September 20, 2010

Chicken and Banana Curry: A Successful Experiment

Around this time last year, we got away to Omaha for a long weekend.  While there, we ate at one of our favorite Indian restaurants, the Indian Oven, located in the Old Market district.  It's a well-established restaurant, having been there for 20 or more years, and the food there is dependably good. 

On that particular visit, the Indian Oven had something different on the menu, some sort of Indian fusion dish involving bananas and chicken with a sweet, tangy curry gravy.  It was excellent.  A few weeks ago, while making plans for another long weekend getaway, I recalled that recipe.  Having been doing a fair bit of Indian cooking of late, I got to wondering how they'd made that dish.  I really have no idea, and we haven't had time to go to Omaha to order it again so I can try to figure it out (assuming it's even still on the menu). 

Nonetheless, thinking about that dish inspired me to try my hand at making a banana and chicken curry, one incorporating some tried-and-true Indian spices and cooking techniques with some different flavors to create something hopefully both unique... and good.

I went through three or four attempts at making up a preliminary recipe like that before coming up with a rough draft that I thought might work, or at least be a step in the right direction.  Last night I finally got around to taking my recipe prototype for a test drive.  

We were both quite pleased with the results.   I changed the amounts of a few things as I went, after tasting the dish in-progress and observing how it was coming together.  The final product was everything I'd hoped for:  sweet and spicy, with a bit of sour undertone added by the lime juice.  The banana slices and the almonds provide a variety of textures, and the gravy is thick yet smooth, and quite flavorful.

I'm not sure the version posted below, which incorporates the changes made while preparing it, is going to be the final version, but I think it's good enough to share as-is while I consider some fine-tuning.  Hopefully some of our readers will decide to give it a try and provide us with some feedback, and perhaps some suggestions for improving the dish. 

If you do try it, we hope you'll enjoy it.

Our busy kitchen

This recipe incorporates some spices and ingredients not common to American cooking, but which are quite common in Indian cooking.  The spices can all be found easily enough in a good Indian or Asian grocery, or at Penzey's (stores or online).  Likewise, fine shredded coconut is available at good Indian and Asian grocery stores.   

Chicken and Banana Curry

2     tablespoons sliced almonds
2     tablespoons unsweetened shredded coconut
2     pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of fat and cut into bite-
       size chunks
2     teaspoons minced garlic
2     teaspoons garam masala
1     teaspoon powdered turmeric root
1/2  teaspoon salt
1/2  teaspoon chili powder
3     tablespoons vegetable oil
1     teaspoon cumin seed
1/2  teaspoon brown mustard seed
1     large onion, finely chopped
1     2-inch piece of ginger root, peeled and grated
2     green hot chili peppers (Asian or Jalapeno), seeded and minced
3     firm, just- ripe bananas
1     cup coconut milk
1     tablespoon lime juice
1     teaspoon cinnamon

Heat a small skillet to medium heat.  Reduce heat to low and dry-roast the almonds for about 1 minute, turning them constantly with a spatula or wooden spoon. Add the coconut and continue to dry-roast, stirring continuously, until the almonds and coconut are just starting to brown.  Remove the skillet from the heat and set aside the almond/coconut mix.

Cut up the chicken and place it in a large bowl.  Add garlic, garam masala, turmeric, salt, chili powder and 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil.  Stir to cover the chicken in the spice/oil mix, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat.  When the oil is hot enough that it starts to shimmer, add the cumin seed and mustard seed, stirring for about 30 seconds.  The seeds should sputter in the hot oil.  Add the chopped onion and fry it until it is starting to brown. Add the grated ginger, stir and continue to fry until the onion is golden brown.  Add the chicken + spice/oil mixture and the minced chili peppers.  Brown the chicken, stirring occasionally.

Peel the bananas and cut them into half-inch slices.  Put half of the banana slices into a bowl and mash them smooth with the coconut milk.   Add the banana/coconut milk mix to the pan with the chicken.  Stir and cook for about 2 minutes.  Add the lime juice.  Stir and cook for another 2 minutes or so.  Add and mix in the cinnamon, then remove the skillet from the heat and transfer the contents to a serving bowl.

Add the rest of the banana slices and stir until the banana slices are coated with the gravy.  Top with the toasted almonds and coconut and serve with basmati rice.

Along with the chicken and banana curry, I prepared a vegetarian dish with chickpeas, sweet potatoes and spinach in a spicy tomato sauce while Juli made the rice.  This was the first time I'd prepared this particular dish, which was taken from a book titled New Curries by Pamela Clark.  It turned out to be quite good.

And with that, dinner was ready.

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