Here's the deal. Sometimes I get all "I can do ANYTHING!" and try things that are way, way beyond my capability (like learning to ski, for example). There are other things (like baking) that I try and can maybe sort of do, but not do very well, or simply don't enjoy. And then there are the things that I convince myself, without ever having lifted a finger to try, that I can't possibly succeed at, no matter how much effort I put into them.
One of those things? Indian cooking.
There's no good rationale there whatsoever. I mean, I love to cook, right? And gosh, do I ever love to *eat* Indian food. So it should logically follow that those two facts would joyously join together and cause me to rise to new levels of supreme confidence and towering ego.
And yet. Maybe it's because half the time when I go to an Indian restaurant, I don't really know what it is that I'm eating. Nor do I particularly care, because it's so good that why worry about the details. Just bring some more, please.
Anyway. I decided it was time to stop being such a wuss, so I got myself a copy of Raghavan Iyer's newest book, 660 Curries. I figured, hey, he's got a great reputation, the book got great word-of-mouth, and you know what? He's a Minnesotan. He lives in THE SAME TOWN as I do. So even if I've never met him, never run into him, oh, you know, while having buffalo wings with the family at Old Chicago Pizza or buying toilet paper at Costco, still. There have to be good vibes by being in the same community, right?
Of course, having 660 curries to choose from presented another dilemma, but then I stumbled upon the recipe for Vibrant Chicken (don't you love that name??) with this description: "Sometimes a new student will ask me to share a 'basic chicken curry.' They may as well ask me to come up with a peace plan for the Middle East!...Westerners often think of tomato-based dishes as essential curries, and maybe this recipe appeals to that perception."
OK. I'm pretty Westernized. This seemed like a good, if somewhat timid, way to dip my foot into the 660 Curries pool.
There are a couple of prep things you have to do first, but they turned out to be very easy, and you could do them a day or so ahead of time and stick them in the fridge. First, you have to put water and fresh ginger in a blender and puree it. Then you have to put water and fresh garlic (50 cloves) in a blender and puree it. Yes, I used the pre-peeled cloves from the grocery store. Much as I love garlic--and I do love garlic--peeling 50 cloves sounded like a task and a half.
Finally, you take 2 pounds of red onions and saute them gently under they're caramelized and brown.
Nummy. I do love me some fried onions. I was ready to stop here and just eat onions for dinner. But the rest of the family would have objected to that, since none of them are quite as fond of onions as I am. No, instead I followed the recipe and cooled the onions, then--say it with me--put them in the blender with some water and pureed them.
My trusty spatula got a nice workout.
In the end, and none of it took long, I had ginger paste, garlic paste, and fried onion paste. Now onto the chicken, which had me mixing some of the garlic and ginger pastes together.
It was at this point that my optimism level started to rise. I'd panicked a bit when I read the list of ingredients and saw all those pastes that required me to look at other pages in the cookbook. But they were really easy. They smelled good. And the recipes said I could take the leftovers and freeze them in ice cube trays to save for future 660 Curries cooking. That Raghavan Iyer, he's a pretty tricky guy.
Next up: smear the garlic-ginger paste over some bone-in, skinless chicken pieces, then brown them in canola oil.
Take the chicken out just when it's browned, not fully cooked. Add to the pan a number of interesting ingredients, such as tomato sauce, the fried onion paste, sweet paprika, ground coriander, cumin, turmeric, cayenne, and kosher salt. Cover and simmer the sauce for about 20-25 minutes, then add the chicken back in, cover, and cook for another 20-25 minutes. Sprinkle with fresh cilantro--mmm, cilantro--and voila! My first curry dish.
Vibrant, yes? In appearance and in flavor. You guys--this was so good. Better yet, the whole family agreed--there were no leftovers (sadly) and it was unanimous that I could put this into regular rotation with no complaints. Well, except from Teen 1, who reserves the right to complain about chicken in general. The sauce is spicy, but not brutally so, just very flavorful. The chicken was moist and tender. And it was so easy.
And now I have garlic paste and ginger paste and fried onion paste in my freezer. For next time. And there will be a next time.
I am cook, hear me roar.
Vibrant Chicken with a Spicy Tomato Sauce
(Gari Waali Murghi)
Reprinted with permission from 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer, 2008
¼ cup Ginger Paste
2 tablespoons Garlic Paste
1 chicken (3 ½ pounds), skin removed, cut into 8 pieces
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 can (14.5 ounces) tomato sauce
½ cup Fried Onion Paste
1 tablespoon coriander seeds, ground
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 ½ teaspoons coarse kosher or sea salt
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, ground
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
½ teaspoon cayenne (ground red pepper)
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems for garnishing
1. Combine the ginger and garlic pastes in a medium-size bowl, and mix well. Add the chicken pieces and smear them all over with the paste.
2. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken pieces, meat side down in a single layer, and cook until they are lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Turn the pieces over and cook on the other side until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate.
3. Add the tomato sauce, onion paste, coriander, paprika, salt, cumin, turmeric, and cayenne to the skillet. The sauce will immediately start to bubble and boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the skillet, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until a thin layer of oil separates from the sauce, forming a spice-colored film on the surface, 20-25 minutes
4. Return the chicken pieces to the skillet and coat them with the sauce. Cook, covered, turning the chicken occasionally, until the meat in the thickest parts is no longer pink inside and the juices run clear, 20-25 minutes.
5. Serve the chicken with its vermilion-red sauce, sprinkled with the cilantro.