crazy and let the natural flavors shine.
Diving into the cuisine, I want to start off with probably the most popular dish you’ll find outside of the Punjabi Region – Chicken Curry. The Punjabi Region is mostly known as the central part of India and most of Pakistan. The food divides itself between vegetarian and non-vegetarian, but I must admit compared to other cultures, Punjabi cuisine is quite unique.
In Chicago, we have a rather large community on the North Side along Devon Ave. Growing up I remember it was mainly just inexpensive properties and good storefronts for small businesses, but over time most of the European-descent residents moved to the suburbs and many Indians moved in, thus flourishing the neighborhood into what we call “Little India”. Loaded with restaurants, they all celebrate the Punjabi cuisine with their spice blends, usage of yogurt, and the unique colors and flavors you’ll find on your plate.
While many cringe at the smell of curry, I actually enjoy it to a degree, and will note how many non-Indian cultures embraced curry in their own cuisine. First thought that came to mind is the curry sauce you can get in any authentic English/Irish pub. I’d also point out how many Chinese, Thai, and other Southwestern Asian cuisines use curry.
This Chicken Curry I enjoyed simply because it had a wonderful balance of seasonings and would even make the more stubborn palettes into believers. Try it yourself.
- 2 tbsp of olive oil
- 1 large Spanish onion, chopped
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 cups of plain nonfat yogurt
- 1 can (13.5 oz) of coconut milk
- 1 can (5.5 oz) of tomato paste
- 1/4 cup of curry powder
- 2 tsp of cinnamon
- 2 tsp of paprika
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tsp of ginger powder
- 1 tsp of sugar
- 6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into small pieces
- 3 tbsp of lemon juice
- 1 tsp of cayenne pepper
- Salt to taste
- In a stock pot, heat up the olive oil over medium heat.
- Place the onion into the oil and cook until lightly browned.
- Add in the garlic, yogurt, coconut milk, and tomato paste. Stir for a minute until well blended with the onion.
- Mix in the curry powder, cinnamon, paprika, bay leaves, ginger, and sugar.
- Stir the mixture well for a few minutes, then add in the chicken.
- Submerge the pieces in the sauce, and bring the mixture to a boil. Once at boiling, reduce heat and simmer until chicken is done.
- When the chicken is done or about done, add in the lemon and cayenne pepper. Stir and simmer for five more minutes.
- Taste the sauce and add salt to your taste.
In other recipes, I’ve seen the instructions where you add the spices to the cooked onion and then add the liquids in a minute or two later. My experience with this ended up as a mess, and thus I push you add the liquids first so you don’t have spices burned to the sides of your pan.
You will end up with a LOT of sauce. Don’t worry. You didn’t do anything wrong. The sauce is a big part of the dish, and while you eat the chicken, you mix the sauce with rice or potatoes or whatever else you put on your plate.
Best way to serve this dish is on top of rice or potatoes. I actually made a beautiful saffron rice with some saffron I picked up in Greece. Whatever you use, make sure to put sauce to coat the side dish.
I’ll even suggest you take some of that excess sauce and freeze it. I ended up using it later on some potatoes I crisped up in the oven. Curry fries!