On our recent trip around India my daughter and I decided that we wanted to get as much of the flavour of the country as we could, so when we reached Mysore we eschewed the hotels and opted for a homestay. And since we are keen foodies we opted for a homestay where they also offer a cooking demonstration.
We were lucky. It was abeautiful homestay nestling in greenery at the foot of the Chamundi hills. The centre of the city is close but the comfortable house surrounded by a pretty, flower-filled garden seemed a world away.
The Gitanjali homestay, and the cooking classes are run by Yamuna Achaiah. An intelligent, educated, and very elegant lady, Yamuna comes from a Kodava family (from the Coorg region – sometimes known as the ‘Scotland of India’).
Yamuna serves sweet and sour aubergines and coconut rice with this fragrant chicken curry, but if you don’t have time to make the aubergines, simply add half a cup or so of frozen peas and some freshly chopped coriander to the coconut rice five minutes before it finishes cooking.
Yamuna gave us her secrets for a successful curry before commencing the demonstration:
- Never hurry the cooking process – the key flavours of pepper, garlic and ginger become softer and deeper for long, slow cooking
- Westerners might want to use the milder, brighter and prettier Byadgi or Kashmiri chilli. I tried it and I thought it was a fabulous discovery. Find out more about this wonderful, soft, vibrant chilli here.
She also told us that most Indian food – having been slow-cooked – freezes well.
Recipe for Yamuna’s magnificent chicken curry
For four to six
- 1 chicken (about 1 kg), cut into pieces (or buy in pieces)
- 1 large onion, peeled and chopped finely
- ¼ tsp turmeric
- 2 tsp ground coriander (Waitrose does a good one)
- 1 tsp ground byadgi (sometimes known as Kashmiri) chilli powder – or hot Spanish paprika (available from South Devon Chilli Farm) or Aleppo pepper
- 150g/5 oz creamed coconut block (you can get it in handy 50g sachets)
- ½ tsp cumin seeds, dry fried and ground in a pestle and mortar
- 1 knob of ginger, grated (you can keep in the freezer and grate as and when)
- 1 tomato, de-cored and chopped
- 10 cloves of garlic, peeled and mashed with 2 tsp smoked salt
- 50g/2 oz green chillies – Waitrose ‘not too mild, not to hot’ are good
- ¼ chopped fresh coriander leaves
- Coconut oil for frying
- ½ lime – juice and zest
- Mix the coconut, cumin, ginger, garlic and most of the coriander leaves (save some for garnishing) and cook slowly together.
- Heat some oil in a flat-bottomed wok (the Indian wok, which is flat-bottomed, double-handled, and shallower than its Chinese counterpart, is called a Kadai) and gently fry the onion.
- When it turns golden, add the turmeric, chilli (or hot paprika), and the ground coriander. Add water (about ¼ cup/60 ml/4 tbsp) to stop it burning. If you don’t cook these powders they produce a slightly ‘raw’ taste.
- Add the chopped tomato and cook until the oil begins to separate out of the mix.
- Add the chicken pieces and cook until done
- Add the coconut mix; the chopped green chillies (or you could cheat and add them whole, removing at the end of the cooking process); and about a cup/240 ml of water and bring to a simmer; check the seasoning, add more salt if necessary (NB this dish needs a lot of salt),
- Finish with the lime juice and zest (which gives a fresh taste to the chicken flesh) and garnish with the remaining coriander
This post is dedicated to Yamuna Achaiah