What comes to your mind when I say colourful food? My thoughts for some reason, always drift to Indian food. If you line up Indian dishes side by side it would look like a rainbow of interestingness. And the best part is that Indian food cooked right never disappoints in the taste department. I admit Indian food is not something I have often but it’s something I love thanks to the vibrant colours, the flavours and smells that really have a way of capturing your full attention. Not to mention most of the dishes are braised or in stew form with a lot of sauce, making them hearty and comforting.
Here in the Philippines most of the Indian restaurants aren’t technically authentic anymore since dishes have been adapted to local taste. (Aka toned down.) The key is to look for a place with a head chef that’s actually from India, as I did experience once while dining at Shangri-la Makati. That’s not to say the commercialized Indian restaurants cook bad food, but I know of some people who have actually been to India and eaten real Indian food and they would comment that the dishes in most Indian restaurants here aren’t as “pungent” or “strong”.
Quick question: Can anyone recommend a good Indian restaurant in Metro Manila?
Well I actually feel that Indian food isn’t as popular here, if you compare it to the popularity of other Asian cuisines anyway. Most people seem to have this misconception about Indian food being “spicy” as in hot, rather than what I think it stands for more, which is spicy in the sense that every dish uses a whole lot of spices. The spices are what give Indian dishes their signature one-two punch after all.
Often when I take a look at Indian recipes, the ingredients consist of a long list of spices; half of them I’m not even sure I can find here, though I’ve never ventured to the local Little India as of this writing. I imagine this is the logical first step if I truly want to familiarize myself with Indian spices and ingredients. I need to gain and understanding of the appearance, the smells, and the flavours of the different spices, also in order for me to know if what I’ve whipped up is something that even tastes remotely like the real thing.
There’s a danger in playing with too much spices though, and if left in the wrong hands it could go awfully wrong. Mostly the danger is in adding too much to the point that a dish starts to taste strange, but like I said, Indian dishes done right are pretty darn amazing. UHHH-MAZING. It’s literally a feast for all the senses, from sight and smell, down to how it feels in your mouth. Indian food settles in your stomach nicely too, leaving you a good feeling of satisfaction.
So this dish today… Well I can’t vouch for authenticity. I don’t have any Indian friends who can come over, taste the food and tell me what I’ve done right or wrong. (I can wish though right?) Regardless I would really like to learn how to make Indian dishes. I’m quite partial to curries to be honest, but I thought it would be nice to try something else for now.
The korma is a dish of Indian and Pakistan origin, featuring braised veggies or meat in a yogurt-cream-nut based sauce. This recipe makes use of chicken as the meat of choice, and cashews as the nut base. Of course, with the slew of spices in this recipe you’d be right to assume that this dish is a tasty one. And rich too thanks to the cream and yogurt base. It also seemed easy enough to make so I figured a Chicken Shahi Korma recipe would be a great first match when I made first batch of homemade roti, the recipe of which I shared yesterday. I’m a huge fan of pairing Indian stews with breads, so this was the only way for me to eat this dish!
This dish does indeed feature the staple Indian spice called garam masala. I bought mine from Healthy Options. It’s essentially a mixture of several spices in different proportions: cumin, coriander, cardamom, pepper, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and allspice. Whew! You can mix your own and many people actually do, but I wanted to have a bottle labeled garam masala in my spice rack so I just went ahead and bought one. I know, me and my impulses. This one is a cute little bottle so you won’t have to worry too much over how you’ll use it all up. Just cook more Indian dishes!
As for the other spices, the regular supermarket carries them, save for the coriander which I’ve officially run out of and can’t remember where I got it from. (I’ll update this once I manage to stock up, but most probably I’ll have to visit Little India for it.)
There were a couple of things I did differently when I made my shahi korma than the original recipe, for instance switching tofu for the paneer. In hindsight I realized it was a strange thing to do, considering the only thing that drove me to use tofu in place of paneer was their commonality in colour. Why didn’t I just use regular cottage cheese?! Tofu contributes absolutely nothing at all in terms of flavour, so I decided to mix in a bit of cottage cheese in here before serving.
Also, when I was short on half-and-half I used evaporated milk instead. It didn’t affect the taste as much as the paneer did certainly, but I’m not quite sure if it made my shahi korma a little runnier than usual. In any case, I would strongly recommend using the ingredients as they are listed below as both paneer and the half cream will contribute flavour and texture neither tofu nor evaporated milk could replicate. Also make sure you do not skimp on the spices. They will make or break your korma!
- 1 kilogram chicken breasts, cubed
- 1 2-inch piece ginger
- 8 cloves garlic
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons oil, divided use
- 1 onion, minced
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 cup half and half
- 1½ cups Greek yogurt
- 16 ounces paneer, cubed*
- ¾ cup raisins
- ½ cup cashews
- ½ cup chopped cilantro
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ cup cashews pieces
- 1 cup chicken broth (more to thin the sauce later)
- ¼ cup oil
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 2 teaspoons garam masala
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- 1. Puree the ginger, garlic, lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a food processor until well-combined. Add a little water if the sauce is a bit dry. Pour over the chicken, stir, and refrigerate to marinate overnight.
- 2. Puree all the sauce ingredients in a food processor until very smooth. Set aside.
- 3. In a large pot over medium heat, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Add the onions and sauté for 5 minutes, until translucent. Add the chicken and the tomato paste. Sauté the chicken until browned and fragrant.
- 3. Add the korma sauce base, yogurt, half and half, paneer, raisins, and cashews. Add salt and taste, adjusting as necessary. Allow the korma to simmer until sauce is thickened and chicken is fully cooked. Simmer for as long as you can before eating to allow the flavors to develop more. (Add extra water or chicken broth to thin out the sauce to your desired consistency if it becomes too thick to your liking.)
- 4. Serve over basmati rice, or with roti or naan.
- *I used tofu because I have no idea where to get paneer. It definitely reduced the flavours of the dish quite a bit so adjust the seasoning if you decide to do the same substitution.
Posting this Chicken Shahi Korma recipe has gotten me all excited. I know at least one person (apart from me obviously) who will get a kick over my desire to cook more Indian food: None other than my childhood BFF Gilbert, who might’ve been an Indian in his previous life. Every time I think of anything even remotely Indian, I can’t help but remember him. I should invite him over once I become good at cooking Indian dishes.