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May 07, 2009

 

            Welcome back to the kitchen. I’m Isaac Kaplan-Woolner, and I’m a man who can relish in my mistakes. You see, I’m not one of those people who will tell you there are no mistakes in cooking. We’ve all tasted a terribly failed dish a one time or another that disproves that little maxim.

            But if you are working with good ingredients, and your tongue is good at thinking on its feet (we’ll leave that bizarre mental image aside and press on regardless), there are certain twists of fate in the kitchen that create a new dish far greater than the sum of its parts. These little miracles often result from necessity. You run out of some seemingly key ingredient or another, and you are forced to improvise.

            Other times, it is too much of a good thing that requires creative cooking. This week I found myself with a family pack of chicken, defrosted and needing to be used. Whenever possible, I love to make use of my favorite big old cast iron pan, and I love it anytime I can do a whole meal in this one perfect pot. Well seasoned cast iron, which has oils soaked into the iron to prevent rusting, will serve you well for years. And a world of recipes opens up because cast iron can move from stovetop directly into the oven.

            So, knowing I had to use a lot of chicken, I scanned my pantry for inspiration. I found myself staring at a recently acquired bag of small, green dried mung beans. Like lentils, mung beans have the convenient distinction of cooking quickly, even without soaking the dried legumes.

            With sweet onions, carrots, celery and garlic within reach, I grabbed a large can of crushed tomatoes to provide liquid for the dish that was forming in my mind. I also found myself drawn to my secret stash of authentic Indian garam masala (aka curry powder). This pungent, complex, and hot mix of spices goes great with lentils and beans, and adds a fiery life to any dish.

 

            So with all of these ingredients it appears I’ve got a bit of a mash-up on my hands. On the one hand, the trinity of carrots, onions, and celery combined with the garlic and tomatoes pulls my chicken towards an Italian cacciatore. On the other hand, the mung beans and curry leads the palate to Southeast Asia. But heck, I’ve got to cook something, and I’m determined to use what I’ve got.

            So this week we are cooking baked chicken caccia-curry! No, that is not the newest mutation of bird flu. It’s just a happy accident born of necessity. This simple, baked chicken curry stew is hearty and surprisingly delicious. Give it a try and see how the pitfalls of your pantry change the recipe yet again.

 

For this baked chicken caccia-curry we’ll need:

 

-3-4 pounds chicken thighs, bone-in (or use a whole small chicken, butchered and separated)

-2 onions, sliced into thin strips

-2 carrots, chopped into bite sized pieces

-2-3 ribs of celery, chopped

-1 large potato, diced into small pieces (optional)

-6 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

-2 cups mung beans or lentils

-1/4 cup flour

-1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves

-1 large can crushed stewed tomatoes, including liquid

-4 teaspoons garam masala/curry powder (more or less depending on how much spice you like)

-1 pinch each mustard seeds and coriander seeds

-2 cups chicken or vegetable stock (or substitute up to half white wine or vermouth)

-salt and fresh ground black pepper

-dash of cinnamon

-2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

-2 tablespoons olive oil

 

Method:

 

            First, let’s preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Start rolling the chicken pieces in the flour, shaking off the excess. Heat up the oil in the cast iron pot over a medium to medium-high heat. When the oil is nice and hot, allow the chicken pieces to brown a bit on each side, just for a minute or two. Remove the browned chicken from the pot and set aside.

            Toss in the pinches of mustard and coriander seeds, and maybe even a small dash of cumin seeds as well. When the seeds splutter and crack open, add the onions and allow them to brown in the hot oil for a few minutes before stirring and adding in the carrots, celery, potato, and garlic. Saute the veggies on medium for about 5-8 minutes, until they start to soften a bit. Add the mung beans and stir again.

            Now add back the chicken pieces, settling them in among the veggies and beans. Pour on the chicken stock or veggie broth, enough so it comes up about ¾ of the way up the sides of the chicken. Liberally sprinkle the chicken with the curry powder, making sure each piece gets a good coating. Follow up with a sprinkling of sweet-spicy cinnamon. Also add ¼ teaspoon salt and a grind of black pepper over everything.

            Top off the chicken with the stewed crushed tomatoes, so the whole dish is covered with a layer of tomatoes. Finish off the strata with a sprinkling of the chopped cilantro and a little drizzling of balsamic vinegar. The vinegar will add a nice, dark sweetness to the dish, much like wine.

            Put a top on over the cast iron pot or use a sheet of aluminum foil, to seal in the moisture in the oven. This baby looks ready to go, so we’ll let ‘er bake for about an hour and 15 minutes to an hour and a half. I recommend laying a piece of aluminum foil on the rack below the pot as well, to catch liquids that may come bubbling over. This will make cleanup easier down the road.

 

            So now that this chicken curry dish has baked for well over an hour, let’s pull it out and take a look. The smell is delicious, and the chicken is really fall off the bone tender because we sealed in the juices early on by sautéing it. But the real test of this dish is the mung beans, which have absorbed a lot of the liquids. Are they tender? If not, throw the whole thing back in to bake for another 15 minutes or so with the top on tight.

            This awesome chicken curry and mung bean stew is spicy and sweet, exotic yet comforting. While I didn’t exactly know what I was cooking the first time I tried this dish, I’m very happy with what we’ve created. Just serve over basmati rice or quinoa and maybe a side of sautéed greens with citrus, and you have a perfect dinner.

            I’d love to hear what happy accidents are occurring in your kitchen. Let me know what you are cooking these days by joining us online at www.kohoradio.com. Cooking local in the KOHO kitchen, I’m Isaac Kaplan-Woolner.

 

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