A week before I left for University, my concerned mother dropped a few packets of dry spices, a couple of pages of handwritten recipes and 2 books on Indian cooking into my bag. Knowing fully well that my cooking repertoire extended to eggs and toast, you'd think she was being a tad optimistic but there's a reason they say Mum knows best!
Settling in with the new flatmates, the first thing my darling but absolutely incorrigible American flatmate, Sam, said when we introduced ourselves was "Oh, from India!! I love Indian food, you must make us some..". Of course, I laughed nervously, mumbled something and changed the topic. But, Sam was anything but persistent. So, guess who came to the rescue - one of those cooking books that Mum put in the bag. I looked for what seemed the easiest recipe, a chicken pulao, read it a million times, crossed my fingers and toes, said a little prayer and attempted to make it. And would you know it, the stars were on my side!!
A fool proof recipe and those spices that Ma had packed, resulted in a simple chicken pulao that not only won over Sam but also Becca, the only competent cook in the house. It was restrained, subtle and packed with flavours, a complete antithesis to the somewhat dodgy fare they had been exposed to from the ubiquitous curry houses that dot the British landscape. So successful was that attempt, that friends, flatmates, neighbours, classmates, anyone and everyone who wanted a taste of Indian cooking was fed that chicken pulao. By the time I left, I could make it with my eyes closed. Never did I alter it and never did I attempt to make anything else!!
So, why am I telling you this all now?! Over the weekend, I made a chicken pulao from Maunika Gowardhan's blog that tasted a lot like the one I made all those years back in University. It is Indian home cooking at its simplest and most flavourful. I paired it with a tomato and onion raita, just as I did, back at Uni.
Flavoured with whole spices, this is one pot dish where the chicken is slowly cooked to create a flavourful stock in which the rice is also cooked in. As it cooks, the fragrance that permeates your kitchen will itself tell you that you are onto a winner. There are no harsh or overpowering flavours. It's just simple, hearty, fragrant home cooking that will nourish, comfort and satiate all at the same time. Perfect for an easy weekday dinner.
I have always said that the most important aspect of food is the memories it creates and the memories it brings back. And this chicken pulao brought back the best of them, when each of my flatmates tried it.
The one time I was heavy handed with the chilli would be the one time when Hania and her mild, Egyptian palate would try it, only to then go on and finish a whole tub of ice-cream after that. Matthew was just happy to have a meal so that he did not have to resort to having a Mars bar between slices of bread for dinner. John would have preferred his Brazilian bean and rice but was too much of a gentleman to say otherwise.
And then there was Vince from Hong Kong who never got to try the dish. Because, for the whole time he lived in the flat, he would stay awake all night, have his dinner in the wee hours of the morning and breakfast was somewhere in the middle of the afternoon. So, of course with all the collective wisdom at our disposal, we came to the most rational and logical conclusion. We decided that he was a spy!!
Like I said, the best memories! Have a great weekend ahead!
Source : Maunika Gowardhan, minimally adapted
- 500 gms chicken, skinless and on the bone
- 125 gms rice
- 265 mls water
- 1.5 tablespoons sunflower oil (I used homemade ghee)
- 1/2 teaspoon, heaped cumin seeds
- 3 cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1" cinnamon stick
- 1 black cardamom pod
- 1 large onion, thinly sliced
- 1 green chilli, slit lengthwise (If you are not keen on the chilli heat, keep the chilli whole, do not slit it)
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1/2" ginger
- 1/2 heaped teaspoon coriander powder
- juice of 1/2 lime
- some chopped fresh coriander
- In a blender add the garlic and ginger with a splash of water and make a smooth paste. Set aside.
- In a heavy bottom sauce pan heat the oil. Add the whole spices letting them sizzle and infuse their flavours for 30 seconds.
- Now add the white onions and fry on a low heat for 15-20 mins. They will soften and start to colour. Make sure to stir every few minutes making sure it doesn’t stick to the pan. If it does stick, add a little water. It is important that you cook onions on a low flame, so give it time to fry until it retains a light brown colour.
- Add the green chillies and fry for a few seconds followed by the ginger and garlic paste. Fry for 2 minutes until the raw flavours from the paste cook through.
- Now add the chicken pieces along with the coriander powder stir well making sure the spices coat the chicken pieces sealing through for 8-10 minutes. Add salt and continue to fry the chicken.
- Add half the water quantity and bring to a boil simmering with a lid on for 10 minutes. Stir half way through the cooking process. The chicken will nearly be done by this time. Again, take your time with this step, to seal the chicken and let it simmer in the water as that creates the stock that will flavour the rice.
- Add the rice, little fresh coriander and the remaining water. Bring to a boil; simmer for 18-20 minutes until all the liquid has been absorbed and the chicken & rice are tender.
- Add the remaining coriander at this stage.
- Turn the heat off and cover the pulao. Leave to rest for 10 minutes to let the rice cool slightly before serving. Do not skip this important step that allows the rice to rest, covered, once the cooking is done. The residual heat will finish off the cooking process.
- After resting, fluff the rice with a fork and serve with some lime juice and tomato and onion raita.