Friday, July 4, 2008

TNS: Chicken Stew with Potatoes from Curried Flavors

The third of July was our wedding anniversary. It was also the day that we arrived home from an alternate universe filled with sadness, stress and a funeral. Of that time, I can only say that:

On Nuns:
  • No matter your feelings about Catholicism, know that the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur are a wonderful order full of incredible women.
  • If you are ever invited to a party or funeral at a convent, accept it. You will not be sorry.
On Others:
  • If you don't accept people for who they are, or else learn to ignore what they are, you will have a life of stress and indigestion.
  • The best way to deal with crazy mean people is to remain empathetic. Short of that, as soon as they begin to speak, stop listening. If you say something stupid in response like "That's kinda mean," expect serious ramifications.

On our day-long drive back from the in-laws, I had a vague plan to make an anniversary dinner for my husband from my mother-in-law's "To the Bride" book published during the Eisenhower-era. According the book's inscription, this was a gift to her from a certain Carol who had helped her with her bridal registry. Along with lovely end-paper festooned with doves and hearts, you learn useful things like "if you keep your job for a year or two after marriage, generally you will operate on a very quick dinner schedule." I figured this would be a wonderful, patriotic, retro, even hilarious, Thursday Night Smackdown for Michelle's first ever round-up. What is more all-American than Snappy Cheese Spread, Chicken Chow Mein with Special K, Peach Cream Cakes and Chase & Sanborn Iced Coffee. (Well, Iced Coffee, anyway.)

Alas, when I got home, I couldn't bear running out to buy Special K. This was not snobbery; I have been known to love cornflake chicken. But, I had spent so many days recently eating this brand of Americana, I really wanted something more flavorful.

Where my snobbery really sets in is Indian food, thanks to ethnicity and breeding. That said, I collect Indian cookbooks; I own a dozen, easy. My husband is fairly confident there is no reason for this, because I have cooked from them less than half a dozen times. I like to read them as novels. A few of these books are probably quite authentic. Some are fast, updated Indian. A homemade Indian meal, with two to three vegetables, rice and bread is the sort of endeavor that keeps women in the kitchen for the better (or worse) part of the day. With very little time for dinner, and exhaustion setting in, I went with one of those fast cookbook, Curried Flavors by Maya Kaimal.

How did I choose a recipe to add to the soon-to-be venerated Thursday Night Smackdown event? I opened the book to Chicken Stew with Potatoes. As I had all the ingredients on hand, clearly it was fated. The recipe was extremely straight-forward; though interestingly enough it required more chopping than the "To The Bride" Cookbook, aimed at women whose work was at home. The basic sketch of the recipe is this: brown chunks of chicken and then simmer in coconut milk and vinegar, sautee some onions and potatoes, boil all together, and then finish with more coconut milk.

The recipe called for curry leaves or bay leaves. I had no curry leaves because there is presently an embargo of these from any location outside the Continental US. My grocer tells me it is because the Man says curry leaves are used to mask marjianna by drug smugglers; but my aunt tells me it has something to do with some pernicious pest that could affect American crops. Which is it? Insects dressed as drug smugglers? Never mind. Presently, curry leaves are but a distant memory, so I couldn't even begin to describe their taste. Suffice it to say, these leaves are essential to the South Indian cook, elevating mundane lentils into perfection. They are very different than bay leaves.

The bay leaf substitution Chicken Stew is to a rich South Indian curry leaf Chicken Stew as the "To the Bride" Chicken Chow Mein is to any Chicken dish made in mainland China. None of these dishes are inherently bad; you just have to accept them for what they are. It would have been amazing with curry leaves. (They are trickling back to the market from Floridian sources.) With bay, it is very enjoyable. If I made it again, I would add carrots and kohlrabi to make it more varied in terms of appearance and taste. I might use bay or if I was lucky I would use curry leaves. Otherwise, the recipe seemed right on.

(NB)As a rule, I do not republish recipes here from printed sources unless I have made extensive changes; and because I love to follow rules, and the rules of TNS is to follow the recipe..wait, what was I saying, right, please check the book out from the library.


Anonymous said...

Looks yummy to me!

What's Cookin Chicago said...

Great job and looks delicious!

Anonymous said...

That looks and sounds delicious. I am going to have to get that book from the library. I'm getting hungry just reading this.