Remembering Muzaffarabad with this divine Kashmiri chicken curry

Published: May 17, 2015
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For most of us who have had Kashmiri cooks at home, we have eaten Kashmiri chicken curry at homes many times, and I learnt to make it from our Kashmiri cook as well. PHOTO: AMBREEN MALIK

During the long summer school holidays in Pakistan, as we roamed around the beautiful northern areas of Pakistan for summer vacations, Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan’s side of Kashmir, would be one of the stops.

There weren’t that many hotels in that area back then so the government guest houses were the place to stay on such trips. Regardless of which part of northern areas one went to, the government guest houses would have one thing in common – a Kashmiri cook or khansama as they call them in Pakistan. Those trips were the reason for my delicious encounters with Kashmiri chicken curry. The curry was eaten with equally divine steaming hot wood oven-cooked tandoori rotis which sometimes had the aroma of pine trees infused in them. For most of us who have had Kashmiri cooks at home, we have eaten Kashmiri chicken curry at homes many times, and I learnt to make it from our Kashmiri cook as well.

I have often wondered why Kashmiri men were such good cooks. I haven’t quite found the answer yet. The same Kashmiris from Mirpur who had gone to UK as labour in the 60-70s to fuel UK’s textile revolution have ended up establishing UK’s most famous desi food restaurants and Pakistani food franchises. I must also acknowledge the fact that we Punjabis are utterly grateful to the Kashmiris for introducing us to the most amazing Shabdegh – a slow cooked sweet and savoury lamb and turnip curry. This dish is cooked in a clay pot sealed with dough over low heat all night long.  By morning time, the meat is falling off the bone and just melts in your mouth!

This post is to remember the beauty of our Kashmir, the smell of pine trees, the long summer holidays on road and the divine curry that makes me smile every time I think about it.

Here is my version of the Kashmiri Chicken Curry. I love to serve it with either naan, chappati or rice pulao.

You will need a pressure cooker for this dish.

Ingredients

Chicken – 1 kg (8-10 medium sized pieces)

Onions – 3 large (chopped)

Fresh tomato puree – 1 cup

Ginger paste – 1 tsp (heaped)

Garlic paste – 1 tsp (heaped)

Potatoes – 3 medium sized (medium diced)

Oil – 4 tbsp

Cinnamon – 3 sticks (1 inch)

Whole black cardamom – 2 to 3

Whole cloves – 5 to 6

Cumin seeds– 1 tsp (heaped – lightly crushed in pestle mortar. I prefer to dry roast them)

Coriander seeds– 1 tsp heaped – (lightly crushed in pestle mortar. I prefer to dry roast them)

Chilli powder – ½ tsp

Coriander powder – 1 tsp

Turmeric – ¼ tsp

Salt – 1 tsp – adjust to taste if needed more.

Water – 3 cups

Garnish:

Roasted cumin seeds – ½ tsp (crushed-for dusting on curry)

Fresh Coriander – handful (chopped)

Method:

1. On medium heat, warm the oil in a pressure cooker and gently fry the onions. A pressure cooker saves time in breaking down the onions in to a paste. Once the onions are gently browned, add a cup of water and give it a pressure for five minutes. (The same can be done without a pressure cooker as well but it will take more than 30 minutes. The water is added in intervals to break down the onions. Then it is dried, onions are mashed up and then the process is repeated again till the caramelised onion paste is formed.)

2. Once the pressure is done, add whole cloves, cinnamon and cardamom to the water and onions mixture. Dry the water completely and mash the onions till it becomes a paste.

3. Now add chicken, tomato paste, ginger and garlic paste, dried coriander seeds, dried cumin seeds, salt, chilli powder, coriander powder and turmeric to the onion paste.

4. Cook on medium heat for five to eight minutes till the chicken changes its colour and the liquid from the tomato puree dries up. The oil should separate from the gravy.

5. Now add diced potatoes and cook further for two to three minutes on medium heat. Don’t let the onion paste burn.

6. Add two cups of water to the mixture. Mix and let it boil on a high heat. Once boiled, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer (cover the pan) and cook for 25 minutes till potatoes are thoroughly cooked, curry has thickened and the oil starts floating on the top of the curry. If the curry has thickened too much for your taste then add ½ cup of hot water and let it simmer for two to three minutes.

I love to add a dusting of roasted and crushed cumin seeds on the curry along with fresh chopped coriander leaves before serving.

Note: If you don’t have a pressure cooker then let the onions and garlic ginger cook in oil. As it changes colour, add a bit of water and make a paste of it in a liquidiser. Pour it back in the cooking pan and dry the water till oil comes out on the sides and follow the method from step 3 onwards.

All photos: Ambreen Malik

This blog originally appeared here.

Ambreen Malik

Ambreen Malik

The author is a Microfinance Banker, food blogger, LSE Alum and a dragon in training. She tweets as @ambreen_malik (twitter.com/ambreen_malik)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.