Whenever I pick up a bundle of palak(spinach) at the grocery store -all organic & prewashed & ready to serve and what not, always, without a miss, I think about the vegetable patch(es) in my grandmother’s house,a house where I lived in some 18 years back, having a backyard planted with tomatoes and okra during summers and cauliflowers & potatoes during winters.One where the air would strongly smell of agarbatti (incense sticks) in the evenings which were often lighted to wade away the bugs from the eggplant bush, one which had rows dotted with yellow and orange marigolds & english roses.One where each morning,I strolled along the narrow, wet sidewalks brushing my teeth,bending down to sniff the strong fragrance of tulsi (holy basil) plants.One where I spent a lot of childhood days,counting the ready-to-pluck green beans and tearing leaves apart to spot the cabbage buns. A backyard where you could find us after coming back from school, dressed in printed cotton frocks,bare feet, digging mud and playing hide and seek within the squash creepers.
I visited India last year and everything is the same, the yard still planted with seasonal crop but now more taken care of by maali (gardener) than the family. Mom made dal and she sprinkled a bunch of chopped coriander leaves on top,picked from there. I plucked a few narangi (indian kumquat) from the bush which has now turned into a small tree in all theses years and popped it into my mouth with a pinch of salt, the burst of citrus tang running goose pimples all over my body, bringing memories with itself of the days when squirts of that sweet acid graced our daliya (breakfast porridge) every now and then. I tore up a few spinach and methi (fenugreek) leaves and chewed on them, a wish which I had nestled for so many years to experience that unforgettable earthly, delicate taste all over again.
I wanted our daughter to play and get her hands dirty in the mud but she could barely crawl at that time, so that fun has to wait till our next visit. But, embraced in all these memories, I made this murgh (chicken) saag (any leafy green) last week and she really loved it. This recipe is a perfect balance of greens and protein to nourish kids and adults alike.You would have seen this dish on indian restaurant’s menus a lot. But it is not something I grew up with. I started making it regularly a couple of years back, mostly around my pregnancy years when I craved spinach all the time. This recipe has evolved a lot from the first time I cooked it.
Ingredients (Serves 3-4)
For the Spice Rub on Chicken
4-5 whole dry kashmiri red chilies (adjust to tolerance)
2 tbsp whole coriander seeds
1/4 tsp fennel seeds
1.5 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp methi dana (fenugreek seeds)
2 small black cardamom pods, cracked open
2 tsp black peppercorns (adjust to tolerance)
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp salt
1.5 lbs boneless chicken thighs, cut into 2″ pieces
1 tsp canola or sunflower oil
Rest of the Ingredients
6-8 oz fresh spinach leaves (~ a little more than 1 cup spinach puree)
1/4- 1/3 cup water (depending on desired consistency of sauce)
3-4 tbsp heavy cream
Wash thoroughly and pat the chicken pieces completely dry. Set aside. In a small pan, dry roast the kashmiri chilies, coriander seeds, cloves, fennel,methi, cumin and black peppercorns. Transfer to a coffee grinder and coarsely grind. Mix the ground spices with turmeric, nutmeg and salt. In a large bowl, add the chicken, drizzle the oil and sprinkle half of the ground spices and rub so that all the pieces are covered in the spices. Reserve the rest of the spice rub. Cover the bowl and set in the refrigerator for at least 3-4 hours or preferably overnight to marinate.
Once ready to cook,take the chicken out from the refrigerator and let sit on kitchen counter.Bring 2-3 cups of water to a boil in a pot. Put off the heat.Add the spinach leaves to the water and let sit for 1-2 minutes. Drain out the spinach leaves and puree in the food processor using little water if required. You can reserve the boiled water to thin out the sauce later if you want.
Meanwhile,heat up the mustard oil in another wide, heavy bottomed pot. Add the cinnamon, bay leaf and let crackle. Add the onions and garlic next. Let cook for 5-8 minutes on medium low heat until the onion starts to turn brown. At this point, carefully add the chicken pieces to the pot in a single layer (if possible), and on medium high heat, let the chicken pieces sear on one side. Flip and let sear on all sides. Next, add the tomatoes, ginger and remaining ground spice powder to the pot. Stir around and let cook on medium heat till you see, tomatoes turn soft and oil just starting to separate on the side of the pan.It might take 8-10 minutes since the chicken will also release its juices but keep on cooking.
Once you see that the chicken is about 80% cooked, add the pureed spinach along with the garammasala. Combine and cover till the spinach blends in the sauce, the raw smell is gone, it turns down in color to dark green and the chicken is completely cooked, about 10-12 minutes on medium heat. You will see little glistening spinach bubbles on the top.Open the lid, add the kasuri methi and water (depending on the consistency you want). Let simmer for another 1-2 minutes.Add the heavy cream, check and adjust the salt, let simmer for 2-3 minutes more (but do not boil).
Let sit for 2-3 hours before serving.Warm up and serve.
