my father recently texted me a photo of a dish he’d made, nigella lawson’s mughlai chicken. apparently he read in a hospital waiting room magazine that it was one of taylor swift’s favorite dishes.
that’s when you know a famous person has becomes a true household name: when your 60-year-old father is texting you midday something he learned about said celebrity while killing time in the waiting room of a hospital.
anyways, reading over the recipe reminded me of a dish I used to enjoy making a few years back but hadn’t done for a long long while, meera sodha’s pistachio and yogurt chicken curry, or pista nu murghi. turns out I got déjà vu because both recipes are pulled from mughlai cuisine, the food of the medieval mughal empire.
the mughal empire spanned two prosperous, culturally definitive centuries before declining rapidly in the early 1700s and fading out with a whimper in the 1850s at the hands of the rapacious british east india company. these days, a friend of mine informed me, young people in the cities don’t even learn hindi and instead have english as a first language. in fact, he was a bit offended when I assumed he spoke hindi because he was born in delhi and lived there until moving to the us for graduate school – I still don’t think that’s a crazy assumption to make! then again, I guess it’s like how my cousins who grew up in hong kong speak perfect continental english but not much cantonese (as we learned during one unfortunate taxi ride that cost us too much money and dumped us unceremoniously on the wrong side of the island).
I’ve always wanted to be fluent in my mother tongue, but in the absence of language, I’ve found other ways to honor my heritage, largely through food. and I suppose my friend has made his own peace as well – he may not be fluent in hindi, but he sure makes a mean chana masala.
makes 4 servings
2-in piece ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
3 tbsp canola oil
2 large onions, sliced into fine rings
2 large ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 tbsp coriander seeds, crushed
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1 3/4-in cinnamon stick or 1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
1 3/4 lb skinless, boneless chicken thighs, chopped into 3/4-in cubes
1 cup hot chicken stock
4 tbsp greek yogurt (plus more to serve)
juice of 1/2 lemon
meera sodha. made in india. new york: flatiron books, 2015.
2 in a wide-bottomed, lidded frying pan, heat oil over medium heat and when hot, add onions. fry until caramelized (~20 minutes). add garlic and ginger paste and stir-fry for 3-4 minutes before adding tomatoes.
3 cover with lid and let tomatoes cook until they start to break down (~ 5 minutes). add black pepper, garam masala, chili powder, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, and salt. stir, then add chicken pieces to the pan.
4 turn chicken so that the exterior on all sides cooks, then add ground pistachios. stir-fry for another minute, then pour in chicken stock. lightly whisk yogurt with fork, then stir into pan. cover with lid and cook until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (~15 minutes). taste and adjust to taste.
5 serve with a dollop of yogurt, chopped pistachios, and a squeeze of lemon juice. eat with a bowl of basmati rice or some naan (or both!).