Chicken Curry – the Rajasthani Way (vegan/vegetarian option)
In Jaipur I had a cooking lesson from Mrs. Singh of Dera Mandawa, which also offers “homestays” – the Indian equivalent of a cosy bed & breakfast. Cosy isn’t the right word here, Dera Mandewa is a manor house of royalty - a place of huge courtyards, sized for the elephants to come inside and unload their burdens. We talked and talked through the velvety dark evening.
She explained to me that girls rarely left the mansion grounds, even for schooling. Rajasthan in the old days was a place of danger and kidnap, as well as beauty and nobility. Girls stayed close to their female relatives and learned the skills they needed in daily life. Counting the whole spices in and out of the curry sauce was key and was how you learned arithmetic – you don’t want to bite on a whole clove if it’s left in the sauce. Mrs. Singh herself was lucky enough to be in the vanguard of female emancipation, she went to school, became a doctor and then a consultant. Now she lives in her old family home, sharing her culture through food. This is the genuine recipe, with only my addition of tomato puree, as I think the little bit of sweetness is very pleasant. The sauce is made before you cook the meat and is itself vegan, so you can instead use vegetables or paneer for the protein to give you a vegan or vegetarian dish.
The onion, garlic, chilli and ginger paste can be made in larger quantities and kept in the fridge to be used in different dishes. My friend Mussarrat Butt from Artisan Nutrition in Didsbury (www.artisannutrition.co.uk) recommends doing this if you are going to make a lot of Indian food. She makes the paste from onions, garlic, turmeric root, salt and ginger and uses it in her vegetarian and vegan curries. It keeps for at least a week.
Serves 4 Timings – 90 minutes
A paste made from:
To be added later:
Put 4 tablespoons vegetable oil in a heavy pan, heat well. This looks a lot, but you will need it all. Tip in the whole spices – watch out, the bay leaf will spit like fury. Fry for a few seconds, then add the chopped red onion. Fry for about 10 minutes, moving about, until the onion is browning.
While that is frying, make the onion paste in the blender/food processor. Add a little more water if you want to, but remember the water has to be fried off in the next stage which will take longer if your paste is too liquid.
Mix the powdered spices in a glass with a little water to a loose paste – this is to avoid scorching the powder, which would give the sauce a burned taste.
Add this spice paste to the frying pan, stir and fry to release the fragrance. Now add the onion paste from the blender. The onion paste will meld with the hot oil and onions in the pan and make a thick, bloopy sauce – which will spit and bubble. Resign yourself to having to wipe down the hob after the cooking session. Fry the sauce for about 20 minutes, until it is thick and all the ingredients are combined. Stir in the tomato puree and taste the sauce for seasoning – you will need to add some salt. Keep frying and moving the mass around in the pan. At this stage, start to take out the whole spices – and, like Mrs. Singh, be careful that you count out what you counted in! Keep stirring until the sauce is very thick and the oil starts to show when you draw your wooden spoon through it.
Let the sauce cool, add the lime juice and adjust the seasoning. If you need to add a teaspoon of sugar, do so. You can leave it at this stage in the fridge for at least a day, and also freeze it for later.
Prepare your protein for the curry: if using chicken thighs, just fry the pieces in shallow hot oil until lightly browned and cooked through.
Add the chicken to the curry sauce, loosen with some water and stir in the cream. Warm up gently and don’t boil or the cream will split.
Serve with chopped fresh coriander, naan bread, plain rice and some simple relishes and chutneys.
A Hug from the Kitchen
Healthy, hearty, happy food, for good times and bad. Cheer yourself up, or spread the cheer around your family and friends.