Indian food has not been one of my favorites, so I have absolutely no idea why I decided to try this recipe in the first place ten years ago. The reason why I remember how long it's been is because The Lawyer and I were in the process of a corporate move to Louisville, KY. He had gone ahead to begin work and I stayed for a period of months in a small apartment in Minneapolis which didn't really give me much creative outlet for my cooking obsession. I spent my spare time dreaming about all the great new recipes we would prepare when I finally arrived in Louisville. Unfortunately, I decided that we needed to make a brand-new recipe the very day I arrived. I also decided for some reason that all the boxes need to be unpacked in one weekend. The two decisions collided, and not in a good way.
By the end of the first day of unpacking boxes we were both exhausted, but I had reached that point where you're so tired that you become unreasonably stubborn. (Or at least I do. Well, some would say I'm always unreasonably stubborn and that it's just a matter of degree.) The Lawyer tried to talk me into going to a restaurant or at least ordering a pizza, but NO - I was going to make this recipe come hell or high water. It's not hard, but a brand-new recipe is not a great idea for one of those nights. I don't recall most of the actual preparation but even through a haze of exhaustion I clearly remember how great it tasted.
I always thought of Indian food as being heavy and fiery hot, but this dish is very light and fresh-tasting and has warmth from the spices rather than heat. If you're new to Indian food this is a good introduction. And it's fun to make because you can see and smell all the individual spices that go into making the overall complex flavor and can adjust them up or down to your taste the next time. It's much more interesting and instructive than just buying a jar of curry powder and dumping it in. My guess is that it was the homemade spice mix that attracted me in the first place.
The one fact you do need to come to grips with is that you need quite a number of spices. Hopefully you already have many of them in your cupboard. For the rest, I always recommend Penzeys (your local store or online www.penzeys.com) for the widest variety of fresh and inexpensive spices. And remember, even after buying several spices this meal will still be cheaper than if you went to a restaurant.
The preparation is really pretty straight forward - coat chicken cubes in your homemade spice mix and brown, then remove.
Add onions, ginger and garlic to the pan and cook, then add some more spices - cardamom, bay leaf and cinnamon. I wrap them in cheesecloth and tie with kitchen string so they're easier to fish out later (you can find cheesecloth in some grocery stores and most kitchen supply stores).
Add tomatoes and the chicken pieces and simmer, then add a little yogurt, raisins and some cilantro.
Garnish with toasted sliced almonds and serve with basmati rice. Don't skip the almonds - they're an important component for both flavor and crunch.
Not at all hard, but I do recommend trying it some day when you're not feeling unreasonably stubborn.
2 ½ teaspoons whole coriander seeds
2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch of ground cloves
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 1/2 “cubes
2 tablespoons peanut oil
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 large or two medium onions, halved and thinly sliced
2 whole cinnamon sticks, about 3” long
1 bay leaf
3 green cardamom pods
4 cups whole canned tomatoes with juices
1 ½ cups low-sodium chicken broth
¼ cup plain yogurt
¾ cup golden raisins, roughly chopped
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
Sliced almonds, toasted, for garnish
Hot cooked basmati rice
Special equipment needed:
cheesecloth and kitchen string, for tying spice bundle
In a dry skillet over medium heat, toast coriander and cumin seeds until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to spice grinder, add crushed red pepper flakes, and grind to a powder. Place in a large zip top bag, and add turmeric, ginger, cloves, salt and black pepper. Add chicken and toss to coat.
Heat peanut oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add chicken, cooking until browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove chicken and set aside.
Reduce heat and add ginger, garlic and onions. Cook until softened and browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Meanwhile, place cinnamon sticks, bay leaf and cardamom pods in a square of cheesecloth and tie with kitchen string. When the onions are brown add the spice bundle and cook for an additional 10 minutes, making sure the spice bundle is covered with onions. Add the tomatoes and roughly crush with a potato masher or snip with a kitchen scissors. Add the chicken stock and browned chicken and raise the heat to medium high. Cook until the liquid is somewhat reduced, about 15 minutes. Reduce heat to low and stir in yogurt and raisins. Cook until warmed through, then add cilantro. Taste and adjust salt and pepper.