There’s something about everything Hemingway does that really gets me. I find his writing iconic. I find his life even moreso. This post has nothing to do with him, other than honoring the title of another one of his seminal works. He once said, “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”
I feel the same way about my childhood, and about my parents and my brothers and my sister. Wherever I go, that part of me has always stayed with me. These words are about the love surrounding the dinner table. The love I experienced growing up. The love I have for my family. The love I have for the people that came over tonight for dinner.
A friend of mine, someone I love with every part of me whom I have not seen in way too long, once told me, you can tell when you eat something that was cooked with love. She’s a chef. And she’s full of (spunk and) love. She would know. I think back to my childhood, and every time afterwards that I have visited my parents since adulthood. That is my mother described to a tee – “love”. Every part of her being is centered around love; specifically love for her (my) family. And nothing exemplified that love like her cooking. I can close my eyes at a moment’s notice, and time-travel back to any holiday weekend over the last twenty years, where we would be in the family room, with my mom looking over us in the kitchen loving us with her cooking as we did what we did, invariably having a conversation over football on TV. Every member of our family benefited, as did every friend who ever came upon our house.
Today is my mother’s birthday. Four dear friends of mine came over for dinner. I wanted to show them what it was like to be at my parents’ house for dinner. I spent three hours cooking a meal that my mother would have made for my family when I was growing up. I like to think my mother would be proud of me for how it turned out. I cooked it with love, because (a) I loved them – my guests, and Taylor was beyond happy to have them over, and (b) that’s how my mother would have done it. And so I cooked a traditional Indian meal – (1) traditional basmati rice, (2) a tomato, curry leaf, shallot, chili pepper, onion raita, (3) south Indian chicken curry, my absolute favourite dish in the world, directly from my mother’s recipe, below, (4) ground beef keema, a famous north Indian dish, and (5) south Indian minced carrots with mustard seeds, chili pepper, and onions.
Below is the recipe for (in my mind) her signature dish. I learned how to cook this first when I was nineteen years old, when I moved away from my parents’ house. While the recipe is simple, it took a long time to perfect it. While my finished product (I must admit) is good, it still doesn’t hold a candle to my mother’s version. We could be standing side-by-side making this and hers would still be better. I think she puts more love into it. If you do decide to make it, make it with love – lots of it. Otherwise, it just won’t fly.
For the record, the chicken curry was gone within minutes. And I made a bunch.
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil (canola oil, or something such, will do, but coconut oil provides the best flavor)
- 1 medium onions, sliced
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1” square ginger, finely chopped
- 1 turmeric root (optional), finely chopped
- 2-3 green chillis, sliced (optional, though I like to add this for the heat; my preference is Thai red/green chillis)
- (I’ve used a Cuisinart to finely mince the garlic, ginger and chillis together if you don’t want to take the time to chop them up individually)
- 1 sprig of curry leaves (which you can find at an Indian/Asian grocery store)
- 1 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs
(I also like to add one drumstick, cos the bone really adds flavor, but it’s optional)
- 1 potato (optional)
Spice Mix (aka “Garam Masala”)
- 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon cloves
- 2 cardamom pods
Spice Mix (remaining)
- 1 teaspoon red chilli powder (or according to taste)
- 1/8 teaspoon turmeric
- 2 teaspoon coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds (optional, tho I love this)
- 1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds (again, optional, but I love this)
- salt, to taste
Directions (“Garam Masala”)
You can buy a garam masala mix, but I like making my own. Garam literally means ‘hot’ and masala means ‘mixture of spices’. There are many variations to what garam masala could mean. The version above is very basic, used for all meats in South India. I’ve also (depending upon the recipe) added fenugreek, cumin, coriander seeds, allspice, star anise, etc.
No matter what you decide, whether basic or not, you need to toast all of them onto a dry sauce pan. Over medium low heat, put all the ingredients of the spice mix onto the pan, careful not to burn any of it. It only takes a few seconds for the aroma to be released. Move it all into grinder. (I use one specifically for spices, but you can use a coffee grinder set aside specifically for this purpose.) Let it cool for a minute or two, then ground all the spices into a fine mixture. You can make a batch for several cooking sessions, and just use what you need. Just don’t make too much, so you the spices remain fresh with each use.
Add 2-3 tablespoons oil (I like to use coconut oil, which always reminds me of India) to a pan. (Optional. I like to add the mustard seeds and the coriander seeds to the mixture to release its flavors and infuse the oil.) Brown onion, garlic, ginger, (turmeric root) and peppers over medium heat, then lower heat a tad, and add the dry spices. Mix well and heat for two minutes on low heat, careful not to burn any of the spices. Add chicken and potatoes; cook for 25-30 minutes on medium heat, or until tender. Stir occasionally so that the meat does not stick to the pan. Do not add any water. There should only be a little bit of gravy when done.
Remember to add a lot of love into it while you’re cooking.
Serve over hot rice.
(Note. for wine pairing, a nice bottle of a riesling is wonderful with Indian food; it’s tartness cuts the spices of Indian cuisine.)
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