When I was in India last year (Chennai – previously known as Madras) I had a cheap Chettinad chicken dish on my last night from a take-away restaurant in a local non touristy area (aka Koli Milagu Masala = Chettinad Pepper Chicken). The guesthouse owners got it for me as it was not deemed safe to wonder around that particular area near the airport (for my early flight back to Sri Lanka) as a white woman alone after dark. Happy to be waited on and enjoying a couple of beers from the fridge in the reception area downstairs I relaxed until my food arrived. I had not expected much, having enjoyed the food on offer in 4* establishments in the city and after surveying the urban, dirty, market area where I was to spend my last night.
I was in for a surprise.
Not only was the portion enormous so great value for money regardless of taste but when I did taste it I was blown away. Not just by the spice of the dish (if you don’t like pepper or chilies I’m afraid this food is not for you) but it was delicious and the flavours wonderfully balanced. It was easily one of the best curries I have ever had, and I have had a few. I had it with naan bread and finished the lot!
I have since been on the look out for a good recipe that does not involve too much work as the original-style recipes I found all involve the grinding of spices yourself – you will need a spice grinder and blender for this recipe. Below is one of the best I have found so far.
This spicy chicken recipe is adapted from one in Madhur Jaffrey’s classic Flavors of India (West 175 Publishing, 1995). It is flavoured with fennel seeds, curry leaves, and urad dal, the skinned split black lentils that are a popular ingredient in southern India. It serves four.
6 tbsp oil (I use olive but only because that is my preference)
For the Spice Paste:
1 1/2 tbsp cumin seeds
8-10 dried hot red chillies, broken into halves
3 tbsp coriander seeds
1 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1 1/2 tsp white poppy seeds
5 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
4 cm or 1 1/2 in piece of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 1/2 -2tsp salt.
You also need:
3 Indian or normal bay leaves
5 cardamom pods
2.5cm or 1in cinnamon stick, broken
1 tsp fennel seeds
3 whole cloves
1 1/2 tsp urad dal (the skinned split black lentils), rinsed, soaked 30 minutes, and drained
15-20 fresh curry leaves, if available (or frozen)
2 medium-sized onions (175g or 6oz), peeled and finely chopped
1 large (or 2 small) tomato(es), chopped
one 1kg/2 1/4 lb chicken, skinned and cut into smallish serving pieces (breast halves into 3 and legs into drumsticks and thighs)
Some chopped coriander leaves (for garnish).
Make the spice paste: In a small frying-pan, heat 1 tbsp of the oil over a medium- high heat. When hot add the cumin seeds, chillies, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, black peppercorns and poppy seeds. Stir and fry briefly until lightly roasted. Now put these into a spice grinder and grind to a powder. Empty into the container of an electric blender. Put the garlic, ginger, turmeric and salt into the blender as well, along with 6-8 tbsp of water. Process until you have a fine paste and then set aside.
Heat the remaining 5 tbsp oil in a large saucepan over a medium-high heat. When hot, add the bay leaves, cardamom pods, cinnamon, fennel seeds, cloves and urad dal. Stir and fry briefly until the urad dal turns red, then add the curry leaves if using. Stir once or twice and add the onions. Fry the onions until they are soft and just lightly coloured. Now add the spice paste. Continue to stir and fry for about 4-6 minutes, adding a little water to prevent sticking. Add the tomato. Stir and fry for a further 3-4 minutes.
Add the chicken pieces to the onion and spice mixture. Stir until they are well coated, then add 600ml/1pt/2 cups of cups water, just enough to cover. Bring to the boil. Turn the heat to low, cover and simmer until the chicken is almost cooked, about 20-25 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon, remove the chicken pieces. Turn the heat up to medium- high, and reduce the sauce until very thick. This should take about 6-8 minutes. Replace the chicken, fold gently into the sauce and cook for a further 5 minutes before serving.
Garnish with coriander leaves. Serve with rice, naan, paratha or idly appams.
Well there is a little history behind this dish, dating back to when I was in my young 20’s (so yup 20 years ago – oh it pains me to say that ha ha). I had recently at that time been introduced to Turkey (the country not the animal 😉 ) by my Dad and absolutely loved the place and the food.
