Thursday, March 3, 2011

Curried Chicken and Cauliflower

I have loved spicy food since I was a toddler. I'm not one of those "chile-head" types that see how hot they can go without exploding internally. I really enjoy the heat in combination with flavors. To that end, I love all the cuisines the utilize chiles--Mexican, Indian, Thai--to name a few. One of my most vivid memories of the Cours Saleya Market in Nice is the spice vendor with the burlap bags brimming with every shade of earth imaginable. In seconds, both my eyes and my palate are in heaven.

My little tins of spices came to life today as I began to assemble the makings of a curry. It was dinner-and-a-movie date night and since our kids don't love spicy things like Kyle and I do, I thought it was the perfect time to make it.

I drew upon my time spent with a friend from India (I guess she would be more of an acquaintance since it was really my only time with her). She was preparing a "thank you" feast for a group of people who had helped her and her husband while they were in the states. The connector was a mutual friend whom I was just getting to know but she knew enough about me to know that I loved to cook (30 seconds into the "how-do-you-dos" and you'll know that about me). She asked if I would be interested in coming and helping her friend prepare the feast and, always eager to learn a cuisine from a native cook, I cleared my calendar.

Throughout the day, I was amazed at how different it was than what I had imagined. It wasn't all bright yellow and the spices weren't a pre-mixed blend from a McCormick bottle. There was black cumin (which I have yet to find around here), cardamom, coriander, cinnamon, and tons of onions, fresh ginger and garlic. I became her sous-chef and prepped all the veggies. As in most cuisines, there are the ingredients that start almost every recipe: Holy Trinity in Cajun--bell pepper, onion and celery; Mire Poix in French--carrot, onion, celery or the Latin Sofrito--chiles, onion and garlic.For Indian, it's onion, ginger and garlic (at least it was for the region my new friend was from and in the sub-continent, there are inherent differences to each region, city and quite naturaly, each family.) By the way, notice a trend here?? Onions are your pantry's best friend.

Anyway, I watched as she sizzled the onions til almost black in copious amounts of ghee (brought from India) before adding large quantities of minced ginger and garlic along with the bashed cumin seeds, coriander and cardamom pods. I bashed spices off and on all day to prepare for each dish and loved every minute of it. Whole cinnamon sticks and bay leaves were added when making the rice and upon trying the first mouthful I really could have feasted it was so very flavorful and satisfying. But this being a true feast, she made several other dishes and they all started the same way. You would think that it would all taste the same after awhile, however the spices played off their host so well that though the dishes blended well inherently, they each had their own character as well.

So here's my take on curry. I didn't write anything down that day (what was I thinking?) so I couldn't remember exactly how she did everything, but what I did do was start with whole spices or at least several single spices instead of dumping in a bunch of generic curry powder. Oh, and I roasted the cauliflower separately with some of the spices to pull out the sweet flavor, then tossed it in at the end rather than simply sauteing it with the sauce.

NOTE:  To stay true to my food philosophy, I do not want you to go find all these individual spices. For many of you, there is a spice bottle rack hanging out in the recesses of your pantry with these unopened spices just waiting for today.  Go in there now...both you and they are in luck.  For the rest of you that have followed the "if you haven't used it in 6 months, throw it out" mandate and don't have these on hand, use the pre-mixed curry powder you probably do have, just wing it or if you just want to gather these spices, look for a health food store or a local grocery with a well-stocked bulk area and buy tiny bags of the spices.  Whatever you do, do not buy these or any other spices in the glass jars at chain grocers (or even Walmart for that matter).   They are low quality and they charge at least 5 times more per ounce because you are primarily paying for the packaging.  (For instance I bought a 1 ounce plastic jar of generic big-name turmeric at a local deep discount grocery store for $2.58 then went to Whole Foods later in the month and bought 4 ounces of organic turmeric along with cumin seeds and coriander seeds in bulk spices for a total of $1.56.) Visit www.myspicesage.com to order directly to your home if you are in need of updating your spice cabinet and they will send you a free gift with your order.  My last order I got a package of 8 vanilla beans for free!


CWYG Stats
Veggie Box - Caulfilower

CWYG items - spices, onions, garlic, ginger, chicken, oil, coconut milk, rice

Curried Chicken and Cauliflower

1 tbsp whole cardamom pods
1 tsp coriander seeds
2 tsp turmeric, divided use
sea salt (or kosher) to taste
1 smal head cauliflower separated into florets
olive oil to drizzle
2 tbsp coconut oil (what I used) or ghee or olive oil
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 3" piece of ginger, peeled and minced
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne (for heat only so you can leave out for mild)
a bay leaf or two
8 oz chicken breast, sliced thinly
Juice of one lime (or lemon)
1 can coconut milk, shaken well
1/2 cup water
Basmati Rice for serving

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Bash the cardamom and coriander in a mortar and pestle (or pulse in mini food processor) until broken up. Toss half of the spices along with half of the turmeric and a generous sprinkle of salt with the cauliflower on a cookie sheet. Spread the spiced cauliflower into a single layer and drizzle with olive oil and roast until brown on the edges.

Meanwhile, heat the coconut oil over medium high heat and add the onion. Cook until it begins to turn dark brown on the edges and is very soft then add the garlic and ginger. Stirfry for a couple of minutes then add all the spices except the bay leaf. Once the onion mixture has taken on a beautiful golden hue, add the chicken and saute until it is no longer pink. Add the lime juice and cook until completely reduced and incorporate into the chicken/onion mixture. Add a generous pinch of salt along with the coconut milk and water. Cook for 10 minutes or until the coconut milk has reduced a bit. Serve over rice.

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