Murgh Makhani (Butter Chicken)

Our friend Karan used to make the most delicious Butter Chicken. We haven’t eaten it since he moved away, so, missing it, I decided to try my hand at it. I was really happy with how this turned out, especially the flavorful and delicate gravy.

The one thing I would do differently is to try to grind up the cashews a little finer, to a paste. I’ve been planning to get a mortar and pestle and that would probably do the trick. The other thing is, in this and in most of my curries I usually go pretty light on the cayenne and/or chillis so that Zoeya can enjoy it too and I just let Shan spice it up later. If you aren’t cooking for kids (or wimps), you can go a little heavier on the spice.

Don’t be overwhelmed by the crazy ingredient list, most of them are spices.

Murgh Makhani (Butter Chicken)

1 lb boneless chicken thighs
juice of 1 lime
1/2 tsp cayenne (more to taste)
salt, pepper
2 tbsp yogurt
olive oil
3 cloves
3 black peppercorns
1 inch stick cinnamon
2 green cardamoms, cracked
1 and 1/2 sliced white onions
3-4 cloves garlic, grated or finely chopped
1 inch ginger, grated or finely chopped
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp tumeric
2-3 cups water
1 lb roma tomatoes diced
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp dried fenugreek leaves
small handful cashews
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp cream or half and half
Cilantro to garnish

Cut the chicken thighs into 1 inch chunks, and marinate for about an hour in the lime juice, salt, pepper, cayenne and yogurt.

Heat a little olive oil on high, brown the chicken and remove to a plate. Add a little oil if necessary, scraping up anything left by the chicken, lower heat to medium, and add whole spices (cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon, cardamoms). Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally, before adding your onions. Sprinkle onions with salt and stir occasionally until they are turning golden. Add ginger and garlic and cook for a minute, add powdered spices (coriander, cumin, turmeric) and cook for a minute.

Add water and deglaze, then add tomatoes, bay leaves and fenugreek leaves. Cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes, then uncover and cook to reduce liquid by about a third.

In a food processor or mortar and pestle, grind cashews to a paste. Remove the cinnamon stick and bay leaves from the sauce and transfer to food processor (be careful, it’s hot!) Puree and return to pot along with chicken. Stir butter and cream into the sauce. Serve with basmati rice, garnished with cilantro.

Notes where I stray from the authentic: where most Indian food is cooked in vegetable oil I usually prefer light olive oil; it doesn’t alter the flavor and it’s a little healthier. Also, most Indian recipes will have you cook your onions and then your meat, but sometimes I cook the meat first, remove to a plate, then add it back later to finish in the sauce, especially if I’m planning on pureeing the sauce. Also, I salt my onions to sweat them where most Indian recipes do not. Do as you will!

Red Thai Curry

Here is a delicious weeknight meal that you can whip up quickly and not mess up even if you are chatting with your sister and drinking lots of wine.

This uses store-bought curry paste. I make my own sometimes (I’ll post a recipe at some point), and encourage you to as well because it’s fun, but the store-bought stuff is tasty and convenient. I used Thai Kitchen brand.

Red Thai Curry

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-size pieces
light olive oil, salt, pepper
1 onion sliced
2 cloves garlic
1-2 tablespoons red Thai curry paste
water or chicken broth
1 can diced tomatoes
2 carrots, chopped
1/2 cup coconut milk
2 spring onions

Heat olive oil. Add onions and salt, and fry until they start to turn translucent. Add garlic and chicken, and fry until chicken is cooked. Add curry paste and stir for a minute or two (just so it has a chance to cook but not so much that it starts to burn). Add a cup or so of water or chicken broth, scraping the pan, then add tomatoes, carrots and coconut milk. If needed, add some more water or chicken broth until the chicken is almost covered, cover and lower heat to a simmer.

Cook, stirring occasionally, until chicken is cooked through and carrots are softened. Depending on how much liquid is left, you can remove the top and cook a little more to thicken your sauce.

Garnish with sliced spring onions and serve with limes and jasmine rice. I love to serve my curries steaming at the table right out of the pot.

Afterthought: what would really take this to the next level is some chopped peanuts, mmmm….next time!

The Secret Ingredient in my Goat Curry is Love

Life is going really beautifully lately. I feel peaceful and happy and completely in love with my little family.

Lately I am one of those obnoxious people who is just floating on a cloud, enjoying my life. I think it’s doing good things for my cooking, because we all know home cooking comes out a lot better if you are cooking with a heart full of love and sweetness (versus evil salty bitterness!). Because of Ramadan, every evening we are partaking in a lovely family dinner. My husband Shan owns a Quiznos, and the nights he closes I just cook the meal at home and pack it up to eat there. I think it’s funny to be eating things like Goat Curry at Quiznos.

If you’ve never cooked goat before, try it! It is not gross, as we tried to convince one Quiznos employee. It is the most widely used meat in the world, it tastes a lot like beef (only leaner), and it is available at your local halal butcher. If you want a recipe that is a little more cold, stormy American night, you can try my Goat Stew. However, if you’re in the mood for a delicious spicy curry, this will hit the spot.

