Dal Chicken (Curried Chicken with Lentils)

I’m done with summer, even though it seems reluctant to let go of me.

I remember the time when I was younger and actually looked forward to summers. But back then summer meant time away from school, and going off on holiday with the family. Summers were also not as beastly hot as they are now, the sun a lot gentler on the skin and when SPF 15 and a sun-hat did the job, though my mum seems to recall that I regularly suffered from sun-strokes every summer like clockwork.

We have of course no one to blame but ourselves as we’ve learnt. The excesses of generations before, taken forward by ours, caused enough havoc before we came to our senses and tried to stem the damage we had done to the environment. Global warming, depletion of the ozone layer, the earth’s coat for many seasons, and CFC’s became words we grew acquainted with… but is it all too late? Sudden changes in temperatures around the world and what can only be called freaky weather patterns started emerging worldwide. Unexplained snowfall in areas that had never seen snow and sharp peaks in temperature around the world have become commonplace. The polar ice sheets are melting at an alarmingly rapid pace and we realise that we are hurtling down the road to extinction with brakes that no longer work like they used to and worse still, with a gaping hole in our gas tank.

In short this summer’s been beastly! A good thing for beer companies and the government if you ask me, both of who make a pretty packet out of our misery. One could always try drinking fresh fruit juices, but with inflation at its peak, and at a dollar for one decent juicy orange, it’s not within everyone’s reach. So water is at the end of the day your best bet, even if you have to buy the bottled options, the only down side is that it doesn’t come in flavours 😉

Summer also means eating light, especially during the day, but then there are those occasions when the body and mouth craves something more substantial. So one night I thought I’d rustle up one of my favourite meals…

Dal Chicken or Curried Chicken with Lentils.

Dal Chicken garnished with spicy potato straws and peanuts

This dish can be made with red meat or with chicken and has three different dals (lentils) as its base. I’ve used split and hulled red lentil (masur dal), split and hulled moong dal and split and hulled black gram (urad dal… which is cream in colour once its black outer coat is removed).

Here are the ingredients –

500gms chicken on the bone (cut into pieces)

3/4″ piece of ginger (minced)

4 – 5 cloves garlic (minced)

juice of 1 lime (+ extra to finish the dish)

(marinade the chicken in the ginger, garlic, lime juice mix and keep refrigerated overnight)

1/4 cup masur dal

1/4 cup yellow moong dal

1/4 cup urad dal

(wash and soak the above dals overnight – then parboil and reserve)

1 medium onion (sliced fine)

1/2 teaspoon freshly milled black pepper

1/2 teaspoon sambar (sambhar) powder ( you should get this in stores that supply Indian spice powders)

1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder

1/2 teaspoon kashmiri chilli powder

1 teaspoon cumin powder

1 teaspoon coriander powder

1/2 teaspoon garam masala (1/4 teaspoon while frying the spices and a 1/4 teaspoon at the end to finish off the dish)

3 tablespoons sunflower oil

small sprig of curry leaves

2 green chillies (deseed if you don’t want it too hot)

2 small dried or fresh bay leaves

1 cup chopped tomatoes

1 teaspoon + salt

2 teaspoons chopped fresh coriander

1 heaped teaspoon ghee (clarified butter)

pinch of dry mango powder (aamchur powder)

This dish involves quite a few steps but it’s well worth the effort, and makes for a soul satisfying meal.

Start by frying the sliced onions in the oil till they start to caramelise. Add in the curry leaves and the chopped tomatoes, with a pinch of salt and fry on high for 30 seconds, then reduce to low and simmer covered for 10 minutes till the tomatoes completely break down. Add the bay leaves and the powdered spices and fry them on low (lowest flame) for 2 – 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Now add the chicken, one piece at a time, and turn up the flame a notch so that the chicken gets browned just a bit. Add the marinade, and a cup of warm water and bring the chicken to a simmer before turning down the gas to low. Cover and cook the chicken for 12 – 15 minutes before adding the pre-boiled dals, the chillies and a teaspoon of salt. Top with another 1/2 to 3/4 cup of warm water, cover and cook for at least 20 minutes (If you want your curry thinner you may want to increase the quantity of water to a cup or so).

