My heart swelled with maternal affection, but my back protested violently, after a week of Christmas cooking and baking.
So, having coyly demurred for almost a week, I finally made this very simple curry. It's an approximation of his beloved curry devil, with green chillies instead of red, the additional savoury and earthy notes of garlic and cumin seeds and the mild, creamy tang of yoghurt to replace the more strident acidity of vinegar.
The base notes of this curry are almost south east Asian, but the yoghurt, mustard and cumin seeds give it an Indian vibe. In fact, when I ate this, it brought back memories of something I had years ago at the home of the lovely Punjabi lass who helped me with my Econs homework, watched every Hindi movie ever made, with me, back when Amitabh Bachchan still had black facial hair, and most importantly, taught me how to roll chapati and "make chai properly lah!" I got the chai down pat, but my chapatis still vaguely resemble an aerial shot of the African continent.
The beauty of this dish is that you can take it in a few directions. Ditch the cumin, mustard and yoghurt, fry the spice paste with lemongrass and galangal, and add coconut milk for a Malay style green curry or gulai hijau. Or, to the Malay style version, add coriander roots to the spice paste, then fry with kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass and galangal. Squeeze in lime juice to taste and garnish the curry with lots of Asian basil and mint leaves for a Thai version.
And, right here we have an instance of the unrivalled versatility of the much maligned coriander or cilantro; it perfectly compliments all three versions of this dish and also happily rubs shoulders with Chinese, Mediterranean, Latin American, Mexican and middle Eastern food. Incidentally, "coriander" may refer to the roots, stems, leaves, whole and ground (powdered) seeds of the plant, while "cilantro" is usually used to mean the leaves, stems and roots, though both are essentially just different names for coriandrum sativum. If you don't like the herb (my grandma thought it smelled like crushed bugs) just leave it out. We'll still be friends, I promise.
So, what did big boy think of it? "Mum! This ISN'T curry devil!!!", said he, almost squeaking in anguish. I haven't heard him squeak since he was eleven. "Nice work, Sherlock", said I. But, he had seconds. And he smiled. Nothing as endearing as a boy who loves his mama's cooking.
green chilli chicken
prep 35 mins cook 45 mins serves 4
6 hot green chillies (the lighter coloured, thinner skinned, wrinkly ones)
1 very large knob ginger (about 8 cm or 3 inches long) peeled and sliced
6 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tsp brown mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 medium red (purple) onions, peeled and thinly sliced
2 green tomatoes (or red ones if you can't get green) cut into wedges
1 chicken (I skinned it) cut into 10 pieces, washed and thoroughly drained
3 tbsp yoghurt (I used full fat Greek style yoghurt)
100 ml (1/2 cup) water
1 tsp salt
1/3 tsp sugar (optional)
Coriander leaves to garnish
Combine spice paste ingredients and pound or process to a smooth paste and set aside.
Heat 4-5 tablespoons (half as much for non stick pans) vegetable oil and when hot, add the mustard seeds. When seeds start popping, add the cumin seeds and stir, until fragrant. Lower heat if seeds are browning too quickly.
Add the onions and stir until they go limp and start browning. Add tomatoes and stir until tomatoes soften.
Add spice paste and fry, stirring over moderate heat until fragrant, well browned and oil starts to separate from mixture.
Add chicken and turn up heat. Stir and turn pieces until well coated with spices. Continue for 5 minutes then stir in yoghurt until combined with spices. Pour in water, salt and sugar, stir well and bring to a simmer.
Cover pot and simmer on lowest heat for 25 - 30 minutes or until chicken pieces are cooked through. The thickest piece should no longer be pink at the bone. While simmering, stir and turn pieces every 8 minutes or so, to prevent sticking and ensure even cooking.
When done, dish out and garnish generously with coriander leaves. Serve with white jasmine or basmati rice, pilau, naan, chapati or your favourite flat bread.