What kind of spice combination are you: Featuring Creamy Masala Aloo & Nyonya Chicken Curry Reci

When I started cooking, I followed recipes to a tee but didn't necessarily understand them. I didn't understand the role of each spice, aromatics, fats etc or when combined, what they could do. But over time, I learned how to manipulate them in different forms and heat application.

Today, I am sharing my favourite fundamental combination: Turmeric & Ginger.

Creamy Aloo Masala Recipe

Mustard Seed - 2 tsp

Curry Leaf - 2-3 sprigs

Ginger Paste - 1 tsp

Chili Paste - 1/2 tsp

Sweet Paprika - 1 tsp

Tomato Powder - 1 tsp

Cumin Powder - 1/4 tsp

Coriander Powder - 1/2 tsp

Onion Powder - 1 tsp

Garlic Powder - 1/2 tsp

Almond (10 pcs ) Cashew (5 pcs) - processed

Turmeric Powder - 2 pinches

Steps:

  • Cut potatoes into cubes

  • Bring water to a boil. Boil potatoes until you can drive a fork into it comfortably (make sure it's not too soft). Most importantly, salt the water

  • Fry chili paste until it releases its fragrance (naik bau). If you can't smell the wonderful fragrance, you probably need to increase the heat by a little or just wait for the current heat to work through it. Add a little water to sizzle it

  • Add a little sugar to the chili paste to caramelize as the chili paste is reducing, then add ginger paste

  • After a few stirs, while the pan is hot, quickly add mustard seeds followed by curry leaves

  • By now, the the oil should be very flavourful. Perfect timing to cook the almond cashew paste on medium heat

  • After a 2-3 mins, add all the powders, stirring in water to dilute the paste

  • Finally, add the potato cubes and coat it evenly with the paste

Savour the creamy, flamboyant aloo masala. Best of all, it's vegan!

Nyonya Chicken Curry Recipe

I've been told that Nyonya recipes are handed down by mothers and mothers-in-law who have an extreme case of Perfectionism.

True story: Someone I know, years back was helping her Nyonya mother-in-law prepare dinner. As she fulfilled her kitchen chores dutifully, her mother-in-law made a grand gesture of throwing bowls of cut vegetables into the garden. She was very upset with her daughters-in-law because the vegetables were not uniformed, so the mother-in-law discarded traces of imperfection away *nervous laughter*.

I've had the honour of eating Nyonya food prepared by her and I was struck by the symmetry and balance of all her dishes. It's so balanced, it's mathematical perfection.

She inspired me to create my version of Nyonya Chicken Curry. It is foremost an aromatic curry, with deep caramel flavours and an earthy base. For my own twist, I have intensified the base flavours by infusing it with my Indian chicken curry recipe.

Ok, here's the full recipe and will break down the recipe step-by-step.

Recipe for 7-8 pax:

4 chicken legs

Chicken Marinade:

  • Sweet Paprika - 2tbsp

  • Turmeric - 1 tbsp

  • Soy Sauce - 2 tbsp

  • Ginger Powder - 4 shakes to lightly coat

Ingredients:

  • White Onion - 4

  • Red Onion - 1

  • Almond - 12-15

  • Candlenut - 3 (Or can replace with cashew nuts)

  • Chili Paste - 1 tbsp

  • Ginger Paste - 1 tbsp

  • Fenugrek seed - 2 tbsp*

  • Cloves - 3-4*

  • Cinnamon - Break off a little bit of the bark*

*roast and pound into powder

  • Coriander Powder - 4 tbsp (generous scoop)

  • Cumin Powder - 2 tbsp (generous scoop)

  • Turmeric Powder - 1 tbsp

  • Pandan Leaf - 5 strips

  • Curry Leaf - 5-6 sprigs

  • Tomato - 2

  • Garlic Powder - 1 tsp

  • Sweet Paprika - 2 tbsp

  • Kashmiri Chili Powder - 1 tsp

  • Cardamom Powder - 2 tsp

Marinade chicken in soy sauce first, followed by sweet paprika, turmeric and ginger powder. The colours should coat all the chicken pieces.

