As you’ve probably noticed, there hadn’t been much in the way of cooking in the Thirsty Nerd household in the past, uh, two plus years.
As a ridiculously Type-A personality, I always strive to stick to my platonic ideals. Unfortunately, the rest of 2015 starting around July-ish through the, well, all of 2016 didn’t leave much time to do the kind of cooking I had promised when I started Thirsty Nerd. On my part, there were crises of graduate school dissertation topic which swiftly led to changes in doctoral research adviser on my part (if you’re wondering, “isn’t that a bit drastic?”–you’re absolutely right: it really doesn’t get more traumatic than switching research advisers as a fourth-year in graduate school, when most of your peers are putting the finishing touches on their dissertations), and, more broadly, a complete change in dissertation field and topic, resulting directly in much catch-up in the form of classes, in turn resulting quite swiftly in countless bouts of stress and tears of oh-my-god-how-can-I-ever-make-up-for-lost-time-in-this-field-I’ve-suddenly-decided-to-switch-into. On Kevin’s part, there were crises of potential career trajectory, and…well that was really it for him, but it was searing nonetheless. On both of our parts, there were countless periods of ennui and mild illness (seasonal, nothing serious, but there was one particularly irritating cold during which I fractured a couple ribs in an ill-timed coughing fit). Oh, plus, The Rains of California Winter 2017 did nothing to help my seasonally affected mood.
Of course, it wasn’t all bad. Early 2016 saw Kevin’s first forays into bread-baking and, surprisingly, learning how to cook Sichuan food (surprising given his very midwestern, rather bland–yet tasty and healthy–background). Mid-to-late 2016 introduced me to three new hobbies: singing in a community chorus, joining a performance dance troupe, and picking up cross-stitching. I also at some point during this time experienced popping boba for the first time in my life, but, um, now that I think about it that’s neither here nor there–just a new small pleasure that’s a pretty instant pick-me-up. Anyhow: there were also copious amounts of much-missed, much-appreciated travel: we discovered the delights of Las Vegas in the winter, the terror of being ill-prepared for a strenuous hike in Yosemite, the peace and beauty of a Narnial sequoia grove in late winter, plus the charms of old-world Japan. In the summers, we discovered the pleasures of grilling in our backyard with friends late into warm, cricket-serenaded dusks. And speaking of friends, throughout the year’s ups and downs we had the wonderful fortune of making many new friends, while also strengthening existing frienships.
I’m posting now not because we’ve finally managed to scrounge together the time to cook and troubleshoot something elaborate and strenuous, but because I’ve decided that it’s time to emphasize the other half of the blog premise, you know, the second part of the third sentence in the third paragraph of my “About” page that claims that the blog will feature “…recipes that we would feed you in person.” It’s finally time to make good on that half of that sentence, and to start introducing the entire stable of workhorse recipes that we added to our culinary repertoire during these past two hectic years.
We’ll start with a celebrity recipe: chicken korma by Fatima Ansari, mother of the well-known comedian Aziz Ansari. I must confess that this is the first recipe that seized me with an urge to write fan mail; not actually to praise Aziz for his genius, but rather to petition for more of his mother’s recipes. Alas, I could not find a reliable repository for addressing fan mail, but perhaps the letter draft will entice you to make this dish soon:
You probably hear this all the time, but you’re pretty awesome. Granted, this opinion of mine is founded on only approximately 1.013 data points–Season 1 on Master of None, and the Kindle preview of your book Modern Romance (I’m dreadfully sorry, but I could never really get into Parks and Rec, and many of your other characters remind me uncomfortably of an acquaintance who is a self-proclaimed psychopath). Despite the small amount of data and despite the risk of sounding like every single other sycophant out there, I do want you to know that I marvel at your ability to sum up the travails of every 21st-century twenty- and thirty-something, especially those who are insecure, saddled with extra doses of immigrant parent guilt, and have an obsession with optimizing lunch choices on Yelp. Keep up the good work.