Now add the balance garam masala, 2 teaspoons chopped coriander, a rounded heaped teaspoon of ghee or clarified butter (you can omit this if you like, but it makes the dish taste so much better), a squeeze of lime juice and a pinch of dry mango powder (optional).

Allow the dal chicken to rest for at least one hour if not more before you re-heat and serve, this allows all the flavours to come together.

Serve the Dal Chicken garnished with potato straws or plantain chips on a bed of white rice alongside a light refreshing salad.

Oh…don’t wait for me… Go right ahead and dig in!

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Roast Chicken in a Spicy Yoghurt Marinade

When you think of serving up a spicy Indian chicken the first thing that comes to mind is tandoori chicken. But most places serving tandoori chicken apart from the spices they use, tend to incorporate some sort of food colouring that leaves your fingers tinted a strange reddish-pink even as you tear off a nice chunk. In my opinion Indian spices really don’t need additives. Varied in terms of levels of heat, taste, texture and colour, Indian spices can well do without food colouring to make any dish using them look appetising.

Besides what do you do if you don’t have a tandoor? I don’t have one, and I suppose neither do many people living in apartment buildings. In fact even an open barbecue or wood-fired grill is a no-no for most city dwellers, and we can’t always call in for take out.

So here’s a simple oven-roasted chicken with Indian spices. Marinaded in lime juice, yoghurt, fresh roasted and powdered cumin and coriander seeds, kashmiri chilli powder, a coarse ground regular hot red chilli powder (you could substitute with sweet and hot paprika), ginger and garlic powder, a pinch of nutmeg and clove powder, turmeric powder, salt to taste, chopped fresh mint and a touch of olive oil instead of butter (since I’m watching my weight), this is an on-the-go, quick marinade which can be whipped up in no time. You don’t even need to roast an entire chicken like I did. Thaw your piece/s of chicken overnight, then whip up the marinade in 10 minutes tops, lightly salt the chicken and add a 1/2 teaspoon of lime, let it sit for 10 minutes, pat it dry, coat the chicken with the marinade, cover it with cling film and stick it back into the fridge (not the freezer).

When you get back from work, get the chicken out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature while the oven pre-heats, and either bake it covered in foil or roast it open in the oven. You can even marinade boneless cubes of chicken, skewer them onto metal skewers with an assortment of bell-peppers, onions and tomatoes and roast them in the oven or on the barbecue till done.

Roasting chicken always makes me think of family and sitting down at the table with so much food we’d be spoiled for choice. My parents weren’t the indulgent sorts though. Rather strict in the way they raised us, we had to say grace and sit at table while we ate (none of that TV dinner stuff), making wholesome conversation, and finishing off what was on our plates, taking it in turn to clear, unless of course you were a habitual malingerer, which meant you had perennial table-clearing privileges until you saw the folly of your ways and made amends. Raised in god-fearing Catholic homes my parents brought us up by the book, with the occasional paddle and cane, but they made sure we were well fed and well schooled, not just academically but in the niceties of life. ‘The well-brought-up versus the dragged-up’ as my mum would say, referring to some of the more free spirited kids who lived down the road, who roamed around with slippered feet and crumpled clothes. She made sure despite raising three of us almost single-handedly (my dad was in the merchant navy) that our clothes were ironed to military crispness and our ears were washed, that our homework was done on time and that we brought home a good report card or we would have hell to pay. She also made sure we ate a balanced diet which most definitely included a selection of veggies at every meal and different meats and fish. But what I really looked forward to was the roast chicken she made. In-charge of the stuffing, I had to do it in the order she laid down, no different, chopping to exact proportions and in a sequence she had mastered. Rather difficult for a rebellious Scorpio child who was itching to break-free and do her own thing. The marinade too was one she had perfected, honey glazed with a few additions that made it her own. But the stuffing was something else, packed with cubes of fried bread and potatoes with fried chicken livers, crispy bacon bits, green peas, carrots, raisins and an assortment of nuts, then liberally laced with whiskey. It took the stuffing to as close to culinary heaven as you could get.

