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Mar 2010 04

This is the chicken version of lamb tagine, a decadently rich Moroccan stew that is traditionally served on a bed of fresh couscous. I will always prefer lamb, but substituting chicken helps lighten the dish (in both calories and cost), while still retaining the slightly spicy, honeyed sweetness of the original. Don’t be put off by the idea of prunes – when simmered long enough, they practically melt in your mouth, and give the sauce body and richness. Try to use prunes with pits, if you can find them, as the pits keep the prunes moist and tender. The honey in this dish also makes it perfect for Rosh Hashana.

You will need:

2 lbs. chicken thighs (bone-in, with skin)
2 onions, sliced
1 tsp ground (powdered) ginger
1 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp olive oil
1 c chicken or vegetable stock (or, in a pinch, water)
large pinch saffron
3/4 c unsweetened prunes
1/4 c whole unsalted almonds
1/4 c sultana or golden raisins
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp honey
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 – 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
salt to taste
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tbsp chopped chives or cilantro (optional)

Heat the olive oil in a wok or heavy pot. (I often use a wok to prepare this dish, because it allows me to brown more meat at once. A regular heavy pot will do just fine, you just might have to brown the meat in batches.) On medium-high heat, sautee the onions until they are soft, then add the chicken. Sautee them together, sprinkling with the turmeric and ginger, until the meat is browned.

Add the broth, almonds, and prunes to the chicken. Rub the saffron strands between your fingertips to crush them, and add this to the chicken. Cover, reduce the heat to low and allow the chicken to simmer for about 30 minutes. (In the meantime, you can throw together a basic couscous.)

Stir the chicken around a bit, then add the raisins and simmer, covered, for another 20-25 minutes – the chicken should end up very tender. Transfer the meat to a casserole or serving dish and cover to keep warm. You should be left with a pool of sauce studded with fruit and nuts. To this, stir in the cinnamon, honey, salt, pepper and cayenne pepper. Simmer gently until fragrant and slightly thickened, about 2-4 minutes.

Spoon this sauce over the chicken, and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Garnish with an additional sprinkling of finely chopped chives (not green onion) or cilantro, if desired.

Makes 4 servings

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Feb 2010 05

This bright yellow pilaf, embellished with a constellation of crunchy mustard seeds and toasted cashews, is a staple dish in many Indian households. Adding the lemon juice at the end gives the rice a fresh, sharp flavour. It also gives you the option of turning any plain leftover rice you have on hand into a colourful, festive side dish in minutes. If you’re feeling adventurous, you may substitute lime juice and zest for the lemon – lime rice is equally authentic in the realm of Indian nosh.

You will need:

2 c. basmati rice
2 3/4 c. water
½  tsp salt
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp mustard seeds
pinch turmeric
¼ c. unsalted cashews
¼ c. lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest
2 tbsp chopped cilantro (optional)

In a medium-sized pot, bring the water and salt to boil. Meanwhile, rinse the rice well in cold water, until the water no longer appears cloudy. Add the rice to the boiling water, cover, then turn the heat down to low. When the water has been absorbed (about 20 minutes), turn off the heat and fluff the rice with a fork.

In a larger pot, heat the oil over medium-low heat. Add the cashews and mustard seeds, stirring continuously – they should shimmer enthusiastically in the oil. When the seeds begin to crackle, whisk in the turmeric, then remove the pot from the heat so as not to burn the nuts. Whisk in the lemon juice and zest, then add the cooked rice and toss to coat. If you’d like, stir the chopped cilantro into the rice just before serving.

Serves 4

© Shaby Heltay, 2009

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Feb 2010 05

In thumbing through cookbooks — or searching online — for exotic Indian food, you will no doubt come across many curry recipes that would make the hair of any Indian, myself included, stand on end. So I felt it necessary to warn you all about the vast array of impostor curry recipes out there: the mere act of adding curry powder to something does not transform it into a curry!

Here’s the thing. You can’t make an authentic, true curry without your base aromatics: onion, garlic and ginger. Without those, your curry will be bland and will taste 1-dimensional. It’s like making an Italian tomato sauce without shallots, garlic and olive oil – no self-respecting Italian would do it! Cumin is also vital to a good curry – cumin is to curry what basil is to marinara sauce. Got it?

So with those 4 things – onion, garlic, ginger and cumin – you can punch up any old curry recipe and turn it into something that would impress even your Indian friends!  What follows is a recipe for a tomato-based vegetable curry.

~~~

Chickpea Curry

You will need:

2 cans chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
2 cups water
2 large tomatoes, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1½ tsp chopped fresh ginger
1 tbsp garam masala (also available at Indian groceries)
½ tsp cumin
1 tsp mustard seeds (or ½ tsp mustard, in a pinch)
1 tsp curry powder
2 tbsp tomato paste
½ teaspoon salt
1-3 green chilies, chopped
1 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp chopped cilantro (optional)

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan. Add the onions and cook over medium heat, until the onions are soft and golden. Add all of the spices, ginger, garlic and salt. Stir-fry the mixture for a minute.

Add the chickpeas and 1 cup of water, and let them cook for 10 minutes or so. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, lemon juice, and green chilies, and allow them to cook together for about a minute. Add another cup of water and simmer the mixture until the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes. Serve over basmati rice and with a sprinkle of chopped cilantro, if you like.

Serves 6, as part of a meal

© Shaby Heltay, 2009

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