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Kerala Chicken Curry

30 Jul

Kerala Chicken CurryI recently discovered ‘god’s own secret’ in ‘god’s own country’*……..

No it wasn’t a religious pilgrimage; it was a weekend retreat in an enigmatic paradise- Vivanta by Taj – Bekal, Kerala . It’s a parallel universe of natural and man-made beauty where extensive natural foliage unites with beautifully manicured lawns and the alluring backwaters rally around lotus filled ponds. It’s an escape from reality with a chance to rejuvenate and stimulate all your senses.

Photo Credit: Hotel Website

Photo Credit: Hotel Website

If you think the landscape and the world class spa are the only draw to reinvigorate you here, wait till your taste buds are tantalized in the dining room. As expected at a Taj hotel the chefs are experts in global cuisine but since we were in Kerala my prime focus was traditional costal cuisine. Their fluffy appams (pancake made with fermented rice batter and coconut milk), coconut kissed piquant vegetable and meat curries, and fresh seafood further reinforced my love affair with food from the Malabar Coast.

Serving Suggestion

Serving Suggestion

This chicken curry recipe is a slightly adapted version of a Nadan Kozhi Curry (Local Chicken Curry) that I learnt from Chef Dhandapani on this trip. It embodies what I love about Indian coastal curries – several layers of spices that come together harmoniously with a touch of coconut milk. Consider this aromatic and flavorful chicken curry an ode to a wonderful weekend at The Vivanta by Taj, Bekal and a sneak preview to your potential trip to discover “god’s own secret” in “god’s own country”. Continue reading

Spicy Chicken Noodle Soup for the Soul

8 Feb

IMG_2487My Facebook news feed is flooded with updates of plans and preparations for the potential historical blizzard – winter storm Nemo. Since you cannot really beat Mother Nature at her game, why not stay in and warm up with an effortless, delicious and hearty one-pot soup-based meal? And even if you are not caught in the eye of this storm this is the ideal flavorful and healthful one-pot meal for any chilly night.

This soup is a detour from a classic chicken noodle soup; it is in fact a Far East variation of it. Ginger, lemongrass, lime and Thai birds-eye chilies breathe new life into a classic chicken broth, while the bacon adds a layer of smokiness to it. The chicken, noodles, bok choy and mushrooms come together to create a well-balanced meal. There’s nothing wrong with a traditional chicken and egg-noodle soup, but this feisty and flamboyant cousin is sure to gratify your soul on a cold and dreary day.

Spicy Chicken Noodle Soup for the Soul
Recipe Adapted from Serious Eats: Spicy Chicken Noodle Soup with Lime and Ginger Recipe
Yield: 4 servings
Time: 40 minutes

Ingredients:
5 cups low-sodium chicken broth (Store bought or homemade)
1 stalk fresh lemongrass, cut into 2 inch pieces (see note)
2, 1 inch pieces of ginger, peeled
2 -3 whole cloves of garlic, peeled
2 Thai birds-eye chilies, seeded and diced
1 large boneless skinless chicken breast (or 2 small ones)
½ tablespoon of good olive oil
3 slices of center cut bacon, diced
½ cup scallions (whites and greens), minced
2-3 bunches of baby bok choy, roughly chopped
6-8 thinly sliced shitake mushrooms (see note)
1/3 cup thin Thai basil, shredded (see note)
2 tablespoons of fish sauce
4 ounces of rice noodles or ramen-style Japanese noodles, cooked al dente per package instructions
Salt to taste
White pepper to taste
2-3 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon of cilantro
Optional condiment: Siracha sauce, to be added per taste at the time of serving

Notes:

  • Fresh lemongrass is available at all Asian grocery stores and several large grocery chains. If you cannot find fresh lemon grass then, substitute it with the bottled kind that can be found in the international aisles of most grocery stores.
  • Thai basil is available at all Asian grocery stores and several large grocery chains.
  • You can substitute the shitakes with crimini or white button mushrooms.
  • The fish sauce and broth are salty, so make sure before you add any additional salt you taste the soup to determine how much you need.