But I’m not venturing down that road. That one’s reserved for Christmas at my parent’s home and the stuffed turkey or chicken which is the mainstay of the meal.

So this is my simple Indian style roast chicken, marinaded with yoghurt and a host of spices.

Encase the chicken in foil and slow roast it for 45 minutes to an hour at 250 degrees C until the chicken is tender, Then unwrap the chicken from the foil and drain out the marinade, adding it to any reserve marinade and roast the chicken uncovered on a wire rack placed over the baking tray, until crisp on the outside for another 30 – 40 minutes, taking care to turn it around occasionally. Keep basting the chicken from time to time with the reserve marinade and juices. This will ensure that the chicken stays moist even as the skin crisps up.

Meanwhile heat up the reserve marinade and juices from the chicken and add a couple of tablespoons of honey… well more than a couple (4 – 5 more like it).

Serve the chicken garnished with lime, onion rings, slices of tomato and sprigs of fresh mint leaves.

Spoon some of that reduced sauce over the chicken and pour yourself a glass of Merlot or Shiraz, my wines of choice with this dish.

Have yourself a fabulous weekend.

Rustic Hand-rolled Country Duck Egg Tagliatelle with a Bolognese Sauce

The thing about heart-warming food is just that… it’s about food from the the heart. Soul food, it remind you of home, elevates you when you’re down in the dumps and makes you feel better when you’ve got the sniffles. It helps you get over heartbreak, or the disappointment about the promotion that never came through. Heart warming food can mean a lot to most people, unfortunately in my experience it’s usually food that’s a tad heavy. Heavy soups or stews and big bowls of steaming pasta with rich sauces usually does it for me. Which means I can’t enjoy it come the Indian summer with its blistering heat, which incidentally is just around the corner. So while the weather’s still fair I thought I should experiment with something I’ve been dying to make for the past few months. Only I was way too busy at the time and it got shelved, but not forgotten.

Duck eggs bring back memories of my grandparent’s home with their backyard full of chickens and ducks. I think they had geese too on occasion, but I was terrified of them, their large beaks a-honking and legs that flew through the air and straight at you. I didn’t quite mind the chickens though I stayed away from the hens, and I loved eggs. I’m an egg-freak, but duck eggs weren’t my particular favourites, even though I was quite fond of the ducks who did their own thing and left you to your own. I acquired a taste for duck eggs much later, particularly when they were in an omelet or a frittata with loads of veggies or herbs. You still won’t catch me eating them boiled.

So my mum grew up with her own ducks and hens and had fresh warm eggs every morning, while we unfortunate city dwellers of the next generation are compelled to buy them off supermarket shelves, with labels suffixed with words that read ‘Regular’, ‘Country’, ‘Brown’ and more recently, ‘Power’ and ‘Enriched’…. with what I wonder… Uranium?

I guess I shouldn’t ask if I don’t want to know.

So Duck Eggs are an acquired taste, with a flavour distinctly stronger from that of chicken eggs. In addition they also contain more fat and far more cholesterol than the regular chicken egg, but conversely they also contain loads of protein. So it’s not all bad news except for those who need to watch their cholesterol levels. Besides have you seen a duck egg yolk… a deep yellow orange and large, you’ll be tempted to at least try one out.

So the label on the box at the supermarket said ‘Country Duck Eggs’ and I’ve been inspired by Cheryl, the Pasta Princess who keeps enticing me with lovely photos and recipes of all the colourful pasta she comes up with, but virtual/visual treats just aren’t enough once the taste-buds go wild. So I had to get down into the trenches, roll up my sleeves and get to work. Thanks for the inspiration Pasta Princess 🙂 This one’s for you.

