Far from her native India, Asma Khan found herself biking through the biting cold of Cambridge, England and missing home. As she passed by a house, a familiar scent captivated her: homemade parathas frying in ghee. She felt a sense of comfort that left her frozen in place despite the place being frozen. She no longer felt the cold. What she felt was homesickness.
The intensity of the emotions and aromas inspired in her a new quest. She needed to learn to cook the food of her home if she hoped to connect to this new place. She elaborates, “…food is a wonderful unifying force, providing a way for immigrants to make connections in a new country. Breaking bread with others leads to conversations about “home,” no matter how far away that place might be or how little knowledge of a country or culture people may have. I am always willing to share a plate of parathas with those who knock on my door.”
Asma’s quest to learn to cook her native dishes eventually led her to open her London restaurant, Darjeeling Express. In the process she came to truly appreciate the power of feeding people. “… the first thing I noticed was the silence that descended when the guests started eating – as if everything stopped for that moment. I knew then what my mother meant when she said one should cook to nourish the soul. I felt it in that moment of silence. My guests had been transported back home, back to another world, miles away….”
I’ve long been intimidated by the layered flavors and processes involved in Indian cooking, but Asma’s Indian Kitchen empowered me to make the leap, and I’m hoping you’ll join me. I’m already craving a repeat of the saffron-hued Chicken Chaap, and looking forward to trying more recipes, so grab your cookbook club friends, or simply join me in spirit. Whether this book transports you to your home, or opens up a conversation, here’s hoping for a moment of nourishing silence.
Let’s dig in!
Asma describes this as a “unique dish from Bengal, a korma infused with mace and nutmeg that is quite different from the super-sweet raisin-and-nut-filled kormas served in many restaurants.” It’s creamy and comforting and not overly spicy, and I enjoyed finding a new way to use the Greek yogurt we always have in our fridge. Serve with extra pita or naan to soak up as much sauce as possible.
For the Garam Masala
2 teaspoons cloves
4 black cardamom pods
2 large pieces mace
6 Indian bay leaves
For the Chicken:
¼ tsp good-quality saffron strands
⅔ cup (150 ml) sunflower oil or other neutral oil
5 onions, thinly sliced into half moons
5 cups (2 lbs 10 oz /1.2 kg) thick Greek yogurt
2 Tablespoons chopped garlic
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
6 skinless, bone-in chicken thighs
1 Tablespoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons mild chili powder (preferably Kashmiri)
4 teaspoons salt
4 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons sliced almonds, to garnish
For the Garam Masala:
In a dry frying pan, roast all the ingredients over medium heat, stirring constantly to prevent burning. The spices are ready when the cloves well, turn gray, and pop. Allow the spices to cool, then grind to a fine powder in a spice or coffee grinder. Any unused garam masala can be kept in an airtight container for a few weeks.
For the Chicken:
If using saffron to color the dish, in a small bowl, infuse the saffron strands in ¼ cup (60 ml) tepid water.
In a frying pan, heat 6 Tablespoons of the oil over medium-high heat. Add the sliced onions to the pan and fry gently, stirring occasionally until golden brown and caramelized. Using a slotted spoon, remove the onions from the oil, leaving as much of the oil in the pan as possible to use later, and place on a plate to drain. Spread the onions across the plate so they crisp as they cool.
In a large bowl, mix the yogurt with the garlic, ginger, 1 Tablespoon of the garam masala and the oil retained from the caramelized onions.
In a pan that has a lid, heat the remaining 4 Tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and sear on all sides. Lower the heat to medium and pour the yogurt mixture over the chicken. Keep the heat at medium so the contents of the pan do not boil. Add the caramelized onions and ground coriander and cook, stirring continuously, for 10 minutes.
When the oil rises to the surface and the yogurt splits, add the chili powder and salt. Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce the heat. Add the infused saffron at this point. Cover and cook the chicken for a further 10 minutes. Add the sugar and stir to mix thoroughly.
Before serving, taste to check the seasoning and adjust as necessary.
To serve, garnish with sliced almonds.
Story, Photography, Styling by Quelcy Kogel