I just learned to cook this Jewish chicken curry chitarnee recipe recently from an online cooking friend Azlin Bloor. It’s (to the best of her knowledge) a Sephardic Jewish recipe, but it doesn’t have the usual flavor or ingredients we tend to associate with “Jewish” cooking in America. Here “Jewish” cooking is usually Ashkenasi (from Eastern Europe). It tends to feature lots of noodles, brisket, and chicken soup.
Ashkenasi food is generally flavorful, but the spiciest ingredients are onions and garlic. Not too many chilis! And definitely no cardamom. But Jewish people are part of every continent’s and every country’s population. So, local recipes get adopted, and adapted (if needed) to make them conform to the dietary rules (for those that follow them). Pork gets replaced by chicken, oil is used with meat instead of butter, and so on. And voilà, some local Indian dish gets transformed into Jewish chicken curry chitarnee.
This recipe, for example, has a bit more snap than standard Ashkenaski fare. It’s not super-spicy though. There’s onion, garlic, ginger, mild chilis, and cardamom. The garlic, onion, and ginger get cooked down slowly so they become more sweet and mellow than sharp. The cardamom is aromatic and herbal rather than strong or spicy. Lots of fresh lemon juice and some white wine vinegar add a piquant tang.
Azlin suggested a variation on this recipe to make it vegetarian, by replacing the chicken with bell peppers, eggplant and potatoes.
I didn’t want to make it fully vegetarian (though you certainly can if you want). But, I thought, well why not just add potatoes to the chicken version. Then it’s a one pot dinner. That way, there’s no extra rice to make on the side and it will all cook in the same pot in the same amount of time. Fewer pots to clean is always a good thing!
Tools and Ingredients for Jewish Chicken Curry Chitarnee
Garam Masala is a blend of warm, aromatic spices that gives a great flavor punch to many recipes. It’s not spicy though. It’s made with nutmeg, coriander, cumin, cloves, and seven other spices. It’s great on eggs, chicken, or to make your own chai (spiced tea). You can also add it to desserts (think pumpkin spice with a bit more flair), or hot drinks.
I confess when I first heard of cardamom I thought it would be spicy and overpowering. It isn’t! Instead, it adds an aromatic, slightly minty, herbal flavor to your food. Put it in your coffee as a “sweetener” without sugar. Or add it to dessert recipes (I’m thinking it would be great in a pear tart). Or toss one or two pods in with your rice for a flavor boost.
This is technically supposed to be used for brewing tea. However, I find they’re great for cooking. Trying to fish out a bay leaf is a pain.
With the tea ball, instead of splashing through a pan of chicken, or a pot of soup to find a bay leaf, cardamom pods, or whole cloves you aren’t going to eat, put them in a tea ball, and drop that into the pan, and hook the end on the side of the pot. That way, the spices are easy to remove, and you don’t have to worry about biting down on a clove!
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