A Spring Recipe by Nandini Natasha Austin, Certified Ayurveda Coach, and Ayurvedancer
"When you create a curry you are using your five sense organs which in Ayurveda are a gateway to your consciousness. Cooking a curry from scratch is an act of total nourishment and love for the mind, body, and spirit.
Your nostrils open to the wonderful aromas in the kitchen, your eyes light up, dazzled by the array of colorful spices, and your ears, hear the sizzle of curry leaves, and the pop of spices as they hit the pan. The tongue tastes the myriad of intoxicating flavors, and the sense of touch, handling the fresh herbs, produce and ingredients create an immersive experience. ”
— Nandini Austin
Once upon a Curry...
I arrived in New York City in 2008 from my hometown of London, bursting with positive energy and my entrepreneurial spirit, ready to seek my next chapter and adventure in life. I had no idea back then what lay ahead of me, or that years later, I would stay in America and become an Ayurveda Wellness Coach to inspire others to live a life in Balance.
I relocated to New York by the SBE group (formerly Ian Schrager’s Morgan Hotel Group), Life was good—that is until the recession hit the following month and everyone around me got laid off. But as the saying goes, when life gets tough, you can either sink or swim. Being an avid swimmer and a Pisces, I swam for my dear life!
Nandini Austin Photo Credit @JudithRaeNYC
Luckily for me, my hard work and tenacity paid off and my career flourished. I was promoted to Director of Global Sales and was living a high life back then. Traveling and socializing like there was no tomorrow. The only thing missing was my family and, of course, my mum’s cooking.
Though we kept in touch via phone and shared pictures of her daily dishes, I craved some of that comfort food, and so, with no Mauritian restaurant in sight, I found myself heading into the kitchen, to recreate those delicious dishes and oddly enough a way to feel connected to my family. Even though my mum is a vegetarian she still made an incredible chicken curry, which I finally managed to replicate. For me curry is such a comfort food as it reminds me of London and my family home.
' Chicken curry was the first 'Mauritian' creation I perfected. I proudly first cooked it for my boyfriend back then aka Yusef from th The Cocktail Architect who I referred to as my 'American Boy' Yes I used to sing that song to him by Estelle and Kanye West thankfully later he became my husband. Chicken curry is still a staple dish years later in my household today, and we serve it to our two, who often help me make it now. I;m actively making sure they to know how to cook from a young age and appreciate where their food comes from.
I mastered the dish well and so began cooking for friends at dinner parties and eventually hosting pop-up suppers. I squeezed guests into my bohemian one-bedroom apartment, on a fourth-floor walk-up in Soho, on the corner of Prince and West Broadway. (my bum never looked so good!) Everyone loved the curry it was addictive.... As word got around among my friends about my famous chicken curry, I began packing up my spices and cooking for friends all over in London, New York city and the Hamptons,
Photo - taken at one of my Eat with pop up dinners
Where Curry Comes From
Curry was the generic name given by the Brits which and was introduced to English cuisine starting in the 17th century with Anglo-Indian cooking. Spicy sauces were added to jazz up plain boiled and cooked meats.
Curry was first served in coffee houses in Britain in 1809, and today one of the most popular cuisines in the UK.
During the 19th century, the curry was also carried to the Caribbean and indeed Mauritius where my parents as from, by Indian indentured workers in the British sugar industry.
Curries of many national styles have become popular far from their origins, and have increasingly become part of international fusion cuisine.
“Curry is a name given to a dish made using turmeric, chili powder, and other spices. I like to serve mine along side, fluffy parathas ( bread) and a yogurt-based raita and a tomato chatini ( chutney) and hot pickles.
The Health Benefits of Curry Leaves
Curry leaves (Murraya koenigii), also known as sweet neem, meetha neem, and kadi patta, are small green leaves with a unique flavor and aroma, used extensively in Mauritius and South East Asia for culinary and medicinal purposes.
Although they have several health benefits would need to eat this below
Ideal Dosage of Curry Leaves.
8 to 10 fresh curry leaves per day
1/2 to 1 teaspoon of curry leaf powder per day
1 to 2 curry leaf capsules per day
My Chicken Curry
In Mauritius, the Indian migrants and their descendants, who have become the majority population, had a big influence on local curries. The word “curry” is an anglicized form of the Tamil word kari, meaning “sauce” or “relish for rice” that uses the leaves of the curry tree. Mauritians call curry “cari,” so in the local dialect, chicken curry is cari poulet (poulet is the French word for chicken).
