Blog - Curry Twist

The Scent Of Cinnamon

“There came no more such abundance of spices as these which the queen of Sheba gave to king Solomon” says the Bible.
Great spice caravans have crossed the harsh Arabian sands for as long as people have kept records. Envious Greeks swore that Arab merchants were so rich that they used cinnamon for firewood. A Greek text from the fifth century explained that great birds of prey living on sheer cliffs made nests of cinnamon sticks. Arabs distracted the birds with pieces of meat and gathered cinnamon while valiantly beating back attacks.
Given the dangers involved in obtaining cinnamon, the exorbitant prices charged for it were certainly justified. Little did westerners know that the cinnamon that reached Europe came from much further east, grown in Sri Lanka and Indonesia, and carried on boats to the Arabian peninsula.

 

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Cinnamon trees are heavily pruned when cultivated, reducing them to the size of a bush. New stems that emerge regularly are snipped off to produce the spice. The outer bark is scraped off the branches and the smooth inner bark shaved off in sections. Once dried, the bark curls into rolls that are chopped into shorter lengths to form the familiar quills that are sold in grocery stores.

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Cinnamon, both whole and in powdered form, is used extensively in South Asian and Middle eastern cuisines. It is used to make many spice blends, to flavour Masala Chai (tea), rice pilafs, marinades and many desserts.
It is a key spice in my marinade here and when these skewers hit the grill, a heady scent of cinnamon and spice fills the air. These chicken skewers make wonderful appetizers or a main course. Serve them with warm flatbread, grilled vegetables and some hot sauce for dipping.
For more recipes with cinnamon, try Egyptian style Grilled Chicken or these Moroccan Chicken kababs or this delicious Lamb Shawarma.

Cinnamon Roasted Chicken With Fresh Herbs

1-1/4 lb boneless skinless chicken breast or thighs

2 cloves garlic, grated or minced

1/4 cup each: lemon juice, oil

Salt to taste

1 tsp each: honey, paprika

1/2 tsp each, ground spices: black pepper, dried ginger, cinnamon, cumin

2 tbsp each, finely chopped fresh herbs: coriander, parsley, mint

1 tsp sumac

1 lemon, cut into wedges

Cut chicken into large bite sized pieces. Place in large mixing bowl.

Add all of the remaining ingredients, except sumac and lemon wedges and toss to mix well.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to overnight for flavours to blend.

When ready to cook, heat outdoor barbecue to medium.

Thread chicken onto skewers, reserving leftover marinade.

Grill chicken skewers for about 12-14 minutes for chicken breast, and about 20 minutes for thighs, turning occasionally and basting with reserved leftover marinade.

When chicken is tender and basting marinade is cooked through, transfer skewers to a platter.

Sprinkle evenly with sumac and serve with wedges of lemon.

Serves four

A Craving For Cardamom

The fifth century Sanskrit epic poem Raghuvansha describes King Raghu’s army marching triumphantly through spice plantations:

Pepper groves

On Mount Mahendra’s skirts, lov’d home of birds,

His forces occupied, as on he marched

To conquest. Trampled by his steeds, the bloom

Flying from the fruit of cardamoms

Clung to the foreheads of his elephants

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Cardamom has always been one of the most prized of all spices in India, treasured for its scent and flavour. The ancient Romans sailed all the way to the coast of Kerala, where it has been cultivated for millennia, to buy cardamom for use in cooking and to make perfumes. They particularly prized the ability of cardamom pods to freshen the breath when chewed after a meal, and they are still used for this purpose in India.

Cardamom plants are bushes with large leaves that grow up to 6 ft in height. Slender stems emerge near the base of the plant and bear delicate white flowers that turn into green pods, each containing several white seeds.

The pods are plucked and dried so that their skins turn into a papery husk that splits open to release the seeds that have turned brown. Whole dried cardamom is often used to flavour rice preparations and curries.

Fresh cardamom, with its strong flavour and crisp bite, goes into chutneys, pickles and curries. Dried seeds, which have a very intense aroma and flavour, are powdered for use in cooking, most often in Indian desserts. Ground cardamom loses its essential oils quickly and you are better off grinding small quantities of cardamom seeds in a spice grinder just before use.

