Ahhh curry, the ultimate comfort food, one that sees many of us through cold weather, horrible hangovers and basically the blood, sweat and tears of life. Friendships are forged and lost over a good curry. It’s the stuff of gods and there is something truly special about eating a dish that smacks life into all your senses; little else in this world explodes in quite the same manner with fresh ginger, garlic, cardamom, coriander and chilli only to soothe moments later with coconut, yoghurt and lime. This is a milder curry, one that won’t see you headless, scouring the stores and pounding exotic spices long into the night only to wish you’d just gone out for a butter chicken, dhal and naan anyway. No this is relatively simple as far as a curry goes, the key is to give the coconut a proper roasting and to give the dish the time in the oven it deserves so all the spices can get properly acquainted.
1 cup desiccated coconut
400ml coconut cream
1 tbsp black peppercorns
2 tsp ajowan seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tbsp ghee
4 eschallots, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
800g chicken thigh fillets, quartered
2 tsp turmeric
11/2 tbsp curry powder
2 curry leaves
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp dried chilli flakes (with seeds)
270ml coconut milk
2 tbsp brown sugar
Juice and zest of 1 lime
Preheat the oven to 175C.
Place the coconut in a large deep-sided fry pan and place over medium heat. Toast the coconut to a deep nutty brown colour. Remove from the heat, reserving two tablespoons for serving and add to a food processor with 4 tbsp coconut cream.
Return the pan to the heat and add the peppercorns, ajowan seeds and cumin seeds. Cook until roasted and fragrant. Add the spices to the coconut mix in the food processor and blitz until a loose paste forms. Depending on the wetness of your coconut you may need to increase the amount of coconut cream to achieve a loose paste consistency.
Add the ghee to the frypan and return to the heat. Add the eschalots and garlic and sweat until translucent. Add the chicken pieces and cook until lightly browned but not cooked through. Add the tumeric, curry powder, curry leaves, chilli powder and chilli seeds and cook for a further minute. Add the coconut paste mix, remaining coconut cream and coconut milk to the pan. Stir to combine. Add the sugar lime juice and zest. Stir to combine. Cover and place in the oven and cook for 40-50 minutes or until sauce has reduced and thickened. Serve warm topped with the fresh mint, crème fraiche and toasted coconut.
Now if you wanted to make your own roti to go with this, I cannot recommend the recipe of the lovely Poh highly enough. I was fortunate enough to get my hands on this when I interviewed her for an article on Daily Life and I received some of her recipes. The addition of condensed milk may seem strange, but it does something to it, making the texture silky and amazing, as if you've been rolling rotis all your life, successfully none the less. I keep going back to this one again and again.
500g plain flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
1 1/3 cup water
2 tbsp condensed milk
2 tbsp butter, ghee or margarine, at room temperature
1/2 egg, lightly whisked
1/2 cup vegetable oil for greasing
Combine flour, salt and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Make a well at the centre of the dry ingredients and into it, pour the water, condensed milk, butter/ghee/margarine and egg. Work in a circular motion with your hand, gradually gathering more and more of the flour into the wet ingredients until you have a single mass. Tip all the ingredients onto the bench and knead until smooth and elastic. At this point the dough should not be sticking to the bench top. If it is, add a little flour and knead until smooth. Roll into a cylinder and divide the dough into 10 pieces. Knead each piece a few times to achieve a smooth texture, then shape into a ball. Gently cover each ball with butter/ghee/margarine and rest in a bowl. Cover in cling wrap and allow to rest overnight at room temperature. After the overnight resting you will find the dough soft and stretchy. Start by oiling a substantial area of the bench liberally. Place one of the balls of dough onto the table and press down with the palm of your hand while moving it in a circular motion. This is just to flatten and smooth out the surface of the dough as much as possible before you stretch it. It takes a bit of practice to throw the roti the professional way and while it’s definitely quicker, an equally effective method is to work around the edges of the circle of dough, gently stretching the edges outwards as far and as thinly as you can before holes start to appear. The end result should be as thin as tracing paper and about 60-70 cm in diameter. Pull opposite edges of the roti towards one another to overlap into 3 layers, each time drizzling a little oil between the layers. Fold this elongated shape into thirds again, drizzling more oil between layers, so you end up with a squarish shaped roti. Heat up your frypan on medium heat with a dash of vegetable oil and fry the roti until golden blisters appear on both sides. When cooked, immediately slide the roti onto a chopping board, wrap your palms around the edges and smash your hands together so the roti bunches up and flakes. Rotate the roti and do this several times while it is still hot. Serve immediately with curry.