Mauritian cuisine was ruled by the French and so has a strong French influence so differs from Indian curries. This recipe use a provincial herb, 'thyme leaves', As a result, this curry is lighter than Indian curries. I like to say it’s like a bouillabaisse or a bisque meeting a curry and having a baby. Picture a concentrated tomato-based curry in which the flavors are intense but light. It’s great for first-time curry eaters, as it’s not too spicy or too oily, so you don’t feel bloated afterward.
Also, let’s do away with the myth that making curry is hard. It isn’t. You just drop ingredients into a large pot in a certain sequence as you do cooking a stew—like making a stew. (You can even make curry in an Instant Pot, but that’s another blog.)
In Ayurveda, organic chicken is an excellent choice to balance conditions of dryness giving the body proteins with a nourishing dose of oil. For this recipe, I prefer to use local or organic. skinless chicken thighs, as they are juicer. I prefer bones in as they add richness to the sauce, Use whatever chicken you prefer; my son and hubby, for example prefer chicken cubed, and so that’s how I’ve written this recipe today, If you use chicken breasts, then decrease the cooking time by 15 mins or so.
The key to any good curry is the powder. My mum sends me her special blend from Mauritius so I am lucky, but if you can purchase want to make your own curry powder then see my marvelous Masala mix recipe here.
The best pot for making curry is a karahi, which looks like this below
But anything that is a similar size and depth will work well. I use a French pot made by Le Creuset.
So don't let the long list of ingredients scare you. If you don't have all of them, then substitute ie ginger power is fine if you don't have fresh ginger. Omit the coconut milk if you want it less creamy. Cooking for me is always about trying new things, having a go, and experimenting until you get it the way you like it.
For Mauritian cooking (and cooking in general), gather, chop, and measure all ingredients ahead of time so you can add everything quickly when your pan is hot.
The Ingredients Make 6 servings.
3 cloves garlic
2-inch piece of fresh ginger
2 tbsp vegetable oil or avocado oil
1 tbsp coconut oil
4 curry leaves
1 tbsp cumin seeds
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 medium-large onion, finely chopped
1 to 2 hot green chilies, finely chopped (see tip)
5 medium organic tomatoes (or ½ can)
2 tbsp curry powder (yellow, if you can find it)
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tbsp salt (or to taste)
6 chicken thighs, cut into bite-size pieces (remove the skin for less fat)
½ cup water (or as needed)
2 to 3 large white potatoes, cut into chunks
½ cup coconut milk (optional)
Dab of butter (optional)
Chopped fresh cilantro for garnish
Using a mortar and pestle, crush garlic and ginger. Add a pinch of salt and grind until nice and smooth, like a paste.
In a deep, heavy-bottomed cast iron or nonstick pan, heat vegetable oil and coconut oil over medium heat. Fry curry leaves and cumin seeds until you hear that delicious sizzle. Add thyme, onion, green chilies, and garlic-ginger paste, and cook for a few more minutes, until the onion is browned.
Add tomatoes, increase heat to high, and cook for 2 minutes. Add curry powder, coriander, and salt, stirring until the sauce is thick and bubbling.
Add chicken and stir to coat well. Add enough water to just cover the chicken. Add potatoes, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally and adding water as needed, for 40 to 60 minutes (the longer it cooks, the more the flavors will intensify). Taste and adjust the salt as desired.
If you prefer a milder or creamier curry, stir in coconut milk and butter. Serve garnished with cilantro.
Tip: If you don’t like your curry too hot, just use 1 green chili and, instead of chopping it, simply pierce the pepper or cut a slit in it. That way, it will still infuse the sauce with flavor, but you’ll be able to easily remove the whole pepper at the end.
Tip: You can also make the garlic-ginger paste in larger batches in a food processor. Use 3 parts garlic to 1 part ginger, and add some water or olive oil to moisten. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week,
Serve the curry alongside white rice, with parathas for mopping up all the sauce and creamy cucumber raita.
So try this fragrant feel-good spring recipe that is made with love. It's sure to provide you with warming to your belly and your guests will love you even more.