Chicken kalya and love

I should warn you that this may be a bit cheesy, and I don’t mean in the food sense. B has been away for much of the past couple months, and I have been occupying my time with writing and thinking about this blog. That includes sifting through a growing pile of recipes and cookbooks. As I was doing so, I found a birthday gift from the past. B had created a book of recipes from around the world, with a note that promised a lifetime of travel and good times. It reminded me of how food has been a passion in my life long before this recent blog effort.

As a surprise to him, I decided to cook one of the recipes for this blog. Chicken kalya, or chicken yogurt curry, is a typical Mauritian dish from the island nation off Africa. Its origins are firmly South Asian, which should be no surprise given the land form’s placement in the Indian Ocean and its relative proximity to India via sea. There is a large Indo-Mauritian population there today that has influenced the island’s cuisine for generations, and more than half the country is Hindu (but not all of South Asian descent).

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This chicken kalya tastes like a mild take on Indian curry. It doesn’t have the heat and spice that most curries do. Instead, it offers a creamy, aromatic blend of spices from around the world — mint and saffron add a unique touch — with the satisfying depth of caramelized onions. Traditionally, fried onions are served on top of the dish or blended in right at the end as I did. This leaves them more intact than if you were to start with fried onions, as I do for many of the Pakistani dishes my mom taught me.

Here’s the unadulterated excerpt and recipe from B’s cookbook:

Mauritian cuisine is an exotic synthesis of myriad continental and oriental influences where Indian-style curries go hand in hand with French gateaux and Creole rougailles. Serves 4 with Basmati rice.

1 kg chicken (cut into pieces)
1 cup yogurt
2 sticks cinnamon, 3 cm long each
3 cardamoms (split)
4 cloves
2 tbsp. cumin powder
2 green chilies (slit)
A pinch of yellow coloring powder
1 tsp. ginger/garlic mixture
5 tbsp. chopped coriander leaves
4 tbsp. chopped mint leaves
Salt and pepper
2 big onions (sliced fine)
Half a cup of a mixture of melted ghee and oil
Some saffron strands

1. Put chicken pieces in a pot. Add all the other ingredients except onions, ghee/oil and saffron strands. Mix all well together and allow to marinate for at least an hour.

2. Meanwhile, fry onions in the ghee/oil mixture until brown and crisp. Remove and keep aside. Pour the remaining hot ghee/oil mixture (or less if chicken is fatty) in the pot.

3. Soak saffron strands in 1/4 glass hot water and pour mixture also in the pot. Mix well, cover and cook over a low heat until chicken is done. Add fried onion, mix and allow to simmer for 1 or 2 minutes.

Note: It took about 15 minutes to fry the onions and another 20 to cook the chicken, which I covered after allowing the sides to brown in the oil.

I improvised in a few places to accommodate what I had on hand. I cut the oil back to 2 tablespoons and skipped the ghee, used just one onion, opted for a few food coloring drops instead of yellow powder, tried dried mint instead of fresh, substituted red chili powder for the green chilies and threw in a frozen cilantro cube instead of the fresh stuff. It still turned out great.

2 thoughts on “Chicken kalya and love

    1. Are you vegan? I bet coconut milk would be a good substitution for yogurt. Thanks for checking this out! More coming soon, as soon as I settle into my new home.

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