My Adventures in Curry, Part 1

Indian Chicken Curry

So…I received this wonderful Curry Cookbook for Christmas. While it has over 200 recipes for curries from around the world, my dilemma was what I should choose. I decided that to start my journey into the land of exotic dishes, I would begin with an Indian (rather than Thai) theme but from there I was somewhat at a loss because of the array of options. As my mother (Heather) always taught me, never be constrained by a recipe, use it as a launch point and let creativity guide the meal. After looking through the various recipes, getting the general approach to curry making, I make a list of key ingredients and set to my new creation. So…with laptop in hand, I start on my Indian adventure…and for better or worse, I will bring you along for the ride and hopefully share with you the pitfalls and highlights of going it alone in curry cooking.

Indian Chicken Curry

To begin with, let’s figure out the menu for the dinner. In my mind, I figure we will have a personalized hot chicken curry (recipe to be determined as we move along), accompanied with a Moroccan-spiced Couscous (see link below), pappadums (see links below) and a spinach salad. If this does not interest you, then I would suggest you not bother following along the rest of the blog as you will endure my pain and misadventures for no good reason…other than to perhaps laugh at me online :-).

I begin by picking up a few key ingredients at the local market and am pleasantly surprised by the vast array of international cuisine ingredients. If you would like a full ingredient list, ask, though I’ll likely create one afterwards but for the moment, I’ll assume you can figure it out as you follow me. If I use a specific product I have tried to include the links below.

Let the adventure begin! I start by cutting up 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts and 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs into bite sized pieces (ok, maybe man bite-sized pieces). You could use bone-in (which typically has more flavour) but I personally prefer not to deal with bones when eating a curry so went boneless for today (no comments required, thanks very much!). Also, you could use white or dark chicken but I decided to go with a mix in order to provide a depth of flavour and texture.

Ok, enough with the type of chicken! In a medium sized bowl, I mixed 1/3 cup of white flour (yes, sorry, white flour…you can use whole wheat flour some other time :-), 1.5 tsp each of Garam Masala and Tandoori Masala, 1 tsp of Hot Madras Curry and 1/2 tsp each of ground Cumin and Coriander. Once blended, I added the chicken and worked it with my fingers in order to coat each piece with the flour mixture. I like the idea of layering my flavours and while most recipes suggest simply coating your chicken with flour only, I like the idea of building the flavours as I move through the dish. I set the chicken aside in the fridge while I move to other prep.

Setting aside the computer for a minute, I washed 2 yellow onions, 1 carrot, 2 hot chili peppers and about 8 oz of button mushrooms. Next, I diced, peeled and chopped, seeded, chopped and halved them, respectively. Did you follow that? You’re cooks, you’ll figure it out.

At this point, I also have on the counter a 19 oz can chick peas, 28 oz can of whole tomatoes, 10 oz can of chicken stock, 10 oz can of coconut milk (see below), a small container of plain yogurt, some ginger and garlic. At some point, I hope to bring this together but for now…that is where we stand. And on that, I will leave to have a beer and watch the news but do not fear I will be back!

Ok, I am back…where were we? Oh yes… In a large saucepan (4 quart) I melt 2 tbsp of butter over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, chillies and 2 tsp of curry powder. Cook about 3-5 minutes or until onion is tender. Increase heat slightly and add chicken to the saucepan. Cook until just brown on all sides.
At this point, some debate broke out regarding the coconut milk. I had bought coconut juice, not milk and was promptly advised by my mouthy Sous chef that it would not work. Hmmm, ok what to do. Thankfully, there was a partial carton of heavy cream and some solid, pure creamed coconut in the fridge. At this point, with nothing to lose and a Sous chef shaking her head, I combined 1/4c of cream, 1/3 c of coconut juice and about 1 inch of creamed coconut grated in order to create coconut milk.

So, with the Sous chef silenced, we return to the pot. I add 3 cloves (minced) garlic, 1 tbsp (minced) ginger, the make-shift coconut milk, the can of tomatoes (drained first ), chicken stock, 1 tbsp of crushed chili pepper blend (see below), 1 tbsp whole grain mustard, and 4 tbsp of hot curry paste (see below) and simmer for 60 minutes, uncovered.

While we wait…I learn from my Sous chef we have no oil…so, the pappadums have to wait for another dinner. A dinner that will very likely have another Sous chef (just kidding)! As we wait for the curry to simmer, it is time to watch jeopardy, enjoy some wine and chat. Again, I will be back!

Ok, I am back, and now on to the couscous! Ok, before you ask…why couscous and not basmati rice? Well, to be honest, there is no reason other than I am not a fan of basmati rice and find couscous a nice Middle Eastern side dish. As a consequence, I decided to go where the UN has feared to tread and combined a Middle Eastern side dish with an Indian dish.

Well, my peanut gallery is back. My Sous chef thinks the curry needs to be hot enough to strip paint so I add another tbsp each of hot curry paste and hot chilli blend to the pot. At this point, the fire is not just subtle but builds to remind you why someone should never mix Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine.
Yes, for the couscous I started with a packaged (see below) but can’t just leave it there so, once cooked, I add about 3 tbsp each of toasted sliced almonds, diced dried apricots and diced dried prunes to give it some depth of flavour and texture.

As we bring the cooking to an end, I plate the spinach salad; comprised of a bed of spinach, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries with a fig balsamic vinaigrette dressing. I then plate the couscous and the curry, pour the wine and sit down to enjoy a fantastic meal. For those of light hearts or tender tongues you can cool the curry by adding a spoon full of the plain yogurt which will give it a smooth yet cooler taste.
As I finish this blog, I am constantly reminded of how much I love to cook and how social it can be to cook with friends. What started as an adventure into the unknown, ended up as an evening of entertaining conversation, good laughs and a delicious meal. I hope you have enjoyed the adventure and I encourage all those cooks out there to go beyond the recipe and find a new path in cooking (and then share it!).

Moroccan-Spiced Couscous


Hot Curry Paste

Chili Pepper Blend

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