Pakistani Murgh Palak (Spinach and Chicken)

palak chicken

Moment of truth time folks: Pakistani food is hard, sorry Pakistani food can be hard. Not because of the techniques,  but because of the time. So much damn time. Now of course there are great short cuts, but for an anxious hovering over her food kinda cook like me it can feel exhausting. That is what makes this hearty Murgh Palak so so perfect, there is no slow cooking of onions, no waiting for flavours to develop. Once the chicken is done you’re done. No garnishing required either. Just pick up your roti, or ladle the Murgh Palak over your rice and eat. 

palak chicken

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White Chicken Salan or a White Chicken Curry

white chicken salan

It makes me laugh that for someone who barely ate a chicken curry growing up I am now posting my third incarnation. Where my first relied on jammy tomatoes for robust flavor, the second got it’s distinct flavor from the marriage between caramelized onions and a headier dose of turmeric than usual. This white chicken salan has none of that. It’s mellow clean flavour comes from the chicken itself. Because there is no chilli powder added to the white chicken salan the salan is extremely kid friendly. It is rare that both my girls will enjoy the same thing equally, but in this case they wolfed it down with equal enthusiasm. I, too, was happy to follow suit.

white chicken curry

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A Delicious Pakistani Aalu Gosht or Beef and Potato Curry

I am going to go out on a limb here and say that I think Aalu Gosht is the quintessential Pakistani dish, the kind that doesn’t find it’s way onto many restaurant menus, but is a staple in every home. Be it with Goat meat or Beef, bone in or boneless, every family has their version of aalu gosht and it seems to me that they are all delicious.

My Nanna (maternal grandmother) is the undisputed champion of making aalu gosht. Her salan is light and almost broth like and the flavor is so utterly beautiful that us boneless meat eaters would forgive her those hunks of bones with smallish pieces of meat. I would love to tell you that this is her recipe, but alas it is not. None of her four daughters make this particular salan/curry like she does and I can only hope to crack the code one day. For now I offer you an extremely tasty second: my mothers. Or rather, my version of my mothers, the cooking method is my sister in laws.

Aalu Gosht or Beef and Potato Curry

I do apologise for the lacklustre photos, this Pakistani version of meat and potatoes isn’t quite ready for it’s close up, but with the cold months upon us it seemed a little selfish not to share the recipe for one of the most comforting dishes of all time. 

Aalu gosht aficionados will note that I don’t use whole garam masala i.e. cloves, peppers etc. I find that while the whole spices add a depth to the salan that I don’t really miss them when I go without. If you find you miss it then simply add an inch of cinnamon, 2-3 cloves, 4-6 whole black peppers and a 1/2 tsp of cumin seeds in with the meat mixture. For those of you with chilli-phobic kids like my older one this dish is easy to edit. Just put less red chilli powder in the beginning, then pull out some meat and curries before adding in the green chillies at the end.

Aalu Gosht or Beef and Potato Curry

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Fish Salan or Fish Curry

That first tear of chapati (flatbread), that first swoop through the curry, that first morsel of glistening fish with a scatter of cilantro as it gets scooped up into your mouth, that is a moment I look forward to every time I make this fish salan. I love the subtle notes of the golden onion, the lone tomato, and the moderate amount of fenugreek. The whole spices are there, but less aggressively so resulting in a curry that seems so perfect for this time of the year.

Fish Salan or Fish Curry

I didn’t grow up eating a lot of fish, not unless you count fish fingers as fish. It is  only in recent years that I have started to cook it for a household that can’t live on chicken breasts alone and discovered how much I truly enjoy it’s delicacy. It is also an added bonus that once you’ve developed the curry part, the actual fish takes only minutes to cook meaning you could make the masala, set it aside and when you’re ready to eat it add the fish and finish the cooking.

My sister in law suggested adding fenugreek earlier in the cooking process and I find it works well, the flavor of the fenugreek seems to permeate the curry and the fish in a way my usual ‘last five minutes’ addition doesn’t. If you really enjoy the flavor of fenugreek you could easily double it here. If you are not a fan then leave it out and this will still be yummy.

