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Indian-Spiced Chicken with Tomato and Cream

Indian-Spiced Chicken with Tomato and Cream
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I love Indian food.  Its intriguing blend of exotic spices and flavors are so distinctive and so transforming that it really does represent a cuisine far from our own American classics.  Take this dish from Bon Appetit.  It transforms the simple and inexpensive Chicken leg and thigh into a feast for all the senses:  The scent for the nose.  The color for the eyes. The taste for the palate.  And talk about one pot cooking!  It even includes potatoes so aside from the Indian bread of choice, Naan and some yogurt, dinner comes together effortlessly in a large Dutch Oven.  If Indian food seems counter-intuitive in the heat of summer until you remember that the sub-continent itself is one of the warmest places on earth.   Only in the Himalayas does the temperature average 68 degrees.  The rest of the country hovers in the 70s and 80s in winter and soars into the 90s and even 100s in the heat of summer. So why does this hot country share a passion for spicy, hot food? 

Irresistible Indian Spices

India is hardly alone in its passion for hot and spicy. Central and South America, Africa, Southeast Asia and Caribbean countries all eat foods flavored with chile peppers and spices.  The reason is quite simple: Spicy food makes you sweat, which in turn cools you down as it evaporates.  Interestingly, while everyone assumes that a tall glass of iced tea or an icy cold watermelon will cool you down of a sweltering summer day, that’s not actually the truth.  Oh for a moment or two they do indeed cool you off.  The effect however is far from lasting. The rapid cool-off is compensated by your body by raising its internal temperature to make up for the difference.  As a result, you actually feel hotter in no time.  Spicy foods work differently.  They raise the body’s internal temperature bringing it closer to the outside temperature. Your circulation goes up, you start to ‘glow’ and once that moisture has evaporated you’ve cooled down.  The prospect of sweating through a meal is unpleasant to say the least, but we are not talking running rivers of moisture.  Scientists call it ‘gustatory facial sweating’ –not even perspiration which might soften the language a bit.  But I hope you’ll try this dish because it’s well worth experiencing.

Indian Spices are easily accessible
         The Indian spices in the dish are now found in most supermarkets.  And I recently spotted “Ghee” which is Indian clarified butter in Trader Joe’s of all places.  But you substitute vegetable oil for Ghee.   The only spice that may be hard to find is Garam Masala. This is such an essential ingredient in Indian cooking that if you can’t find it at your market, you should order it on-line: https://www.kalustyans.com/.  (A visit to this incredible spice market should be on your to-do list on your next trip to NYC. ).  The sauce in today’s recipe is filled with a mix of dried spices.  Some of these have likely been sitting in your spice rack long after their use by dates.  If any of them smell musty, restock.  A lot of people think that 6 months is optimal shelf life for spices.  I think that’s a good rule but it doesn’t make too much sense when you consider how long it’s been since the spices in the jar were harvested which you no way of controlling.    Recently I saw a recommendation of labeling the bottom of your spice jars with their date of purchase.  But I think the sniff test for freshness is likely the best.  Finally, do serve this with Naan, the great Indian flat bread that I see in markets all over the place.  If yours doesn’t go to your local Indian restaurant and get a take-out order of the bread. Be sure to heat the Naan so it puffs up. It’s perfect for soaking up the wonderful sauce.   Here is the recipe:

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