Thursday, 27 November 2014

Spicy and Tangy Chicken Stew

Come winters and I am on the look out for hot, soupy dishes. And this dish is one of my winter favourites, although it is quite suitable for the summers too considering how light and fresh it is. A stew with distinct Indian flavours, light on the stomach, but warms you up alright. I use hardly any spices other than a little turmeric and chili powder for the colour. You could eliminate that too as it would make no difference to the taste and flavour. 

I invented this dish during my initial days at my University in England. I had spent the first week or so on an exclusive diet of Masala Maggi and Cup-o-noodles that I had carried from back home. My mother had insisted on packing other victuals including some rice and lentils and few spices, but I had vehemently protested. It was so uncool. Of course, I regretted the decision. The thing is I was so depressed and homesick during the  first week or so that I hardly set food outside my room. During that period I mostly sat in my room trying to device ways in which I could convince my father that coming here was a wrong decision. The problem was, the decision was mine, the money his! When I was not planning and plotting I cried, sometimes howled. Yes, crazy! The next time I would cry so much would be on my last day in England. Huh.

Anyway, so one evening I cried so much and so loudly that my flatmates thought there was something terribly wrong. There was incessant knocking on the door, I didn't reply. By the time I was done crying, I was done for good this time, I was mortified. How am I going to show my stupid face to my flatmates. That evening I stepped out of my room, sneaked out, took a bus and went straight to Brighton and then to a supermarket in Hove. 

I had to get a grip of my life. First things first. And what could be first but food. I came back home with a few boxes of chicken thighs and breast fillets, potatoes, onions, garlic, ginger, baby carrots and some fresh cilantro and mint. I also picked up some rice, a carton of milk, which I later realised expired that very day, and some more coffee, an Italian variety at that. Life was getting more and more exciting by the minute. Did I mention the chocolate muffins I picked up after a long argument with myself? 

I was psyched, I would be cooking proper food in the kitchen of flat 60 East Slope for first time. Chicken Curry it would be. So out came the knife from the suitcase, yes I had carried a knife along! A tiny grater too! What do you think? So I chopped onions and garlic, grated the ginger. Oops no tomatoes. Never mind I said, I'll manage. I washed the chicken, set  my brand new non stick pan (this one I carried too) on the stove. 

Only to realise I had no oil! Brilliant. After much deliberation, I knocked on one  of my flatmates doors. "Would you have a little oil I could borrow?" "What kind of oil?" "Ummm any thing would do." "No, what do you want it for?" "Chicken curry," I mumbled. "Ok cooking oil" "What other kinds of oil did she have," I wondered. C accompanied me to the kitchen and showed me her  cabinet, there was a tiny bottle of olive oil, numerous boxes of tea and some honey. "I wondered what she ate." Anyway so I set out to to cook and then it occurred to me. I had no spices, nothing, no cumin, no coriander, no cloves, cardamom or cinnamon, not even turmeric...and I had no salt. I could get the salt from the Union Store of the university, although it would mean walking all the way down the slope and then up. But I wouldn't get any of the other stuff. For now salt would do I decided. So I ran back to the Union Store and grabbed a packet of salt and picked up a lemon too, I could add a squeeze for taste. 

The chicken stew I made that cold October evening in my little kitchen far from home, with whatever ingredients I had randomly picked up has over time metamorphosed into one of my favourite comfort dishes. I love ti have it with rice and sometimes with noodles too! 

Chicken - 1 kg 
Onions - 5 (medium)
Garlic - 15-18 cloves (small)
Grated ginger - 1 tbsp
Tomatoes (chopped) - 4 large
Chopped cilantro/coriander leaves - 1 cup
Chopped green chilies - 4 tbsp (or to taste, I like it hot)
Turmeric powder - 1 tsp
Red chili powder - 1 tsp
Dried Fenugreek leaves/ Kasuri methi - 1 tbsp
Fenugreek seeds - 1/4 tsp
Coriander seeds - 1/4tsp
Large potatoes - 3
Baby carrots - 6-8
Mustard oil
Salt to taste
Juice of 2 limes


Dice the onions and tomatoes into small cubes and keep. 

Cut the potatoes length wise to form four fat fingers.  Fry them with a pinch of salt until golden and almost done. Keep aside.

Heat 2 tbsp oil in a heavy bottomed pan. Add the coriander and fenugreek seeds. Once they splutter and begin to exude their aroma, remove the seeds, leaving only a few and add the chicken. 

Add turmeric and fenugreek seeds and fry the chicken until opaque . Keep the heat on high. 

Add the onions, whole garlic cloves and grated ginger and fry until onions are translucent. 

Add warm water enough to completely submerge the chicken. 

Bring the water to boil and a few minutes later add the baby carrots, chopped tomatoes, green chilies and coriander leaves. Few minutes later, add the potatoes and salt to taste. 

Once water reduces by a quarter, and chicken is cooked through, add the the lime juice and the dried fenugreek leaves and remove from heat. Serve immediately garnished with coriander leaves and fresh chopped green chilies if you like. Have it on its own, or with rice. Or trust me and try it with noodles. 

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