Cumin, je t’aime : Curry

Whenever the apartment smells like cumin, my roommates always know who is the one cooking (hint: me). Whether I am cooking meat, beans, or roasted veggies, there’s bound to be a hit of cumin. My love for Indian food (I have many loves, I realize) stems from my love of this spice. It is decidedly savory, strong, and can overpower anything if improperly used. Still, I fear the day I’ll grab cinnamon instead of cumin or the other way around, especially for anything sweet like cinnamon rolls. Ick.

Cumin seeds. Photo from Wikipedia

Mon amour, in seed form.

The unraveling of my love affair with cumin starts here. I’ll dig up recipes of mine that feature cumin, a lot of which are savory and stew-like. My holy spice trinity of cumin, garam masala, and garlic powder will become pretty evident as I post more. I buy my spices from ethnic food stores, where they are sold in bulk and end up much cheaper. Usually, I can find hefty bags of cumin (or any other spice, really) for two bucks at the nearby Oriental market versus the McCormick shakers for six or so at a regular supermarket.

Whenever I’ve made this curry, it has tasted different every time. This recipe has the spices measured out but I usually just eye out the proportions when I cook. Unfortunately, this means I never recreate a curry mix, since I also never write down what I end up doing. This curry is hearty and creamy and easily made for a crowd or a large family. It is best served with freshly cooked rice and some warm naan — anything that can soak up the tomato and coconut sauce goodness. This is the recipe I’ve built on over time but feel free to experiment and approximate as you go along.

(no picture today, but I’ll update it the next time I make this curry!)

Chicken and Vegetable Curry

Serves 4-5 comfortably

1 pound chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tsp cumin
½ tsp garam masala
1 tsp salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
a pinch of turmeric
½ tsp of garlic powder
1/2 tsp of onion bits
a pinch of paprika
Juice from one lemon
1 14oz can coconut milk (whole or light)

It seems like a lot of measuring but you can also eye this out. Cumin and garam masala are the important ones so as long as you get the proportions but don’t add too much you’ll be all set.

1 14oz can tomato sauce
1 large potato or 2 small potatoes, rinsed and diced (and dry them a little bit by tossing them in a kitchen towel)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 tablespoon lemon juice
Vegetable oil
2 cups snap peas OR ½ a cauliflower head, thick stems removed and diced OR 2 cups 1-inch pieces of green beans OR even broccoli, spinach, chickpeas, etc…

In a large bowl, mix together about a third of the coconut milk (just eye it, no worries) and the marinade spices. Place the remaining coconut milk in the refrigerator for later.

Add the chicken pieces into the coconut milk mixture and let sit for about thirty minutes to an hour. Meanwhile, heat up about three tablespoons of oil in a large pot. I like to use my nice wok but a heavy soup pot will also work.

Once the oil is nice and hot, toss in the diced potatoes. It’s tempting to want to move them around, but the less the potatoes are stirred, the better they will cook. So stir only every now and then and let cook for about fifteen minutes or until the potatoes are reasonably soft.

Remove the potatoes with a slotted spoon and add another tablespoon of oil to the pan. Once the oil is hot again, saute your peas, cauliflower, or other vegetable of choice with the garlic for about ten minutes. Once tender, remove again from the pan.

This time, fry the chicken pieces a little bit, just enough to cook the outside. Do this in batches if your pot isn’t big enough, like mine. Once all the chicken has been cooked add all the veggies and potatoes into the pot. Give it all a quick toss, and then add in the tomato sauce and the rest of the coconut milk. Give the pot a few more stirs until the stew turns a nice orange-y, pink color. Take a taste and see what else other spices it needs — some salt there, some more acid. I usually end up adding about ½ a teaspoon of garam masala, more salt, and another squeeze of lemon to round it out.

Let simmer for about forty minutes to an hour. The longer you let it simmer, the more tender the meat and veggies will be. Serve with some freshly cooked rice and naan.