Friday, July 17, 2009

Southern Comfort Food - A Different Perspective

Before you start imagining me going all Paula Deen on you (or on "y'all"), let me quickly tell you, that's not the "south" I'm referring to. Not that there's anything wrong with Paula. I think she's adorable, and her style of cooking is homey and looks pretty darn tootin' deeeelicious. I'd eat her meals anytime, because butter is my friend too. But no, my post today won't feature the cuisine of the Southern US states. Rather, this comforting concoction is native to South India.

I think my fascination with the food from this region is boundless. Over the years, I've picked up a few amazing recipes for South Indian style curries that I turn to time and again, because the mix of spicy/sweet/sour, fruity/savory flavors speak to my soul. Just like how I sometimes yearn for risotto or Pakistani nihari or a grilled cheese sandwich, sometimes a bowl of rice topped with a South Indian curry is exactly what I need to feel nourished and satisfied. I really wish I had a South Indian auntie (in India/Pakistan, we call every older female who isn't related to us as "auntie" - I think it's a respect thing) as my neighbor, who would send me samples of her cooking everyday! Still, the internet is a wonderful thing, and having blogger friends from South India is the next best thing.

I came across this recipe for Chicken Piralan on Varsha's blog, Will-O'-the-Wisp. Her stash of recipes is really amazing - her family is so damn lucky! It's a funny sounding name for the dish, but there's nothing funny about how it tastes, let me tell ya. And the smell ... oh man! It must be from when the fragrant mix of whole spices hits the hot oil, but it smells like a bouquet of exotic flowers to me. Even though it does make DH run around the house yelling "Light a candle or something, woman!" ... I happen to love it. Maybe I can give this dish a simpler name too. Any ideas?

Chicken Piralan (no idea what "piralan" means, but you can find the original recipe here)
Serves 4

Click here for printable recipe

Ingredients for marinade:
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
1.5 tsp red chilli powder
1.5 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp garam masala powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp white vinegar
1 tsp salt

For the curry:
3 tbsp canola/vegetable oil
4 cloves
4 cardamom
1 small cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
1 medium onion, diced
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp ginger paste
6-8 curry leaves
1-2 tomatoes, diced
1 large potato, peeled & chopped into bite-sized pieces (optional)
Cilantro, chopped, for garnish

Some of the fragrant spices that go into this dish.


1. Marinade the chicken pieces with the spice powders, salt and vinegar for about half an hour, at least. You could even do it overnight, if you had to.

Marination Domination.

2. Heat up the oil in a saucepan on medium, and drop in the cloves, cardamom, bay leaves, curry leaves and cinnamon stick, and let them perfume the oil for about a minute. Then add the chopped onions.

3. Saute the onions for about 5 mins, till golden brown.

4. Time now to add the ginger and garlic. Saute this for an additional minute.

5. Then add the chopped tomatoes. Turn the heat down to medium-low, cover the pot with its lid and let the tomatoes soften for about 5 mins, stirring once or twice.

6. Next, add the chicken pieces, cover the pot again and let them cook for an additional 5 mins. At this point, you can add the potatoes if you're using them. Add about 1/4 - 1/2 cup of water, close the lid, and let the whole mixture cook through (till chicken and potatoes are done) for about 15 mins, stirring occasionally. (I like to add a few more curry leaves here)

7. Here's the interesting step: once the chicken is cooked, heat up 1 tbsp of oil in a frying pan on high. Remove the chicken pieces from the saucepan with a pair of tongs, and put them in the hot frying pan. You want to sear the chicken pieces - give them some crusty edges - then put them back in the saucepan.
See the crusty, almost burnt edges? That's what you want!

8. Now check the gravy for enough salt. Also, you can turn up the heat and evaporate most of the liquid, if that's to your liking. I like mine with some gravy, but still fairly thick, because like Varsha says, it tastes great when soaked up by the rice. Turn off the heat, garnish with cilantro & serve.

