There was a time when I was convinced that Indian food was too hard to make at home. Or perhaps, too exotic. I wasn't exposed to it as a kid and it just seemed like the type of cuisine you go out for. I love Indian food, but I always assumed that attempting it meant spending the day running around to several specialty markets collecting all kinds of esoteric ingredients. Just the thought is a major buzz kill for me. Fortunately, it's not true, but it took Nigella Lawson to show me the light.
A few years ago I was buzzing around the kitchen, her show on in the background. I was only half paying attention when she mentioned Mughlai Chicken. That was all it took to land me squarely in the palm of her hand. I found myself leaning against the counter, suddenly paying complete attention. As I watched her sear, sauté and coo her way through the recipe, I realized that most of the ingredients were already in my spice drawer and the rest could easily be found at my local market. I also loved how uncomplicated and effortless it seemed, in spite of my previous thoughts to the contrary.
The following recipes have become my go-to when I'm craving Indian food. They come together quickly and the flavors work beautifully together, each one complimenting the other. The fragrant Rice Pilaf is the perfect perch for the Mughlai Chicken in all it's golden, saucy glory. And the cool Pomegranate Raita is a nice counterbalance to the mild warmth of the dish. To finish it off, I always grab some naan bread from Trader Joe's to serve with.
Now see! That wasn't hard at all.
Now see! That wasn't hard at all.
(Recipes adapted from Nigella Lawson)
1 (1-inch) piece ginger, peeled and sliced
4 cloves garlic, peeled
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes, or to taste
4 tablespoons ground almonds
½ cup water
5 cardamom pods, bruised
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
4 whole cloves
¼ cup vegetable oil
3 pounds boned chicken thighs, each cut into 2
2 sweet onions, thinly sliced
1 cup Greek yogurt
1 cup chicken stock
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup sultanas (golden raisins)
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Handful of cilantro, chopped, to garnish
3/4 cup flaked almonds, toasted, to garnish
Put the ginger, garlic, cumin, coriander, and red pepper flakes into a food processor and blend to a paste. Add the ground almonds and water and then blend again, set aside.
Heat the oil in a large pan and add the chicken pieces - in batches so they fry rather than stew - and cook them just long enough to seal on both sides, then remove to a dish.
Add the spices and turn them in the oil. Add the onions and cook them until softened and lightly browned, but keep the heat gentle and stir frequently, to avoid sticking. Pour in the blended paste, and cook everything until it begins to color. Add the yogurt, half a cup at a time stirring it in to make a sauce, then stir in the stock, cream, and sultanas.
Put the browned chicken back into the pan, along with any juices that have collected under them, and sprinkle over the garam masala, sugar, and salt. Cover and cook on a gentle heat for 20 minutes, testing to make sure the meat is cooked through.
To serve, scatter with cilantro and toasted flaked almonds.
Indian-Spiced Rice Pilaf
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 whole cloves
3 cardamom pods, bruised
1 cinnamon stick, broken into 3
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
2 1/2 cups basmati rice
4 cups chicken stock
½ cup sliced almonds, toasted, for garnish
2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish
Saute the onion in the oil, in a deep saucepan with the cloves, cardamom pods, cinnamon stick, cumin seeds and salt, until the onion is slightly browned and soft. Keep the heat medium to low and stir frequently; this should take about 10 minutes.
Add the rice and move it about in the oily spiced onion until it is slicked and glossy, then pour in the stock and bring the pan to the boil. Cover the pan with a lid and cook over the lowest heat possible for 20 minutes.
Turn off the heat, take the lid off, cover with a tea towel and clamp the lid back on the saucepan. You can leave the rice to rest like this for at least 10 minutes, and up to about 1 hour. Fork the rice through when you are ready to serve it, scattering the toasted sliced almonds and cilantro on top.
1½ cups natural Greek yogurt
3 scallions, finely chopped
½ cup pomegranate seeds
½ teaspoon kosher salt