Miss Congeniality, or This Curry Has a Great Personality

Miss Congeniality
I made a curry last night that was, for me, a revelation: cooked in a purée of herbs, coconut, spices, and yogurt, it's very different from the tomato-onion versions that I mostly make. The recipe is based on one by Sanjeev Kapoor in his book How to Cook Indian (I always want to insert an "an" in the title); I modified it a bit to suit my kitchen equipment. I was really, really happy with the results.

However, when I went to write a blog post, I realized something: it's so damned hard to take pictures of Indian food if you're not a professional food stylist. Often dishes are a big bowl of greenish-brown or yellowish-brown or reddish-brown or brownish-brown goop -- insanely delicious goop, but goop nonetheless. But why should it have to be beautiful, I think, if it tastes good? Why give in to the age of Instagrammed dinners? Why does all food have to be sexy? My indignation rises in direct proportion to the impossibility of making the food look appetizing. And of course the "OMG please don't call me a food blogger" in me also makes me completely resistant to actually learning how to take photos of delicious goop; in fact there are tricks, the internet and my food artist friends tell me.

My stubbornness broke down last night when I realized that I couldn't post the recipe for this curry until I managed to take a decent picture of it. And this is how ridiculous I am: I actually devoted a good five minutes to convincing myself that I just shouldn't bother, because taking a decent photo would mean learning all the tricks, and learning all the tricks would mean taking one more step down the road to hipster perdition and privileging looks over character and professionalizing my amateurism and I'm just not ready for that.

I got over myself, thanks to some tough love from my friends. I make no great claims for the photo, but at least it's more appetizing than what the curry looks like straight out of the bowl.

The curry, by the way: make it. Trust me on that. No matter what the photo says.

Chicken in Green Masala
Serves 6

In addition to tasting quite wonderful, this dish is actually remarkably easy -- whirr most of the ingredients in the food processor and throw them all together. 

1/3 c blanched, slivered almonds
1 TB cumin seeds
2 c chopped cilantro
1/2 c fresh mint leaves, or 1/4 c dried mint leaves
4 green chilies, stemmed (and seeded if you'd like less heat)
1 c grated fresh coconut or frozen, unsweetened coconut, or 3/4 c desiccated, unsweetened coconut that you've soaked in 1/2 c warm water for 20 minutes
5-7 whole cloves
1-1/2" piece fresh ginger, peeled
6-8 cloves garlic
2 tsp kosher salt
1 chicken, about 2.5 lbs, skinned and cut into 10 serving pieces (save back and wing tips for stock), or about 1.75 lb bone-in chicken legs and thighs, skinned
3 TB canola or sunflower oil
4 green cardamom pods, crushed lightly
2 medium onions, peeled and chopped
1-1/2 c plain yogurt, whipped with a fork till smooth
1 TB ground coriander

1. In a spice grinder, grind almonds until they're a coarse powder; set aside. In a small frying pan, toast cumin seeds over medium-high heat until they've darkened and turned fragrant. Transfer to your spice grinder and grind till a fine powder.

2. In a food processor, make the green masala: Combine cilantro, mint, chilies, coconut, cloves, ginger, garlic, and 1 tsp salt. Add a half-cup water and purée until you have a smooth paste. (This takes a few minutes; leave it on while you do the next step if you'd like.) Add water as necessary to get the ingredients to purée properly.

3. Combine chicken and green masala in a glass bowl, rubbing the masala into the chicken. Allow to marinate on the counter for at least 30 minutes, or in the fridge for up to 2 hrs, covered with plastic wrap.

4. Heat a heavy pot over medium-high. Add oil, and when shimmering, add cardamom pods. After 30 seconds add onions and sauté until golden brown, about 5-7 minutes. Add the chicken and marinade and sauté for about 4-5 minutes, allowing the chicken to release some moisture and for the sauce to thicken a bit and coat the chicken.

5. Now add the powdered almonds and the yogurt, along with the coriander, cumin, and remaining 1/2 tsp of salt. Stir well and cook for two or three minutes on medium-high until the mixture comes to a bubble. Now lower the heat to medium-low and let the mixture cook at a simmer (not a hard boil) for about 20 minutes until chicken is cooked though and tender.

6. Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with a few cilantro and mint leaves. Serve with warmed pita bread and some tomato slices and onion rings, if you'd like.


EndlessRiver said…
That sounds gorgeous, and the pictures aren't half bad. I have a friend who is a foodie photographer but lives several oceans from you(well an ocean and a sea) sadly.

Will make using vegetables and chick peas instead of the bird.
Thanks for the encouragement, sweets. It would taste pretty fab with vegetables, I think -- the masala is pretty rich and wonderful.