You can use bone in chicken for this recipe. Use dark meat portions and make incisions in the flesh with a sharp knife before you marinate it.
When you puree the spinach, do not make a smooth paste out of it (that’s why I do not use a blender). Use as less water as possible when grinding spinach.
If you like a bit of smoky flavor then you can grill the chicken but I prefer searing it in the cooking pot itself.
You could use a mix of greens – kale and spinach work beautifully, so does spinach and methi(fresh fenugreek).
The addition of heavy cream makes the dish a lot tastier and rich but you can skip the cream if you want.
A traditional & (sometimes) time-consuming dish like this is a must in my house at least once a week..mostly middle of the week.The week usually starts on a very low note with soups,salads, lentils-rice etc thanks to our upset stomachs crying for simple home cooked meals to wither away the weekend damages from uncontrolled eating outside.Once we are back to normal,a recipe like this is required to do away the boredom of simple [ read bland] foods.Notice the vicious cycle & the excuses to cook heavy food,eat and enjoy! Such dishes,loaded with indian flavors keep my guy happy.He has this unfathomable love for indian food, not that it’s a miracle [considering that he is an indian] but I m amazed at the fact that how can anyone eat [or at least want to eat] indian food 365 days of the year and never get bored of it for once???
A typical scene whenever we are getting ready to eat out is like this:-
Me – “Lets go to OG (Olive Garden for italian ) or PF (Chang’s for chinese)”
Him -“As you say.Get ready! ”
After half an hour – Me, happily dressed, getting into the car & asking to double confirm “OG or PF?”
Him – “Where do you want to go?” ( hoping that I might have changed my options)
Me -“OG” (replying shamelessly even after knowing that he doesnt like italian)
Half way, through the drive, he feels that there still might be a chance to change.He tries again,for the third time now ” You REALLY wanna eat italian?”
Mostly, not because I m trying to be a good wife (or whatever ),I give in to eat indian coz I don’t want to spoil the poor guy’s dinner 🙂 You should see the spark in his eyes as he locks the car in front of the restaurant!
Alright,this dish you might or might not get in the indian restaurants so make it at home.Its a rich, spicy & really flavorful preparation.”Bhuna” is basically a technique of searing the meat first,cooking a thick spice paste in oil,adding the seared meat to it & then slow cooking in its own juices it for 2-3 hours.The slow cooking results in deep strong flavours but a very thick sauce.”Bhuna” literally means browned, the meat in this dish has a brown look due to all the slow cooking & particularly the used of many black indian spices that make there way into the recipe.Boneless meat will not work in this recipe unless it’s a very thick cut.If using chicken, try to use the dark meat portions like thighs & drumsticks. The beauty of this two-in-one recipe is that the spice rub is so flavorful that you can drop the sauce preparation & grill the chicken pieces to make a perfect summer appetizer. As always I shy away from use of tomatoes in meat dishes, you can add some if you want.
2 lbs chicken, bone in, skinned [7-8 pieces,use thigh/drumsticks or dark meat portions]
1 tsp oil for rubbing on chicken +more for brushing on the grill pan
1.5 tsp salt
For the spice rub :-
4 whole dry red chilies
2 tbsp whole coriander seeds
1.5 tsp cumin seeds
2 black cardamom pods, cracked open
2 tsp black peppercorns [ Adjust to taste]
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp salt
For the sauce :-
1 cup onion, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic ,grated
2″ ginger shoot, grated
3 bay leaves
1″ cinnamon stick
3/4 cup plain yogurt, beaten [slightly sour]
4 tbsp oil
Salt to taste
Cilantro, chillies etc for garnish [optional]
Wash the chicken pieces thoroughly & pat dry using a paper towel.Once dried, rub the 1 tsp oil & 1.5 tsp salt over the pieces.Set aside for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small sauce pan, on low heat,roast all the whole spices [except turmeric,nutmeg & salt] till you smell the aroma.About 5 minutes.
Let the roasted spices cool down a bit.Once cooled, tip into your coffee grinder or using mortar & pestle, coarsely grind the spices.
Add turmeric, ground nutmeg & salt to the ground spices to make a mix.
Lay the chicken pieces in a single layer and thoroughly rub half the amount of spice mix all over.Let sit for another 5 minutes. Mix the rest of the spice mix with beaten yogurt & set aside.
Meanwhile, heat a grill pan [or a normal pan] to smoking hot.Once hot,brush some oil on the pan and layer the chicken pieces on the pan. Here, the idea is just to sear the flesh of the chicken [not cook it].You can even do it in the same pot in which you want to cook the sauce,I prefer a wide open pan for the sake of searing all piece in one go & easier flipping.Let sear for about 5 minutes on each side. Once seared, remove from heat.Reserve the drippings if any. Note:- You can use your outdoor grill too for this purpose.
While the chicken is being seared, heat oil in a heavy bottomed pot with lid on medium heat. [ or use your slow cooker for this purpose]
Once the oil is smoking, lower the heat & add the chopped onions to the pot.Cook the onions till golden brown.About 8 minutes.