Method:
1) Pour the chicken broth into a large stock pot. To this add the lemongrass, ginger, garlic cloves and birds eye chilies. Bring these ingredients to a boil over medium-high heat. Once the broth reaches a roaring boil, reduce the heat to low and add the chicken breast. Cover and simmer until the chicken breast is fully cooked.
2) Turn-off the heat and remove the pot from heat. Remove the chicken breast and it set aside to cool. Remove the ginger pieces and garlic cloves from the broth and discard. At this point you can even discard the lemon grass, but I prefer to remove it right at the end as it keeps infusing the soup with flavor. Set the broth aside to use in the soup. Use a fork to shred the chicken once it has cooled and is easy to work with.
3) In a medium Dutch-Oven or soup-pot, heat the olive oil on medium heat. Add the diced bacon and cook it through. Now add the scallions and sauté for 1-2 minutes.
4) Add the broth to the Dutch oven and bring to a boil (uncovered). Once it reaches a rolling boil, reduce the heat to low and add the bok choy and mushrooms. Cook for a minute and then add the shredded basil, chicken, noodles, fish sauce and salt and pepper to taste. Give everything a good stir and then turn-off the heat.
5) Stir in the lime juice and garnish with cilantro. Serve with Siracha sauce for some extra heat!

Thanksgiving Roast Turkey: Tips & Tricks

14 Nov

I cooked my first Thanksgiving dinner in 2009, shortly after I got married. I have to admit the first year the thought of preparing a Thanksgiving dinner, specifically the turkey terrified me. I had never cooked a whole turkey before and had also had the misfortune of eating several dry and flavorless turkeys.  I was anxious to say the least. I spent the months leading up to Thanksgiving reading several articles and watching videos on Turkey preparation tips on the internet. I also took Sur La Table’s Bon Appétit Culinary Series – All American Thanksgiving class, to get some hands on experience before cooking my first Thanksgiving dinner.

I was rewarded for my hard work – the first Turkey I cooked, was moist, juicy and bursting with flavor. The day after that Thanksgiving, I sat down and put together a list of notes, tips and tricks that detailed how I accomplished a finger-licking good Turkey. I have used that document every year and so far I have never had a Turkey that hasn’t won the hearts of the crowd at our Thanksgiving table.

Here is an amalgamation of my Turkey tips and tricks:

1) How much turkey per person: 1lb per person if you have a lot of sides and want minimal leftovers. You can increase this to 1 ½ lbs per person if you want more leftovers.

2) To Brine or Not to Brine: The answer is BRINE! Brining infuses flavor and moisture into the turkey, creating a juicy and  flavorful turkey.

3) Amount of time to Brine your Turkey: The rule of thumb I use for brining a turkey is 2 hours for every pound of Turkey.  So for a 14-15 pound Turkey we are looking at 28-30 hours of brining time.

4) Favorite turkey brine: There are several good brine recipes on the internet. Here is the recipe of the brine I used the first year and every year since then.

Neha’s Turkey Brine
Serving Size: 14-15lb turkey

Ingredients:
Water (Enough to cover the entire Turkey)
2 cups apple cider
¾  cup Kosher salt per gallon of water (Please pay careful attention to step 5 of the method)
¼ cup granulated sugar, per gallon of water
5 large cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1-2 habanero peppers, roughly chopped (You can also use 3-4 Jalapenos)
1 ½ tablespoons fresh thyme, finely chopped
1 tablespoon poultry seasoning
1 tablespoon red chili powder or cayenne
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
1 teaspoon all spice berries

Method
1) Place the cleaned Turkey (giblets, neck and heart removed) in a large brining bag or pot large enough to hold the Turkey plus enough water to submerge the Turkey.
2) Use a clean and empty milk gallon or ½ gallon container to start covering the turkey with water. Keep track of how many gallons of water you use as this will determine the amount of salt and sugar you will add to the brine. Add the apple cider to the turkey as well. Make sure you have enough liquid (water + 2 cups of cider), covering the Turkey.
3) Now remove 5-6 cups of the liquid from the Turkey bag/pot and place it in a medium sized pot on the stove top. Bring it to a boil on medium high heat.
4) Keeping in mind how many gallons of water were required to cover the turkey, add ¾ cup of kosher salt + ¼ cup of sugar per gallon to the water on the stovetop.  For example if you used 5 gallons of water to cover the Turkey you will require the brine you are creating on the stovetop to have 5*3/4 cups of salt + 5*1/2 cups of sugar, i.e. 3 3/4cups of salt and 1 1/4 cup of sugar.
6) When the water is at a rolling boil add all the remaining ingredients into the pot (on the stovetop). Turn off the heat and mix everything well till all the sugar and salt has dissolved.
7) Now place this brine you have created in the refrigerator for an hour to cool completely.
8) Once it is completely cooled add the brined liquid over the turkey that has the remaining water and apple cider in it. Make sure the Turkey is well submerged and cover and place in the refrigerator.
9) After the turkey is brined (2hours per pound of turkey) remove the Turkey from the liquid and drain it well and use plenty of kitchen towels to pat it dry

5) Stuffing inside or outside the turkey:  OUTSIDE! You do not want the stuffing you are going to serve your guests to have touched the raw turkey cavity. Unless you are overcooking your turkey the inside skeletal cavity does not reach the temperature that is safe to eat stuffing that’s been exposed to it. Also a bread stuffing inside the turkey can suck moisture out of the turkey, leaving the it dry.

