Monday, February 9, 2009

In Praise of Slumdog

I went to India about 10 years ago with a group from church. Not a very likely trip for a 16-year-old. When I came back, everyone asked me how it was and all I could say was "good." I'm sure some of you may understand how difficult it is to sum up an experience that is so overwhelming and (as it turns out) lifechanging. Over Christmas I saw Slumdog Millionaire (twice actually), and could tell my parents and friends, "Yes, that is exactly what Bombay is like." It is absolutley that crowded, that dirty, that colorful, and if movies could smell I'm sure this one would be that smelly. And I don't necessarily mean this in a bad way. India is a country of extremes: the most people you've ever seen, the brightest colors possible and the food has more flavor than you could imagine existing in one bite. My palette had never experienced anything like what India presented. Our group had a cook who would make us breakfast and dinner everyday and would purify our water. Curry, coriander, cumin, marjoram, all these were completely new to me. I had never eaten lentils, eggplant, mutton, chai tea, nan bread ... is it lunchtime yet? Everything so savory with a bit of a kick (and sometimes quite a kick). I haven't even been able to recreate the plain black tea served there from the "chaiwallas" on the trains--and I bought some loose leaf tea while I was there. I wish I could show you some of my photos, but that was in the days prior to digital cameras and I had an unfortunate haircut. I'm clearly on some sort of India kick this week, what with the chutney. I even did yoga right before making this dish. The best part about this meal is that the best is yet to come. The leftovers are going to be ever better than straight out of the pan. Even though the above photo doesn't show it, this is one of the best dishes I've made (especially in recent months). Indian Spiced Chicken with Cous Cous: 2 tablespoons olive oil 1/2 onion, chopped 2 cloves garlic, chopped 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced (I used 1 teaspoon powdered ginger) 1/2 (or so)tablespoon cumin 1/2 (or so) tablespoon coriander 1/2 teaspoon turmeric (I didn't have this, skipped it and it was more than fine) 1/2 teaspoon paprika 1 teaspoon salt pinch cayenne pepper 1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes 1/4 cup cream 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1 1/2 cups water 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into strips Heat oil in medium skillet on medium heat, add onion and saute until translucent, add garlic and ginger. Continue sauteing for about a minute, do not let the garlic burn. Add the cumin, coriander, turmeric, paprika and salt. Stir to coat onion and garlic with spices. Add tomatoes and cayenne pepper. (Here you can add some frozen spinach to give some more color and texture. Be sure that it is defrosted and completely drained of excess water.) Carefully taste sauce to see if you need to add more seasonings. Add cream and water and bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer. Cover pan and simmer for five minutes. Add chicken strips to the stew, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Allow sauce to stand for a few minutes before serving so that it will thicken. While the chicken is cooking, bring 1 1/2 cups of lightly salted water to a boil. Add one cup of cous cous to boiling water. Immediately turn off heat. Let cous cous sit for five minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve with chicken stew.


Kenton said...

I lived in Tunisia while serving in the Peace Corps. It sounds like your experience of India parallels mine in a sense. I've always said the experience of being in Tunisia was like an assault on the senses. Being exposed to new foods and spices was one of the most rewarding parts of my experience there. Cous Cous is the national food there. I may have to cook something Tunisian this weekend :)

Maria said...

Lainey, this looks great. I may need to go buy more spices this week! Oh, and the movie was amazing. Everyone should go see it!

Lainey Seyler said...

Yes, my cous cous was actually from Morocco--not really Indian but there is appeal in something that takes five minutes to make.

I do love Moroccan food. It is so different (especially in regard to spices) to what we usually eat.