This is also dedicated to my grandparents on both sides (long deceased and missed) and to simple country living and loads of good eating. So in true form I shunned the pasta machine preferring to go completely rustic on this one. Kneading, rolling, and cutting the pasta by hand. And this is it. Duck Egg Tagliatelle served with what else but a meaty Bolognese Sauce (my version made with minced beef (200gms), bacon (3 rashers), chicken stock (1 cup – beef stock is better if you’ve got it), lovely ripe tomatoes (3 large or 4 medium), loads of garlic, aubergines (2 – small), green olives (4 – 5), red wine (1 cup), a splash of balsamic, cumin powder (I love cumin :-)), paprika, and a whole lotta herbs (oregano, basil. a bay leaf and parsley). Not forgetting the cheese (I used Pecorino). So that’s one heavy, heady, meaty sauce, the sort that sticks to your pasta and bones. Stuff that grandma would say was “good for you child”.

Making the pasta isn’t all that difficult, though it does call for some muscle. You’ve got to put your body into it.

I cooked up just enough for one or two if you’re like me and prefer many many small meals through the day.

This is all you’ll need for the pasta –

3/4 cup flour (more for dusting, rolling etc…. a whole lot more actually)

1 duck egg

pinch of salt

1/2 tablespoon of olive oil

2 tablespoons water

First things first – Wash/clean your work surface and hands thoroughly. Then dump the flour onto the cleaned and dry work surface, make a well in the centre and break your egg into it. It’s always better to break the egg into a bowl and then ease it into the well especially with duck eggs because the shells are hard to crack and you don’t want bits of shell in your pasta.

Add the water, olive oil and salt to the egg and whip it up a bit before slowly bringing the flour in to the centre of the well. If the dough is too sticky add a little more flour at a time until the flour and egg are well combined into a dough.

Now comes the muscle… the part where you fold and press, then fold and press down again, and again… and again, for the next 4 to 5 minutes till the dough isn’t quite so springy and pliable any more.

Finally cover with cling film and leave to rest for about 30 minutes.

After the dough has rested, unwrap and pat it down into a circle of your work surface.

Sprinkle a little flour and taking your rolling pin made an indentation band in the middle of the dough and roll out one side and then the other.

Keep rotating the dough, or rather it does it on its own as you continue to roll. The springiness of the dough reducing as you roll it thinner and thinner until the sheet is about a millimetre or less, and has almost lost its elasticity.

Fold the sheet about an inch or so and keep repeating till the entire circle of dough has been folded.

Take a sharp knife and cut strips about a centimetre thick.

Work quickly at this stage opening up the ribbons of pasta nd leaving them to dry for 3 – 4 minutes (I draped them over a lightly floured plate) as you bring the pot of water to a boil.

Add in a tablespoon of salt and drop the pasta into the boiliing water. Your pasta should be done in 3 minutes or so, as it will rise quickly to the surface. Lift the pasta out of the boiling water using a slotted spoon and drizzle over some extra virgin olive oil before spooning on that delicious Bolognese. Finish with fresh chopped flat-leaf parsley and grated Pecorino Romano cheese.

Grandma must be smiling, that’s for sure 🙂

Have a great weekend.

Chicken, Peas and Parsley Pies

I love butter and I love pastry. But working with it is a challenge in Mumbai where the temperature is anything from hot to hotter to hottest. So I stuck my hands in ice cold water and rubbed them with ice-cubes to keep them cold.

I made these pies in a muffin tray. Individual servings,  perfect for a light lunch or dinner… or even as an in-between-meals kinda snack.

You can fix yourself a salad on the side, in case you feel guilty about all that butter in the pastry, and want something to cut that fat… But it’s quite unnecessary.

These pies don’t feel heavy on the stomach at all… and butter is in any case good for the soul.

Chicken and Parsley Pies