Greetings from San Francisco! My wonderful husband gave me a trip, sans children, to see my best friend from high school in Paolo Alto/San Francisco. So far I have had an amazing pandan waffle from a Vietnamese food truck (made with pandanus leaf), a stellar hamburger from Zuni Cafe, chocolate ice cream with smoked sea salt from Humphrey Slocumbe, and an incredible meal at Lers Ros where I got to try things I regretted not trying in Thailand, such as som tom with raw crab, som tom with salted eggs, and an amazing Thai soup with pork entrails and preserved mustard. Yes, in case you didn’t already know, my vacations almost always focus on food.
Almost as exciting as all that food was a visit to Omnivore Books, an independent San Francisco bookstore that only sells cookbooks–rare, imported, best sellers, etc. I could have spent a fortune in there, without blinking. Australian cookbook authors, in particular, I have discovered, are sadly underrepresented on our bookshelves, especially for someone who enjoys Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines. My husband will appreciate my restraint, but I will be thinking longingly for some time to come of all of the books I passed by (I did get some, don’t worry!).
So while I am off enjoying the California weather (weirdly, only a little warmer than Ohio right now but I’ll take it), I do have some dishes lined up to share with you. This first is adapted from Bal Arneson’s No Butter Chicken, her healthier answer to traditional Indian Butter Chicken. My addition of greens gave it a saag flavor, marrying the best of saag curries to the best of tikka masala type curries. It tastes decadent, but thanks to her use of tomato paste and low fat yogurt, it is actually not unhealthy at all (and if you want it even more healthy, follow her lead and use chicken breast instead of thighs). If you like the style of Indian food served in most American restaurants, you will love this. I am so impressed by this dish, that I currently plan to cook it for my hosts here in California–which is more nerve wracking than it sounds since my friend’s husband is Indian!
One quick note about the pictures–some of them have a homemade (not very pretty I admit) chutney served on top of them. I made it with rhubarb, pineapple and raisins, but any sweet and sour chutney would taste great on this dish.
- 2 T vegetable oil
- 1 t mustard seeds
- 1 1/2 t cumin seeds
- 2 large onions
- 2 T garlic
- 2 T ginger
- 1/2 t turmeric
- 1/2 t paprika
- 1 1/2 T double strength tomato paste
- 1 T brown sugar
- 2 t garam masala
- 2 slender zucchini, diced
- 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken, cut into bite sized pieces (I used dark meat)
- 1/2 cup low fat sour cream or Greek style yogurt
- 1 10-oz box frozen spinach, thawed (do not bother squeezing dry)
- 1 cup chopped cilantro
- 1 t garam maslala, to taste
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add the mustard seeds and cover the pot while they pop. When the popping slows down, add the cumin seeds and cook until fragrant and darkened, about 30 seconds. Add the onions with a pinch of salt. Let the onions cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.
Add the ginger, garlic, turmeric, paprika and tomato paste. Mix into the onions and let them cook--if they seem like they might burn or scorch, add a splash of water. Cook another 3 minutes.
Add the brown sugar, 2 teaspoons garam masala, zucchini and chicken and mix them into the onions. Mix in the yogurt (or sour cream). Cook for 7 minutes, until the chicken is mostly browned.
Add the cilantro and spinach and mix into the onions and chicken. Cook for another 5 minutes. When the chicken is cooked through and saucy, add 1 teaspoon of garam masala. Taste for salt and additional garam masala.