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The Curry Diaries – Chicken Biryani

In The Curry Diaries on September 29, 2011 at 11:07 pm

Hmmm … it could all go horribly wrong as I don’t actually have a recipe for tonight’s curry delight and I’ve already started drinking!

The good news is that I have (re) discovered another cook book in my collection, “Rice”, by Clare Ferguson. It’s one of those lovely looking book that may not actually be practical to use. However it does have an ‘Indian, Pakistan and Sri Lanka”, section which could be good. I used her Lamb Biryani as a starting point for tonight’s concoction. I have to say that I don’t know a huge amount about Indian continental cuisine but I think that some  people might suggest that the cooking from those three countries is too varied to be grouped together in this way. It may be like having a section on English and French cooking. Can you imagine the reaction to that; the French would choke on their steak frites!

The Biryana idea came about because I asked my housekeeper, Sunita, not to cook extra food at lunchtime so there was no rice in the fridge this evening. It’s quite  jump from having no rice to cooking a biryani but that’s just me. I used my cook book and 4 recipes on the Internet to cobble a recipe together and this is it:

Helen’s Chicken Biryani

Serves 4


1 1/3 cups basmati rice rinsed and soaked in cold water for about 1 hour
2 tbsp. oil
10 black peppercorns
4 green cardamom pods
2 cloves
2 cm cinnamon stick
One small onion chopped
One medium onion sliced
2tbsp. tomato puree
1 tbsp. garlic paste
1 tbsp. ginger paste
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. ground turmeric
1 tsp. salt
8 chicken thighs and drumsticks
2 cups of boiling water


  1. Rinse and soak the rice in cold water (if you have not done so before).
  2. Heat the oil in a large heavy saucepan with a lid. Add the peppercorns, cardamom pods, cloves and cinnamon stick, let them sizzle for about 10 seconds. Add the onion and fry until golden brown.
  3. Make a paste from the tomato purée, garlic and ginger paste, ground coriander, cumin, turmeric and salt. Add to the pan and cook for 6-8 minutes.
  4. Add the chicken to the pan and cook in the masala paste for about 5 minutes.
  5. Add one cup of boiling water, stir, bring back to the boil and simmer covered for 15 minutes. If the water does not cover the chicken turn once during cooking.
  6. While the chicken is cooking fry the sliced onions on a high heat, stirring constantly until they are brown and crispy.
  7. Add the rice with the other cup of boiling water and stir. Cover the pan and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes or until the rice is cooked and all the water is absorbed.
  8. Stir the fried onions into the rice and serve.

It was delicious. However I will make an effort to learn a real biryani recipe for next time.


The Curry Diaries – Chicken Saag

In The Curry Diaries on September 29, 2011 at 11:29 am

Another day another curry! Oh and a quick Hindi lesson; saag means spinach.

The other Indian cook book that I have to help me on my journey to being a masala maestro is, “Healthy Indian Cooking”, by Shehzad Husain and Manisha Kanani. The book gives very little help in achieving the authentic Indian taste that I want but it’s all I’ve got so I’m using it as a starting point. The Chicken Saag recipe is on page 98.

I cooked this curry last night. I altered the recipe to accommodate some things that I have learned from Anjum Anand. Because it’s such a deviation I’ve typed my new recipe out fresh. It is reproduced below:

Chicken Saag

Serves 4


300g fresh spinach leaves
1 tbsp. garlic paste
1 tbsp. ginger paste
1 tbsp. oil
1 bay leaf
10 black pepper corns
2 cardamom pods
1 onion
4 tomatoes, skins removed and puréed
2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. ground turmeric
½ tsp. chilli powder
½ tsp. salt
4 chicken legs (thighs and drumsticks)
400ml boiling water (approximately)


  1. Wash the spinach leaves. Without drying, transfer them to a saucepan with a lid and cook covered for 5 minutes.
  2. Transfer the cooked spinach to a blender and blend together with the garlic and ginger pastes until smooth. Set aside.
  3. Heat the oil in a large heavy saucepan with a lid. Add the bay leaf, pepper corns and cardamom pods, let them sizzle for about 10 seconds. Add the onion and fry until golden brown.
  4. Add the puréed tomatoes, dry spices and salt. Cook for 6 to 8 minutes to make a masala paste.
  5. Add the chicken to the masala and cook for about 2 minutes on each side.
  6. Add the spinach mixture to the pan and stir in.
  7. Cover the chicken in boiling water and simmer covered for 20 minutes until the chicken is nearly cooked. Uncover the pan to finish cooking and reduce the sauce.

