UPDATE 26 January 2012: My cilantro plants are taking over my herb garden this year thanks to the winter rain. It was time to make this dish again and update the photos.
I’ve managed to amass a stack of chicken recipes, most of which are from Food and Wine’s last several issues, and I decided to start working through them last night. Up first was this green chicken masala which was one of their simplified versions of a chef’s dish. It comes from Chef Vikram Sunderam of Rasika in Washington, DC. Apparently, the only simplification was to add the spices all at once rather than a little at a time as the dish cooks. Chicken breasts or thighs would work, but I had boneless breasts in the freezer so they won.
The first ingredient in the list is two cups of cilantro leaves. I have to beam with pride for just a moment because my cantankerous, little herb garden had actually produced enough cilantro for this use. The winter herbs like parsley and cilantro do perform better for me than their summer counterparts, but they're not all that prolific in my garden. However, we’d just had some rain this week, so the resulting explosion of cilantro leaves was a surprising sight. There’s a strange sense of luxury about clipping rain-washed and sun-dried, fresh herbs because since I don’t use any sprays or chemicals, they didn’t require any rinsing once I got them inside. They were already clean and dry and easier to handle that way. Odd things like that do make me happy. Mint, on the other hand, I don’t seem able to grow despite the fact that it’s treated as an almost invasive species in most gardens.
Along with the big mound of cilantro leaves, store-bought mint, jalapeno, garlic, lemon, and water were pureed until smooth. Meanwhile, chopped onion was sauteed before turmeric and chicken were added. Cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves joined the mixture in the pan, and then the cilantro puree and coconut milk were added. The bright green color faded a bit as the sauce reduced and thickened, but the many delicious flavors got better and better. Next time, I may use a hotter chile, like serrano, instead of jalapeno, but that’s a very minor grievance. I have to explain that I’m not at all an experienced cook of Indian cuisine, so the melding of all of these spices and herbs into the finished sauce was kind of like a magic trick that I just happened to perform. It all came together wonderfully, and this one is going in the permanent file.