Okay, so I’m sick of these April showers already and would be quite happy if we could just get on with the May flowers. How about it? Not that I can complain that much. We had a beautiful spring weekend last weekend, and the flowers are, in fact, coming up. In the arboretum where I go running, there are happy little crocuses nosing their way up under the oaks, and some of the hillsides are so covered with bluebells it looks like the sky accidentally tripped and fell down there. But, nasty weather has descended upon us again, and therefore I feel it is necessary to whine immaturely. Whine, and get to roasting and stewing things. (Oh, of course now since starting this post yesterday, the rain has moved off and it’s beautiful again. Well, I’ll take it!).
Which brings me to another, only very tangentially related, point. Why are so many of the world’s most delicious things brown and lumpy and generally unphotogenic? Sure most vegetables and fruits and berries are beautiful and colorful, but all the stews, and roasts, and curries, and sauces, and many soups out there, well, they’re not exactly getting phone calls from scouting agencies looking for beautiful food models. And yet, they taste amazing! You don’t care what they look like because their deep, full fragrance and flavors wallop you over the head (the good kind of wallop), and you stop looking and just eat.
Which is certainly the case with this chicken and this eggplant curry. I wouldn’t call’em “lookers.” They’re brown. Very, very brown. But oh they are simply bursting with intense, heady spice and meaty umami. The chicken, inspired by a wildcard winner on food52 a couple of weeks ago – by the lovely tastefood – takes a page from the tandoori book. It is bathed overnight in a gingery, garlicky, spicy yogurt marinade, which suffuses the meat. A hot roast crisps the skin up turning it into a crackling delicate shell over the tender chicken. I have a feeling this marinade will become a staple this summer because I bet you could also use it for grilling.
I wanted to make a vegetable that would echo and enhance the flavors in the chicken, and I didn’t feel like making rice, so I needed something hearty. I decided I felt like eggplant. Eggplant is such a funny beast. If you don’t treat it right it will get all spongy and squidgy and bitter on you. But, at the same time it’s incredibly versatile, and if you just cook it long enough (or grill it, which somehow evaporates its juices off in a way that prevents any bitterness), then it can blend smoothly into all manner of dishes. Its mellow vegetal flavor suits tomato sauce or olives just as well as curry or yogurt and dill.
Spiced yogurt slathered uncooked chicken – it sure ain’t pretty, but it’ll roast up like a dream!
I started the eggplant curry like you would most curries, by sauteeing handfuls of spices and aromatics in oil to release their aromas, then throwing in the vegetables and some canned tomatoes. Then you let it simmer until the eggplant slumps softly into the rich, sweet sauce. It makes the house smell like a spice market, and you may find yourself considering finding a way to bottle up the scent and market it as a room spray. The curry is thick but brothy. Thinking about it now, it really wouldn’t hurt to make some rice to soak up that extra sauce, or warm some naan. But even by themselves the chicken and eggplant curry made a perfect satisfying early spring meal.
Cardamom and yogurt marinated chicken (Serves 4-6, adapted from a recipe by Taste Food for roasted butterflied chicken)
- 1 tsp. each ground cardamom, coriander and cumin
- 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tsp. sea salt
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 Tbs. olive oil
- 1/2 cup plain yogurt (whole milk)
- 1 Tbs fresh grated ginger
- 1 Tbs. lemon juice
- 3-4 pounds chicken pieces with the skin on (could be thighs or breasts)
- Using a mortar and pestle smash together the cardamom, cumin, coriander, pepper, salt, and garlic cloves together. Add the olive oil and smash it into a paste.
- Stir this spice paste, the ginger, and the lemon juice into the yogurt. Gently pull the skin slightly away from the meat on each piece of chicken and rub the yogurt mix in between the skin and meat, then press the skin back down. Rub the remaining yogurt mix all over the outsides of the chicken pieces. Put in a roasting pan, cover, and refrigerate at least 3 hours and preferably overnight. Allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before roasting.
- Heat the oven to 425F. Roast the chicken pieces uncovered until cooked through and brown and crisp on the outside, 45ish minutes. (Test by cutting into the thick part of a thigh and seeing if the juices run clear.) Allow to rest for 5 minutes outside of the oven before serving.
Eggplant Curry (serves 4-6)
- 1 large eggplant (get one with nice firm flesh) or 2 medium ones, cut into 1 inch cubes
- 1 Tbs. olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, diced
- 1 tsp. whole mustard seeds
- 1 tsp. cumin
- 1/2 tsp. coriander
- 1/2 tsp. garam masala
- pinch of red pepper flakes
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1, 14-oz can of tomatoes
- Heat the olive oil in a medium-large pan until it is shimmering. Add the onion, and cook for about 2 minutes. Then add the spices and garlic and cook for another minute or two more, until quite fragrant. Add in the eggplant and stir well to get it all coated with the spices. Let it cook for about 5 minutes.
- Add the canned tomatoes, turn to a simmer, and cook covered until the eggplant is soft and falling apart into the sauce 25-30 minutes. If it gets too dry during the cooking time, just add in some water. Sprinkle with some freshly ground pepper and serve along side the chicken.