This curry is great for those new to Indian cooking as it does not use a ton of ingredients and is relatively simple to follow.
First start by spluttering black mustard seeds in coconut oil. Coconut oil adds a mild coconut flavor and is great to cook on high temperatures. Mustard seeds add a unique nutty flavor. To avoid bitterness they must crackle in hot oil. Most local Indian grocery stores carry black mustard seeds in the whole spice aisle.
After the mustard seeds crackle, toast whole Kashmiri chilies till slightly dark. Kashmiri chilies are not spicy but lend a toasted chili backdrop. Saute the onions and chilies till they soften and disintegrate in the curry. Adding salt at this point will speed up the process, drawing out the moisture of the onions.
For this recipe, serrano or jalapeno chilies are ideal as they are mellow in heat and have a grassy flavor. The serrano chilies I had on hand weren’t too spicy, so I used two with the seeds intact.
To test the spiciness of a chili, cut the head of the chili and place on your tongue. The level of the burn is the best indicator. The head of the chilies where the stem is attached is the spiciest part, and the tip being the least spicy. To reduce the heat, minimize the quantity and/or use just the flesh, scooping out the seeds and the white pith.
The combination of bay leaves, fennel seeds, cardamom pods and coriander yield a mellow but flavorful dish. The spices complement each other adding an earthy, sweet, and nutty overall flavor. Toasting the whole spices and grinding it releases essential oils and maximizes flavor potential.
Ginger is very fibrous, so I make a course paste with a motor and pestle to soften the fibers. You could even add the chopped ginger in a Ziploc bag and bash it with a heavy skillet or rolling pin to achieve the same result. Ginger has a sharp spicy citrus bite that can be overwhelming in flavor. Coconut milk mellows the acidity and enhances the flavor of the sweet nutty cardamom.
Allow the ginger to cook down in the coconut milk and thicken for a few minutes on medium heat. To check if the curry is at the desired consistency, coat a back of a spoon and make a line with your finger and see if it holds. Add the seasoned chicken to the curry and allow it to cook till tender and soft. A great curry uses the principle of layering flavors with each component.
The final touch of rice wine vinegar balances the rich sweetness of the curry. Garam masala adds a fresh spicy floral punch. A decadent touch of a spoonful of ghee (clarified butter) completes the dish along with some chopped cilantro for garnish.
- 1.5lb chicken breast cut in cubes
- 1 cup of finely chopped red onion
- 2 serrano chilies minced
- 2 tbsp. chopped ginger
- 1 cup coconut milk
- ¼ tsp. black mustard seeds
- 2-3 dried Kashmiri chilies
- ¼ tsp. turmeric powder
- 1 tsp. chili powder
- 1 tsp. garam masala
- 1 tsp. whole dried cardamom pods
- 1 tsp. coriander seeds
- ½ tsp. fennel seeds
- 3-4 dried bay leaves crushed
- 2 tbsp. coconut oil
- 1 tsp. rice wine vinegar
- 1 tbsp. ghee (optional)
- 2 tbsp. chopped cilantro
- Toast the whole spices (cardamom pods, coriander seeds, fennel seeds and dried bay leaves) on a dry skillet on medium heat for 1 to 2 minute stirring continuously till fragrant. Allow the spices to cool before grinding to a fine powder.
- With motor and pestle crush the chopped ginger to a wet paste, this allows the fibers to dissolve better in the curry.
- Season the cubed chicken with salt, black pepper and a dash of turmeric powder.
- In a medium size skillet, heat up the coconut oil with ¼ tsp black mustard seeds; allow them to crackle before adding the dried Kashmiri chilies.
- Sauté in the minced serrano chilies and the red onions, season them with salt and black pepper.
- Once the red onions are soft and translucent add the ground spices from step one along with turmeric and chili powder.
- Toast the spices for 30 seconds; add the ground ginger and coconut milk. Allow the curry to reduce and thicken (2-3minutes on medium heat stirring occasionally). Check for seasoning; add salt and black pepper as needed.
- Add the cubed chicken and cook covered on low medium heat for 5-6 minutes till fully cooked, stirring occasionally.
- Lastly stir in rice wine vinegar and garam masala.
- An optional decadent touch, add 1 tablespoon of ghee.
- Garnish with chopped cilantro and enjoy with rice or chapatti!