My first taste of Indian food was in Kansas City. For weeks I had seen the meager beginnings of the new place. The workmen coming and going; paint gracing the walls; a brightly colored awning; and finally tables and chairs with fluttering umbrellas for warmer nights.
I drove past it for too long before I made the decision to stop in. Being new to Indian cuisine, I ordered it take away, afraid I wouldn’t like it in front of everyone. During the drive home, the sweet, smokey, spicy, garlicky aroma filled the car as I snuck a bite of garlic naan at a stoplight. I tore into it the moment my apartment door closed behind me and I’m sad to say the meal was gone in only a few minutes. I was hooked.
I stopped at that little Indian restaurant almost weekly during my time in Kansas City. And while I attempted to try new things, I inevitably sought out specific dishes: saag paneer, tandoori chicken, chicken korma, garlic naan.
They were my comfort foods. I turned to them when things were difficult at work or I was overwhelmed with school. They were warm and spicy; rich and creamy; exotic, yet familiar.
And, yes, I realize this recipe isn’t exactly Indian. It’s a mash of Southeast Asian flavors, spices, and techniques.
However, it takes me back to those days in Kansas City, hours from my family, when all I wanted was something familiar. Or to Uganda, where the growing Indian population melded with traditional Ugandan foods in the most remarkable ways. Spiced potato and cowpea samosas sold road-side. Fried egg, shaved cabbage, and sliced tomato snugly rolled in hot chapati hawked from every street corner, day or night.
It’s familiar and comforting. Warm and spiced in all the right places. And it makes the house smell divine.
6 chicken thighs
4 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder (or less if you’re sensitive to spice)
1 Tablespoon canola oil
5 garlic cloves, minced
3 Tablespoon peeled fresh ginger, minced (about one 3-inch piece)
1 medium yellow onion, diced small
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups basmati rice, picked through for stones and bad grains
1 can (13.5 ounces) unsweetened light coconut milk
Fresh cilantro or parsley leaves, roughly chopped, for serving
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F, with the rack in the lower third. In a large bowl, toss the chicken thighs with the curry powder, cayenne, and salt. Use a spoon if possible, as the curry powder has a tenancy to stain hands.
In a large dutch oven, heat 2 teaspoons oil over medium-high heat. In batches if needed, cook the chicken until browned on all sides. Transfer the chicken to a large plate and set aside.
Reduce the heat to medium and add 1 teaspoon each of salt and oil, all of the garlic, ginger, and onion. Cook, stirring and scraping the bottom with a wooden spoon frequently, until the onion is translucent. Stir in the tomato paste and cook one minute more. Add the rice, coconut milk, and two cups of water. Stir to combine and bring to a boil.
Arrange the browned chicken on top and cover the pot. Transfer to the oven and bake until the chicken is cooked through an the liquid is absorbed, about 20-30 minutes. Sprinkle with the cilantro or parsley and serve hot.