At that time I was at University in London and really learning how to cook and doing it surprisingly well (a skill learnt from my wonderful Mother). One dish I perfected at that time was kofte in tomato sauce (little beef or lamb mince balls in tomato sauce (always beef for me as I don’t eat lamb but I believe it is commonly cooked with lamb in Turkey)) sometimes topped with cheese and finished off under the grill or in an oven). Heaven on earth with chunks of fresh Turkish bread or baguettes and fresh tangy lemony salad and of course lashings of red wine.
So a year or so later I made this dish for my Mum and her other half, Marco (who are in case you wondering are still blissfully happy) and they loved it. However rather than put my original recipe here I’m going to give it some Sri Lankan flavour. Neither Mum or or her other half being too disposed to chilies I will tone it down – for you fire enthusiasts you can turn it up. Always remember a recipe is merely a guide. How you make it is the special result….and if it tastes like shit – don’t give up – keep trying, experiment, taste it…ALWAYS taste it.
FOR MY BEAUTIFUL MOTHER – SRI LANKAN MEATBALL CURRY (I promise it’s not too hot x)
Ingredients (for 2 or 3):
500 gr of the best minced beef/lamb (not too much fat in the meat – this will make the gravy oily)
2 eggs (to bind the meat balls)
breadcrumbs (now this can be from old bread or the dried supermarket variety – your preference…it is merely to bind the meat balls together with the eggs. A small handful is usually enough. (A friend just told me a handful of couscous works just as well)
1 large onion or 2 small onions chopped extremely finely
2 cloves of extremely fine chopped garlic
1 tbsp of oregano
1 tbsp of cumin powder (I prefer more but we are toning this down remember)
1/2 tbsp of chili powder (or less – I prefer more but we are toning this down remember)
1 tbsp of turmeric (“kurkuma” in Dutch mum) (this is essential for the Sri Lankan taste – do not mess around here, if anything add more – I would add one table spoon for 500 gr usually)
A pinch of curry powder – again – up to personal taste (NOT roasted…just plain old curry powder will do; home-made, shop-bought – just get the required taste in there. You can add fresh curry leaves too if available or if not maybe a bay leaf or two.
Salt and pepper as per your own taste
Mix ALL of the above.
Roll into meatballs about about 2 or 3 cm in diameter. You can chill these on a plate whilst you prepare the sauce.
Ingredients for the sauce.gravy:
25 gr onion (oh that sounds daft – 2 or 3 small onions chopped)
2 garlic cloves; finely chopped
2 ginger, fresh; finely chopped
25 ml oil
1 curry leaf sprig (not necessary if already used in meat mixture unless desired)
1/2 large chopped lemon grass stem (known as pandan in Sri Lanka) – I use lots more but that is a personal thing…
1/4 tbsp fenugreek
Half a pint (@500ml) of coconut milk (fresh is best, but if you’re lazy like me Maggi powder comes a close second). In Europe just buy a can.
1 tbsp chili powder or flakes (reduce if you are chili-phobic) NOW THESE ARE OPTIONAL
More turmeric although I prefer it in the meat not the gravy but both are tasty so add a little.
A touch more curry powder (unroasted) – when I say a touch I mean a little
Chili powder to taste (can be omitted – see phobia thing above)
Fry some onions and a tomato until soft and add to the gravy.
NOW! You can either fry the meatballs first in oil or simply add them to the warm (well – hot) curry sauce and let them boil until done (20 minutes on a slow simmer is fine). Healthier and actually tastier. Too much oil always gives me heartburn so I am a bit biased here.
This is not a blow-your-head-off dish – it’s tasty and you can adjust the spices as you wish. When I was ill a few weeks ago I couldn’t tolerate anything hot (and this is from a girl who used to lap up lunu miris), I like this dish with fresh bread or a good rice like basmati. Do try and explore for yourself – it’s very tasty.
The above was made with chicken mince and a bit more chili then recommended above. Just experiment – that’s all the fun!
I have had a hard few weeks (sorry I don’t normally start a blog with “I” but you will hopefully get it as you read on).