Mix them and let it sit for 2-3 hours

Prepare around 12-15 almonds and 3 candlenuts. Blend into an even paste. (Alternatively you can use cashew nuts.)

Lightly toast fenugreek seeds, cloves and bits of cinnamon.

Pound or process the toasted ingredients into powder.

This is the start of the groundwork to create beautiful caramelized aroma.

Fry chili paste in medium to high heat.

Add a little water as the heat climbs and watch it sizzle. The chili paste will release its fragrance now. As the paste is reducing in the pan, add 1 tsp of sugar. That's all the sugar you need for this dish.

The role of the sugar here is not to make the dish sweet, ironically. It is to caramelize in the sizzling, fragrant chili paste. This will add to the aroma of the Nyonya Curry.

Now, add the ginger paste. We're building a fantastic chili base here with these core ingredients. Don't rush this process. Sir the ginger paste gently and allow the heat to cook and reduce the paste.

At this moment, you're probably thinking why I'm devoting so many photos to the chili paste. In my opinion, it's paramount to get the base right. Without the proper steps and right timing to cook the ingredients, the curry may not deliver the optimum aroma.

Continuing on, once the paste reduces, which indicates that the paste is at the right heat, slowly pour some water to softly sizzle and dilute the paste.

Now add tomatoes.

Tomatoes before the nut paste, don't forget.

I had once bungled this step up and discovered that I lost some taste because of it.

Let the tomatoes ooze its juices and integrate with the paste. Do Not add water.

The chili paste will continue to elevate in taste as it draws all the natural juices from the tomatoes.

When the tomatoes have softened in the heat, add nut paste.

This is where we need to pick up the pace.

Quickly stir in the nut paste and then in goes the curry leaves.

Add in all the powders.

Crank up the heat, stir and add water slowly to dilute into paste.

I transferred my paste into a deep casserole dish. This is not applicable to those that plan on using the same wok to fry the chili paste and cook the chicken pieces.

Add in onion paste and stir.

Add in pandan leaves.

In goes the chicken pieces.

Coat the pieces well.

When it's about 10 mins to being cooked, add in potatoes.

Don't be alarmed if the curry looks too diluted here. It's just the chicken releasing its juices and if you use a casserole pot like me here, you have to stir the curry diligently to avoid the bottom getting burnt.

(This is a picture of another time using wok to cook this dish)

The curry will slowly reduce.

Depending on what you like, you can either serve it as a light curry.

Or let it continue to rest and thicken.

So as I've detailed step-by-step, I have only used:

  1. ONE teaspoon of sugar for a 5-6 litre pot of curry

  2. Absolutely ZERO santan, yoghurt or milk (for those who want to skip these to cut calories)

  3. A grand total of ZERO curry powder (so we can brag that this is done from scratch ^^)

So unbelievable. What secrets am I hiding right?

Okay, don't be alarmed. I trimmed some skin and fats from the chicken legs. Instead of throwing them away, I rendered them in a half a teaspoon of oil, browned the chicken skin and wait for the fats to seep out.

That's the oil I used to fry the chili paste. Even after doing this, the Nyonya Chicken Curry does not have a layer of oil floating on top.

Parting Notes

  • Turmeric and Ginger are great partners. You can build on this partnership by adding chili paste or a nut paste to the mix.

  • To cook an aromatic curry, spend time to build up the base.

  • The result of Nyonya Chicken Curry is an aromatic, caramel curry. Some people may think that this is a sweet curry. No it's not, since I have only used one teaspoon of curry. The 'sweetish' taste is in fact coming from the caramel aroma contributed by the caramelized chili paste, pandan leaves and cardamom powder.

I hope you had fun reading this post. I enjoy sharing my recipes and cooking process with you. Let me know if these recipes worked out for you :)

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