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Fierce Foodie: Masala for a Rainy day


a blogumn by Roya Hamadani


indianbuffetIt’s been raining a lot over the past few weeks, and that sort of weather puts me in the mood for Indian food.  Last week I went alone to my favorite buffet in Pittsburgh three days in a row.  Chicken tikka masala and sag paneer are comfort food, my version of meatloaf and mashed potatoes.  Perhaps because the flavors are so close to those found in the Persian cuisine on which I was raised.  Apparently the Persians didn’t just steal jeweled thrones when they invaded India, they stopped to get a few cooking tips as well.


What really ties everything together in both Indian and Persian cuisines is the yogurt.  Served as mahst de khiar in Iran, raita in India, yogurt is a tangy flavor enhancer and basis of drinks such as dook and lassi.  Dook is a salty Persian yogurt drink flavored with mint and served over ice cubes.  My father loves this stuff, but I have to admit that I never really got on board with the whole salty refreshing drink thing.


Mango lassi is a pretty well known Indian drink, but a rosewater lassi seems very Persian to me.  In Iran, the celebration of spring is known as No Ruz, a kind of throwback to pre-Islamic times.  An assortment of extremely sweet cookies is made specifically for this holiday and they all taste of rosewater.  The variety is more in the texture in this case.


But I have to admit that much of what I enjoy about Indian restaurants is the preferential treatment I often get, as I look Indian even though I’m not.  Occasionally it materializes as free food, a discount, or even a marriage proposal, but more often it’s a warm, familial smile when I clean my plate.  It always makes my rainy day a little sunnier.


After the jump, here’s Chicken & Apricot Masala, my favorite masala recipe:

Chicken & Apricot Masala


Adapted from the New York Times


1 cup dried apricots

½ tsp chili powder

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

4 cloves

4 cardamom pods, lightly crushed

1 tbsp minced garlic

1 tbsp minced ginger

¼ cup peanut oil

1 cinnamon stick

2 onions, peeled and finely chopped

1 tsp salt

3 pounds boneless chicken thighs

4 medium tomatoes cut into ½ inch dice or a large can of diced tomatoes

3 tbsp chopped cilantro leaves


1. Soak apricots overnight in 2 cups cold water, or cover with 2 cups hot water and soak until swollen and softened, 2 to 3 hours.


2. Prepare masala: In a small bowl, combine chili powder, cumin, coriander, cloves, cardamom, garlic and ginger. Add 1/4 cup water, and stir to make a paste. Set aside.


3. In a large sauté pan over medium heat, heat oil and cinnamon stick. Add onions and salt, and sauté until onions begin to soften, 2 to 3 minutes. Add masala, and stir. Add chicken, and stir for about 5 minutes. Add apricots and their soaking liquid, diced tomatoes and ½ cup water.


4. Cover and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 30 minutes. Check cooking liquid about halfway through; if chicken is covered with liquid, remove cover for remainder of cooking. Transfer to a large bowl, sprinkle with cilantro and serve hot with rice.

. photo credit: legos+dream