So, I’m going to get the moaning out of the way first and get onto the stuff that inspires me….food…yeppers and alcohol; double (shot) yeppers.
Ah it’s nothing drastic, it’s just frustration at living in a country where things are done however and whenever one pleases. An example, we were at a reputable Colombo lunch restaurant recently and ordered two beers which arrived promptly. My other half asked for an ashtray (I quit 6 months and 2 days ago 🙂 – funny how one remembers inane dates like that and then forgets your best mates birthday). The ashtray arrived when our drinks were finished….errrr kind of defeats the object. He was too shy to light up and put the cigarette out on the floor because it’s a rather posh place. We declined the lunch menu because of that and went to the Colombo City Hotel which has the best chicken sandwiches at around 70 rups. No booze but plenty of other establishments around.
Another point of irritation – you get a tuk tuk from the World Trade Centre to the Galle/Matara bus stand – most ask for 250 rups. Find a metered tuk tuk and it will cost you 100, and usually the drivers are much friendlier too.
ANYWAY – I was going to complain about the new banking regulations about receiving foreign currency into a rupee account but I feel better at having vented the above so I’ll give that a miss.
So let me lighten up and share with you one of the BESTESTS comfort foods ever:
This is quite possibly my favourite burger in the world (although I am partial to Burger King but don’t go spreading that around). McDonalds are bearable only when enormously hungover and KFC zingers used to be ok until they started under cooking the meat and it was actually still bloody – yuk. Don’t let that put you off. This is a stunner.
400g chicken mince (breast can be difficult to manage when minced so ask for a mix)
2 or 3 ginger pieces, very finely chopped
3 or 4 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
2 onions – one finely chopped for the burgers, one sliced into rings (for serving)
as much coriander as you can stomach 😉 I use one large handful finely chopped including the stalks
Big tbsp of salt
1 tsp garam masala
bread crumbs – fresh – about 1 slice
1 or 2 eggs
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp lime or lemon juice
1/2 green chilies (optional), chopped & de-seeded
Mix everything together except onion rings, rest the mix for 10/15 minutes in the fridge.
Mould burgers into 4 patties
Fry slowly in vegetable oil until slightly browned and fully cooked.
Mix some mayonnaise with fresh coriander leaves, lemon, salt and pepper.
Toast burger buns if wished
Spread with mayo mix, sliced tomatoes, onions and lettuce, top with hot burger and add more mayo mix or ketchup if preferred. Or even some cheese – nom nom.
Oh and as for the drink. Beer (lager works best for me). If you’re not a fan…a nice glass of white would do the trick too….but no Chardonnay please 🙂 – that would be an insult to the dish. A softer Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio would work much better. If you are a red drinker you can’t go wrong with a good Merlot or Cabernet (possibly better). May be a touch heavy but it will offset the coriander. If you’re into the harder stuff…I’m afraid only a Margerita or Caipirinha would be acceptable.
This is for my friends and blog commenters who have asked me why I have been avoiding the Olympics in my blog. Well…
I have been too busy watching the Olympics on TV to blog much
Two – not all of the sports interest me unless they involve great athletic prowess, a huge record breaking headline, controversy (doping scandals etc.) or Holland (who are 10th by the way in the medal rankings in case you were wondering 😉 ). Sri Lanka…well lets not even go there.
I’m feeling very poor after my trip to Bangkok and have been working my backside off.
Anyway back to the subject at hand.
The first modern-day Olympic Games were held in Athens in 1896, with 241 athletes (all male) from 14 nations competing in 9 sports with 43 events. Volleyball wasn’t one of them.
Athens hosted its second Summer Games in 2004, this time with 10,625 athletes (4,329 women and 6,296 men) from 201 nations competing in 28 sports with 301 events – including volleyball and beach volleyball. All that progress deserves a tasty Greek treat.
This dish can be prepared with lamb, chicken and pork although the recipe below is best with either lamb or pork. I don’t actually eat lamb so I make it with pork or chicken but some prefer lamb for the better depth of meaty flavour.
