South-Indian chicken soup

This is my great-grandmother’s recipe. I think it was passed down to her from her mother or grandmother, but this is how far back I’ve been able to trace it. When a recipe dates back almost 120 years, you know it’s special. The sense of nostalgia and comfort that this aromatic hot bowl of soup induces is soul satisfying in every sense of the term.

I very fondly remember spending my holidays at my great-grandmother’s colossal 12,000 sq ft single storey home which comprised of vast open spaces and courtyards, that during the summer months doubled as a drying pad for spices, chillies, and onions and as a playground of sorts for me and my cousins.

About the recipe..this is not like any chicken soup you’ve had. There are no carrots, leeks, or celery to form its base (I don’t think they even formed a part of India’s agricultural produce back then!) That was a time when everything they ate was grown in their own farms, or foraged in the surrounding fields. An era when families that owned land would sow their own paddy, harvest and mill it, before storing it until the next harvest season. Those that had a more bountiful crop would even gratuitously donate the excess to the farmers who tended their farmlands.  Some – including my ancestors – even bred their own cows for the milk, and chickens and goats for their meat. A lot has changed since then, some good, some bad, but I get the sense that we may have missed out on the charm of a simpler life.

The spices in this soup – garlic, cumin, curry leaves, and peppercorns are fiery, but as with all recipes, you can add as much or little as you’d prefer. The soup itself is made with chicken pieces, but you could alternatively use only the bones which would still give you a rich stock. I can attest that this is just as delicious! I managed to save a bowlful which I eked out by adding rice into and making it a meal in itself. So good!

The recipes that were passed down through my great-grandmother have always been special to us, even more so after her passing. The curries that we make today still have the same blend of spices, the laddus the same proportion of ghee and sugar, and it’s obvious that our love for cooking hasn’t skipped any generation in between. I hope your family enjoys this recipe as much as I did growing up, and still do with my own family.

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Chicken quesadillas

While you see some simple, regular chicken quesadillas here, what I see is a Mexican – Portuguese twist on what was supposed to be just simple, regular quesadillas. I mean, I’ve been planning to make them for so long now, I even had it all planned out for dinner next week..and then this happens (I meant that in the best way possible).

Let me explain : we were at Nando’s over the weekend for lunch, and the glutton in me couldn’t order (what seemed like) a measly portion of a quarter chicken. I mean, I’ve always been able to make my way through a half portion quite easily, but I hadn’t calculated the impromptu attack on some amazing mixed olives in garlic and chilli right before that. What do you do with the remaining quarter of a chicken? Well, here’s what.

The chicken was coated rather generously in their signature Peri-Peri sauce, and that made for a delicious component in this quesadilla. So I stuck to the basics with some spring onions, tomato, pickles, gherkins, and cheese. I should point out here that if I were using just plain grilled chicken, I would maybe use a dash of Tabasco or throw in a finely sliced green chilli for an extra kick. Serving them with a fiery chilli sauce like Sriracha would work here too!

This spontaneous recipe has in fact opened up a big can of worms..dessert quesadillas with bananas and nutella, spinach and tomato with pesto, caramelized onion and steak..OK, I need to sit down now.

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Chicken laksa

I’m so excited to tell you about this recipe. I’ve made this laksa a few times now, tweaking it here and there and adding/omitting ingredients along the way, and I think what I’ve landed up with now pretty much hits the spot, if I do say so myself.

If you’ve already taken a quick glance at the list of ingredients, you will have noticed that it does in fact use 10 dried red chillies – it is a hot fiery soup, but one that is tempered down delicately by coconut milk. Even though laksa is technically more Malay/Singaporean and not Thai, maybe because the ingredients of these cuisines lie in a pretty similar ballpark, it takes me right back to the amazing street food stalls of Bangkok!

Laksa is usually served with some variation of seafood added to it. Prawn and mussels are my favourite and I would’ve gladly used them here if it wasn’t for the fact that my husband is allergic to any and all types of crustaceans. So, I improvised with chicken (merely pointing out that you could consider that option as well).

If you have some extra time to spare and in need of an upper-body workout, it really helps to use a mortar and pestle to pound the spice paste. I’ve tried it both ways and this really does make a difference – you get to control the exact texture of the mixture and what you end up with is an aromatic full-bodied paste that beats the blender method hands down.

I hope you enjoy this bowl of goodness as much as we did!

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CHICKEN AND SOBA NOODLE SOUP

I recently discovered the joys of Japanese Soba (buckwheat) noodles. I’d eaten it several times at restaurants, but only recently found out that a speciality store I frequent stocked them.