Next, add the grated ginger & garlic to the pot along with bay leaves and cinnamon stick. Cook for 1 minute more.Let the heat be on low.
Add the spice mixed yogurt to the pot next and combine well with onions.Cook for 2 minutes with constant stirring to avoid curdling of the yogurt.You will slowly see yogurt releasing water. TIP: Whenever adding yogurt to hot pot, ensure that the stove is on the lowest mark.
Add the seared chicken pieces to the pot next, pep up the heat to medium and cook the chicken pieces for 5 minutes.Check the salt now [ remember we rubbed chicken with salt earlier] and adjust if required. Also,add the drippings[ if any] from the grill pan to the pot.
Again, reduce the heat to lowest possible on your stove, cover the pot and let the chicken cook to fully done.About 25-30 minutes.Avoid adding any water to the pot.As the chicken will cook,it will release its own juices which are enough to cook it.You will need to stir in between once or twice. Avoid adding any water to the pot.
Once the chicken is cooked, remove from heat and let sit covered for another 10 minutes.
Garnish with cilantro & sliced chillies.
Serve warm with chapthis, naan [flatbreads] or cumin rice.
If you want to serve the chicken as appetizers, cook them to perfection on the outdoor/indoor grill itself & serve with Mango Mint Chutney.
This recipe can be used for goat meat,turkey, beef or lamb also.The cooking time will very as per the kind of meat used.
This spice rub is serves as a flavorful condiment to add indian twist to your grilling.
Did you send your entry to Culinary Smackdown Battle-Mango Desserts?Please see details of the ongoing event here. Hurry..just a week more to go, contest ends 28th April 2011, Pacific time.
Chicken Dopiaza is a popular indian curry with origins in east india.”Do” in Hindi means two and “piyaz/piaz ” is hindi for onions.So it translates to a chicken dish cooked with twice the normal amounts of onions in a curry or a dish where onions are used two times in the preparation.Wiki tells me that in eastern india particularly in the state of West Bengal which had a lot of muslim travelers then,this dish originated and then got popular in the rest of the country.
The good thing about this curry is that it used simple indian spices and herbs and has a yogurt tomato based sauce in addition to onions.I have used red pearl onions in the curry, you can replace with shallots or even chunks of medium-sized onions.The idea is to use onions in the sauce with as well as include them in the curry on their own.Dont be overwhelmed by the long list of ingredients, these are all easy to find things available in your pantry.The recipe is adapted from here.
Ingredients: [Serves 2]
1 lb chicken ,bone in ,skinned [I used chicken thighs]
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 dry red chillies
Salt to taste
1/2 cup red pearl onions [or equivalent quantity of shallots or thick sliced onions]
3 medium onions
2 fat cloves of garlic
4 fresh mint leaves
1″fresh ginger shoot
1/2 cup plain greek yogurt
1/4 tsp sugar
1 cup chopped tomatoes
5 tbsp oil [mustard/olive /canola]
Chopped cilantro [for garnish]
8-10 black peppercorns
4 green cardamom pods, cracked open
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
Dry Ground spices:
1 tbsp red chilli powder[adjust to taste]
2 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp dry coriander powder
Garam Masala to sprinkle [optional]
Soak the dry chillies in half cup water for about 15 minutes.
Once soaked, coarsely grind them using a mortar & pestle.
Rub chicken pieces with lemon juice,above red chilli paste and 1 tsp salt and set aside for 30 minutes.
Peel the pearl onions and set aside.
Thinly chop the onions.
Coarsely grind the mint leaves, ginger shoot and garlic cloves.Mix them which beaten yogurt and juice of the onion.Set aside.
In a heavy bottomed pot with lid, add the oil and let it come to a smoking point on high heat.Once smoking, reduce the heat, wait for 1 minute and add the pearl onions.Fry the pearl onions for 2-3 minutes until they turn light brown.Drain on a paper towel.
In the remaining oil,add the sliced onions along with all the whole spices and cook till onions turn golden brown on medium heat.About 5-8 minutes.
Next, add the chopped tomatoes along with turmeric, red chilli and coriander powder.Cook on medium heat till tomatoes become tender and you see oil separating on sides of the pot.About 5 minutes.
Add the marinated chicken along with marinade,yogurt mix and stir everything to combine properly.Check the salt at this stage.Adjust if required.
Now reduce the heat to low and let the curry cook till the chicken is tender.About 20 minutes for the size of chicken pieces you see in the pictures.
When the chicken is tender, add the fried pearl onions & sugar ,mix well, cover again and let simmer for another 10 minutes.
Garnish with chopped cilantro and sprinkle with garam masala if u like.
Serve warm with rice or flatbreads.
You can use lamb, mutton or beef for making this curry.Adjust cooking times accordingly.
I recommend using bone in and dark meat chicken pieces for this curry because the curry cooks for a long time on slow heat.