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!
Jewish Chicken Curry Chitarnee
Not your usual "Ashkenasi" fare, this dish has onion, garlic, ginger, and cardamom. It's fragrant, and mellow, not spicy since the onions cook slowly. Easy to make too. Once everything is in the pot, you can leave it alone to cook.
1 tsp vegetable oil
1 onion, sliced
1 pinch sugar
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1 small piece (about 1/3 inch) fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded, and cut into large chunks
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/3 tsp cumin
pinch red pepper flakes
2 green cardamom pods
1 large chicken thigh
1 potato, cut up into chunks (you can peel it or scrub it and leave the peel on)
1 cup chopped tomatoes in puree
2 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice (divided in half)
1 tsp white wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
Start by heating the oil in a deep frying pan, or dutch oven on medium heat. Then add the onions and the sugar. Cook until the onions start to wilt and soften, about three minutes.
Now add the garlic, ginger, and the rest of the spices and cook that for half a minute.
Put the chicken in the pan and turn it over a few times so that it gets thoroughly coated with the spices and the onions. Cook it for a minute or two.
Add the potato pieces, tomatoes, vinegar and 1 1/4 tsp of the lemon juice. Bring the chicken mixture to a boil. Once it starts to boil, lower the heat, put a cover on the pot, and simmer for 40 minutes. The chicken and the potatoes should be soft and tender by then. Test with a knife to make sure it’s all cooked through.
Remove the pan from the heat and set aside on a cutting board. Add the remaining lemon juice and stir to combine it with the rest of the sauce. Remove the cardamom pods and serve.
Note: You might want to put the cardamom pods in a tea ball (or cheesecloth) to make it easier to fish them out when you're ready to serve.
Tools and Ingredients for Jewish Chicken Curry Chitarnee
Rani Garam Masala Spice Mixture
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.
Green Cardamom Pods
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!
More Chicken Recipes
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Fit for royalty, but easy enough for a weeknight. You mix up the sauce, bake the chicken, and then watch the raisins transform back into grapes.
Easy Chicken Curry Recipe
Chicken, some pantry spices, an onion plus yogurt add up to a delicious meal that’s ready in minutes.
Chili Garlic Chicken Thigh Recipe for One
Why bother with wings when you can make this instead? Much easier, and less messy too. Also more budget-friendly.
Chicken with Olives and Tomatoes for One
Rich, flavorful, and made with basic pantry ingredients like ginger, briny olives, and sweet canned tomatoes. It’s got a hint of spice, but not overpowering.