Friday, February 10, 2006

Another spicy (Indian) dish for a cold night...

About five years ago, my roommate Cyd and I were visiting the Boston area, and it had taken us too long to get there (traffic!), and we had gotten very lost trying to find the hotel (I'm afraid that names were called and tears were shed), and then we had to try and find a place to park in Cambridge (good luck!). So by the time we got into our room, we were exhausted and NOT looking forward to venturing out again for dinner. All we wanted to do was take a hot shower and veg in front of a pay-per-view movie in the room. So while Cyd showered, I went down to the lobby to forage for take-out menus. And to my shock and delight, there was an Indian restaurant called India Pavillion right nearby that delivered. Now you must understand, we live out in the middle of nowhere, in a tiny town where no one will even deliver a pizza to you--let alone Indian food! Of course, we weren't very familiar with the cuisine at the time (Cyd made me order because she was frightened of the foreign menu items), but we were so enchanted with the idea of someone delivering such an exotic cuisine to our doorstep, that we decided to give it a try. Well, after sampling a feast of veggie samosas, paneer pakora, aloo naan, tandoori chicken, beef vindaloo, chicken tikka and butter chicken, as well as the most delicious chutneys and other interesting condiments, we were hooked! The problem is, we have no Indian food in our town, and the one place across Lake Champlain in Burlington, VT is "just okay" IMHO. Now, there are some great Indian places in Montreal (Bombay Palace is our favorite, and it's conveniently located right next door to my favorite movie theatre). Still, one hates to drive an hour for one's butter chicken and the like, so I have made it business to start learning to make my own Indian dishes. And in fact, I became proficient enough to prepare an entire Indian meal as a cultural diversity event at the college where I teach. We watched Bend It Like Beckham, and then discussed it over dinner afterward (yes, of course, I made the aloo gobi!). My only gaffe, pointed out very tactfully and kindly to me by my colleague, Mohan Chandhoke, was that I did not toast the pappadums! (OOPS! Who knew?) Still, the food was very well-received, and some folks that attended still use the recipes that I circulated that evening. In any case, I myself got a hankering for Indian food last night, so we made the much-beloved butter chicken from a recipe that I have been tinkering with for a few years. For example, the original (British) recipe called for heavy cream, but I have found that yogurt works just as well and adds a nice tang (and less fat, if you care about that kind of thing). But this spicy dish, served over fluffy, nutty, jasmine-scented basmati rice, is just the ticket on a cold winter's night; it will fill you up and warm you up! Plus, you won't have to call for take-out either! :-)

Butter Chicken (Murg Makhani)

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
1/2 finger fresh ginger (about one tablespoon), peeled and chopped
3 large cloves garlic (about one tablespoon), peeled and chopped
1 medium jalapeno pepper (whole, fresh), seeded and chopped
2 teaspoons garam masala
1 small can tomato paste
2 cups chicken broth
1 6-ounce carton plain yogurt
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1" chunks
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
4 tablespoons butter (divided), cut into pieces
¼-½ cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped (to taste)

1. Heat vegetable oil in a large (preferably, nonstick) skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions, garlic, ginger, and jalapeno, and cook for about three minutes, stirring often, until the vegetables are softened and slightly browned. Add in garam masala and cook for another minute.
2. Transfer the vegetable mixture to the jar of a blender. Add tomato paste, chicken broth, and yogurt, and puree until smooth. Set aside.
3. Season chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Wipe out skillet with a paper towel, removing any remaining vegetable bits or spices. Melt two tablespoons of the butter over high heat in the same skillet, then add the chicken. Cook for about three minutes, or until chicken is no longer pink, stirring often.
4. Pour in the blended vegetable mixture, reduce heat to medium, and cook for another five minutes. Turn heat to low, then stir in the remaining two tablespoons of the butter until melted and the cilantro. Serve immediately with steamed (preferably, jasmine-scented basmati) rice.

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