Okay! I confess, I have a fascination for legacy recipes. I know, I know, some of you would say what’s so tempting about a recipe; but see, here is the thing, legacy recipes are not merely recipes, they are history. They are part of a person living on in our homes on our dining tables at family dinners and gatherings or even when I sit and enjoy one of those recipes alone, I feel I’m never alone as I am flooded with memories of that person or the stories I have been told of that person who the recipe actually belongs to. This is exactly one of those. This is the legacy recipe of my grandmother passed on to her daughter, passed on to me and some day I will pass onto my daughter. However, for now, I’m sharing this with you all and I’m very excited about it.
Whenever I make this recipe a surge of my aunts memories drowns me. I could tell you so much about her but I’m just going to say that she was an Asian lady in love with Asian food in the truest sense of the word. She spent all her childhood and teenage years in India and thus, her recipes were always a burst of brilliantly infused flavours and spices on your palate that made you think that the taste can’t get any more perfect than that. She was so in love with Asian spice flavours that once I asked her to make me some spaghetti and she even cooked that asian style and believe you me, it was exceptionally outstanding; the recipe for which I will share in my later post. Now, let me tell you, all this was back when I was a Foodie who loved to eat but not cook. I will be honest, I haven’t been fair to this recipe since the day I asked her for it; I still remember her sitting down on the dining table with her reading glasses and a pencil and a paper, writing it as if writing a thesis for a PhD. Truth be told, she could easily have been a PhD in food. Her enthusiasm of writing it down for me, as I’m certain, memories of my grandmother flooding her thoughts, I know, her smile said it all all the while and me, reckless careless me; little did she know I would treat her recipe for the next 12 years very poorly. Long before I compiled my food diary, this recipe was tucked away in my bag pack or my university notebook sitting between my lecture notes and later in my bedside table under a pile of books, forgotten. It was when I was getting married and I was cleaning out my stuff from my room I found it lying under a pile of junk papers and bills. I knew I had to, just had to, take it with me to my new home and when the time came for me to assemble my food diary, this I knew would by far be the best recipe it will hold. A while ago I read a quote by Caesar Chevaz where he avers, “if you want to make a friend, go to his house and eat with him…people who give you their food give you their heart” which reminds me of her. This recipe is without a doubt, just that, it has heart, it has history and it will always be the highlight of family and friends dinners; luscious, scrumptious and appeasing; and you better believe it. This is one of those recipes that is always top of my dinner party list. My friends never seem to have enough of it. I guess that’s what Caesar Chevaz was talking about and I guess that’s the power of reading, when you read you relate.
Moving on from that nostalgia, let’s accentuate the word “Dhaba” on this recipe. Dhaba in the Asian language Urdu, is referred to a roadside cafe that serves exceedingly flavoursome and sapid traditional dishes in an extremely casual style, whilst sitting under the open sky, be it dusk or dawn. It will ofcourse not be fancy or sopohisticated as that of a restaurant or a hotel, yet, it will serve you the food that’s unrivalled. I personally believe the best food served in east asia, particularly in India and Pakistan, is undoubtedly at a Dhaba. It’s astounding really, they would use the same ingredients and spices, still, the flavours that are infused together explode on your palate like no other and the ambience of the Dhaba will never cease to gratify you.
Coming to the recipe, first thing that will strike you is the quantity of ginger and garlic in it but that is exactly what will give the dish its X-factor, so, don’t shy away. One thing I would like to underline is the use of Chicken meat. I strongly recommend that this be only made with chicken as the flavours commend the meat of the chicken exceptionally. I have tried this with beef, lamb and mutton just to experiment, the dish lost its soul. Also, let me mention, please make sure when you ask your butcher to piece your chicken, have it cut into 8 pieces and no more than that and no less.
