Today we visit the continent of Africa, specifically East Africa. I (Matt) really enjoy the food of the Middle East and as I came across a version of masala, I knew it was something I wanted to do. And as I learned Masala varies from region to region, within Africa and other middle east countries. I have had it before in an Indian restaurant but I never thought to make it. I always thought it would be too hard or laborious. As Rachel and I discussed possible dinner options, I have wanted to do this dish for a while but I still thought it would be a very long meal to make. I can imagine that it can be, but this was actually very simple and very quick.
This recipe comes from acclaimed chef (and a personal favorite of mine), Marcus Samuelsson. We actually came across a book of his, The Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Foods and Flavors of Africa, in our local library and we both knew we had to get it. As part of my cooking challenge, I thought this would be no better way than to tackle a continent and do it with recipes from a master chef. (Quick note on the book, it is actually very informative with the different cooking cultures of Africa. I never knew there was so much diversity and richness in flavors. He divided it up into 4 regions but even within some regions, styles and ingredients still differ dramatically. This is actually a wonderful read about an orphaned boy being adopted and having an incredible story).
Anyways, back to the reason we are here, the recipe for this week is Chicken Masala with rice. Here is the recipe for the masala:
½ C. plus 2 T. olive oil
one 3-inch piece ginger, peeled and grated
4 garlic cloves, minced
8 jalepeno chilies, seeds and ribs removed, chopped
1 t. cardamom seeds
1 t. ground turmeric
1 t. coriander seeds
2 T. white wine vinegar
Heat 2 T. of the olive oil in a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Add the ginger, garlic, and jalepenos and sauté until the garlic is golden, about 4 minutes. Add the cardamom, turmeric, and coriander, and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat.
Transfer to a blender, add the white wine vinegar, and blend well to combine. With the blender running on low speed, add the remaining ½ C. oil in a thin steady stream, blending until well combined. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 3 weeks. Makes 1 Cup.
A couple of things to note here. Obviously, be careful with the turmeric as it will stain things quickly and you will get an interesting yellow stain on your counters. We also decided not to buy cardamom because of the expense of it. While it is a taste in its own right, I found a substitute that worked out just fine for our purposes. The recipe calls for one teaspoon of cardamom, but we used a half-teaspoon of cinnamon and a half-teaspoon of nutmeg. Mix it as best you can before putting it into the pan with the other spices. Also, the coriander adds an interesting crunchy texture but can easily get stuck in the teeth. Finally, “mise en place” (French, pronounced [miz on plas], literally “putting in place”) is really important in this recipe. Obviously it is important in most but especially here with spices being sautéed and a quick cook time. I made the mistake of not having everything ready like I should and the ginger, garlic and jalapeño mixture cooked a little longer than it should. It still came out great, but would have been a bit better had I properly had everything prepared.
So what we decided to do is after the masala mixture was done, we incorporated the masala into sautéed chicken hoping to get some of that flavor infused into the chicken. (Note: I am not sure if this is the correct or truest way to do this but we put our own spin on it. I also can see why some prefer to put this sauce on a bed of rice with chicken laid on top of it but this was just our version.) Let the chicken and the masala simmer for a few minutes and occasionally stir. We covered the pan while we did this but if you don’t have a cover readily available, it will work just fine.
Once that is done, serve over a bed of rice and enjoy.
Results: I can say that neither of us really knew what to expect by this. We hoped it would be good but we were pleasantly surprised when it exceeded our expectations. It was so full of flavor and richness. As we ate more of it, it didn’t become one note. The flavors continued to build and continued to come through. There was a slight note of jalapeño, and then you could pick up some lovely ginger and garlic. This is something we will definitely make again and look forward to more recipes like this.
Channeling Marcus Samuelsson,
Matt & Rachel