Chicken Saag is a delicious dish; spinach goes so well in a curry. I will no doubt be cooking this again in a few weeks so will amend the recipe again. Some of the things that I will be thinking about are:

  • Adding the garlic and ginger to the spinach doesn’t work because they don’t have a chance to cook. Next time I will add them after point 3.
  • Mixing the spinach in after the chicken is pretty tricky so I may change this.
  • The original recipe adds yogurt which I might try next time.
  • I really enjoyed this curry but it was too hot for me even with only ½ tsp. chilli powder (honestly I’m such a wimp). The dry spice mix that I used is standard but I may play around with it to reduce the spiciness. Obviously adding yoghurt would also help.

The Curry Diaries are a chance for me to record my culinary adventure in India. I also hope that they will be a catalyst for blog writing which has been pretty hit-and-miss to date.

The Curry Diaries – Cardamom-Sented Chicken Curry

In The Curry Diaries on September 28, 2011 at 3:11 pm

This curry is brought to you courtesy of Anjum Anand (“I Love Curry” page 102)

I am learning how to cook Indian food. It is one of the things that I want to achieve while I am India. It’s going OK.

I have two cookbooks to help me on my quest. One of them is by Anjum Anand who is (ironically) a British Indian. There is one vital thing that you should know when you are using a British cookbook to cook curry in India – everything is much hotter here. As one of my friends said, “even the garlic and ginger are spicy.” I cooked Chilli Chicken Balti also by Anjum Anand (page 99) and nearly killed my husband AND I only used half the chillies stated!

There are a number of reasons for learning to cook curry. One is that I am thinking of have a curry night at ours; I’m thinking a range of dishes, different meats, some hot stuff, some not so hot, rice, bread, sides and dips. Now, while that’s a nice idea it’s not that easy so I’m practising. Also curry is a good dinner party food in any country because you can cook large quantities of it and cook it the day before, so it’s a skill that I am happy to have. As you may remember, I have also committed to filling my husbands four-tier deluxe tiffin box every day. This may seem foolhardy (it often does to me) but I do actually derive a considerable satisfaction from feeding my man. My final aim is all about pleasure: It’s taken me a while to get this but cooking is my hobby and in my crazy world of shifting identity I am over the moon to have rediscovered something that is all about me.

Anyway, here’s the deal: You need to refer to the book to understand the detail:

It’s cool to adapt curry recipes so I have.  I buy the ready ground garlic and ginger because you can use a whole bulb of garlic in one curry recipe and life’s too short. I used a tub of puréed tomato (about 4) because that’s what I had available. I cut out the chilli altogether because 1) I’m worried it’ll be too hot even without the chilli considering my past experience and 2) my palate is sensitive to the heat and I want to really taste the flavours while I learn to cook and 3) we are eating other dishes prepared by my housekeeper which will be quite hot. I didn’t use cornflour.

The ingredients used in most curries seem quite similar to me. I think it’s the way that you put them together that gives you the taste. However, I haven’t encountered cardamom seeds before. I cracked open about 15 green cardamom pods to get them. This seems unnecessary so I may consider just bunging in the pods next time. You can probably just buy them in Tescos in the UK. I think I’ve smelt cardamom in Iranian cooking but I’m not sure – I’ll check this. This also gave me the confidence to leave out the chillies because Iranian cooking is rich but not spicy.

I had to joint the chicken legs that I bought because you can rarely buy what you actually want in India. Getting the rest of the ingredients together was fine. You would hope so in India but actually if you live here you learn to expect nothing.

Generally, what’s really missing from my Indian cooking is a depth of flavour. I have picked up two tips on how to achieve this, 1) you need to let the onions go deep brown and 2) you need to let the spices cook before you add the meat. This definitely makes a difference.

Cooking chicken without skin and not browning the meat are both alien to me in my cooking but when in Rome! I also cook my chicken so it is falling off the bone. I don’t think that this is very Indian but I can’t get out of the habit. I added more water than the recipe said by mistake but it all boiled away so it wasn’t a problem.

It took me about an hour to cook it. When it was done we ate it with boiled rice, a daal and a pumpkin side dish. The pumpkin came from our garden which I think is quite impressive. It was a really nice supper. I would recommend it.