The recipe is cooked in two parts, the frying of the chicken and the making of the gravy. Coming to the first step, extremely compulsory. What augments the flavour of the dish, is, the frying of the meat in the oil at the very start of the dish. What this does is, the juices and flavour of the chicken release and infuse in the oil, not to mention the sticky bits of the meat at the bottom of the pan, all add to the tantalising flavour of the recipe. So, make sure your meat is not frozen and you do not skip the first stage. Also, the meat needs to be fried enough that it turns a silky shiny golden colour. It’s not necessary the chicken is cooked all the way through as it’s going to cook in the steam in the gravy later on.
Talking about the gravy, let me tell you this, once that ginger garlic and tomatoes hit your pot, the aroma released will tempt you. It’s so amazing you will immediately start salivating. Now, because you have fried the chicken in the oil prior to making the gravy, it will not be long to cook in the gravy. So we have to make sure the gravy is 85% cooked when we add the meat back into the cooking pot. Also please bear in mind, the gravy is unlike any regular curry dish, it will not be very saucy.
The coriander, fenugreek leaves, julienned chilli and ginger and that sprinkle of black pepper and all-spice on top, oh my! If you are looking to impress someone, in particular your mother-in-law, this is for you my friend. I guess when they say that the way to a mans heart is through his stomach, this is the kind of food they are talking about. Once it was all done and ready to be served, my whole house was filled with the gorgeous aroma of this dish. I couldn’t wait to dig in and my man was licking his fingers clean.
The flavours are very earthy and intense and it has a subtle feel to it. Your palate will find it hard to recognise any one flavour at a time, it’s an orchestra of Asian spices that will tantalise your senses for sure.
I must emphasise though, that this recipe is a bit to the spicier side, so if you would like, the spice level can always be taken down a notch but being asian, spice is our food and we adore it.
And hence, the legacy recipe,
This is best served with naan and pickled onion salad and ofcourse yogurt, for all those non-spicers out there or as my sister-in-law puts it, with Lassi, a yogurt drink alongside. Lassi, is a yogurt drink in Asian Cuisine, blended together with milk and is drunk either sweet or salty, as per individual preference. Actually I would rather say, my sister-in-law is a genius, the symphony of spicy and sweet or just spicy and salty yogurt drink, that’s without a doubt, the best combination with this gorgeous dish. It’s definitely a well-balanced accompaniment and a must try.
This recipe will serve 4-6
1 kg Chicken Meat (cut into 8 pieces)
1 whole Garlic bulb (cut into circles)
1/2 julienned Ginger
1 cup yogurt
1 tsp salt
1 tsp all-spice powder (Garam Masala)
1 1/2 tsp crushed red chillies
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp black pepper
Oil 1/3 cup
2-3 julienned green chillies
1/2 bunch coriander
1 tbsp fenugreek leaves
- Heat the oil and fry the chicken until it becomes golden brown in colour.
- Take the chicken out once it’s turned golden brown and set it aside.
- In the same oil add the cumin seeds, ginger and garlic and fry for 2-3 minutes and add the diced tomatoes and cook it further for about 5-8 minutes.
- Once the tomatoes start to release their juices and start turning into a pulp, add salt, crushed red chillies, black pepper, cumin powder and half of the all-spice i.e. 1/2 tsp.
- Cook this for about 5 minutes all the while stirring it constantly on medium high flame.
- Add the yogurt and add the chicken that was fried earlier.
- Cover it and cook it on medium flame for about 20 minutes. The oil will separate from the gravy and will be visible on the sides.
- Sprinkle coriander and fenugreek leaves on top along with julienned ginger and green chillies.
- Also, sprinkle the rest of the all-spice powder and a pinch of black pepper on top.
- Leave on stove for 5 minutes on low flame before turning the heat off.
Happy eating 🤗
Notes: If you are not cooking in a non-stick pan, please bear in mind, while frying the meat might stick to the bottom a little too much. The way to prevent is, to heat the oil little and add the chicken and 1/4 tsp of garlic, then turn the heat up to fry it until its golden brown in colour. The meat will not stick to your pan.