Delhi, to me, has a nostalgic charm all its own. It is the city in which I spent much of my childhood, and returning there always feels like homecoming to me. I only have to step out of the airplane for the memories to come flooding back - the cacophony of traffic, the calls of street vendors, the sight of old buildings bearing so much history, the neighborhoods where I lived and went to school - it feels like I never left.
Delhi is one of the oldest cities in the world. Archaeological excavations reveal one layer built upon another for so many centuries that once you reach the oldest strata it is difficult to separate history from mythology. Hindus, Rajputs,Turks, Afghans, Mughals, British - all have left their indelible stamp on the fabric of this city.
The most prominent of their monuments: Qutub Minar, Red Fort, Purana Qila, are still landmarks that define Delhi. Walk through any one of them and you will step back into history to a time when mighty emperors strolled in the gardens and fabulously dressed, bejeweled princesses lived in these palaces.
The cuisine of Delhi is another way to discover its history. The flavours, cooking techniques and spicing of the dishes reflect the many influences that have shaped the city. It blends the royal cuisine of its longtime Mughal rulers with the hearty fare of Punjab that lies just to the north of the city. The richly spiced, meat based dishes known the world over, such as kormas, biryanis, kababs and curries were perfected many centuries ago in the palace kitchens of Delhi, giving the city its own unique flavour.
To fully enjoy Delhi's cuisine you have to step out of the restaurants and experience the feast that awaits you in every street. These street vendors have a loyal following and are proud of their secret recipes, handed down generations in their families. You will literally find entire kitchens contained in small handcarts with stoves perched perilously on top.
Here you can sample Delhi's justly famous chaat: small plates of Alu Tikki - shallow fried potato croquettes, stuffed with spicy peas, served with lashings of yogurt and tamarind chutney, Gol Guppas - tiny deep fried puffy shells made with flour, stuffed with potatoes, tamarind chutney, dipped in an incredibly addictive spicy cumin mint water, Chana Chaat - spicy chickpeas and fried potatoes cooked on a griddle till very thick, Dahi Baras - small deep fried lentil balls dipped in spiced yogurt - the list is endless, with a new food discovery just around the corner.
Another of Delhi's treasures are its Dhabas - small roadside eateries, often with little clay ovens known as tandoors, serving incredible food. The kababs, curries, dals and tandoori naan that you will eat here will rival those of any five star restaurant!
It was in one of these little dhabas that I first tasted Rara chicken curry. The flavours of charcoal roasted chicken, simmered for hours in a decadently rich sauce, scooped up in a garlicky butter naan were so good that I had to try out this recipe in my own kitchen.
Here is my easy version that will soon become one of your favourites too! The term Rara means dry. This is a fairly dry curry with boneless chunks of chicken, ground meat and crumbled paneer, all enveloped in a rich, thick sauce. Eat it with pieces of warm naan to scoop up the delicious flavours!
If you want variety, you can make this curry with lamb instead of chicken. For a vegetarian version, substitute paneer.
Rara Chicken Curry
6 boneless skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of fat and cubed into bite sized pieces
4 tbsp oil, divided
1 tsp each, divided: ground coriander, ground cumin, garam masala, dried fenugreek leaves (kasoori methi)
1/2 tsp each, divided: cayenne pepper, turmeric
Salt to taste
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 inch piece ginger, grated or minced
1-1/4 cup (about 8) canned whole plum tomatoes packed in puree
1/2 cup tomato puree from above can
1 cup ground chicken
1/2 cup grated or crumbled paneer
2 tbsp each, finely chopped: fresh coriander and mint
1 tbsp butter
Preheat oven to 420F. Line a baking tray with parchment.
Place chicken in large mixing bowl. Add 2 tbsp oil, 1/2 tsp ground coriander, ground cumin, garam masala, dried fenugreek leaves and 1/4 tsp of the cayenne pepper and turmeric as well as salt to taste. Mix well to coat chicken. Spread chicken evenly on baking tray and roast in the oven for 15 min. Transfer chicken and accumulated juices to a bowl. Reserve.
Warm remaining 2 tbsp oil in deep non stick skillet set over medium high heat. Add cumin seeds, let sizzle 30 sec. Add onions, garlic and ginger. Saute for about 5-7 min until they are lightly browned.
Reduce heat to medium, then add the tomatoes, remainder of the spices and some more salt to taste. Cook for 5-7 min or until mixture is slightly thickened, stirring occasionally and breaking up tomatoes with stirring spoon. Add tomato puree, mix well.
Add ground chicken and paneer. Cook for 5 min until mixture is partially cooked and thickened, stirring to break up lumps. Add reserved roast chicken and stir well to combine. Add 1/4 cup water and mix well. Cover skillet, reduce heat to low and cook for 30 min until chicken is cooked through and sauce has thickened. Fold in the fresh coriander, mint and butter.