Sunday, March 7, 2010

SPICE IS THE VARIETY OF LIFE - Vipin's chicken curry

I am at times an impatient woman so sitting as I am in Whangarei waiting for the birth of my second grandchild is hard work on my nerves. You can imagine how my daughter feels perched on the edge of the couch already over her due date. Mowing the lawns didn’t help so now we turn to curry every night....

Whether or not curry actually works to bring on labour remains open to debate, I’m not sure if any great research has been done on the subject. It does however give us great cause here on the farm in Whangarei, for a curry week. My daughter is an avid fan of South East Asian cuisine, turning her Spirit House cookbook into her kitchen bible. She loves to cook with chilli, lime, coriander and palm sugar. Fish sauce is the new Wattie’s Tomato Sauce in this house and her 18 month old son has been raised on her homemade steamed dumplings.

It was quite a different story for me growing up in New Zealand in the 60s - it didn’t especially lend itself to international cuisine. I made up for it in spades however when I first went overseas. My sister and I travelled to London together and found board with an Indian woman, not long in the UK herself. For the girls from Weedons, Canterbury the complexity of Maya Shahaney’s cooking was phenomenal.

The first thing Maya ever made me was an omelette full of chopped fresh green chilli. I’d never eaten chilli in my life, which was obvious at the time with the water streaming from my eyes. But it was the beginning of a great love affair. Maya taught me how to make chapatti, how to cook basmati rice (she used the absorption method after washing the rice over and over again until the water was clear). Maya cooked religiously with garlic and chilli which I’m sure was the reason I was never once sick while living with her, despite the London winter. She always made her own garam masala, the pungent spice mix at the base of all her curries. Garam masala differs regionally but is usually a blend of spices such as chilli, cumin, turmeric, coriander, cardamom and so on.

We all have a great reliable Indian takeaway down the road but the understanding of spice, the use of them in different regions and the sheer complexity of the cuisine make it a must for foodies to get a handle on. Little is more gratifying than balancing an array of spices to create one perfectly rounded dish.

So, here I am in Whangarei working on a garam (hot) masala (mixture) to coax my grandchild into the world. One of our White Tie chefs, Vipin, who is our resident curry and spice expert has graciously agreed to share one of his recipes. Raised in Bombay and cooking his way around the world, Vipin’s curries are a staff lunch favourite and are sure to become a favourite of yours. His tip for this recipe; you must have patience. Vipin says each sequence is equally important in Indian cuisine, each ingredient must be cooked properly before the next layer of flavour is added, all the aromas must be released. And that’s when you get a curry so good, it brings on labour! Cook it & Love it.

Serves 3 - 4

250g boneless chicken
20ml lemon juice
2 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp turmeric
½ tsp chilli powder
2 T oil
½ tsp mixed spice

50g ginger
60g garlic
4 green chillies, chopped (with seeds for hot curry)
3 red onions, sliced
5 tomatoes

10g cumin seeds
4 cardamom pods
2 cinnamon sticks, broken
2 star anise

Chicken stock
Extra lemon juice

Dice the chicken and toss with oil, lemon juice and spices and refrigerate overnight if possible.

Heat oil in a pan and add ginger, garlic and chilli and cook until the raw flavour of the garlic is completely gone. Add the sliced red onion and cook well until caramelised. Finally, add the chopped tomatoes and fry until very tender. Allow mixture to cool before blending in a food processor to make a smooth silky paste.

Heat oil in a pan and add cumin, cardamom, cinnamon and star anise, allowing the spices to crackle in the heat until they release the aromatic oils. Add the paste and fry together well, until the paste leaves the sides of the pan.

Add the marinated boneless chicken cubes and fry them along with the spices and paste. Add a little chicken stock and bring the curry to the boil before simmering for 20 minutes.

Spoon over basmati rice and finish with finely chopped coriander leaves, a sprinkle of garam masala and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

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