Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Coconut Curry Chicken Stew, and I wish I could make gulab jamun.

Indian food on a cloudy day makes me feel like it should be cold outside. And then I open the door to let the cat in and remember I'm in Florida. Sigh.

If you love Indian food, but are intimidated by huge lists of weirdo ingredients, don’t be, for several reasons: 1) Most urban areas have at least one Indian grocery store; 2) Many of the ingredients in that long list are just spices, some of which you probably already have on hand; and 3) generally, Indian groceries are dirt cheap. For example, when I purchased ghee, cardamom pods, tamarind concentrate, and red lentils this afternoon, I spent $11. It’s worth at least visiting an Indian grocery store to explore a little, and as I experienced today, international people here in the States are often eager to help and share insight with someone learning about their culture.

There’s an Indian grocery store down the street from my mother’s house, and they have a nice selection of fresh produce, but no curry leaves. I asked the owner about it, and we stood there and chitchatted for a bit about Indian food, cooking, his mother’s cooking, his favorite foods. Even though I don’t know anything about Indian food other than that it’s delicious, it just tickled his fancy to be able to discuss it with someone who appreciated a fundamental part of his culture. It was a sweet, perfect example of people connecting and sharing over a table, taking moments to ask because someone wants to share, and to share because someone wants to know. He was so warmed that he gave me a big handful of curry leaves for free and invited me to bring samples of what I used them for, and he and his elderly father were reminiscing about his grandmother’s gulab jamun as I left; his father called after me haltingly, “You know make gulab jamun?” and grinned.

Community, nurture, learning, teaching. That’s why I wanna cook, right there.

Anyway. Back to the recipe.

Coconut Curry Chicken Stew, adapted from a bunch of different recipes

2 tbsp. ghee (or vegetable oil)
1 whole chicken, cut up (I removed the skin from the breasts and thighs, but left it on the drummies and wings, ‘cause I’m not getting into all that)
1 onion, finely chopped
3 inches ginger, grated with a microplane
4 cloves garlic, grated with a microplane
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and ribs completely removed (leave some of that crap in if you’re into pain; I am not), grated with a microplane
1 tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. cloves
2 tsp. ground coriander
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. garam masala
½ tsp. ground fenugreek
6 green cardamom pods
about 15 small fresh curry leaves (every time I've made Indian food, I've thought, "man, there's some kind of flavor I'm missing" - it's the curry leaves. Get them if you can!)
1 carrot, coarsley grated
1 apple, cored and coarsley grated
1 potato, peeled and coarsley grated
1 cup dry red lentils
4 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 tbsp. tamarind concentrate
1 14 oz. can coconut milk
¼ cup chopped cilantro
2 tsp. salt (or to taste)

Heat ghee or oil in a large dutch oven. Brown the chicken pieces, 2 or 3 at a time, for about 3 minutes per side or until golden. Remove and set aside.

Add onion, garlic, ginger, jalapeno, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, turmeric, cardamom pods, and curry leaves to pot; cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes. Pull out the curry leaves and cardamom pods, and set aside (keep them; you’ll need them in a minute).

Stir in carrot, apple, potato, lentils, and broth. Nestle chicken pieces down into the mixture, then top mixture with curry leaves and cardamom pods (you’ll have to discard them at the end, and this just makes it easier instead of having to rummage around the whole pot). Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 20 minutes.

Remove from heat; remove and discard cardamom pods and curry leaves. Stir in tamarind, coconut milk, cilantro, and salt (remove some or all of the chicken first, if that makes it easier). Serve either as a stew or as a curry over jasmine or basmati rice.
Note: This could easily be made as a vegan soup by using vegetable oil instead of ghee, omitting the chicken, and using vegetable broth instead of chicken.

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