A Novice Indian Cook
It was dreadful. Egg Foo Young was by far the worst thing on the menu. A cold-ish egg omelet with what could only be leftover vegetables and chicken from an earlier meal, it looked like it had already been eaten! And the fact that I had to smell it twice, once while eating and once while washing dishes (I also was the dishwasher as it helped earn my keep at college), was truly torture. It was no. surprise then, that two years later I moved to a dorm where there was no canteen, switched from dishwashing to babysitting, and I was forced to learn how to cook!
My kitchen experiences at home had been limited to making pinwheel biscuits from my Mom’s now-famous “Golden Book.” Exactly 11, 459 kilometers from home, one three-minute trunk call a month, and letters as the only alternative means of communication, it took a while to create edible meals from my Mom’s many recipe cards that she thoughtfully mailed. As I often say, unfortunately, Indian food is non-simple. I now understand what I didn’t then, that browning of onions, garlic, and spices, contributes to the many complex flavor layers that make up much of Indian cuisine. And making even making gravy of the humble chicken curry is an art!
I can never forget – my first attempt at chicken curry was a dismal disaster! The recipe card read said, “fry onions, allow to brown, then add tomatoes let water dry.” Thinking she has made a mistake, I added two cups of water to the onions and tomatoes, and in the end, I had this awful boiled chicken, with bits of raw onions and tomatoes floating in gross yellow water! It was too early to call Mom 11,459 kilometers away, not to mention you had to book a call, so I just sat in the kitchen, hungry, and cried! I eventually did eat the poached chicken stew!
So now when I write “easy” Indian recipes, I go back to the memory and try to make sure they pretty much idiot-proof! Like while cooking with my daughter, Jever, who is a sophomore at Yale University, I tried to keep the Indian flavors, but take the guessing out of the Indian cooking (and some of the chopping.) (Watch Jever cooking in the video!)
If you’re new to Indian food, this recipe of Quick Indian Chicken Stir Fry is super-easy. It is based on my sister Amita Vinze’s Jhat Phat Chicken. Jhat Phat means super-quick, and this really is! Whether you are a college student, novice Indian cook, or everyday pro cook! And I have minimized the number of Indian ingredients (the garnishes are optional too!). Most of the flavor comes from cumin and turmeric and the rest from the vegetables. And you don’t have to wait for the water to dry!
Quick Stir-Fried Indian Chicken
• 300g chicken breast, about three halves of chicken breast
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon turmeric
• ½ teaspoon chili powder
• 1 teaspoon whole cumin
• 2-3 tablespoons coriander stem, chopped (optional)
• 1 tomato
• ½ red pepper, cut in long slices
• ½ green pepper, cut in long slices
• 1 onion, sliced
• 1 tomato, thick long slices
• ½ teaspoon garam masala (optional)
• 3 tablespoons fresh coriander leaves, chopped (optional garnish)
• juice of half lime
• 2 tablespoons ghee or oil
- Cut the chicken into thin fingers of 2-3 inches.
- Marinate the chicken with salt, turmeric, and red chili powder.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of ghee in a large wok or frying pan on medium heat. Add cumin and stir fry for ½ – 1 minute until it is light brown. Add the chicken and cook it for 4-5 minutes until it is cooked through. (Break a piece with your spatula to see the chicken is cooked through.)
- If you plan to use coriander leaves as a garnish, chop the stems of the coriander. These are food too! Add the coriander stem to the chicken. Now add the red pepper, and green pepper and cook it for 2 minutes. (If you only have one type of pepper, that is fine too! Don’t waste!)
- Now add the onion and tomato and cook for another 4 minutes uncovered, frying continuously.
- Once the chicken is done, add lime juice and garam masala and garnish with chopped coriander.
- Serve with rice or on salad.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 11-15 minutes
The turmeric and cumin are critical, as most of the Indian flavor comes from these spices. If you don’t have garam masala, skip it! You can skip the coriander leaves as a garnish as well. One-color of pepper will do – any color! Don’t have red chili powder (cayenne pepper), use a fresh green chili cut into two. Don’t chop it up as it will release a lot of heat! Enjoy!