One disadvantage of this otherwise rather nice town is that there is not a single Indian restaurant. During the time we’ve lived here there have been two: a decent enough place attached to a motel that turned into (yet another) Mexican restaurant a couple years ago, and a really great place with a real tandoori oven, which turned into an office furniture shop. Now there’s nothin’. This is part of the reason we cook so much Indian food at home. Besides, it’s fun.
We had friends over last weekend, and fixed up a pretty standard set of dishes to take care of any Indian cravings: red lentil dal, basmati rice, spiced okra, flatbread and chicken curry. The bread and the curry were (pretty safe) experiments: I made paratha for the first time, and the curry was the Chicken Simmered in a Tomato Sauce (very straightforward title) from Meena Pathak’s book.
The curry is a pretty standard format: spices, chicken pieces, tomato, yogurt. It makes a hearty, fragrant dish that goes well with a mild vegetable and bread, and is comforting to eat. As usual, we refused to believe Meena when she tells you to put 3/4 tsp cayenne in every single dish. I also skipped the whole first part of the recipe, where she has you deep fry onions and then puree them, since I had a bag of pureed shallots left over from a Gretchens class. I also forgot to add the fennel seeds at the end. Really, no matter how you adjust it, this kind of thing is always good.
Chicken Simmered in a Tomato Sauce
- 2 cups sliced onion
- 2 cups chopped tomatoes
- 3 bay leaves
- 4 cardamom pods
- 4 whole cloves
- 1 tsp whole cumin seed
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1/4 tsp cayenne (or so – depends on your tolerance)
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 pound or so chicken breast or thigh meat, chopped into 1 inch pieces
- salt to taste
- 1 tsp ground fennel seed
- 1 Tbsp plain whole milk yogurt
- fresh chopped cilantro
Fry the onions until brown, and puree them and the tomatoes. Set aside.
Heat oil in a large skillet and add the bay leaves and whole spices. You may want to have a spatter screen handy – I got hit by quite a few flying cumin seeds. Add the ground spices and stir it all up, adding a bit of water to keep it from burning if necessary. Add the pureed onion and tomato and simmer for a few minutes. Add the chicken and simmer for twenty minutes or so, until the chicken is cooked through (I add salt at this point). Add the fennel and stir well. Add a good spoonful of plain yogurt and a sprinkle of cilantro.
The parathas were fun to try, but overall I thought not enough better than plain chapatis to be worth the effort. I used the recipe from Lord Krishna’s Cuisine, since I’ve had excellent luck with all of Yamuna Devi’s bread recipes. The method is straighforward: mix white and whole wheat flours with a pinch of salt, rub a tablespoon of oil into the flour, add warm water until a soft dough is formed, knead, leave sitting on the counter under a bowl for an hour while you do other things. Split the dough into equal parts – I like to work with pieces about 1 1/2 inch across. Roll each ball out into a thin round about 6-8 inches wide. At this point you have a chapati, but if you want parathas keep going.
Brush melted butter over the surface of your dough round, and fold it to make a half circle. Brush butter over it again, and fold in half again to make a triangle. Roll it out flat. Set on a sheet. Repeat with all the other dough pieces, being careful not to stack the breads (this part takes a lot of baking sheets or counter space).
Heat a cast iron pan or griddle over fairly high heat – I find it works best to start very hot and adjust downwards as you cook the breads. Toss a bread on the dry griddle and wait for a minute, then flip it and wait again – this toasts the outsides. Then flip it back over and watch it start to poof – push it down gently with a spatula to make sure all the edges get cooked. When it starts showing brown spots, flip it once more, then remove to a basket lined with clean towels to keep warm. Repeat. This part goes really fast once your griddle is good and hot. My parathas didn’t poof nearly as well as my chapatis usually do, but the layers separated nicely. And they tasted good, which is the important thing.
Use bits of the bread to eat the curry, with chutney or pickle if desired. I liked this dish with garlic pickle, and J went for his usual favorite, Brinjal eggplant relish.