It hit me.
Moved country, emptied boxes, bought furniture, planted the garden. Uniforms ready, school bags packed, shoes polished and lunchboxes made. School timetable is on the fridge, cupboards stocked. Laundry is getting easier, navigating a new city is still a work in progress. Pantry organised, toys arranged and clothes are labelled. Met old friends, made new ones, trying to bridge the distance with those I left behind. Fridge is full, freezer is cramped, wine is chilling on the rack – regular life is all set to start again.
Only, I wanted to hide under the duvet and nest there for the foreseeable future. The brand new cooker remained shiny for weeks. The cavernous oven is a glorified dishwarmer and half hearted baking attempts have been nothing short of disastrous. Cakes overflowing, biscuits burning – nothing was remotely close to en pointe. I am on first name basis with the Indian takeaway down the road. In fact, he was the only person I called regularly. Every other close contact called, messaged or Facebook-ed me to make sure I, in fact, was still alive. Two months after the move, I am on shutdown mode. I became one of those people I formerly found incomprehensible – people who didn’t care really about food. It was fuel, end of. Worse was that I couldn’t stand the idea of cooking, let alone actually make anything; I couldn’t be bothered. When I say cooking, I mean cooking with heart, being keen and wanting to satisfy. The amount of rote cooking involving spaghetti carbonara I’ve fed my kids on a weekly basis is terrifying, and yet I made it, repeatedly.
Today I sort of stumbled on an old email from my mother, a reply regarding weaning advice when Lil Lassie was starting solids. Along with the kichdi recipe, she gave me a simple chicken curry, an everyday get-it-on-the-table job. Seeing as the cupboards are stocked to the brim and the residents left undisturbed for far too long, I mustered just enough interest, via guilt, to get on with it. Enough, that I gave into the fleeting inclination to get my camera out from its case.
Admittedly, I started off grudgingly. With the help of good music, the process started feeling good, instinctive. The deeply familiar aroma of onions gradually caramelising in aromatic coconut oil sort of woke up the senses, like a memory coming into focus. I didn’t rush the pace, but didn’t shy from it either. A Scottish friends says ye cannae hurry a curry and she’s bang on. Slowly, I felt tension dissolving and by the end, seeing a pot of curry gently bubbling away felt incredibly satisfying.
It all sounds a bit loopy and daft intellectualising of what is basically the need for body fuel but the simple movements called for in cooking can be a catalytic action for clarity in your head space. This is the longest I’ve gone, two months almost, in a cooking fug and to be honest, it scared me a little. Such a complete lack of interest whatsoever for what was once, a source of incredible personal pleasure made me question everything else connected to it – family, friends, online communities, my own nature, even this blog. It hit me, out of the blue.
With this curry though, things are looking brighter. On tasting it, I had visuals of my curry loving son lapping it up and The Scotsman digging in after a day of long meetings and reports. And because I wanted to, I made a simple grated veg salad to go with and pushed the boat out making papadums. I was conscious that I was anticipating the pleasure it would give my family to have this meal, a feeling that evaded me for what seems like ages. Even Lil Lassie finished her plate without complaint. After weeks of rote cooking, anything I cooked with care would have tasted fabulous to her tastebuds! They all tucked in, even the little American girl from next door who had no idea what a curry was. I am pleased that her first education on the subject was a decent curry from my kitchen.
This recipe doesn’t require any special spices. If you make anything close to being a curry, most likely you’ll have the necessary in your pantry. My mother puts green peppers into this one, which is probably the only time I would tolerate eating green peppers. Or go with my preference – slit and deseed those fat, mild green finger chillies and add to the end of cooking time to give that grassy, acidic finish to your Everyday Chicken Curry.
Everyday Chicken Curry
The quality of your spices dictates the end result. If when you open your dust covered bottle and find there is no aroma but a stale, insipid smell, it’s time to chuck it and begin again. If you are lucky enough to get to an Asian grocers, the produce, price and quality there will be unbeatable. If all you can get at the supermarket wee bottled spices, you might need to up them a little to get some impact.
This curry isn’t meant to be spicy-hot, but pleasantly spiced and as such, appeals more to children or nervous adults. A good dollop of thick yoghurt on the side helps things along deliciously in such cases.
1 Kg Chicken, cut into 8-10 pieces and skinned or skinless chicken thighs
2 Onions, sliced
1 Tbsp Crushed Ginger
1 Tbsp Crushed Garlic
2 Tomatoes – blanched, de-skinned and sliced
1 Large Potato skinned and diced into cubes of 1- ½”.
1 Large green pepper diced into 1” piece.|
4 tbsp cooking oil
250ml of warm water
Pinch of powdered garam masala
Soak the following in a little water
½ tsp Chilli Powder
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper powder
¼ tsp turmeric
Whole Garam Masala as follows:-
2″ stick cassia bark or 21/2″ stick of cinnamon
4 cardamom pods, lightly bruised
1/4 tsp Cumin (whole)
Heat the oil in a large pan on a medium heat and saute the garlic until it turns a light brown. Add the sliced onions and the whole garam masala spices. Cook until the onions turn translucent, then add the ginger and the powdered, soaked spices. Stir well and saute until you can smell the spices taking on a roasted aroma. Then add the tomatoes and cook it down till you get a mushy paste. Turn the heat up a little, add the chicken pieces and mix well to coat thoroughly in the masala paste. Add the water, give it a stir, bring to the boil, put the lid on and put the pan on the lowest heat possible. Let it cook slowly and gently, for around 40-45 minutes if using bone-in cuts of chicken, or 30 minutes if using boneless thigh meat. When its just about to be done, add a pinch of garam masala, cook for another minute and then take the pan off the heat. Season to taste.
While the chicken is cooking, heat up some oil in a frying pan. When the oil is hot, add the cubed potatoes, stir to coat in the oil, place a lid over it and let it cook in its own steam. Turn the potato from time to time, so that they take an even, golden colour on all sides. When the potato is nearly cooked, add the diced pepper, if using and let cook till tender.
When the curry is done, add the potatoes and the pepper to it, stir and replace the lid. Let the curry rest for 10 minutes so that the peppers can infuse their flavour.
Add some chopped fresh coriander if desired, and serve with rice, rotis, papadams and a freshly dressed salad. Raita or plain yoghurt is lovely too.
Note : Instead of using green peppers, you can infuse that grassy, acidic tang by slitting green finger chillies halfway (keeping them attached to the stalk), scrape out the seeds and add to the pan along with the potatoes. Leave the pan for 10 minutes to allow the chilli to infuse.
You can make the curry and potatoes-peppers in advance. Store them separately as the potato will absorb the liquid in the curry over time and it will thicken considerably. Just reheat both separately and mix together as detailed above.
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