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This unusual curry from Kashmir, infused with the wonderful aroma of cardamom and tinted a glorious red-gold with saffron, is easy to make. For more about saffron, read: The Glory Of Saffron.
For desserts using cardamom in delicious ways, try Espresso cardamom Brownies, Cardamom roll cakeCardamom kahlua tiramisu, Cardamom Halwa Blondies or the classic Indian dessert Gulab Jamun!

Kashmiri Cardamom Chicken Curry

1-1/4 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs (about 8), fat trimmed

1 cup full fat plain yogurt, Greek or Balkan style

Salt to taste

1 tbsp ground almonds

1/2 tsp each, ground spices: cardamom, fennel, black pepper, Kashmiri chili powder or paprika, ground coriander, ground cumin, garam masala, dried ginger

1/4 tsp saffron strands

2 tbsp each, chopped fresh: coriander, mint, lemon juice

2 tbsp oil

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

1 medium onion, finely chopped

Cut chicken into bite sized pieces and place in large mixing bowl.

Add yogurt, salt, ground almonds, all of the spices, saffron and herbs to chicken, tossing well to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour or up to overnight.

When ready to cook, warm oil in deep skillet over medium heat.

Add cumin seeds and sizzle 30 sec. Add onions, saute for about 5-7 min until softened.

Add chicken with all its marinade (scrape everything into skillet) and cook for about 5 min until combined, stirring occasionally. Cover and reduce heat to low.

Cook for about 45 min or until chicken is very soft and tender and sauce has thickened.

Serves four

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Tandoori Coconut Chicken Tikka In Kumarakom, Kerala

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The backwaters of Kerala are one of the most amazing and enchanting sights in India. For hundreds and hundreds of miles an interconnected series of freshwater rivers, lakes and lagoons run parallel to the coast of the Arabian Sea, forming a maze that serves as a highway for the people living along its shores. Lush green plants line the backwaters, creating a landscape of breathtaking beauty. Brilliantly coloured birds flit in and out of the trees, diving into the water to emerge with a fish clasped in their beaks. Palm trees arch across narrow waterways, forming a shady lane through which you can float, seemingly without end.

The best way to explore the backwaters is to rent a boat and spend a few hours cruising aimlessly. You pass through many settlements and get to observe village life up close. Men commute to work in little canoes. Women walk across bridges over the canals as they go shopping. Children dive into the water. Families gossip in back yards of houses or cast fishing lines into the water to catch dinner. You see women doing their laundry by the water's edge. You have this incredible sensation of being an invisible part of the activity swirling all around, as you glide down the waterways.

Should you wish to spend even more time in the backwaters you can stay in one of the many houseboats that line the shores. Made from the barges that transported rice from the many farms in the region, they have been upgraded and are often quite luxurious accommodation, with multiple bedrooms, air-conditioning and your own private chef! These houseboats leisurely make their way along the waters and are one of the best way to relax and enjoy the scenery while savouring good food!

Coconut grows abundantly in this area and is used in almost every dish. We came across some delicious tandoori chicken laced with coconut cream in the resort we were staying in and managed to get the recipe. It was served with pickled onion rings, lemon wedges and naan fresh from the tandoor. Served outdoors while enjoying a live musical performance, It was a meal to remember!

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Coconut cream makes the chicken incredibly soft and tender and also helps mellow out the spices. You can also substitute skinned chicken drumsticks for the chicken breast or try cubes of paneer for a vegetarian option.

Tandoori Coconut Chicken Tikka

1 lb (450g) chicken breast, cut into 2 inch chunks

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 inch piece ginger, minced

2 tbsp each: full fat plain yogurt, coconut cream (skimmed off the top of a can of premium full fat coconut milk), lemon juice, oil

Salt to taste

1 tsp each, ground spices: coriander, cumin, dried fenugreek leaves, fennel or use 1 tbsp Malabar Masala Powder

1/4 tsp each: cayenne pepper, ground black pepper, saffron strands or red food colouring

2 tbsp melted butter

Place chicken in large mixing bowl.

