The food appreciation classes I teach at a private elementary school here in the District of Columbia this week landed in Southern Africa on our virtual world food tour. Because of the many Indian immigrants in this part of the continent, there is a definite tilt toward curry dishes in the cuisine. This one, called Kalya e Khaas, is surprisingly easy. Other than the spice mix, only a few ingredients are involved, most prominently chicken, yogurt and onions. But it is so good.
In the Indian tradition, “curry” really means any dish with a sauce, not so much a specific spice mix. But I think you will find this particular blend of spices intoxicating, especially if you grind them yourself. This is the part of the lesson I wanted to stress to the kids in our classes. We are all about making food the old-fashioned way, without fancy electric gadgets. Although you could use an electric grinder for this, the kids are just as happy to pass a mortar and pestle and grind away by hand.
So grind together 1 stick cinnamon, broken into pieces (or 1 scant teaspoon ground cinnamon); seeds only from 4 cardamon pods (we crack them open with finger nails to remove the seeds); 4 whole cloves, 5 whole black peppercorns; 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds; generous pinch saffron threads; 1/4 teaspoon turmeric; pinch cayenne pepper. Grind everything into a fine powder. Then add 1 Serrano pepper, seeds and veins removed and finely chopped. Grind this into the spice mix. Set aside.
Take a whole chicken and cut it into pieces. Or, use 2 pounds breast meat or boneless thigh meat, cut into bite-size dice. We chose the latter. Mix the chicken in a bowl with 1 cup plain yogurt. Stir in the spice mix and 2/3 14-ounce can diced tomatoes. Add 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger and 3 grated cloves of garlic. Cover the bowl and place it in the refrigerator to marinate while you cook your onions.
The next step requires 1/4 cup clarified butter. There’s no trick to this. Simply melt a stick of butter in a saucepan over low heat. Most of the protein in the butter with rise to the top as foam. Simply skim it away with a spoon and discard. What you want is the remaining fat. Pour this carefully into a heavy pot, leaving behind any solids that may have settled at the bottom. Now heat the butter and add two medium onions, cut into small dice. Cook the onions, stirring frequently, until they are golden brown.
Now add the marinated chicken to the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is cooked through. The yogurt and juices from the tomato will have become a delicious sauce and your kitchen should be filled with the unmistakable aroma of curry spices.
Serve the chicken hot, perhaps with brown rice. Garnish it with leaves from several stems of cilantro and mint, roughly chopped. The kids begged for second helpings.
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