6) Aromatic stuffing:  Before roasting, stuff the Turkey cavity with large sprigs of thyme, rosemary, sage, garlic cloves and onion halves. Remember this is only for aromatics of the turkey and is not to be eaten.

7) To Truss of not to truss: Trussing a turkey refers to using kitchen twine to tie the turkey together before roasting it.  Trussing helps the bird cook more evenly and also ensures that you have a bird that looks better on the table. Keeping the legs and wings closer to the body, also ensures they have lesser chance to burn. I always use Alton Brown’s method to truss my Turkey: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=auQB7D_xB0I

8) Infusing additional flavor: A flavored butter that goes under the skin is the final step I use to infuse even more flavors into my Turkey. I make sure the flavored butter has been on the Turkey for at least 36 hours before I roast it.  I use this Bacon-Herb Butter recipe every year:

Bacon, Dijon, and Herb Butter:
Recipe Adapted from Bon Appétit Roast Heritage Turkey with Bacon-Herb and Cider Gravy’s Recipe
Serving Size: 14-to-15 pound turkey

Ingredients:
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) of unsalted butter at room temperature
6 ounces applewood-smoked bacon slices, coarsely chopped
¼ cup Dijon mustard
¼ cup fresh thyme, chopped
¼ cup sage chopped,
2 tablespoons rosemary, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
¾ tablespoon kosher salt or coarse sea salt
¾ tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
¾ tablespoon lemon zest

Method:
1) Blend all the ingredients together in a food processor, until the bacon is finely chopped.
2) Remove this butter to a sheet of plastic wrap. Using the wrap as an aid, roll the butter mixture into a 2 inch thick diameter log. This butter can be made 3 days ahead and kept chilled in the refrigerator.
3) 36 hours before you are going to roast your turkey, cut thin circles of butter from the log. Carefully slide butter slices under the skin, between the leg, thigh and breast to cover everything generously.

Use these tips and tricks along with the ones you’ve learnt over the years to create a roast turkey that is simply succulent and full of flavor. Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions you may have on these tips and tricks. Happy turkey cooking!

Dinner for Two: Skillet Chicken and Rice

26 Oct

Ever faced a conundrum where you need 2 chicken breasts for dinner and have a package of three chicken breasts? I have had more than my share of these nights when I have a package of three chicken breasts and only need to grill or bake two for our dinner. The third is usually saved for a salad or a soup except per chance I stumble upon a great dinner idea.

I recently purchased Monica Bhide’s latest cook book – Modern Spice: Inspired Indian Flavors for the Contemporary Kitchen and have a running list of all its recipes that I have to try. Earlier this year, I also took a food writing course with Monica. She has been a great source of inspiration for me and was the final push I needed to start writing this blog.

The Sunday Night Skillet Chicken and Rice recipe from the book was one of the top recipes on my list. It so turned out that I recently found myself with one chicken breast in the fridge and had the ingenious idea to use that recipe to create a hearty meal for two. I scaled down Modern Spice’s recipe to feed two, and made only a few minor modifications. This is really a heartwarming meal with big, bold flavors and is easy enough to make on any night of the week.

Skillet Chicken and Rice Recipe
Recipe adapted for Modern Spice’s Sunday Night Skillet Chicken and Rice
Yields: 2 servings
Time: Active 20 minutes Inactive 20 minutes

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon of vegetable or canola oil
1-inch cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
½ large red onion, finely diced
1 teaspoon ginger paste
1 teaspoon garlic paste
1 green chili, seeded and diced (optional)
1 medium-large Roma tomato, diced
½ teaspoon red chili powder
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground coriander powder
Salt to taste
½ pound of boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into bite size pieces (See note)
½ cup basmati rice, rinsed and drained
1 cup + 2 tablespoons of water
Cilantro, chopped for garnish

Notes:

  • Depending on the size of the chicken breasts ½ pound is either one large chicken breast or 2 smaller ones. You can also use boneless skinless thighs.
  • This recipe is very easy to scale up. Just double all the ingredients and use 2 cups of water. Cooking times will vary very minimally.