Combine remaining ingredients, except butter in small bowl, mixing well. Pour over chicken, toss well to coat pieces with marinade. Cover and refrigerate chicken overnight for flavour to develop properly.

Thread chicken onto skewers and place on medium hot barbecue. Grill covered for 8 min per side, turning skewers once. Baste occasionally with marinade to keep chicken moist. Brush with melted butter 2 min before taking off the grill.

Serve with wedges of lime if desired.

Serves four

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Green Curry Chicken In Phuket

Phuket has long been known as a dazzling island paradise and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Thailand. If you want to experience all the faces of Thailand's tourism in one small microcosm, Phuket is the place to do it. There you will find Australian backpackers, Swedish honeymooners, ageing American hippies, Chinese tour groups and boisterous Indian families all rubbing elbows on the crowded road that runs past Patong beach. Wander a little further and you will also find  stunning sunsets, beach vistas that take your breath away, crystal clear waters, and manicured luxury resorts. Mix this in with Thailand's legendary hospitality and cuisine, and every one has a reason to visit!

Patong's famous Bangla road area, with its wild nightlife, raucous bars, dubious looking massage parlours and transgender cabarets, comes as a bit of a shock to the first time visitor. 
However, just a couple of minutes away is the beach, which is still an oasis of calm and a great place to watch the sunset while strolling on the sand and dipping your toes in the water. There are also many beach shacks serving fruits, juices and other drinks to cool you off.   

 

Phuket has many really good restaurants, some of them situated right by the beach, offering phenomenal views. To watch the sun dipping into the water and listen to the waves crash on the beach, while eating delicious Thai food is a memorable experience indeed.
Ban Rim Pa, a restaurant situated partway up a cliff, overlooking the beautiful beach is one such place. Their lemongrass fish accompanied with a mango salad was just amazing. Another restaurant Pan Yah is right on the beach and specializes in seafood. Their seafood salad and shrimp in Thai chili sauce still lives in my memories!

My all time favourite dish though, is green curry. I love it's fresh flavours, creamy sauce and pretty colours. Chicken is just one of the ingredients you can put in it. Tofu, vegetables or fish are also good. And if you slather the curry paste on a hunk of salmon, throw it on the grill and serve it in a lettuce wrap, you've got an unusual, healthy and delicious way to enjoy it!

We tried green curry in so many ways in Phuket. One of my favourites was deep fried tofu and crisp vegetables bathed in the spicy green curry sauce. 

Another unusual way it was served was with spinach and fish as shown in the picture below. The spinach added a nice silkiness to the texture while the chunks of fish were tender and flavourful in the creamy sauce. Spooned over coconut rice, it was pure heaven!

Since returning from Thailand, I have made sure to have green curry on my menu at least once a week. It helps keep the memories of our trip stay fresh!

Green curry paste is super easy to make at home and so much more flavourful than anything you can buy in a jar. It will last for a week in the refrigerator or you can freeze it instead. I like to freeze it in half cup measures in a ziploc bag so I can pull one out whenever I get a curry craving!

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Green curry paste can also be used as a marinade for grilled chicken skewers or fish. You can serve this curry with Swordfish satay skewers and coconut rice.

Green Curry Chicken

For green curry paste:

1/2 cup each, packed: fresh coriander leaves and stems, Thai basil leaves

1/4 cup fresh mint leaves

4 cloves garlic

1 inch piece ginger or galangal

4-6 Thai or other hot chilies

2 tbsp each: Thai curry powder, water

Salt to taste

1 tbsp each: sugar, fish sauce, lime juice

For chicken curry:

2 tbsp oil

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

1 can (400ml) unsweetened coconut milk

1 lb (450 gm) boneless skinless chicken breast, thinly sliced

1/2 cup each: zucchini (sliced into thin half rounds), green beans (halved), canned baby corn (halved)

lime wedges, peanuts, sliced red chilies, basil leaves for garnish

To make the curry paste, combine all ingredients in blender and blend to a smooth paste. Transfer to a bowl and reserve.

To make curry, warm oil in deep skillet over medium heat. Add onions and cook until lightly brown and softened, about 5 min. 