This next part you probably hear only some of the time, but this is the meat of why I’m writing to you: your mom’s pretty awesome. No, not in a playground joke kind of way–in a culinary way. I somehow stumbled across her recipe for Chicken Korma in Lucky Peach magazine. Always a sucker for a good story, I was charmed by her offhand comment that “[this recipe] is one of Aziz’s favorite dishes, I would say,” plus her adorable recipe instruction to let the chicken cook until “it [smells] awesome with all of the spices.” The recipe sat, magneted to our refrigerator for months, until a couple weeks ago when I finally decided that we should frickin’ make Mrs. Ansari’s frickin’ chicken korma because we never cook Indian food. We finally got around to cooking it tonight and boy, was it a surprise. I hope this doesn’t come across as offensive to the entire subcontinent and its myriad and countless cuisines, but Indian food never struck me as refreshing. Yes it’s generally among the most mindblowing of ethnic cuisines, yes it’s ridiculously flavorful and wonderfully variable given the multitude of ethnic groups in India, yes “it illuminates the mind and dazzles [the senses],” but it is never what I’d reach for when I want to taste freshness and spring on my tongue. That is, until I tried your mom’s chicken korma recipe. Something about the simplicity of ingredients (only four types of spices! Only 14 ingredients total!) made it incredibly alluring–but in a tangy, sprightly way, not in the usual dark, earthy way that I have come to expect from my limited exposure to Indian food.
In desperation for more of this kind of food, I looked up other Tamil (I’m not being creepy–Wikipedia has a small blurb on your heritage!) recipes and cross-referenced their chicken korma recipes against your mother’s. Disappointingly, none were as simple as your mother’s. As a result, I am convinced that this dazzling flavor profile is unique to Mrs. Ansari’s culinary repository. This is shockingly forward, but might we have more? Could she be convinced to publish a cookbook? Could I offer my own family’s recipes in exchange? Please let me know what could work for you.
I will admit that I changed the recipe slightly without thinking: I ended up using twice the amount of marinade as compared to the original
recipe article (Lucky Peach no longer seems to have the recipe up, but still has the very sweet piece Aziz wrote about his mom) since I had purchased only one pound of chicken, thinking that it didn’t matter if the marinade was doubled since it wouldn’t get cooked, but didn’t realize that given its high viscosity, the entire marinade ends up getting cooked. As a result, I’m not sure that the flavor profile I enjoyed so much is exactly that of Mrs. Ansari’s original recipe (perhaps it’s a good thing that 1) I’m too shy to post to celebrities on Twitter, and 2) I can’t seem to find an accurate fan mail address for Aziz and blather about loving the recipe that’s not quite his mom’s). The recipe below reflects our changes and notes, but I still highly recommend you find a copy of the original (floating around the internet) to enjoy Mrs. Ansari’s recipe notes.
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp turmeric powder
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 C plain Greek yogurt
1 1-inch piece ginger, minced
1 T vegetable oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 jalapenos, seeded if desired
1/2 tsp garam masala
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground fennel
1/4 C cashews
1/4 C cilantro leaves, stems removed
- In a large bowl or plastic bag, combine the chicken pieces, salt, pepper, turmeric, ginger, garlic and yogurt. Marinate in the refrigerator overnight.
- When you are ready to cook, heat the oil in a dutch oven over medium heat. Saute the onion and chilies with the garam masala until fragrant and brown, about 10 minutes. Add the marinated chicken, and fry for about 10 minutes.
- In the meantime, place the coriander, fennel, cashews and cilantro in a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse sand. Add this mixture to the chicken and cover the pan. Simmer, stirring occasinally, until the chicken is cooked through, about 40 minutes. You will see the oil rise to the top of the mixture.
Notes: Using non-Greek plain yogurt will result in a more moist and less viscous korma, but results in a less pleasingly tangy dish.