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Saturday, July 3, 2010

Indian Chicken Curry

I know you wait patiently for those cupcakes to be covered in frosting, but I think you should eat some dinner first. Enjoy a trip into my not-so-distant past.

My fourth year in grad school, my roommate K and I moved across town to the west side. Close to K’s new job, right on the bus line and minutes from the gym. The most important thing about our new place turned out to be its proximity to Swagat. Unknown to us, we had moved across the street from one of the best Indian restaurants in Madison. Day after day, I would ride the bus home from the lab and be greeted with amazing smells, floating on the wind, emanating from the restaurant.

For weeks I allowed Swagat to sit quietly on the corner, until one evening we got together with some friends for dinner. The d├ęcor was understated, to say the least. Small tables covered in white linens with a single candle in the center. An unused buffet sat in the corner of the space and paper hearts hung from the ceiling (which seemed unusual since it was October). The menu was expansive, featuring choices from both the North and South of India. The only problem was; I had never eaten at an Indian restaurant. Here I am, twenty-three years old, and a curry virgin!

Browsing through the menu I settled on their chicken curry. Start simple, that was the plan. My friends also decided to get an order of cheese naan. Our quiet and polite waiter took our order and brought back these wafer thin crackers with a trio of sauces; sweet, mint and mango (I quickly became a big fan of the mystery purple sauce). The freshly baked cheese naan also went well with the sauces. The cheese naan is quite simply cheese-filled flatbread baked in a tandoori oven. Oh yeah, and it’s fantastic. Stop reading now, go find yourself an Indian restaurant, and order yourself some. I’ll wait.

Okay, now that you’ve got some cheese naan we can continue. Onto the main course, my chicken curry. Our waiter brought out heaping bowls of rice and our dinners. Each bowl of curry, masala and vindaloo came in a little golden bowl, placed atop a flame. Adorable. And fantastic. I couldn’t believe that it took me so long to try Swagat. The curry was sweet and spicy, bright and delicious.
Over the next two years I frequented Swagat more often than I can remember. I’m fairly certain I tried everything in their chicken section of the menu. In fact, if it had not been for Swagat, I would have starved while writing my thesis. During the middle of a particularly fierce snowstorm I actually walked there for dinner (I could see the OPEN sign from my bedroom window). I still dream about their vegetable pakoras and cheese naan.

After leaving Madison I was left in a curry slump, until I discovered Pensey’s Maharaja curry powder. Now my curry powder and I can live happily ever after. Just a word of warning, proper ventilation in necessary when cooking curry in an apartment, I recommend cooking curry in the summer months.

Chicken Curry

1 medium yellow onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
Fresh ginger, 2 inch segment, cut into matchsticks
1.25 lbs chicken breast, cut into cubes
2 tsp Curry powder of your choice (Pensey’s has several good ones to choose from)
3 peppers, chopped (I like to use a variety of colors, because it’s pretty)
1 tsp salt
¾ cup coconut milk
2 roma tomatoes, cored and diced

- Heat a pan to medium-high heat and cook onion and garlic in a little bit of oil until lightly browned (3-5 minutes)
- Add chicken and curry powder and allow chicken to brown on all sides (5 minutes)
- Add peppers and cover with lid for 3-5 minutes
- Add salt and coconut milk and allow to come to a boil. Lower the heat to medium and simmer until chicken is cooked thru (5-7 minutes)
- Remove chicken pieces into another bowl and add tomatoes. Allow to bubble for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- The sauce will be slightly thicker and you should add the chicken back to the pan
- Serve over rice and enjoy!

And be sure to go get yourself some cheese naan, because unless you have a tandoori oven, it’s not the same. (Although I’ve found some at Wegmans that is pretty darned close)

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