Chicken Kurma Recipe-for Deepavali/Diwali in Malaysia

A very happy Deepavali/Diwali to my family, friends and everyone!  Deepavali, known as the  ‘Festival of Lights,’ is celebrated around the world by Hindus. It falls anywhere from late October to mid November according to the Hindu calendar. On Deepavali day, families don new clothes, participate in prayers and share meals and sweets with family and friends.

Below is a Deepavali family story and a chicken kurma recipe from the festival chapter 6 of my cookbook, Flavors of Malaysia.

Deepavali or Diwali, known as the Festival of Lights, is an important festival for Hindu Indians in Malaysia,who celebrate it during the seventh month of the Hindu solar calendar, usually at the end of October or early November. As light signifies goodness in Hinduism, deeps (earthen oil or ghee lamps) are burned throughout the day and into the night as a sign of celebration and to ward off darkness and evil. On this day, Hindu Malaysians welcome fellow Malaysians of different races and religions to their homes to celebrate the festival. I have wonderful memories of our Deepavali celebration with the family.

Kolam for Deepavali

Ma and Periama (my grandmother) began their food preparations a few weeks earlier, cleaning the home,    getting new curtains and sofa covers, designing a kolam at our front entrance, and placing flowers on the eve to welcome Mahalaxmi, the goddess of prosperity and wealth, at midnight. This was the time we all got new clothes to wear and show-off. I remember the activity in the kitchen, long into the early hours of morning, with Ma and Periama preparing all kinds of sweets and snacks, such as rose kueh (rose-shaped cookie), icing-coated wheat-based cruellers, murukku, and other shelf stable sweets that were stored in containers for the special day. This began the Deepavali mood for me. I would always try to sneak into the kitchen and taste some of the sweets and snacks being prepared.

On the eve of Deepavali, offerings and prayers are made to ancestors and deceased family members and many go to temples to pray. On the night before the great day, our excitement kept us awake. The next morning we would wake up at to take our baths. Traditionally, oil was applied on our heads (a ritual known as ganga-snanam, which was done to cleanse the impurities of the past year) and we would dress in new attire to mark the special day. By 9 a.m., the house was sunrise

Festive Rice already filled with aromas coming from the kitchen, where Ma and Periama had begun to prepare the dishes. Later, prayers were held at the family altar, after which the family gathered before the elders to receive their blessings. Some families also gave yellow packets with money to the children, adopting the Chinese red ang pow tradition. While Ma and Periama spent the morning busily preparing delicious dishes, we would sit in the living room, waiting anxiously for our friends. The celebrations began as soon as they arrived. We started with snacks that included curry puffs, murruku (made with rice flour and urad dhal ), and masala vadai (spiced lentil cakes) or rose kueh (crispy roseshaped cookies). Then came the iddiappam (extruded rice-based stringhoppers), ghee rice. chicken kurma, vegetable biryani, mutton peratil, stir-fried mixed vegetables, dhal curryand spicy sweet shrimp. Lastly the sweets, both homemade and store-bought—cakes, cookies, kesari (cardamon saffron scented semolina cake) and , sago payasam, laddu (sweet wheat-based balls), Mysore pak (chickpea flour and ghee-based sweet), or jalebi (bright orange pretzel-shaped sweets).

Once our friends left late in the afternoon, the celebration began for our parents and their friends and colleagues. So Ma once again was in the kitchen preparing more dishes or heating up dishes. We helped serve foods for Cha’s and Ma’s friends, this time with beer and liquor for Cha’s friends.

Chicken Kurma

Makes 7 to 8 servings

INGREDIENTS

3 to 4 tablespoons cooking oil, ghee, or butter

2-inch cinnamon stick

1 or 2 star anise

5 cardamom pods

2 cloves

1/2 cup sliced onions

Heaping 1/2 cup (3 ounces) diced tomatoes

2 pounds chicken (breast and/or drumsticks), cut into 1-inch pieces

Heaping 1 1/4 cups (7 ounces) peeled, quartered, or halved potatoes

1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk

1/2 heaping cup (3 ounces) sliced carrots (1-inch to 2-inch pieces)

1/2  teaspoon salt

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezedor bottled lime juice

Spice Paste

1/2 cup sliced shallots or onions

1/4 cup sliced garlic cloves

1 tablespoon sliced fresh ginger

2 to 5 fresh green chilies (jalapeno, Serrano, cayenne, or Thai), sliced

1/2 cup packed fresh mint leaves

1/2 cup packed coriander leaves (cilantro)

1/4 cup slivered almonds or unsalted cashews

1/4 cup water

Spice Blend

1 tablespoon ground cumin or cumin seeds

1 tablespoon ground or whole fennel seeds

1 teaspoon finely ground white pepper or white peppercorns

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander or coriander seeds

 

Chicken kurma has origins in the creamy, rich Mughlai korma dishes of North India that were brought to Kerala in the south by Muslims. In Kerala, coconut milk was substituted for the cream or yogurt used in North India. When Indian Muslim immigrants from South India came to Malaysia, many intermarried with Malay women and new curries were created. Chicken kurma is one of them. It is generally served for festive occasions.  learned to make a delicious kurma with Indian and Malay spicing from my sister-in-law Shanta. She fries the spices and spice paste in ghee (clarified butter), which gives her kurma a rich flavor. Whenever we visit her home, Shanta and her daughter Previna lay out a feast for us!

DIRECTIONS:

1. Process Spice Paste ingredients to a smooth paste. Set aside. If using whole spices for the Spice Blend, dry roast them, allow to cool, and then finely grind. (If using ground spices, combine all ingredients.) Set aside.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil or ghee in a wok or large skillet. Add cinnamon stick, star anise, cardamom, and cloves and fry for about 1/2 to 1 minute. Add onions and sauté for about 1 to 2 minutes.

3. Add the Spice Paste and 2 tablespoons oil or ghee and stir for about 4 minutes, till paste gets fragrant, adding more oil or ghee when needed. Add Spice Blend and sauté for about 1/2 minute, then add tomatoes and stir another 2 minutes.

4. Add chicken and stir for about 3 minutes and coat well with paste. Stir in 1/2 cup water and add potatoes and stir for 2 minutes.

5. Stir in coconut milk, cover, and cook for about 5 minutes. Uncover, add carrots and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, till chicken and potatoes are done, about 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in lime juice and cook for another minute.

6. Garnish with fried shallots or onions, mint or coriander leaves, and sliced chilies, if using.

Serve with cooked white or brown rice, yellow rice (page 118), or lime rice (page 122); and stir-fried mixed vegetables (page 224) or spicy curried pumpkin (page 225). Or serve as a dip for roti canai, roti jala, or other flatbreads with spicy sweet mixed vegetable acar (page 93).

Garnish

1/2 cup fried (see page 333 ) or sautéed shallots or onions

1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint or coriander leaves (cilantro)

Optional: 1 fresh red chile and 1 fresh green chile, slice in half lengthwise

 

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