Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Chicken Saag

On two separate occasions I have been to India, both of them to Delhi. The experience was like a full frontal assault on the all the senses at the same time. It was extraordinary. We stayed in a hotel which had only the very basics, but the floors and the walls were all made of marble. The doors didn't lock of their own accord, and if you wanted to have them locked, you needed to buy your own lock.

There are millions of things which come to mind when I think back on the experience. The constant noise; the millions of people; the colours; the cows wandering up and down the street; the dalits (formerly called the "untouchables") and the hijras - transvestite eunuchs, who are supposed to bring good fortune if you give them money; the women who, we were told, had deliberately maimed their children to use them as begging tools; the occasional elephant; and the food. Ah! The food. The food was indescribably good. Never completely hygienic, but superb!

We ate from street vendors and we ate in vegetarian restaurants, where I could watch the cooks dolloping noodles onto plates for when the plate was a little too full and the noodles started to spill over, they simply used their hands to get them back onto the plate.

The names of the dishes were incomprehensible - so one usually had no idea what one was going to get. And having got it, one sometimes had no idea what one had just eaten. I religiously did not drink water that was not from a bottle and didn't end up with any really severe case of diarrhoea. But I suspect that was just luck, because everyone else around me wasn't quite so fortunate.

One morning, however, I woke up and looked in the mirror to see that one of my eyes had swollen into a half closed state. I had no idea what caused it. Down the street had noticed a Pharmacy sign, so I ventured in. It was dark. There were what looked like animal tails hanging from the ceiling and dried animals of one sort or another on the walls. There seemed to be no-one in it. I ventured a "Hello? Anyone one here?" A man with orange stripes painted onto his face, and a yellow stripe painted in the parting of his long grey hair, rose from under the counter. I said, timidly, "Hello. I am looking for anti-histamine, I don't suppose you have any?" He looked oddly at me. "Of course I do!" he said, and handed me a tube of anti-histamine cream. It did the trick nicely.

Here is a really good recipe for Chicken Saag - without all the obligatory oil.

Chicken Saag

225g fresh spinach, washed but not dried
2.5cm piece ginger
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 green chilli, roughly chopped
1 cup water
1T olive oil
2 Bay leaves
¼ t black peppercorns
1 onion, chopped
4 tomatoes skinned and chopped
1T All-in-one curry powder
1t salt
1t chilli powder
3T low fat yoghurt
8 chicken thighs, skinned

Cook spinach leaves, without water in a saucepan with lid for about 5 minutes
Put spinach, ginger, garlic and chilli with ¼ cup water into a food processor and make a thick purée.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan, add Bay leaves and peppercorns and fry to 2 minutes. Add chopped onion and fry for a further 6 – 8 minutes to brown.

Add tomatoes and simmer for about 5 minutes. Stir in curry powder, salt and chilli powder and cook for 2 minutes.

Add spinach purée and 2/3 cup water. Simmer for 5 minutes
Add yoghurt 1 T at a time, and simmer for 5 minutes. Add chicken, cover and cook for 25 – 30 minutes. Serve with Naan bread

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