Thursday, June 12, 2008

Spice Road

I have always wanted to go to India. The colors, the smells, the tastes seem so exotic, so all-consuming. From the vibrant marigold garlands to the brilliant magenta and turquoise silks to the ever-present aroma of spices in the air, India has always been a place that intrigues me. And the food. Ah, the palak paneer, tandoori chicken, chutneys, dal, naan bread,'s just all too good.

The beauty of Indian food is in its complexity. It's piquant and full-flavored and absolutely delicious. Curry powder alone usually has at least 5 or 6 different spices in it, such a
s cardamom, ginger, coriander, turmeric, cumin, mustard seed, fennel...bland is one thing Indian food definitely is not. But with all those spices comes a lot of intricacy in the kitchen. Indian food is not known for its ease of preparation.

I must admit I'm not a food purist. While I'd like to think that I could spend an afternoon carefully toasting and grinding my own perfect curry blend, let's keep it real.
I don't have many days with afternoons blocked off just for spice blending. And during the week, when I come home in the evenings, I want something on my plate in 30 minutes. So out of my impatience in the kitchen, I've created a few shortcut meals that—I hope—give the same flavors as the original in a lot less time. Here's my take on Indian curry.

Crazy-Quick Curry

serves 2 with leftovers
Serve this with brown or white rice and a simple salad of fresh summer-sweet tomatoes and crisp cucumbers.
A really good, fresh purchased curry powder does make a difference and is better that a cheap-o brand that's been sitting in your pantry for 2 years.

1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 big pinch kosher salt
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped

1 (1-inch) piece ginger, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup coconut milk (lite is fine)
1/4 cup chicken broth
2/3 pound chicken tenders, cut into bite-size pieces
1/2 cup frozen peas
kosher salt, to taste
ground black pepper, to taste

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, or until onions are soft and golden. Add jalapeno, ginger, and garlic, and stir to combine. Cook mixture for 3 minutes, or until very fragrant.

Add curry powder and tomato paste, and stir to fully combine. Mixture will look dry. Add coconut milk and broth, and stir well. Simmer sauce until thickened slightly, about 3 minutes. Add chicken, and stir to coat in sauce. Simmer for 5 minutes, or until chicken is fully cooked. Add peas, and simmer mixture until peas are heated through and everything is combined.

Taste, and add salt and pepper. Serve over warm rice.

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