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.

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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.

Spicy Minced Chicken Buns

I made my first submissions to YeastSpotting last week and it’s got me pretty fired up. Which basically means that on any given day after all my other work is done, I’m hands deep in flour. Which also means that I probably need to invest in a bread-machine. But then I don’t want to lose the thrill of kneading the dough, working it, while it clings to your fingers at first and then lets go… that’s something which will be hard to pass up.

So no bread-machine… well at least for now. At least not until I decide to open a little bakery or follow my heart and head to the hills and open my little café.

I heard raucous shouts this morning while I was fixing my mug of coffee. There’s work going on in the building complex next door, and the migrant labourers the contractor has employed all sleep in the stilt parking space on the ground floor of the building facing mine. They’ve mosquito netted their sleep area, wise in this season, where despite the repellents the critters still manage to sneak in. Anyway, today’s raucousness was the result of a rather exuberant lot of the younger men, boys really, playing football (soccer), with an old pretty beat-up and tattered ball. But that didn’t stifle their enthusiasm. They played with such abandon, shouting out at each other to pass the ball, then deftly manoeuvring it through the obstacle-course of bamboo poles, clumps of rope and pipes.

Goal! one of them yelled, as he shot the ball into what was apparently the goal, and his team converged on him, the opposing goalie looking crestfallen for a second and then joining in the cheering.

What joy. I almost forgot I had other things to do.

Which brings me to some of my favourite things and that includes, stuffed buns or bread-rolls. My favourites, the minced meat ones, the spicier the better.

Spicy Minced Chicken Buns

The dough for these is a very simple one. 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour, a teaspoon of sugar, about 12gms fresh yeast, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, 3/4 to a cup of warm water, and 3 tablespoons olive oil. Activate the yeast (with warm water and sugar), then add the flour, salt and olive oil. Knead for 12 – 15 minutes till the dough is soft and elastic. Place in an oiled bowl, cover and leave to prove for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or till slightly more than doubled.

In the meantime get your filling ready. I filled the buns with spicy minced chicken. So for about 400gms chicken, use 2 scallions, 4 large pods of garlic, a 1″ piece of ginger (more if you like), and 2 green chillies – all minced. Sautéing them in 2 tablespoons sunflower oil, with salt to taste, a large pinch of pepper, a teaspoon each of cumin and coriander powder, a 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric, paprika and garam masala, and a pinch of clove powder. Do not add any water while cooking the mince. Keep it covered and on a low flame, breaking down the meat and separating it with a fork to prevent it from clumping together. Finish with a squeeze of lime, a sprinkling of garam masala (another 1/2 teaspoon) and two tablespoons chopped fresh coriander. Cook till all the moisture evaporates and set it aside to cool.

Spicy Minced Chicken

Now return to the dough…

Once your dough has risen (1 1/2 to 2 hours), knock it back and knead lightly, then roll it out into a log and cut out 12 pieces. Knead each piece for a bit, then using your fingers stretch out the dough to make a cup for the mince and spoon in 3 teaspoonfuls of the spicy meat.

Pinch the dough together to close and work it for a bit to shape till round. Place on a cornmeal dusted baking tray. Allow to rise for about 30 – 40 minutes.

Preheat your oven at 230 degrees C. Brush the top of the buns with an eggwash, and sprinkle with seeds or herbs of your choice. I used poppy seeds and paprika for one lot and sesame seeds and ground cumin for the other… just coz they looked so pretty.

Poppy seed and Paprika

Sesame and Cumin sprinkled

And baked them for 20 minutes at 200 degrees C.

Two for One...

They were just a bit spicy (the chillies were hot and I didn’t remove the seeds), but the bread around it provided the perfect foil to the spiciness of the mince. And they turned out refreshingly light. I ate three at a go. I really mustn’t.

Off to YeastSpotting they go!

K is for Kofta… Chicken Kofta

So in the ‘A to Z of Cooking from the Heart’, I’ve jumped from ‘C’ to ‘K’… But we’re finally into a new year and the calendar says 2012 in giant letters. Which means that if the Mayans got it right, we may be eating our last couple of meals before the lights go out, and we’re headed to who knows where.

Oops!

Now, I’m really sorry if my dark sense of humour put the frights into you, but it’s something that slips out of me quite inadvertently, even though I try to rein it in.

Honestly… I do.

But speaking of heading out on journeys, I’m not one of those who can travel on a full stomach. For one, I’m prone to motion sickness, so I always eat light before I hit the road. And then I’m not one of those people who’d be into huge or heavy last meals, given a choice. I’d much rather have something light, but tasty. And most definitely something that reminds me of home…

Some ‘koftas’ perhaps?

Now to the uninitiated… ‘koftas’ are nothing but spicy meatballs. And because I wanted to keep it light I decided to use chicken. Cooking those juicy  morsels in a chunky but light tomato gravy flavoured with whole spices, and a hint of a few ground spices.

Unlike a lot of Indians however, I’m not too partial to heavy masala based gravies, unless the recipe absolutely calls for it, but I tend to favour green chillies. This recipe uses 3 hot (spicy) green chillies, and I kept the seeds in. But you are free to use less and remove the seeds too if you cannot handle the heat.

For the koftas I used –

1 1/2 cups of lean minced chicken

1/2 medium sized red onion, chopped fine

3 tablespoons fresh chopped coriander

2 large cloves of garlic (minced)

1/2″ piece of ginger (minced)

3 green chillies chopped (but of course!)

1 egg

Mixing it all together with –

1/3 cup fresh breadcrumbs

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon crushed black pepper

2 teaspoons freshly roasted and pounded cumin

1/2 teaspoon red chilli powder

1/2 teaspoon of garam masala…

Forming the mixture into the koftas, and refrigerating them for about an hour for the flavours to come together. This also helps the koftas hold their shape when you lower them into the simmering gravy.

For the gravy –

3 large ripe tomatoes, blanched and chopped

1 small red onion, minced

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

3/4 cup chicken stock

4 whole green cardamoms

1 – 2 ” stick of cinnamon

4 cloves 

5 – 7 peppercorns coarsely crushed

1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

1 green chilli (with or without seeds)

… Sauté the onion in the oil till translucent and add the whole spices, frying them on a low flame for a couple of minutes, before adding the tomatoes and the salt. Break down the tomatoes a bit with the back of the ladle. Then cover and cook for 15 minutes, adding the warm chicken stock, and letting the gravy (sauce) come to a boil.

Reduce the flame and add in the koftas, one at a time, dropping them gently into the gravy. It’s important not to stir the koftas or move them around at this stage to prevent them from breaking up.

Cover and cook for 20 minutes or till the gravy has reduced to half or less

These koftas are light, delicate and full of the natural flavours of the spices and the other aromatics that went into them…. You can serve them with some crusty bread, or with some rice.

I served them with a pea and cumin basmati pilaf.