Add 1/4 cup of reserved green curry paste and cook 1 min until it is fragrant. Add coconut milk, stir to mix and cook until it starts to bubble, about 4 min.

Add chicken and vegetables, cover skillet and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat to low and cook covered until chicken is tender and vegetables are crisp tender, about 10 min. 

Taste sauce and add another tablespoon of the curry paste or a dash of curry powder if desired. Serve garnished with lime wedges, peanuts, chilies and basil leaves.

Serves four


Chicken Kababs In Fez

My first taste of Moroccan cuisine made me immediately nostalgic for my mother’s kitchen in India. It felt as though I had travelled a long way for food that turned out to be hauntingly familiar. We were in Fez, exploring the maze of narrow alleyways that make up the ancient city, stopping now and then to gaze in wonder at the many exciting and exotic shops that line them. We were trying to find a restaurant that had been highly recommended to us as it specialised in traditional cuisine.

In spite of being so well known, it was proving very hard to find, as we kept getting lost in the labyrinth of narrow, dark lanes that seemed to lead to nowhere. We finally made our way back to the Riad (hotel) where we were staying and the restaurant sent a guide to fetch us. We were led to a beautifully restored 700-year-old palace and seated in the colourfully tiled courtyard dotted with potted plants, fountains and elegant screens. Soft music played in the background accompanied by the gentle sound of water trickling down the fountain. The food, when it arrived transported me straight back to India as it consisted of chicken kababs on a skewer, sautéed lentils with caramelised onions and samosa like pastry puffs. The aromas, the flavours, and the ingredients were very similar to those used in Indian cooking – ground coriander, toasted cumin, cayenne pepper, ginger, fresh coriander and mint.

The flavours of Moroccan food, and their resemblance to Indian cooking, are a reflection of the great spice trade that has flourished for over a thousand years between the two countries. Merchants carried spices in camel caravans across the vast expanse of the Sahara desert to the far corners of the great Arab empire that stretched across the Middle East and North Africa. Pepper and cardamom from Kerala, cinnamon from Sri Lanka, nutmeg and mace from Indonesia, all found their way into the hands of Moroccan cooks, who used these spices to create the magnificent cuisine we enjoy today.

Kababs are as popular in Morocco as they are in India. Walk through any market place and the aroma of grilling will lead you to small stalls where marinated meats of all kinds are skewered and grilled over open charcoal fires. There are chicken skewers, ground beef skewers, lamb shish kababs and even grilled camel meat! These chicken skewers are my favourite and combine the best of Moroccan and Indian flavours. 

MOROCCAN CHICKEN KABABS

If you don’t have all the herbs available, use whatever is at hand. A food processor makes life incredibly easy when it comes to mincing the herbs and garlic. Throw everything in together and make the marinade in the food processor to save time.

The kababs are even more flavourful when left to marinate overnight in the refrigerator. Serve them over a bed of fresh mint or rice pilaf as is traditional in Morocco. Leftovers make a delicious lunch when wrapped in soft flour tortillas.

Marinade:

2 tbsp each: olive oil, lemon juice, white wine vinegar

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 tbsp finely chopped onions

1 tbsp each: finely chopped fresh coriander, mint and parsley

1 tsp each: ground coriander, ground cumin, honey

½ tsp paprika

1/4 tsp each: cayenne pepper, ground ginger, ground cinnamon, saffron strands

Salt to taste

1 1/4 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts, cubed into 1 inch pieces

Combine all marinade ingredients together in large mixing bowl and mix well. Add chicken, toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours or longer.

Preheat barbecue grill to medium. Lift chicken pieces out of marinade and thread onto skewers, about 4 pieces to each skewer.

Place on grill and cook covered for about 8-10 minutes per side or until cooked through, turning them over once.

If you wish to cook the chicken in the oven, preheat oven to 400ºF. Line a baking tray with parchment. Use a grilling rack if you have one or place chicken directly on the parchment. Bake about 8-10 minutes per side until cooked through. Place under the broiler for 1-2 minutes to char lightly.

Transfer skewers to a platter and serve.

Serves four

Adapted from Desi masalas get Moroccan makeover, Desi Life magazine, July 10/ 2008