Saturday, November 20, 2010

Easy (and Quick) Chicken Dhansak

Ever noticed how a lot of stew or curry recipes finish with the instruction "simmer for 30/60/90 minutes"? On a busy weeknight, I just don't seem to have time for a long cooking stew recipe. But I've discovered there are two easy ways to speed up a recipe such as this chicken dhansak, a tasty Persian curry.

There are two reasons to simmer at the end of the recipe. One is to thoroughly cook the meat or other ingredients, so that it finishes meltingly tender. This is the case for a lamb stew or beef bourguignon. The second reason is to meld the flavours together as, for example, with chilli con carne. With chicken dhansak, both of these reasons come into play. Although the chicken cooks quickly, the lentils and winter squash need a long simmer to be cooked. And the flavours need to mix and deepen over time.

First, to cook the ingredients faster, I started by putting the lentils and squash into my rice cooker (or you could use a saucepan) and letting them simmer away while I prepped the rest of the recipe. By the time I had progressed with the rest of the recipe and it was time to add the lentils and squash to the curry, they were just about fully cooked. They only needed a few minutes to become soft.

And secondly, the flavours. This can't be completely faked--so make enough for leftovers because then your work lunch box will be delicious. But tonight's dinner can be tasty too by toasting the spices together for a minute. This activates them and makes the curry's flavours come together faster.

Using these two tricks together turns a lengthy stew recipe into a viable weeknight menu choice.
Chicken Dhansak
serves 4

250 g winter squash
300 g lentils
1 T olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 chicken breasts, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 cm fresh ginger root, peeled and minced
1 t turmeric
1 t chilli powder
1 1/2 t ground coriander
1 t garam masala
4 cardamom pods, cracked open and shells discarded
400 g tinned tomatoes
2 tomatoes, chopped

Bring a large saucepan of water to boil or use a rice cooker. Cook the squash and lentils for 25 minutes or more, until they are almost tender.
Heat the olive oil in a large pan. Cook the onion gently for 10 minutes, until soft. Add the chicken and cook until no longer pink.
Add the garlic and ginger and cook for 3 minutes.
In a dry frying pan, combine the turmeric, chilli powder, ground coriander, garam masala, and cardamom. Heat for 1 minute until aromatic.
Add the spices to the chicken mixture, along with the tinned tomatoes and fresh tomatoes.
Drain the lentils and squash and add to the curry.
Cook for 5 minutes, or as much as necessary for the lentils and squash to be soft.

The dhansak recipe was this month's Velveteers challenge. The 4 Velveteers was started by Alessio, Aparna, Asha, and Pam, who are passionate about different cuisines and food in general. Each month, we will attempt a new dish and share our experiences and the recipes we used. If you're interested in joining the Velveteers, please feel free to drop by our Facebook group.

Visit the other Velveteers' blogs to see what they have come up with this month:
--Aparna's vegetable dhansak, brown rice, and kachumbar
--Asha's mutton dhansak and dhansak rice
--Lindsay's lamb dhansak pot pie
--Veena's vegetarian dhansak


Nora said...

These are great tips, Sarah, thanks! I always regret setting off on a long curry recipe of an evening but this will definitely help me fast track. And the dhansak looks scrumptious - I love lentil curry.

Aparna Balasubramanian said...

You seem to have to got it down to perfection, Sarah. Congrats.
I better hurry and get mine done. Am running really late this month with everything! :)

azélias kitchen said...

I love lentils mixed in with root vegetables or from the pumpkin family. You've added cardamon which is one of my favourite spices ever. This is also the sort of dish I could quite happily eat without meat...if eating on my own as husband demands meat!

I like your choice of spices.

Sarah said...

Hi Nora, evenings are so short that sometimes I don't feel like cooking. But little tips make it manageable.

Aparna, I'm looking forward to seeing what you create!

Azelia, my husband is also a meat lover. I used about half as much chicken in this dish as most chicken stews. I jut ladle most of it into his bowl instead of mine!

whozyerdanny said...

Nice detail, fabulous dish!

Sarah said...

Hello whozyerdanny, thanks for visiting. I saw some gorgeous pictures over on your garden blog!

Katherine Martinelli said...

This sounds delicious! And those are two great tips - I will have to try that out next time. Thanks for linking up to my squash blog hop :-D

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