Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Chicken madras

Since I appear to have deleted my photos of this dish, I have opted to use a photo of coriander leaves/cilantro. Image by beglib.

The Indian foods I have eaten since moving to the UK have been so very different from the Indian foods I used to get in Durban, South Africa. It makes one realise what a large, multicultural country India is.

The Indian descendants living in South Africa are largely Tamils, whose forebears hailed from from the southern parts of India. The food they now eat in South Africa has of course been adapted over the generations based on the ingredients available to them.

It didn't occur to me at the time, but I never ate at an 'Indian' restaurant all the years I lived in Durban. I don't even remember seeing one. I guess it would be a bit like having an Italian restaurant in Rome, since Durban is often referred to as 'the capital of India', boasting over a million people of Indian heritage (possibly the largest in the world outside of India itself).

Nevertheless, while I was teaching at a performing arts school in the Indian sector of town, I got to know all the take-away places and greasy spoons nearby. My students, to whose parents a white teacher at the school was still something of a novelty, used to bring me Tupperware dishes of this or that "my mother made for you, mem." Sadly, I never got the recipes of all these wonders. In many cases, I didn't even get the names. But, as a struggling student, I was enormously grateful for the free meals!

I always knew when there had been a wedding in the family, because then I'd get burfi or jalebi. Maybe both! My housemates used to love that!

The Indian foods on offer in England usually owe their heritage to Kashmiri or Punjabi traditions. So it's naan bread instead of roti, more meat, less beans... and in general the food is more aromatic. Oh, and I haven't seen a chilli bite in aaaaages!

There are of course, 'Indian' dishes which have been invented in both England and South Africa, just as macaroni cheese is an American dish with a nod to Italian roots. But even those tend to follow the patterns of the cultural heritage of the local populations.

Over the years, my palate has become less hardy, and there is no way I could eat the fiery hot samoosas I used to scoff after the final class on my way to a singing gig 'back in the day'.

Today's dish has a bit of bite to it, but is still within what I would consider a reasonable range. It's one I learned to make in the UK, even though it hails from the more southerly parts of India (Chennai).

800g chicken, skinned and cut into bite sized pieces
1 large onions, finely chopped
6 tomatoes, finely chopped
2-3 small green chillies (adjust to taste), chopped
2.5cm piece of ginger root, peeled and grated (or just use the 'very lazy' kind in a tube)
4 cloves garlic, crushed
5ml chilli powder
2.5ml ground cumin
2.5ml ground coriander seeds
5ml turmeric
5ml nutmeg
2 cloves
3 cardamom pods
Garam masala (some)
Bunch coriander (cilantro) leaves
Pinch salt
75ml oil

  • Heat the oil over a moderate heat in a heavy-based saucepan. Pop in the cloves and cardamom pods.
  • Add the onions and fry them well. Not just to the translucent stage you may be used to, but until they are well browned.
  • Stir in the green chillies, ginger, garlic, red chilli powder, cumin, coriander and turmeric. Stir for a couple of minutes.
  • Season with a pinch of salt and stir some more.
  • Add the chicken and stir for about 3 minutes to seal it. If it sticks a bit, add just a little water (no more than 50ml).
  • Add the nutmeg and tomatoes and cover. Simmer for about 20 minutes over a medium heat.
  • Sprinkle with garam masala and fresh coriander leaves to serve.
  • Serve with rice, naan bread, roti....or whatever starch your little heart desires.

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