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Prawn/Shrimp Masala – Shrimp in a Spicy Tomato Base

I’ve been told that my family’s love for food is perhaps not entirely ‘normal’. What do I know – it’s normal for me 😉

I do know though that sometimes we can overdo it like the time my eldest brother and I decided to order food for sehri/suhoor from Barbq Tonite, a Karachi institution and home of some incredibly tasty prawn masala. The prawn masala was not the only dish we ordered – if memory serves correctly it was one of eight of which only the naan and half a kabab were left after the two of us were done with it. In our defense it was Ramadan – we were clearly internally stockpiling food… camel like and all…

Shrimp/Prawn Masala

I don’t know what it is that makes that prawn masala so good and I suspect I could spend endless hours in the kitchen and never achieve an exact copy, but man this one hits the spot. It is spicy and unctuous with it’s tender yet firm shrimp, the tomatoes that have been softened, but still hold their shape, the traditional karhai flavours slightly muted and loads of bright green cilantro and green chillies. The net result? Finger lickin’ good.

Oh and I usually use shrimp because I always have them handy, but you are welcome to use prawn.

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Haray Masalay ki Murghi – Chicken in a Spicy Cilantro Sauce

Because I am happppyyyyy…clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth…

Why the unnatural cheer you may ask?

Especially since this be a savory dish and I am clearly not on a sugar high – well, it’s thanks to this little round up of Pakistani foodies on instagram featuring yours truly along with some of her personal heroes. A HUGE thanks to Sadaf the talent behind Siddy Says for doing this!

Pssst you aren’t already following me on instagram then I am @sarahjmir.

Anyway, on to the dish of the day (yes, yes still singing “Happy” as I type this)…

Cilantro/Coriander is my favorite fresh herb. Although I love the flavors of basil, oregano and thyme the desi in me would not survive without cilantro. It brightens up every dish from a cool raita to a spicy daal. If I like hints of this stuff so much then, well, a dish that relies on cilantro and green chilies for it’s flavorful savory base has got me hook line and sinker.

Hara Masala Chicken

This folks is what I like to think of as my one blender version. The chicken gets cubed, the onion chopped and the rest of the ingredients get ground into a paste in the blender. Saute some onion, stir fry some chicken, throw in the paste and cook on. It’s pretty straightforward and as long as you have the cilantro, green chilies and garlic in there you can play around with the other ingredients to suit your fancy.

A quick note on the spice level – 4 green chillies may seem like a lot, but a lot of the spiciness will actually cook out so if you want it to be seriously spicy then add at least 2 more. I wouldn’t drop below 3 though. Just sayin’

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Fish Kadhai/Karahi or Fish in Tomato Sauce

Is it Karahi or Kadhai? I get really confused by that.

Fortunately for all concerned I find it infinitely less confusing to make it. My biggest challenge with this dish was extricating pieces of spice laden tomato-y fish from the remarkably strong grip of my 6 month old as she tried to stuff it into her mouth.

Yes, folks, she has her mother’s natural (or is it unnatural?) enthusiasm for food. I just thought that this may not be an appropriate first food for her, best to stick to oatmeal and purees for now.

Anyway, I make my kadhais slightly differently now according to the meat I have. In a traditional chicken or beef karhai the meat gets put in first and I add more spices, but since fish cooks and breaks so easily I put it in last and hold back on garam masala etc. You are welcome to try this version with chicken as well, just add the chicken in right after the garlic, stir fry, then add spices and resume cooking according to directions.

Fish Kadhai
Serves 4

Boneless white fish fillets, 400g-500g
½ tsp turmeric powder
Juice of half a lemon
½ tsp salt for marinade
1 tbsp heaped kasuri methi i.e dried fenugreek leaves
½ tsp kalonji/nigella seeds
½ tsp cumin seed
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds
8 tomatoes
1 tsp salt
1 tsp heaped red chilli flakes
5-6 cloves crushed garlic – or  1 tbsp garlic paste
Sprig curry leaves (optional)
2-4 green chillies finely sliced
Handful of chopped cilantro (optional)
A few lugs of vegetable/canola oil for your karhai/wok/saucepan

Cut your fish into fairly large chunks – mine were about 2*2 inches. Too small and they disintegrate fast. Sprinkle them with the turmeric powder, salt, and juice of one lemon and set aside. If you have a ‘fishy’ smelling fish then rinse the spices off and dry before cooking. If not then go ahead and leave them on.

