Tuesday, September 2, 2014

"Hiraeth" and a Homely Chicken Curry

My Instagram page says that I discovered the word “Hiraeth” 23 weeks ago. After almost 20yrs of searching for a word I did not even know existed, I finally feel a strange relief, a satisfaction... the kind of satisfaction that comes not from getting a  void filled, but from just knowing that that void is real.

Hiraeth… When the home you grew up in becomes a palace in your memories, when childhood escapades take on the epic feel of fairy tales, when the daily grind of that distant past seems imbued with a golden glow… That is my kind of Hiraeth, a homesickness that no home can ease.
If you, like me, love to live in your past, then this word might just be for you. Try it on for size. Say it in your head first. Then taste it on your tongue. Take that H from a long-held sigh, roll that R with a mild sense of impatience, and then, end it on the deep, warm sound of TH. The cozy way the word “hearth” ends. Hiraeth.  

And when the memories flood your eyes and nose and mind (because my memories sure have a fragrance)… Just reach for those familiar childhood ingredients and cook something new. Old-as-time earthy ingredients each of which remind you of home, made into a dish that brings alive the flavour of sunshine and cycles, bougainvilleas and bees, stone floors and steel plates, jasmine strands and juicy pickles…

That’s what I did. Bay leaves for that sweet, earthy fragrance of childhood, curry leaves and coconut for all mom’s Sunday Special meals, poppy seeds or “posto” that flavour my East Indian upbringing… And the new – some Goan chicken masala, vinegar and soy to add the sourness of adulthood.


Chicken on the bone – 1 kg
Shallots – ½ cup peeled
Bay leaves – 2
Cardamom whole – 2
Cloves whole – 3 to 4
Curry leaves – 10 to 12
Green chillies – 5 to 6 (As per your spice threshold)
Shredded fresh coconut – 2 tbsp (Or use dried coconut pieces)
Garlic cloves – 5
Poppy seeds – 1 tbsp
Vinegar – 1 tsp
Soy sauce – 1 tsp
Goan Chicken Roast Masala (optional – I used it just because I had it) – 2 tsp
Salt – as per taste
Oil/Ghee – 1 tbsp

Wash and clean the chicken and set aside. You can also marinate it in some lemon juice, turmeric and ginger-garlic paste, but it’s not really necessary.
In a small pan, dry roast the garlic cloves and poppy seeds. Keep turning the cloves till they are evenly and lightly browned on all sides, and the poppy seeds start to splutter. Now add the shredded coconut and toss till the whole mixture is lightly toasted. Transfer into a mixer jar and add the shallots. Blitz into a coarse paste.
In a non-stick pan or vessel, heat the oil/ghee. Add the cardamoms, cloves, bay leaves and green chillies. When the spices start to pop, add the curry leaves and stir. Now add the shallot-garlic-coconut-poppy seed paste and cook for 5-10 minutes till the onions are cooked and stop smelling raw. Sprinkle in a teaspoon of salt.
Add the chicken into the pan and mix well till its coated with the entire masala. Now sprinkle the Goan masala or any garam masala of your choice. You can also choose to skip this step, or just go with regular cumin/coriander powder.
Cover the pan and let it cook for 15-20min on low heat or till the chicken is cooked through. Add the vinegar and soy sauce, check seasoning and mix well. Turn off heat and the throw-everything-in chicken curry is ready.

The way I like it:
If the masala is sticking to the vessel, then add a little water, but don’t thin it out too much. It should have a robust, thick gravy – like a cross between an traditional curry and a pan-roasted chicken fry. Tastes great with both rotis and rice. This recipe is neither fully South-Indian nor East Indian nor Goan. It’s a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Just like all of us…

Now tell me, what would your Hiraeth-inspired dish be? What ingredients make you feel nostalgic?