Saturday, June 20, 2009

Ashook's South African-Indian Chicken Curry

There is a man named Ashook staying at the same guest house I am in Mbabane, Swaziland, who is from South Africa and is of Indian descent. Last week, I was getting out the ingredients to throw together a very simple chicken curry using some store-bought curry paste, and he came into the kitchen and said, "Ach, I'm going to make you some REAL chicken curry." I grabbed a piece of paper, a pen, and my camera and stepped aside to let the man work. We stood in the kitchen, chatting with the other staff here as the curry simmered and bubbled on the stove, sending up delicious aromas of spice into our conversation. Every so often, Ashook would go to the stove, lift the lid gingerly, peek in, and then cover the pot again before rejoining us. Finally, after about an hour and a half of delicately testing the sauce and potatoes, he announced that it was done. He pulled me over to the stove and said, "See how the oil has risen to the top? That means that the curry is ready." He also told me that it is important to let the potatoes sit in the pot without stirring them or they will fall apart before the curry is ready. I spooned some curry into a bowl with the fluffy Jasmine rice I had made (although basmati is the best, in my opinion) and took a bite. And it was heavenly. There is nothing like a good curry, and this one was fantastic. This is very simple to throw together, really - much less complicated than other curries I've made, and it is good. I mean, really good. So, from Swaziland to you, here is the recipe for Ashook's authentic South African-Indian chicken curry.

Ashook's Chicken Curry

4-6 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 whole onion, cut into slices
5 - 7 garlic cloves
1 tbsp. crushed ginger
1 - 2 pounds chicken breasts, cut into chunks
1 1/2 tsp. turmeric
2 tbsp. chili powder
2 tbsp. masala powder
Handful of fresh coriander leaves to taste (cilantro)
1 tomato, chopped
2 large potatoes, skinned and chopped into large chunks
1 1/2 cups of water (and more as needed)
1 tsp. salt

Heat the vegetable oil in a pot and add the onion slices. When the onions are soft, add the chicken, stir, and let cook. Add the turmeric, chili powder, masala powder, and coriander leaves to the chicken and onions and stir to mix. In the meantime, mash 5 - 7 garlic cloves and 1 tbsp. crushed ginger in a small bowl or a mortar and pestle until they have become a paste, and then add 1 /2 cup water to the mixture. Add the garlic-ginger mixture to the pot, and then add another 1/2 cup of water and stir. Let the mixture come to a boil and add the chopped tomato and simmer for 10 - 15 minutes. Add water as needed if the mixture starts getting too thick. When the tomatoes have softened, add the potatoes, chopped into quarters, along with another 1/2 - 1 cup of water. Stir just enough to mix the water in, and then let the curry simmer over medium heat without stirring so the potatoes won't fall apart. The curry is done when the potatoes are soft and the oil has risen to the top; it should simmer for about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Add salt to taste, 1 tsp or more. Serve with rice or naan. Below: The potatoes being added to the curry as it simmers.

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