Let me describe to you my first experience with Indian food. It was at a buffet in Tucson, AZ. I stood there, empty plate in hand, wondering what the hell everything was. As far as I could tell, it was just slop in different colors… and some fried stuff. I was a little scared. Oh, but the smell, the smell was good. It was a warm, earthy smell that gave me the strength to put some of that slop on my plate. I didn’t know what I was eating, so I tried the least threatening looking dishes as my first go. I grabbed some naan, per my boyfriend’s instruction, and scooped up some green stuff and dug in…. then the skies opened up and angels started singing.
I joke, but it was good. Real good. Absolutely different from anything I had ever tried. Now having had my fair share of Indian food, I can recognize the tastes and smells that make Indian food so wonderfully delicious. It’s the turmeric, ginger, gram masala, coriander, cilantro, dried chiles. It’s the frying of the spices that give each dish this sultry feel and aroma. It’s the hearty vegetables like eggplant, potatoes, carrots, peas. And most importantly, it’s the union and slow-cooking of all these interesting ingredients together that make one cohesive mass of food.
This was my first attempt at Indian food, and it was delicious. Such an easy recipe, and I plan on making it regularly. It’s a very slight variation of Aarti Sequeira’s recipe off Foodnetwork.com. Aarti was the winner of last season’s The Next Food Network Star and I just adore her! She seems so sweet and genuine, with a real passion for food. The best part is that she’s making Indian food accessible to everyday folk like me. The only change I make is to use chicken stock instead of water. But either way will turn out good, I’m sure of it. So if Indian food intimidates you, like it did me at one time, try this simple recipe and let it open your eyes to a whole new world of flavor!
Green Curry Chicken (adapted from Aarti Sequeira on Foodnetwork.com)
2 small bunches cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped, 1 1/2 cups
1 bunch fresh mint, leaves, coarsely chopped, 1 1/2 cups
1 red onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic
1 1/2-inch piece ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, about 1 3/4 pounds, halved
1/2 teaspoon malt vinegar
1/4 cup plain whole milk yogurt, whisked until smooth
Cooked basmati rice or warm naan bread, for serving
Red pepper flakes as garnish
Add the cilantro, mint, red onion, garlic, ginger, and salt, and pepper, to taste, to a food processor or blender. Puree on high until smooth. With the processor running, add about 1/4 cup water, and blend until the mixture is the consistency of a thick paste, a.k.a. “masala”. Set aside.
In a large pot or deep skillet heat the olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the shallot and cook, stirring often, until golden brown.
Add the spices and cook for 30 seconds. Pour the masala mixture into skillet and cook, stirring often until it deepens in color andaroma. You’ll know it’s ready when it looks shiny, little droplets of oil will appear on the surface, and the masala will hold together as a cohesive mass.
Add the chicken, coating every piece in the masala and stirring often. Continue to cook for 5 minutes, so that the masala really adheres to the chicken. Add about 1 1/2 cups chicken stock, just enough to cover the chicken, and the vinegar. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until the chicken is tender andsauce has thickened slightly, about 20 to 25 minutes.
Remove the pan from heat and stir in the yogurt. Taste and adjust seasonings, if needed. Transfer the mixture to a serving dish, garnish with red pepper flakes and serve over rice or with warm naan bread.