Olympic Souvlaki with Tzatziki:
For the souvlaki
1 kilo boneless pork or lamb (e.g. leg fillet or steaks. I use pork loin)
1 tbsp coriander seeds
2 tsp rigani, or dried oregano
150ml/5fl oz extra virgin olive oil
4 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 onion, grated or very finely chopped
2 bay leaves, roughly torn (if not available omit these)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the tzatziki
½ cucumber, peeled and finely diced
1 tbsp white or red wine vinegar
salt and freshly ground black pepper
150g/5oz thick Greek-style yoghurt (I think you could safely substitute curd here)
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tbsp fresh mint, finely chopped
Cut the pork or lamb into 2cm/¾in cubes, trimming off any gristle or other unwanted fat.
Mix all the remaining souvlaki ingredients and then pour over the meat.
Turn so that all the pieces are coated, then cover and leave to marinate for at least two hours, but preferably nearer to 24 hours, in a cool place (or fridge).
To make the tzatziki, spread the cucumber dice out in a colander or sieve, and sprinkle over the vinegar and a little salt.
Leave to drain for one hour, then pat dry with kitchen paper or a clean tea towel.
Mix with the rest of the tzatziki ingredients, then taste and adjust seasoning. Serve either lightly chilled or at room temperature.
Back to the souvlaki. Soak wooden skewers in cold water for an hour or two, and then thread the meat on the skewers. Don’t push the cubes right up against each other, but leave a minuscule gap between each pair, just enough space for the heat to curl round every cube, cooking it evenly.
Preheat either the barbecue or grill or an oiled griddle pan (place over a high heat for about 3-5 minutes), then cook the kebabs close to the heat, or on the griddle pan, turning and brushing occasionally with the leftover marinade, until they are crusty and brown.
Serve sizzling hot, with a wedge of lemon, the tzatziki and warm crispy pitta breads.
Ok, ok I have a weakness for KFC. Zinger burgers are pretty tasty (although I hate the KFC chips – greasy, sloppy & anaemic – gah). Yes I know it’s crap fast food and unhealthy so I’ve been trying out some new healthier and spicier variations at home and one of these turned out very nicely so I’m letting you in on the recipe.
The Sri Lankan bit arose from me trying to give traditional fried chicken a little bit more of an ethnic zing. The healthier bit is simply by baking the chicken pieces in the oven instead of deep-frying them. You can still get lovely crispy edges by using the flour, egg, and bread crumb method…
Healthy Oven Fried Chicken with a Sri Lankan Twist:
Ingredients (serves 2 to 4 people):
1 chicken, cut into 8 pieces (wings, drumsticks, thighs, breasts)
For the marinade:
2 cups milk or plain yogurt or curd (I am using “cups” here not because I like the American way of listing ingredients, just because the measurements need not be exact!)
2 cups water
2 tsps roasted curry powder
1 tbsp salt (or 3 to 4 tbsps of soya sauce)
1 tbsp black pepper (freshly crushed pepper corns taste best)
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp chilli powder
For the breading:
1 cup wheat flour (see note above about “cups”)
1 tsp unroasted curry powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 tbsps olive oil
2 cups bread crumbs
In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients for the marinade. Place the chicken parts in the bowl. If the liquid does not cover the chicken, add more water. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours (or longer).
After chicken has marinated for 2 hours, set up 3 large soup plates side-by-side.
Preheat oven to 220 degrees Celsius.
In the first plate, mix together the flour, curry powder, and ground cumin.
In the second plate, beat together the two eggs, salt, garlic powder, and olive oil.
In the third plate, put in the bread crumbs.
Take one chicken piece out of the marinade, submerge it in the flour mixture to coat. Next, dunk it in the egg mixture, and finally dredge it in the bread crumbs until completely covered. Place in a oven proof pan. Repeat with the remaining chicken pieces.
Bake at 200 degrees celcius for 35 to 40 minutes, or until chicken is nicely browned AND CRISPY!
You can serve this as a main meal with rice and salad or simply as a snack with some chilli sauce. Enjoy.
A blog about freelance translation as a digital nomad, travel, food & drink and all things Sri Lankan and Dutch.