Cashewnut Chicken Curry

Chicken curry with yogurt and cashew nuts.

Chicken curry with yogurt and cashew nuts. (Photographs by Sebastian John)

When I returned from India, I brought some unsalted roasted cashew nuts. Last week when I fried some of those and added to a chicken dish my friend liked it a lot. So I started looking for cashew chicken recipes, but came across a variety of versions. I was not sure what was what, and most seemed to have a long list of spices. Off late I have been trying to cook with a shorter list of spices, and extract more flavors from the main ingredients itself.

I then checked a Kerala cookbook I had, to see if Keralites cooked chicken with cashews. When I lived in the state I don’t remember ever eating a chicken curry with cashews that claimed to be indigenous origin. But lo and behold,  there it was -  “Chicken Curry with Curd and Cashewnut” (Kasuandiparippum Thairum Chertha Kozhi Kari). According to the book “The Essential Kerala Cookbook” by Vijayan Kannampilly, the dish is of Muslim origin. What amazed me was the extremely short list of spices.  Then I remembered – for all its spice connections, traditional Keralite cooking incorporates a shorter list of spices than most Indian cuisines.

This dish was cooked based on the ingredients mentioned in the book. Some of the ingredients have been modified based on the availability and size of produce in the US. It turned to be a delicately flavored dish. I served with rice spiced with cumin. The dish also can be served with porottas or other Indian flatbreads.

Chicken yogurt marinade

Ingredients -
1. Two pounds of chicken (I used boneless chicken thighs)
2. 3/4 cup plain non-fat yogurt and 3 tsp of non-fat yogurt (I prefer to cook with Greek yogurt)
3. 1 large sized onion – chopped fine.
4. 5 tsp of unsalted roasted cashew nuts
5. 1  2-inch long cinnamon stick
6. 4 tsp red chili powder (I used cayenne powder)
7. 1 tsp turmeric powder
8. salt to taste
9. Instead of using oil I used the fatty chicken skin

NOTE:  Robert of Amicus Cupcake commented that he found the dish to be very spicy with four teaspoons of chili powder.  Hence I would advise to adjust the amount of chili powder according to your taste.  I must confess that being from Kerala, I do have a very skewed sense of spice.

Cut the chicken into 1 inch-sized cubes, wash and pat dry. Mix 3/4 cup of yogurt, turmeric and 1 tsp of salt, rub into chicken and marinate for for an hour.

Grind into a paste 2 1/2 tsp of cashew nuts with 3 tsp of yogurt and set aside.

Fry some chicken skin in a pan on medium heat to extract some of the fat. Discard the skins, add cashews and fry till golden brown. Drain and set aside.

Add onions and cinnamon stick to the pan and fry till onions turn translucent.

Mix chili powder with 3/4 cup of water, stir it in to the onions, and bring the mixture to boil.

Add the chicken with its yogurt marinade. Mix well, cover pan and cook over low heat till chicken is done. The gravy should thicken and oil will float on top of the curry.

Stir in the cashew nut paste and cook for another 5 more minutes.You should have a very smooth and thick gravy.

Garnish with fried cashew nuts, and chopped cilantro (optional)

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