Nisha, my daughter’s godmother, is an awesome cook! A mother of twins, Meghana and Joshua, she manages to make healthy homecooked meals for the kids in between their action packed daily schedules with schools, homework and various classes. And when she has some free time on her hand, she spends it in her new kitchen, experimenting with food. I am a big fan of her Thai -style baked Tilapia, Srilankan Eggplant Curry, a simple South Indian Coconut Rice and a couple varieties of Chicken curries. Today, she is sharing one of her family recipes – an authentic Chicken Varuval.
When Vasanti invited me to be a guest chef on her blog, I felt completely floored, honored and excited, all at the same time. The thought of adding to the fantastic array of recipes on her blog was indeed wonderful, though a tad bit overwhelming. So after racking my brain and trying in vain to come up with a “signature” recipe, I finally made that phone call to India seeking my mom’s advice, like I do whenever I am in a quandary. “Why don’t you try the Chicken Varuval recipe?” came my mom’s prompt reply. “But of course…. Now why hadn’t I thought of that?” I wondered…Thank God for moms!!
The Chicken Varuval recipe (Varuval means ‘to fry’ in Tamil, my native language) has been in my family for generations. My great grandmother is known to have been an expert in this dish. She apparently made this for many a special occasion and she probably learnt it from her mom. In fact, I am certain that this recipe is easily over 100 years old! It is one of those timeless, classic recipes that never fail to impress.
My family hails from a small coastal village situated at the southern most tip of India, bordering Kerala and Tamilnadu. The cuisine is unique to this area and has strong influences of both the southern states. My ancestral village is a place of beauty – gorgeous, serene, unspoilt beaches….lush paddy fields, green coconut groves intertwined with small bubbling streams of water….The place is truly magical and the culinary creations put together by the women in my family are absolutely delicious and a result of the ‘labor of love’ that they put in…
The Chicken Varuval recipe is a concoction of traditional spices, pearl onions and coconut with a hint of tamarind – the end result is a “signature” dish that is generations old and unique. I hope you will enjoy this as much as we do in our family…
1 lb chicken (about 4) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup of chopped small/pearl red onions (around 15 to 20 nos.)
¼ tsp mustard seeds
¼ tsp cumin seeds
a sprig of curry leaves
a small piece of tamarind – soak and extract juice
1 cup of freshly grated coconut (can substitute with store bought shredded coconut but fresh tastes better)
1 tsp of whole garam masala (a mixture of fennel seeds, cinnamon & cloves)
1 tsp of chilli powder
1 tsp of coriander powder
½ tsp of turmeric powder
A Handful of fresh cilantro/coriander leaves
2 or 3 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
½ piece of ginger, coarsely chopped
1 tsp of whole Black Pepper
½ tsp chilli powder
½ tsp coriander powder
½ tsp turmeric powder
Clean and wash the chicken thoroughly. Cut the chicken into small pieces.
In a food processor/blender/mixer, grind all the ingredients for the marinade to a fine paste. Marinate the cut pieces of chicken in a large mixing bowl, ensuring that the chicken is well coated with the marinade. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit in the refrigerator for atleast 1 hour.
Next grind the ingredients for the masala in a food processor/blender/mixer to a coarse consistency, adding some water. Remove this coconut masala to a bowl and mix in the tamarind extract along with ¼ cup water. Add salt. The consistency of the masala should now be a little watery. Keep this aside.
Heat oil in a large pan/kadai. Add the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, curry leaves and let it splutter. Then add the small/pearl onions and sauté them for a couple of minutes till they become translucent and light brown in color. Pearl onions browns very quickly. So take care not to burn. At this stage, add the marinated chicken and mix it well with the onions. Fry for a few minutes till the chicken changes color.
Now add the ground coconut masala and mix it well with the chicken. If more salt or chilli powder is needed, add according to your taste. Cover and cook for around 15 to 20 mins, stirring intermittently till the meat is well cooked. Then, open the lid and cook further by stirring continuously till most of the moisture evaporates and the gravy thickens to a semi dry state. Garnish with fresh coriander/cilantro leaves and serve hot with rice or rotis.