If there was one term that I could use to describe this dish, I think ‘restorative’ would be it. The noodles, made from buckwheat flour have this certain huskiness about them that your brain immediately classifies as being good for you. Which it is, but you actually feel like you’re nourishing your body from within. Also, the fact that there was no oil used in this recipe speaks for itself. But get this..Soba noodles are chock full of proteins and fibre, fat-free, cholesterol-free AND gluten-free. It’s a superhero amongst the noodle clan. The silent protector, the watchful guardian..the dark (brown) knight.

This was my first attempt at the elusive chicken soup, but I was very happy with the results I got, and so, confident enough to brag blog and share with you. Happy slurping!

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STICKY MAPLE-GLAZED CHICKEN DRUMSTICKS

 

As a food blogger, I’m constantly concerned that something big might escape my notice, and that I’m going to walk into a café and ask very naïvely for those “tiny red cakes with the white icing”. How could I have not heard about red-velvet cupcakes? You get my rather dramatic drift..

(Un)fortunately for me though, I get a regular influx of email updates (mostly against my will) from numerous food magazines and blogs that assure me that there are new ingredients and recipe ideas popping into the market at an alarming rate, and that it’s impossible to be fully up-to-date with the nuances of this dynamic industry. Reassuring yes, but you ought to know about the red-velvets though!

Speaking of ideas popping up, using maple syrup instead of honey in this recipe came as a bit of a revelation to me. Basically you want the chicken drumsticks to caramelize in the heat, and the sugars in the syrup do just that for you. Also, sugar tends to caramelize at a higher temperature than maple syrup, so that only means more crunchy, charred bits on your chicken. It also lends its subtle woody taste to the smokiness of the paprika, which is a combination to die for. Kitchen alchemy at its finest. Continue reading

GARLIC-SMEARED ROSEMARY ROAST CHICKEN

The best part about doing a roast is that the leftovers can be reincarnated into multiple ways through the week – shredded into salads, sandwiches, quesadillas (kudos, Nigella), the bones used to make the best chicken broth..the list is endless. I recently stumbled upon a recipe that uses leftover chicken in meltingly cheese-y nachos (why didn’t I think of that?!) One of these days, I might end up making a roast JUST for the rich pickings afterward.


Looking back at my other posts, I realize that I’m almost always rambling about garlic and orange zest. For the sake of continuity (cheeky, I know) here’s one more. You know how cinnamon is categorized as a “sweet” spice? Not in the sense that it can be used in desserts, but that it has an almost sweet-ish flavour when you cook with it in savoury dishes? Similarly, unlike the strong bite and pungency that you get from raw garlic, roasting it mellows the acrid burn without compromising on its flavour. The aroma of roasted garlic wafting through the whole house is just an added bonus.

Roast chicken is not something you’d come across often at restaurants in India even today; so you could say that it is somewhat of a fancy dish for us here. If you’re really lucky, a couple of good restaurants will flaunt them on their Christmas menu once a year. But back in the day, at a time when ovens and other fancy kitchen gadgetry were not available in the country, my grandmother apparently used to make a roast in a pressure cooker! Trussed, stuffed, the works. I remember her mentioning this to me a while ago, so I just called her to confirm the process before blogging about it – first she boiled the chicken in a pressure cooker, and then basted it in a pan to get colour on it. Genius! Things are way simpler now though, and all you require to serve up this magnificent bird is a handful of ingredients..and a lot of patience (still working on that). Now, in a country that’s very far from traditional roast chicken dinners, the legacy continues..
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A taste of Burma : CHICKEN KHOW SUEY

I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to tell you about this stunner of a dish. If you’ve already skimmed through the list of ingredients, I know what you’re thinking. I won’t lie, this recipe does call for quite a few elements and steps, but I guarantee that you will not regret it.

Khow suey is essentially a Burmese noodle dish served with a subtly spiced coconut curry/soup that’s topped with an array of contrasting condiments. A bit like the Singaporean laksa. I know it sounds a little intimidating at first, but it didn’t take too long for this dish to sneak its way into my list of regulars.

Among the areas where my willpower is at its weakest, I think throwing in extra garlic reigns supreme. The recipe says 5, I go with 7. 6? 9. And then there’s also this thing for odd numbers. OCD, much? Yes, I think so. I know that I’m going to have my own version of “Chicken with 43 cloves of garlic” someday.

I’ve made this recipe from time to time using store-bought coconut milk, but if you have access to making a fresh batch at home, there’s nothing like it. The chillies might seem like a lot, but once the seeds have been taken out, you get more flavour than heat from them. Also, the coconut milk really tones down the fieriness too. If you’d like it milder anyway, reduce the number.

Every time I make this, nostalgia sets in and takes me right back to family dinners at home. This recipe (like many others), is from my mom’s collection that I brought back with me when I got married and moved to Chennai. Honestly, mine tastes almost as good as hers. And that’s saying a lot.

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