I love to cook Indian food, and am finally comfortable at improvising new dishes based upon the foods, spices, and cooking methods used in the varied culinary traditions of that vast subcontinent. So, it should come as no surprise that when Meena of Hooked on Heat decided to start a monthly blogging event based around Indian foods, I would not hesitate to join in the fun. Each month, we get a different theme to work with, and we email her links to our posts on that theme by the last Friday of the month, and that is it.
The title of the event is “From My Rasoi;” “rasoi” means “kitchen” in Hindi.
This month’s theme is winter, and in celebration of that, I decided to work with a seasonal ingredient that I wait all year for–pomegranates.
I have always loved pomegrantes, ever since my father introduced them to me in childhood. He, too, loved to eat them, and for a treat, we would buy and share one. I always loved how the seeds were like hidden treasures, tiny garnets or rubies concealed in a network of pith and leathery skin. The sour-sweet burst of them in my mouth was a tiny explosion of flavor, and the juice would stain my fingers and lips a sticky-sweet magenta.
Pomegranates became a winter evening ritual, a quiet moment between Dad and I when we could discuss Greek mythology and the fruit’s connection thereto–for those who do not know the tale of Persephone and Hades, the summary is thus: Persephone, the daughter of Demeter, the Earth Goddess, was kidnapped by Hades, and taken to the Underworld. There, she pined for her mother, while above, her mother pined such that the formerly fecund fields lay fallow and the land was gripped in perpetual winter. People and animals starved, while Persephone was offered any manner of sweetmeat and drink to quench her own hunger and thirst. Mindful that if she ate anything in the land of the dead that she would become one of them, she refused all sustainance.
Eventually, clever Hades offered her a pomegranate, and she ate three or six seeds–depending on which version you are reading.When Demeter finally found her daughter, and demanded her return, Hades pointed to the pomegranate, and declared that Persephone was now his and would rule as Queen of the Dead at his side. Zeus, petitioned by the angered mother who refused to let the seasons turn until her daughter was released, ruled that for every seed which Persephone ate, she must stay one month with Hades as his queen, and for the remaining months, she could roam the earth with her mother, bringing light and fertility to the land, so that man, bird and beast need not starve.
So, Persephone came forth from the Underworld, and brought to earth the joyous relief of spring.
It is easy to see why the pomegranate is a symbol of fertility in many lands; it is filled with seeds. These tiny gems are used in many cultures in cookery, not only for their mythic connotations, but also to add acidity and sweetness to dishes ranging from desserts to entrees. The Persians, in particular, were and are fond of the pomegranate, and they brought thier use of it in meat dishes to Northern India during the Mogul Empire period.
It is with these historical and mythic ideas in mind that I came to create Jeweled Chicken.
I decided to use my wok to cook this curry, on high heat, very like the use of a karahi, or a round-bottomed cast iron cooking vessel from India that is used like a wok. I started with one thinly sliced onion, which I liberally salted and cooked in canola oil on very high heat until it browned deeply. Then, I added a single thinly sliced ripe chili pepper, slivers of ginger, two cloves of thinly sliced garlic and finely ground black pepper, coriander seeds, a bit of cumin, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom. I continued cooking until the whole mixture was incredibly fragrant and very browned.
Then, I added the chicken, laying it in a single layer and allowing it to brown lightly on one side before stir frying it briskly. When it was nearly cooked through, I added a bit of chicken broth; if I had been able to find my bottled pomegranate juice, I would have used that in preference, but since I couldn’t, I didn’t.
Just before the chicken was done, I added the pomegranate seeds, carefully leaving 3/4 of them whole, while squeezing the juice from 1/4 of them and discarding the seeds, in order to flavor the chicken and stain it a very pale pink. (Seeding a pomegranate can be a messy business, but I cut the fruit into four sections, and then deseed them in a bowl filled with water. The seeds sink, and all bits of the pith, skin and membranes float and are easily removed from the water before draining the seeds in a colander.)
After stirring it carefully to heat the seeds through for about a minute, I added half of the cilantro and cooked, stirring, until it wilted and its green fragrance infused the dish. At that point, I added the rest of the cilantro, stirred it once to incorporate it and then scraped the contents of the wok into a heated serving dish.
We ate it with yellow rice and some saag aloo garnished with mint. It was a delicious dish, and everyone declared that it should become a regular part of winter meals as it was reasonably easy to put together (once the pomegranate seeds were extracted from the fruit, that is) and was quickly cooked. It was very fragrant and light and made a very good, light change from all of the heavy meals of the holiday season. I was very pleased with how it turned out, and think that it would be very good paired with a simple dal tarka, basmati rice with peas and maybe a cooling raita.
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon salt
1″X1″X2″ cube fresh ginger, cut into thin slivers
1 ripe jalapeno pepper, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon coriander seeds, freshly ground
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, freshly ground
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns, freshly ground
1/2 teaspoon cardamom seeds, freshly ground
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 cloves, freshly ground
1 1/2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, trimmed and sliced thinly
1-2 tablespoons pomegranate juice or chicken broth (or even water)
seeds from 1 large pomegranate
1 1/2 cups (loosely packed) cilantro leaves
Heat wok or karahi until smoking. Add oil, swirl to coat bottom and lower third of sides well. Add onion and salt and stir fry until medium golden brown. Add ginger, pepper and garlic and continue cooking until onions are a medium brown, then add spices and continue cooking until onions are browned and the whole is very fragrant.
Add chicken, spreading it in a single layer over the bottom of wok. Allow to lay motionless to brown a bit on the bottom, the stir fry until most of the pink of the chicken is gone. Add a bit of pomegranate juice or chicken broth to moisten chicken, and keep frying, stirring constantly.
Add 3/4 of pomegranate seeds, then squeeze juice from 1/4 of seeds into wok. Discard squeezed seeds. (Or, you can use bottled pomegranate juice at this point, and keep all the seeds whole.) Add 1/2 of cilantro leaves and Stir fry for about a minute or two, until chicken is fully cooked and very fragrant and the leaves are quite wilted. Add remaining leaves, stir to combine, then remove wok from heat and scrape contents into a heated platter for serving.
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