Forward note: This post is written with a nod to our friends: Aneesh, Mads, and James’ VR mug (from which I borrowed the title of the post).
Updated 10-27-09: See pictures of our Indian feast!
Sai Ram brunch. Thursday night Indian food at Downer (the good nights). The delicous Indian food Mads and Aneesh cooked for us at the cottage for New Year’s. Mads’ mom’s delicious meal during graduation weekend.
These are my delicious memories of Indian food. Notice none of them occur during the time Paul and I have spent in Bloomington. So, naturally, we’ve had a hankering for Indian food recently. And, because we’re poor and can’t afford to go out to dinner for the real thing, last Sunday night, we decided to bite the bullet and try to make it ourselves.
Having watched the magic and mystery that is anyone cooking Indian food, one could naturally conclude that it is extremely difficult. Mads and Aneesh spent upwards of 2 or 3 hours in the cottage kitchen cooking for us: chopping dozens of vegetables, stewing this, sautéing that, steaming this, and adding spices upon spices with such apparent ease that I had to simply chalk it up to it being in their blood. Once we tasted the product, I knew that there was no way I’d ever be able to make something that tasted that good.
But we decided to try to at least concoct something edible. Chicken curry – that seemed classic enough, and with no mashing of mysterious, rare ingredients. So we began with an online search for “Chicken Curry Recipes.” A word for the wise here: don’t ever do that. There are like twelve thousand million different chicken curry recipes out there: South Indian Chicken Curry, Malay Chicken Curry, Coconut Chicken Curry, North Indian Chicken Curry, Kerala Chicken Curry, Bobby Flay’s Chicken Curry, and on, and on, and on. And it’s not like looking up recipes for Chicken soup, where they’re all pretty much the same. Every single curry recipe was different. Different spices, different bases, different order of cooking ingredients, different cooking times, different cooking vessels…yikes! So, I began sifting through them and searching for one that seemed kind of parallel to the simple verbal recipe I’d received from Aneesh: sauté some onions, garlic and ginger; add curry, tomatoes, chicken and water; simmer. And I wanted one that included, ideally, cauliflower, peas, and potatoes, because I like them in Indian food. No small task.
What I ended up with was a recipe that basically had the same order of operations given by Aneesh, with spices that I actually had in the cupboard, and I thought I could just throw in the veggies and it’d be fine. It may not be authentic Indian, but as I am not authentic Indian and Paul is not an authentic Indian, I didn’t care. (Heck, I don’t even know what the phrase “authentic Indian” means. If your curious, this blog by an authentic Indian studying the Indian diaspora may shed some light.)
So, I began, editing the instructions at will, as I usually do. (If you haven’t figured it out yet, I never actually follow recipes. Even to make something as simple as pancakes.) And, after an hour and a half or more of cooking, I had a vat – literally, a vat, to feed 10 people – of my own chicken curry. It smelled like curry, looked like curry, and, to my great surprise and delight, tasted like curry! (Not as good as yours however, Aneesh; don’t worry.)
But the hardest part was yet to come: making the rice. Paul and I rarely eat rice. Neither of us really like it plain, so we only cook it in things, and even then rarely. So at the store, we’d bought the cheapest rice possible, and that came in a bag. After we’d used it once, we put the remainder in a tupperware container. This is where our problem lay: we had no back-of-the-box instructions to follow. And I forgot whether we had instant rice or real rice. So Paul searched the internet, and initially came up with dozens of sets of instructions, all some variation of “follow the back of the box.” Helpful, internet. Thanks so much. Finally, he did find something that at least gave proportions of rice to water and how many people X amount of rice would serve. We guessed on the rest, and it mostly worked (although we had to cook it longer than expected because it was a little watery).
Curry: check. Rice: check. Naan bread: check (Paul had made this while I was brewing the curry). Authentic Indian meal: maybe. You’ll have to judge for yourself based on the pictures (which, as I am writing this post from school, will be coming as soon as I get home and can upload them from the camera). We do have just slightly less than a vat of curry left, however. So if you come visit us in the next month or so, you just might be able to try some!
Here is an approximate reproduction of my curry recipe.
Jess’ Chicken Curry with potatoes, cauliflower, peas and peppers
Yield: 1 vat of curry (but, honestly, 1 brimming 8 qt pot)
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into large cubes
1 large onion
1 thumb-sized chunk of ginger (you got a better way to measure it when you’re at the supermarket?), grated
2 heaping tablespoons of minced garlic (because I hate cutting it up myself; it makes your hands stink)
2 tablespoons cooking oil (I know, Mads’ and Aneesh, you guys use butter; but this is healthier)
1 chopped fresh cayenne pepper
1 large tomato, diced (or 1 can diced tomatoes)
1 8-oz. can tomato sauce (or paste; sauce was just what we had on hand)
4 tablespoons curry powder (yes, I thought it was a lot, too; just do it)
1 teaspoon cinnamon (could reduce or omit this, I think)
1-2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon crushed bay leaves (or 1 whole bay leaf)
1/2 -1 teaspoon ground black pepper (because I like it)
1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (NOTE: this gives it a hefty kick; tone this down – a lot – if you don’t like spicy foods)
1/2 teaspoon sugar (also, you could omit this; I think it just cuts the spice a little bit)
salt to taste
Veggies: (add any or all or others you have on hand)
1/2 cup chopped mushrooms (because they were going to go bad if I didn’t use them)
1/2 green or red bell pepper, chopped
1 cup chopped cauliflower florets
2 medium-sized potatoes (approximately 1 1/2 cups), cut into small cubes
1 cup frozen peas and carrots (or just peas; I had peas and carrots open in the freezer)
To make curry base, sauté onions, garlic, chopped cayenne pepper, and ginger in the bottom of a large soup pot, until very tender and slightly pasty. Add all the spices, stirring well to mix between each addition. Add tomatoes and tomato paste Allow flavors to blent, stirring frequently over medium heat for about 10 minutes. This will yield a thick, pasty base that smells delicious. Add chicken chunks, stirring to coat with base, and enough water to cover. Allow to simmer on low to medium for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom. Chop the vegetables during this time, adding the potatoes as soon as they are chopped along with more water to cover. Add the remainder of the veggies, and water to cover, if needed. Curry should have the look of a soup with broth to cover the veggies and chicken. Simmer on low for another 10-20 minutes, or until chicken is completely cooked and vegetables are desired tenderness. Serve over white rice, with sauteed spinach and naan bread. Enjoy!