What do you get when you cross an Italian girl from San Francisco with a Jewish guy from New York City...Indian food! Usually. My husbands' sister after all, got me started with all this Indian cooking 20 years ago and I've just taken it from there. Celebration dinners at our house generally revolve around Indian dishes except when it comes to anything involving any of our relatives (except my sister-in-law). My parents are extremely suspicious of my cooking and always think I'm going to put something strange in their food. If it's not straight up Italian they won't even go there, and even when we took them to Michelin starred Italian restaurant Terra in Saint Helena, they were suspicious of the food and considered it too "alta cucina" for them. It's a no win situation there.
Over the years with Alan, I've learned to make brisket and latkes, cheesecake and borscht, pickles sweet and sour, and how to braid and bake challa bread.
So while trying to decide on an interesting Chanukah meal at our house, I went over my recipes for brisket and latkes, both potato and zucchini, when I got the bright idea, "Hey! Why not go Indian!" Which is what I did.
A few years back, my sister-in-law gave me a book of Jewish food around the world. She also gave me a book on the varied kitchen of India. Recipes that range from the heights of the Nepalese border to the Christians of Kerala and yes, the Jews of Cochin.
As it so happens there have been Jewish communities in India for over 2000 years and there is a long and varied cuisine involved.
I dragged out my cookbooks and went on the hunt for a good Chanukah menu.
I decided on an adaptation of a recipe from Claudia Rodens' Book of Jewish Food
Macalcal Chicken or Chicken in a Coconut Sauce accompanied by Spiced spinach with chickpeas and chapattis.
This chicken dish has an origin from the Bene Israel people who cook in the style of Western India. Legend has it that they first came to India after a shipwreck off the coast during the time of King Solomon. Their cooking has emerged as a blending of the cooking of their Hindu and Muslim neighbors with its' own twist. Let's say that this twist involves coconut milk, lots of it. What's not to like about that?!
The chicken dish is easy and can be prepared in about 1 hour.
1.) Start with 2 large skinless boneless chicken breasts. Cut them into bite-sized pieces.
Set them aside.
2.) Peel and cut 2 large onions in halved thin slices. Toss them in the heated oil. Place the lid on the skillet and turn down the heat. This will cook your sliced onions more quickly. When they're a nice soft golden color you're ready for the next step.
In a skillet heat 3 Tbs of vegetable oil.
3.) Add 3 large finely chopped shallots and
4.) A 1 inch piece of finely chopped ginger and
5.) 1/2 tsp of turmeric. Mix it all up well.
6.) Add in the chicken pieces and salt and white pepper to taste.
Cook it for 5 minutes or so, keeping the chicken moving and turning.
7.) Add in 1/2 lb of new potatoes cut into thick slices...or and here's what I did today in the name of lightness..and a lack of potatoes. 1/2 lb of thickly sliced zucchini.
8.) Add in 1 cup of coconut milk and some water to cover the meat and veggies.
9.) Add in 1 tsp of sugar, adjust the seasoning then simmer it all for 30 to 45 minutes..until everything is nice and tender. Then,
10.) Add in 3/4 cup of sliced blanched almonds and 2 Tbs of sultana raisins.
Cook it all a few moments more and serve it nice and hot.
The vegetable I served with it is a simple spinach and chickpea side. This was fast too.
Spinach and Chickpeas
In a deep skillet or karhai heat
1.) 2 Tbs of olive oil
When it is hot, toss in
2.) 3 large finely chopped shallots
When it is beginning to soften add
3.) 10 oz of chopped spinach
Stir and toss it till it cooks, it will take about 1 minute.
Now toss in:
4.) 1 tsp of ground coriander
5.) 1/2 tsp ground cumin
6.) 1/4 tsp ground garam masala
7.) 1/4 tsp of salt
Then add in
8.) 1 can of chickpeas stir them until they are heated through and seasoned and serve.
Alongside this I served hot homemade chapatti and a chilled 1/2 guava juice/ 1/2 iced organic green tea blend with a sprinkling of chia seeds, you can also use basil seeds.
So there was our lunch, supplied by cookbooks from my sister-in-law and her family who live on the opposite side of the country from us. It was the next best thing to being able to get together for the holidays.