Verdict: DH may not be a fan of his house smelling of onions and spices, but the man does love this curry. Pair it with some hot basmati rice and a side of daal, and we're both digging in to this like it's our last meal. I've tried this dish with a whole chicken cut into pieces, and chicken breast pieces as well, but the chicken thigh pieces are ideal for this, I think. They remain really tender, and don't toughen up like the breast pieces tend to. Also, the searing of the chicken towards the end gives it a surprising great flavor - a little smoky, like you grilled the chicken over the BBQ or something. Once again, I'm so glad to be a part of this food blogging world, where I can find recipes like this one. Now if only one of my South Indian friends could teach me how to make masala dosas at home (my ultimate, all-time favorite South Indian comfort food), I'd feel like a star!


Varsha Vipins said...

oh dear..yours look so pretty..n that last pic with gravy on top of rice is just killing..Thanks so very much for trying this out n putting here,am humbled n glad that you loved it..that twist of assing potatoes is nice..I love the gravy soaked potatoes n yeah..Masala dosa is ma fav too..I have an old post on can use store bought dosa batter n try the filling..

Kerstin said...

My mouth is watering, this looks absolutely amazing! Do you think it's ok to substitue ground spices in the curry or is it important to use the real deal? I have everything already to make this if you think that would work :)

Kristina said...

This sounds fabulous! I've got a couple of chickens in the freezer that I need to use so I may try this next week. Thank you!

Pooja said...

Aww looks so delicious! You have made my favourite dish..Slurrpp! This is a famous dish in our state. Heavenly combo with steamed rice :) And for learning how to make Masala Dosa you may watch these videos:
Hope this helps :)

Sophie Sportende Foodie said...

What a lovely yummie dish! I so digg it!

I just gave you 2 awards: please come over & pick them up,Muneeba!!

Jamie said...

Muneeba! I see that your move is finally done as is mine (I've been internetless for a couple of weeks). This dish looks truly amazing and delicious! I too love this kind of food. What I love about Indian food, is that once you have gathered and measured all the spices, the rest is pretty simple and the results are stupendous!

Cathy said...

Wow! I bet the smell while this cooked was outstanding! I'm bookmarking this to make when it cools down outside.

the twins said...

i love south indian food! i had never heard of it for a long time, but then i went to new york and they had tons of south indian restaurants there. it seems to be catching on back here in california now too. thanks so much for the great recipe!

Yasmeen said...

My kinda comfort food,rice and spicy chicken,yum

Parita said...

Looks mouth watering!

Foodiewife said...

I am learning to appreciate Indian food. I can almost visualize the fragrance of all these combos. My husband would LOVE this!

Muneeba said...

Thks Varsha, glad you approve!
Kerstin, hopefully you got my email with my answer to your query.
Kristina, go for it!
Pooja, thks so much for the links - I like that Vah Reh Vah chef .. perky little guy :)
Sophie, I'm flattered - thks my girl!
Jamie, how did you survive without the internet for weeks?!
Cathy, yeah definitely keep this recipe for a chilly day.
Twins, don't remind me of the abundance of south indian food in NY .. I miss it!!
Thks Yasmeen & Parita. Debby, this dish is a hubby-pleaser, for sure!

Yasmeen said...

Thank for asking about my son,Muneeba.He is relatively better now,still has a long way to go before he can enjoy his favorite summer activities.

Sweta (My Indian Dietitian) said...

Muneeba-you'll never learn if you never try it!!
I never tried making one back in India(the masala dosa)-but it turned out fine after a couple of times :) Just one little tip-the tava has to really,really HOT before you put the batter!
Make a video of your firs time ;) said...

I really thought u were gonna go all paula deen and harp on new orleans style chicken etc etc.Love the pics for each step. I do remember seeing this recipe on her blog.

Tim said...

With an Anglo Indian background and having never been to the USA, this is my kind of Southern food!

By the way, I love your suggestion of searing the chicken once it has already simmered. I'd never heard of it before but it makes so much sense!

Unknown said...

Always looking for new curries for my hubby dearest lol. :D

Kerstin said...

I made this last night and it was amazing! So delicious - thanks so much for the recipe :)

Muneeba said...

YAYYYYY ... that's good news Kerstin ... perked me right up!

Anonymous said...

Don't stop posting such themes. I love to read articles like this. By the way add some pics :)

Manju said...

I made chicken piralan from a cookbook yesterday and ws wondering what piralan is and was searching for it when i reached here through tastespotting. Love the pictures and love your blog too. Wish I had seen this earlier :)