Method:
1) In a 10-12 inch deep lidded skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the cinnamon stick and bay leaf. Within 1-2 minutes when you get the aroma of these spices, add the onion, ginger paste and garlic paste. Sauté for 5-7 minutes, until the onions soften and change color. Add the green chili (if using it) and cook for 1 minute.
2) Add the tomatoes along with a pinch of salt and cook for 8-10 minutes, until the tomatoes are soft and the oil separates from the side of the mixture. Adding a pinch of salt at this stage speeds up the process of breaking down the tomatoes. Use a wooden spoon or a potato masher to mash the tomatoes as they cook. Make sure you stir this mixture occasionally to ensure it does not stick to the skillet.
3) Add the chili powder, turmeric, coriander and salt to taste. Cook stirring constantly for another minute.
4) Add the chicken pieces and cook for 3-4 minutes, until all the pieces are white on the outside and almost cooked through.
5) Add the rice and water and bring to a rolling boil. Once is has reached a rolling boil, reduce the heat cover and cook for about 16-18 minutes on low heat, until the water is completely absorbed and the rice is fully cooked. The final dish will be barely moist.
6) Fluff the rice with a fork, garnish with cilantro and serve.

Kerala Beef Fry

13 Oct

“Holy Cow! Do Indians eat Beef?”

The answer to that is yes, just not all of them. Cows are considered sacred in Hinduism and the majority of Hindus in India do not eat beef. When people think of India they immediately associate it with Indians not eating beef. While Hinduism is the major religion (80.5% of the population), India also has 13.4% Muslims and 2.3% Christians. That seems like a rather small percentage until you realize we are talking about a population of over a billion people.  There are also a growing number of expatriates and repatriates in India who are beef eaters.

Eating beef is not illegal in India, though cow slaughtering is prohibited in some states.  Then there is also the controversy over cows and buffaloes – cows are considered holy but their cousins the buffaloes are frequently used to process beef in India. In fact, USDA has projected that India will become the largest beef exporter in 2012. 

In short, beef in served at several restaurants across India and is also cooked in several households. One of my favorite Indian beef recipes is Beef Ularthiyathu better known as Spicy Kerala Beef Fry. Bite size pieces of beef are marinated in freshly ground aromatic spices, then pressure cooked till tender and finally fried with fragrant curry leaves and slivers of coconut. Kerala beef fry is usually served with flaky Kerala parathas or fluffy appams, but regular chapatis or basmati rice works just fine as this dish will be the real star of the meal.

Kerala Beef Fry Recipe:
Adapted from Petrina Verma Sarkar’s Kerala Beef Fry Recipe
Time: In Active time:  1.5hrs   Active time: 45 minutes

Ingredients:

Marinade Ingredients:
1 inch cinnamon stick
3 teaspoons fennel seeds
8 cloves
16 whole black peppercorns
5 green cardamom pods, seeds only
1 ½ tablespoons coriander powder
1 tablespoon ginger paste
1 tablespoon garlic paste
1 tablespoon vinegar
½ peeled and thinly sliced medium red onion
2 green chilies, sliced

Cooking Ingredients:
Boneless Beef 1.5 lbs, cleaned and cut up into 1.5 inch chunks (I used stew meat)
1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
1 peeled and thinly sliced medium red onion
10 curry leaves
2 green chilies
3 tablespoons dried, grated coconut (See note)
½ teaspoon red chili powder (See note)
Salt to taste

Note:

  • Traditionally this is made with slices of fresh coconut, so if you have access to fresh coconut of sliced frozen coconut, you can use that instead of the dried, grated coconut.
  • Feel free to add more chili powder after tasting it and deciding how spicy you want it to be.

Method:
1) In a spice grinder or coffee grinder, grind together the cinnamon stick, fennel seeds, cloves, peppercorns and cardamom.
2) Put the beef into a large bowl and mix it with the ground up spice mixture and all other marinade ingredients. Plastic wrap this bowl and place the beef in the refrigerator, and let it marinate for 1-2 hours.
3) Put the marinated beef along with ½ a cup of water into a pressure cooker and let it cook till you hear two whistles. You want the meat to be cooked through and tender. Simmer out most of the remaining water, leaving behind only 2-3 tablespoons of liquid.
4) In a large skillet heat the oil on medium high heat. When the oil is hot add 1 thinly sliced onion to it and sauté till golden brown. Stir the onions occasionally to ensure they do not burn.
5) Add the curry leaves and green chilies fry them for 1-2 minutes.
6) Then add the coconut and cook it for about 2 minutes or till is toasty.
7) Now add the beef with the 2-3 tablespoons of reserved cooking liquid (from the pressure cooker) and cook everything together till the beef turns a deep, dark color.
8) Serve hot with basmati rice, rotis, parathas, dosas or appams.

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