This month’s Spice Rack Challenge features mustard seeds, and while I’ve experimented with a couple of recipes for prepared mustard, I wanted to use mustard seed in some Indian dishes. I’ve virtually been cooking my way through the excellent cookbook At Home with Madhur Jaffrey, which I happily consulted when I had a glut of okra. (One of the recipes I tried also used mustard seed.) As with many cuisines, Indian food starts with heating oil in a pan and adding spices to cook them slightly before combining them with other ingredients.
This chicken curry starts with cumin seed and brown mustard seed. The recipe is simple but the flavors are complex due to the combination of ginger, garlic, cayenne pepper, paprika and chilies, as well as curry leaves or basil. (I didn’t have the real curry leaves used in Indian cooking, which come from a small tree and grow in a pinnate formation, like an ash. So I used slivered basil, However, I did have an herb that’s referred to as a curry plant, which I grow as an ornamental plant and sometimes use to garnish food. Its silvery leaves resemble rosemary, and are quite aromatic. I think it’s more typically used in potpourris.) The curry can be made as hot as you like with the addition of birds-eye chilies. The addition of coconut milk at the end smoothes everything out.
I served the curry over jasmine rice and added a side dish of green beans, which were blanched and then stir-fried in hot oil with mustard seeds, cumin seeds and sesame seeds.
Coconut Chicken Curry adapted from Madhur Jaffrey
3 tbsp olive or canola oil
½ tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp brown mustard seeds
1 medium onion, cut in half lengthwise and then crosswise into half rings
2 tsp finely chopped fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic, chopped fine
4 pieces skinless and boneless chicken pieces (breasts and/or thighs)
¼-1/2 tsp cayenne pepper or more to taste
1 tbsp bright red paprika
1 tsp salt
15-20 fresh curry leaves or 8 fresh basil leaves, slivered
1 c water
1 c well-stirred coconut milk
Optional: 1-4 birds-eye chilies
Have all ingredients measured and ready to go. Heat the oil in a wide pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the cumin and mustard seeds. As soon as the mustard seeds start to pop (a few seconds), add the onions. Stir and fry the onions until lightly browned.
Add the ginger, garlic, chicken, cayenne, paprika, salt, and the curry or basil leaves. Stir for a few minutes, allowing the chicken to become gently seared. Add the water and bring to a simmer. Cover, lower heat and simmer gently for about 25 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.
Remove the chicken to a plate and cover to keep warm. Boil down the liquid until about 1/4 c remains. Return the chicken to the pan, pour in the coconut milk and the birds-eye chilies if using. Cook over medium heat for a few minutes. Serve over jasmine rice.
Indian-Style Green Beans adapted from Madhur Jaffrey
1 lb green beans, topped, tailed and cut into 1-inch lengths
1-2 tbsp olive or canola oil
½ tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp brown or yellow mustard seeds
½ tsp sesame seeds
A pinch to 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
Salt to taste
Bring salted water to a boil and add the green beans. Cook until just tender, 3-5 minutes. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the cumin, mustard and sesame seeds. As soon as the mustard seeds start to pop (a few seconds), add the green beans. Turn the heat to medium low and stir the beans to coat them with the oil and seeds. Season with salt and a little cayenne pepper, to taste.