Look anywhere these days and you’ll see individuals, entities and whole countries cutting back. The current economic crisis has proving to be critical enough that no one escape unscathed. I work in the downtown area in San Francisco, and remember marvelling at the fact that even on work day nights, the mall next door used to be teeming with life, shoppers and lollygaggers galore. In recent times, the mall has the hush of a museum, the various shops looking like so many exhibits as we all walk by in a self-imposed mode of look-but-don’t-touch. This is easily emphasized by the fact that there aren’t that many stores as there once were, patches of dark are added to the retail tapestry all over as stores kick the bucket, sometimes stealing suddenly and quietly away into the night. Architecture and construction has been summarily decimated by the economy. As part of the belt tightening at my workplace, discretionary spending has been severely reduced. Lunch & Learns have taken up the ‘bring-your-own’ slogan definitively. There are no team lunches. Our team has come up with a good idea to work with this, in keeping with the bring-your-own theme. We have become our own caterers.
Once a month, the team meets to discuss ideas and current issues pertaining to the profession and what we do. This is different from working team meetings because the talk is not just restricted to the project at hand. It is an essential part of team building which we all appreciate at a time when communication is key. Plus there is nothing like bonding over food. This element was essentially renewed when my team-mate P.K suggested that she cook for this month’s meeting. P.K is a Malaysian native, who has lived in several places all over the world. She has a great sense of humour and is wonderful to work with. At the end of a long Wednesday, the smell of her chicken curry was intensely appetizing. She made a delicious silver noodle salad to accompany it, and served it alongside what Malaysians call roti-platha (and what Indians would call paratha, one of our forms of bread). I learned just how similar Malaysian food can be to Indian food and how delicious. Swooning over this curry as I did, P.K and I had an engaging conversation after the meeting about how she made it. She graciously presented me with a packet of my very own Malaysian meat spice mix the next day that I tried out as soon as I could, that very weekend. For a long time lover of curries, I am ecstatic to find a new one I love. I love how this country continues to engage in a diversity very different from the one I knew back home.
This curry is mild and flavourful, an ideal dish not only to serve with the parathas, but also over basmati or jasmine rice. At home, we ate ours over couscous and it worked just as well. A key to this curry (as is mostly the case with curries) is the spice mix, which has subtle differences from the Indian ones I know. The emphasis is on gentle flavours and there is almost no heat in its original form. My addition of chilli powder only slightly altered this, but not enough to change the dish. P.K had no potatoes in hers, I add some to mine. This didn’t affect the flavours of the final dish, but the potatoes in the luscious gravy were something else! I believe you can use any meat here that you choose. The curry mix will work for all kinds. I’m told there is a spicier one for fish. The mix has a variety of spices in it like pepper and coriander seeds; it even includes dal.
Most curries I make are coconut-based, something Amey is not extremely fond of. He loved this one.
P.K’s Malaysian Chicken Curry
Chicken – boneless, skinless, 16 oz , cubed small-ly
Red Onion – 1 large, sliced
Tomato – 1, chopped
Potatoes – I large or 2 small, chopped into medium size pieces
Garlic – 4 cloves, finely minced
Ginger – an inch, finely minced
Curry Leaves – 8-9
Cashews – ground into powder, 1/2 cup
Chilli Powder – 1 tsp
Malaysian Meat spice mix – about 1/4 of the pack
Canola Oil – 3 tbsps
Salt, to taste
Cinnamon – 2 sticks
Cloves – 3-4
Black Cardamom – 1-2 pods
Star Anise – 2 pods
Fennel – 1/2 tsp
Cumin – 1/2 tsp
– Heat oil in a pan. Add the whole spices to the oil and fry a bit. Then add the curry leaves, onion and tomato and fry until the onion is translucent.
– Add the chicken, ginger and garlic and stir for a couple of minutes. Then add enough water to cook the chicken and the salt. Cover and cook for 10 minutes.
– Uncover, then add potatoes, the Malaysian spice mix and chilli powder. Cover once more and boil until the potatoes are cooked through.
– Next, add the ground cashews and a cup more of water. Bring down to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes more.
– Garnish with cilantro if desired.
Serve with bread or rice.
This spice mix is available ready-made though you could make it yourself, I’m sure. You can buy it here. P.K said she had a hard time finding it in shops in and around the Bay area. Maybe it is available more easily where you live. Curry in the Indian sense is not a powder, it is the finished dish which generally employs a vegetable or protein in a liquid carrier. (I think my Altonese is showing!) In the Indian sense, a sauce is purely liquid, like Alfredo,and poured over something else, while gravy is the base of any curry-like dish, where it is integrally a part of the flavour. I learned that in the US the opposite is valid. The curry spice mix is available in several combinations and is limited only by your imagination. This one has ground dal in it.
I used white meat here, P.K had used dark and hers was probably the wiser choice. But that is putting too fine a point on it. Either will do in a pinch. Curry leaves are available easily in any Asian (especially Indian) stores. If whole spices in the food you eat aren’t your thing, you can grind them together into a powder before you use them. And don’t be too hung up on having each spice. While a missing spice will slightly alter the flavour, the beauty of a curry is that it works, no matter what.