My husband loves chess. he loves to read about it, talk about it, study it but most of all he loves to play. Growing up in New York he played at the Manhattan Chess Club. When we lived in Los Angeles he was a member of the Santa Monica Chess Club and played there regularly. Since moving full time to Sonoma a few years ago he hasn't had anyone to play chess with so he was delighted when Andy the owner of our local book store Readers Books said that he played chess.
A date was set immediately. After a bit of negotiation as to where the game would be played, (Andy's store versus our house) it was decided that ours would be the quieter venue. Always looking for a chance to test a recipe on someone, I offered to make it a chess players' lunch.
At the time I made this offer, I'd forgotten that this weekend was the weekend that we set the clocks forward and leapt into Daylight Savings. Not my favorite time of year. In other words I wound up going to bed last night at about 3 a.m. Normally I'm up at 7. The last thing I wanted to do at 7 a.m this morning was cook a big Indian lunch. I wanted to sleep.
Fortunately the dish I was experimenting with suited my plans perfectly.
I had planned to cook a whole spiced chicken marinated and wrapped in a banana leaf.
This turned out to be ideal, since the chicken had been marinated the afternoon before I realized that the time was about to change. All I had to do this afternoon was heat up the oven and gift wrap my bird. Add some rice, chapattis and a couple of veg sides and I was done. I had planned to try a new dessert (to me) that I'd gotten from my friend at Niyas World, but while running around grocery shopping yesterday our car battery died and it threw me into a state of utter confusion. Dessert plans flew out the window. I figured I'd have to try the new dessert another time. For now I'd throw some boxed, store-bought cookies at the chess players. That would be good enough for them.
Cooking things in banana leaves is a very old technique, it protects and gently steams the food and adds a nice flavor and aroma to whatever one is cooking.
The first time I went looking for banana leaves I was shocked at the price. Online one place wanted about 15 bucks for one pack and that didn't include postage. A quick search of my local Hispanic market showed me that I could get the same package there for $1.50 in the frozen section.
Simply put, I love dishes that I can assemble the day ahead with minimal effort and then just shove into the oven on cooking day. This is especially appreciated when stuff like car batteries happen and everything goes kabluey!
So here is how to do this simple and delicious
Banana Wrapped Chicken.
Start off with 1 Chicken ideally from 4.6 lbs to 5 pounds.
Preparing the Chicken
Rinse the chicken and dry it well then poke it all over so that the marinade can get through to the meat.
Rub the chicken with :
3 Tbs of Lemon juice
1 tsp of salt
Making the Marinade
1.) In a heavy frying pan or skillet heat 1 Tbs vegetable oil
When it's hot, toss in:
2.) 2 onions peeled and roughly chopped
Stir them around and fry them until the onions start to brown. Then add in:
3.) 4 garlic cloves or shallots crushed
4.) 1 and 1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger peeled and chopped
Cook for an additional 2 minutes or so then add in:
5.) 3 Tbs of ground almonds
6.) 1/2 tsp Kashmiri chili or (1/4 tsp cayenne mixed with 1/4 tsp paprika)
7.) 1 tsp turmeric
8.) 2 tsp garam masala
Cook for an additional minute, then let the onion spice mixture cool totally.
When it's all cooled off, put the mixture into a blender or food processor along with
9.) 5 tsp of chopped fresh cilantro
Turn it all into a smooth paste.
Rub the paste all over the chicken both inside the cavity and outside, then cover the bird and tuck it in the fridge for at least 6 hours or overnight.
Once this is done you can forget about the chicken and deal with anything that might rear it's ugly head. Stuff like busted batteries and cell phones that are dead because your husband has been taking pictures of you in reflective surfaces all afternoon practicing his "technique".
Salsa Trading Company and me the Head in the Bottle at his store
Actually the thing that saved our butt was Foursquare, the new app on our iPhone . Because of this nifty little app I was able to see that our friend Chip happened to be shopping in the Sonoma Market where our car was sitting dead in the parking lot. He also had a working iPhone because he had not been out taking pictures all afternoon running down the battery. He was able to help us out by calling AAA for a tow truck and then giving me a lift home so that Patsy could get out and attend to her "business". But, back to the chicken.
Wrapping and Cooking
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
Soften the banana leaves by soaking them in hot water to limber them up, then dry them off.
Tie the legs of the chicken together then wrap the fowl in green leafiness. If you don't have or can't get banana leaves, you can use foil to wrap the bird.
After 1 and 1/2 hours take out the bird and open up its' little banana leaf gown.
So the Sonoma Traveling Chess club is established, next stop I'm informed is Andys' house and they'll be playing Go. Go figure.