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Warm oil in your pan and roughly chop your tomatoes. When the oil is hot add the seeds i.e. fenugreek, cumin, and kalonji.

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When the cumin darkens and the aroma of kalonji starts wafting through the air then add in the minced garlic and stir fry for a minute. Now it is time for the red chilli flakes and salt. Cook for a minute and then add your diced tomatoes

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Cook the tomatoes on high heat, stirring constantly until they get dark red and caramelly looking. This takes me about 10 minutes in a large wok.

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If you are up for it then taste your spice mix, adjust seasoning if necessary, then place your fish pieces in the pan and gently stir to coat.

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Drop the heat and add in your curry leaves & fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi) and let it cook until your fish is just done. It is very easy to overcook fish so just be careful. Top with chopped green chillies, cilantro and serve alongside your bread of choice. I like mine with plain ol’ chapatti, but you could always use naan or pita bread.

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Murgh Chholay or Chicken and Chickpea Curry

There are some things I wish my mama had taught me how to cook – Murgh Chholay is one of them. Well, why didn’t she you may ask? As far as I know my mama has never made murgh chholay. You see, we are from Karachi, a boisterous city by the sea, whose 15 million inhabitants hail from all over Pakistan and pre partition India. Murgh Chholay is a very Lahori dish and one that I had only had in restaurants until I moved to Canada and concluded that if I wanted good murgh chholay on a regular basis then I better figure out how to make them. Folks, I think I have it now. Thanks to the combination of a little googling and a few past attempts I seem to have figured out how to get the subtle back of the mouth heat of this dish without losing the flavour of the ingredients. Phew. All that mediocrity was getting to be exhausting!

Turns out the problem I was having was that I was using similar ratios of spices for the murgh chholay that I would with a regular chicken curry and what that meant was that it would always end up tasting a little – well boring, for lack of better word. You see the chickpeas really soak up flavour and so you need to create a strong spice base otherwise there just is not enough to go around. So don’t be shy about the chilli powder and the green chillies at the end. Just remember when we cook the green chillies a lot of the aggressive heat of the chillies cooks out anyway.

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Aalu Shorba or Potato Curry

Guys it turns out that Google is not quite as reliable as I thought. When you google ‘Pakistani food blogs’ it seems like there are hardly any out there. However, thanks to the awesomely named My Ninja Naan I have discovered a whole slew of Pakistani food blogs. She was nice enough to pop by and when I checked her blog out (my way of saying read almost every entry) I discovered many others as well. I have bookmarked many of her recipes to try, but today’s potato curry comes from Ambreen at Simply Sweet ‘n Savory. When I saw this recipe it reminded me of something I had eaten at a relative’s place and really liked and so I thought I would try my hand at it. SO glad I did! It is yummy!!! My usual potato dish is very different from this one – a lot more tomato, curry leaves, etc but this will definitely come into regular rotation. I made some very minor changes to it, but have stayed true to it for the most of it.

By the way you know something has turned out well when half way into your write up about it you find yourself getting hungry and take a break to eat some more!

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Murghi ka Salan/ Chicken Curry Version 2 – Kalya

Spring is a tease. Every now and then you get a nice, sunny, warm, bring out the water table and sand box kinda day (can you tell I am a mom??) and then you get a whole bunch of cold-wet-cold-wet-overcast-humid-wet-cold. Pfft.

Don’t worry, I did resist the urge to drown my sorrows in sugar and butter. Not just because I was out of butter. So here is another dish, with considerable less fat and sugar, which I find pretty comforting. It is a version of chicken curry called kalia (kul-ya) that I had not had until I got married. It is very different from traditional chicken curries in that there is no yogurt or tomatoes and of the ‘garam masala’ quartet (cloves, whole black pepper, cardamom, and cinnamon) this one only features one. This makes for a light very clean tasting curry which we all enjoy and trust me pleasing a household of adults and a toddler with the same dish is no easy task!

Chicken Curry or Kalya/Kulya

As a quick note I only use boneless chicken breast meat in most of my chicken dishes because my FIL has a heart condition and should eat minimally fatty foods. This curry still turns out pretty well, but would be far more delicious if you used half a skinless chicken cut into pieces.

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