Thursday, July 2, 2009

Traditional Indian chicken curry

I first tried chicken curry when I was very young. Somehow my mother tricked me into trying it despite my pickiness, and I instantly fell in love with it. Her recipe was a revised French version of the Indian classic: a velvety curry sauce made with cream and yellow curry powder.

As a teenager I tried my first real Indian curry in a small restaurant a few blocks away from my house in Milan, Italy. You could order your food mild, medium, hot or Indian hot. While the rest of my dining companions opted for mild I decided to have my curry medium. It was very spicy, delicious, and completely different from my mother’s. Real Indian curry has no cream in it and it’s rich with a variety of spices, none of which is actually called “curry”.

The version I cook today is closer to the traditional Indian recipe, with the addition of apples, something I borrowed from my mother’s formula. When I say it’s very spicy, I’m not joking: if spicy food is not your thing use less garam masala and use regular tomato juice instead of the hot one. Or just suck it up and eat lots of naan with it.


For the curry:

1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into bite-size pieces

Salt and pepper to taste

Half a lemon

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon cumin

1 large onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon fresh ginger

(8 ounce) can peeled, chopped tomatoes

2 tablespoons chili powder

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

2 tablespoons garam masala

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon paprika

3 tablespoons plain yogurt

1 apple, peeled and cubed

1 1/2 cups water

1 (5.5 ounce) can hot tomato juice

For the naan:

1 ball of pizza dough (Publix sells fresh dough in the bakery section)

2 tablespoons of butter

1 tablespoon of minced garlic

In a large bowl, toss the chicken pieces with lemon juice, salt, and pepper to coat. Let it marinate while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the cumin and cook 1 minute, until lightly toasted and fragrant. Add chopped onions, garlic, and ginger. Cook until onion is tender, about two minutes.

Add tomatoes, and season with chili powder, turmeric, garam masala, ground cumin, coriander, and paprika. There is no “right” amount of spices: it’s up to you to decide what is the best combination. Continue to cook and stir 2 minutes.

Add yogurt to the saucepan and stir until well blended. Add chicken pieces, and apples. Mix in water and tomato juice. Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer about 40 minutes, until sauce has thickened and meat is done.

While the chicken simmers, heat up a grill pan and cover it with cooking spray. Melt butter in a small saucepan and stir in the garlic.

Divide the pizza dough in 8 pieces and flatten with your hands. Dip each piece in the butter mixture and throw on the hot grill pan. Cook on both sides (careful, it cooks fast), remove from grill and keep warm.

Serve bread with chicken curry.

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