Goat Curry

It’s based on this recipe for Pakistani Goat Curry at a blog called What You Having For Your Tea?, which features the food I most love to cook, South Asian and Spanish. It’s written by a British bloke who moved to Australia, so this American chick has to do a little temp and measurement conversion, but it’s worth it since the recipes look absolutely sumptuous. I changed this up just a little; I cooked the whole thing stovetop instead of in the oven, and since I love the nutty flavor of coconut milk in curries, I used this instead of the yogurt. If that makes it more Indian than Pakistani I don’t know, but tastewise either is fine. I also used tomato paste instead of fresh tomatoes, as had no fresh tomatoes, and changed the spices up a little; curries give you some room to adjust to your tastes and pantry.

Goat Curry

1 pound bone-in goat meat, cut in 2 inch chunks
salt and pepper
1 tbsp (or so) olive oil
1 onion (roughly chopped)
4 cloves garlic (chopped)
1 inch piece of fresh ginger (peeled and chopped)
1 cinnamon stick
3 whole cloves
1 tsp red pepper
1 tsp tumeric
2 tsp coriander powder (I say “coriander powder,” and yet “fresh cilantro”)
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup water plus you’ll probably need some more later
1 tbsp tomato paste
juice of 1/2 lemon

Heat the olive oil on high heat. Salt and pepper your chunks of goat meat, and brown both sides.While that’s browning, in a blender or food processor, puree your onion, garlic, and ginger. When the meat is browned, remove it to a plate and pour the onion mixture into the pan, along with the cinnamon stick and cloves. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture turns golden.

Add the meat and everything else to the pan. Stir it all up, turn the heat to medium, cover and simmer for an hour to an hour and a half, adding water as needed, until the meat is nice and tender. At the end you can uncover the pan and thicken the sauce to your desired consistency. There should be a good bit of gravy for mopping up with warm naan.

Balti Zafrani Chicken

Even as a non-Muslim, I love Ramadan, and as I’ve been celebrating it with Shan for the last five years I’m starting to feel that it’s my tradition as well. I feel that believers and non-believers alike can appreciate the sentiment of the holy month: to reflect, to be thankful, to avoid negativity. I enjoy the peaceful days and the fun evenings with friends. During this month the evening meal, Iftar, is kind of a big deal, so all month I am cooking exclusively Pakistani.

The meal: It is traditional to open the fast with a date as did the prophet (Shan is very picky and does not like dates, and so opens with salt, also acceptable). Then we have pakoras, which are potatoes or other vegetables battered in besam (chickpea flour) and fried, and watermelon. We have delicious sweet drinks like Rooh Afza or some concoction of peaches, Fanta and milk that our friend Mansoor has been mixing up. Then round two – whatever entree we’ve got going – and finishing up with milk tea.

I have a handful of Pakistani dishes already in my repertoire, but ventured to to learn something new. They have lots of recipes in English, so I chose Balti Zafrani Chicken.

Balti Zafrani Chicken

This is a spiced, rich and stewy chicken dish. It had me at Zafrani – saffron – which I love although I don’t cook with it often ($$$). “Balti” means bucket, and refers to the type of pot that this dish is traditionally cooked in. It’s apparently quite popular in the UK although I have not heard of it here in the US, but Shan and Mansoor seemed to know what it was so I took that as a sign.

I’ll go ahead and rewrite the recipe since I have a couple of different “western” techniques – I don’t know that they are western in particular, but just things I like to do differently. Namely, I salt the onions in the beginning so they sweat as well as adding salt later if I need to (but probably less in the end than your average Pakistani, at least the ones I know). I realize the onions brown better if you don’t salt them, but they also take longer, and I’ve never really noticed much of a difference so really I think you can do whichever you prefer. Also, instead of paste I like to use fresh garlic and ginger, and add the garlic at the same time as the onions so it can cook. Finally, none of the recipes I’ve seen have put an emphasis on browning the meat, but I think by carmelizing it a bit you really get a better flavor than by essentially just boiling the meat.

Recipe: Balti Zafrani Chicken

2 tbsp butter
1/4 c oil – by this point you realize this is not diet food
1 onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
One whole chicken, cut into 1-2 inch pieces – the original recipes calls for one lb of boneless cubes, but we usually get the bone-in variety and this is fine
One inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp red pepper – add more to taste
2 tbsp ground almonds – what a lovely way to thicken the sauce!
3/4 c yogurt
1/2 tsp saffron threads, crumbled
1/2 tsp allspice – a nice alternative to cinnamon!
2 tbsp cream
2 tbsp lemon juice

On high heat, melt the butter in the oil, and fry the onion until translucent and starting to turn golden brown. When the onion is almost done, toss in the garlic so that it can cook and not burn. Add chicken, ginger, black and red pepper, and fry for 5 minutes or so.

Stir it up, cover, and simmer on medium heat until chicken is cooked through, stirring occasionally and especially not letting it stick. In the meantime, warm the cream and combine with the saffron and allspice. When the chicken is cooked through (it should be very tender, almost falling off the bone), add the cream mixture and the lemon juice.

Cook a minute longer, garnish with cilantro and serve.

This turned out delicate and fragrant, really delicious. You can serve it with warm naan or as I did with pulao (lightly spiced rice and onions). I roasted some carrots with cumin as well and we had a very nice Iftar.