India, a land of contrasts. Every time I think I have a handle on this extraordinary country, it throws me a curveball. From the first step off a long flight, the smell of wood smoke, chill and the hints of dust in the air... the cheerful faces of relatives, even at the unearthly hour of 3 AM... the sparkling lights of Christmas time (any excuse for a holiday, here) and of course, the hot food at my aunts, that she prepared for me, even though she works full time.
I loved the feeling of being home with my aunt Jessie. I've already spoken about my aunt, in this post here, but I have to reiterate, that she's an amazingly simple, elegant, down to earth person, who happens to be a super cook to boot. Lucky uncle and my cousin Jas.
The next morning brought back to me why I miss India so much. As Adz and I, bleary eyed, straggled our way downstairs - jet lagged and exhausted - the aroma of fresh, hot chai floated up and into our grateful insides. Along with sizzling, hot, buttered rotis and a crisp fried masala egg... well, to be honest, that's my idea of heaven.
I've been documenting my everyday adventures here on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, so don't forget to head over and ogle the beauty of my chais and chapathis :)
As it turned out, my aunt decided to take the day off, and along with another of my aunts, Aunt Justine and my cousin Jas, we decided to hang out in Bangalore, refreshing my memories of choking traffic and the sheer chaos of riding on roads without rules. I was mentally compiling a list of ten things about traffic and driving in India, and I will definitely share that with you all soon... trust me, it will make for exciting reading.
Meanwhile, when we got back from our meanderings, my aunt Jessie had been cooking all morning. On our way back from the airport, the driver of our car noticed that the vegetable trucks had just started unloading vendors loaded down with fresh greens and vegetables. A quick word to my uncle, and we stopped right there by the roadside, and off they went to grab some bargain fresh fenugreek, cilantro and spinach.
(Note: apparently, as the day gets on, prices go up significantly, so it does pay to be out at 4.30 AM)
Coming back home, we had a veritable feast spread out in front of us. Earlier in the morning, Aunt Justine had carefully picked through the fenugreek leaves, and Aunt Jessie sauteed them up with potatoes and light spices to make for a fresh, earthy green side vegetable.
Aunt Jessie had also made this divine Chicken Mughlai. At first taste, I was pretty sure she'd slaved over the stove all morning. She laughed and was coy... my aunt needed to be persuaded a little more. And as we sat and ate Jas and I were chatting about everything, at which point Jas complained that I seem to get all of aunt's specialties whenever I come down. She was grumbling about the fact that my aunt hadn't made this Mughlai in ages, to which my aunt grinned back, and told us the whole story.
Which was, that she'd made this dish a few times, and then lost the recipe. She said she'd hunted all over for it, but she just couldn't find it anywhere, at which point she gave it up as a gone cause. And then, the week before I was due to arrive, she was dusting under the cloth that covers the fridge, and lo! what should float out, but this very, selfsame recipe. Woohoo! Lucky me... indeed.
Once I got the recipe off my aunt, I was honestly gobsmacked at how easy it was to make. But, then, my aunt Jessie is known for her quick and easy recipes, that nevertheless taste like you've spent hours cooking away. As she puts it, its not like she has hours to stand over a stove, seeing as she gets back in the evening and dinner has to be on the table in a couple of hours.
I made this recipe on Christmas day at our home in Mangalore. To be honest, it was more or less to prove to mom that, yes, I could cook too, haha. Mom was impressed, and the even harder food critic, my sister, couldn't believe how good it was.
And I was really, really chuffed at how brilliant it turned out... well, not as fantastic as my aunt Jessie's... but there's always a magic ingredient in there, cliched as it may sound... love :) Thanks Aunt Jessie, I love cooking with you (PS - She made me say this in exchange for the recipe, haha)
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 inch piece of ginger, grated
4 - 5 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon mild cayenne pepper (Kashmiri chilli powder)
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs (cut into two pieces)
2 tablespoons unscented oil or ghee
1 medium onion, finely diced
1/4 cup unsalted cashew nuts
1/2 cup boiling water
Salt to taste
Fresh cilantro to garnish
Whisk together the yogurt, ginger, garlic, chilli powder and garam masala. Marinate the chicken in this mixture for at least four hours, ideally overnight.
Heat the oil or ghee in a heavy based pot, and add the onions. Fry on a gentle heat for about 7 - 10 minutes, until the onions are soft, but not coloured.
Add the chicken, marinade and all. Season with a little salt, and fry for a few minutes. Lower the heat, and simmer for about 15 - 20 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.
Meanwhile, soak the cashew nuts in the boiling water for a few minutes. Blend to a fine paste, adding a little more water, and sieving if necessary, for a smooth paste.
Stir in the cashew paste into the chicken. Season to taste.
Garnish with fresh chopped cilantro, and serve with pulaos, rotis or naan.