This takes me all the way back ‘down under’ – Sydney, Australia. Recently, I spent most of 2016 and part of 2017 in Sydney, Australia making artisan chocolates and managing a restaurant before returning back home to New York City. Chicken Curry is close to my heart because I reminisce a time I had spent in a beautiful country and a woman I fell in love with once (promise this is not a love story).
Why is food special? For me, besides the obviously that food restores and provides the energy you need to LIVE, but let’s also talk about the preparation that goes into making food. In order for me to talk about this next experience I need for you to imagine you are sitting on a plane and you are thousands of feet in the air soaring over the Pacific Ocean and have been for last 8 hours and you have 8 more hours to go. You finally land and might possibly be jet lagged already, so you make your way to your new home, drop your bags off and since its 9 am in the morning and you can’t go to sleep you look for something to eat. The backdrop of this next scene is a beautiful picturesque beach with beachbums, surfers, and the occasional bus load of tourists taking photos of everything in sight.
I make my way closer to the beach and inhale the sweet and salty air of Bondi Beach. Up ahead I see what looks like a farmers market just off the beach, and indeed it is! The small time vendors are cooking up a storm underneath their tents with most vendors having a few guests queueing up for their deliciousness. There’s cali-mex taco stand, asian stir fry, paella brewing in a big pan, and even a gluten free tent, but nothing really caught my eye, so I decided the next best thing to do and that was to cook for myself.
If you had to make something what would you make? Something warm and grounding, with herbs and spices and a bit protein and hey, why not let it cook and brew for little bit. This is not your quick, easy, finish in 10 minutes dish – this needs love and time. Time is the essence of this dish. Chicken Curry slapped me in the face and told me to wake up. Being in Australia I’ve never been so close to India before until now and I know I can find some really fresh ingredients. My hunger pains were sneaking in and had to consume something before I get “hangry” and that’s not a pretty sight. The gluten free tent was interesting to me and wanted something light and fresh – gluten free bread (amaranth, quinoa and sprouts bread) toasted lightly with a more than generous amount vegemite (yes, vegemite) avocado, some greens and lime citrus and zest to finish – “this is ‘stralia, mate”, as he handed the plate over to me. I felt like I belong here and that made me feel good.
A local farmer was nearby and I collected my fresh, organic produce from Luke (almost everyone in Australia was named Luke. Parents in the 80’s were big Star Wars fans, I guess). Next, I needed my herbs and spices, but where can I find them? I went over to the Spaniard who was stirring up a massive skillet of paella. He gave me some clues, but the lady in the stir fry tent was the winner and she told me exactly where I needed to find my Indian spices. I had to jump on a bus and ride it for 30 minutes to another part of town, called Newtown. Now, on my way to Newtown for my spices my phone just so happened didn’t want to work anymore and went dead on me, so I solely trusted my instincts and the word of mouth from the lady in the stir fry tent. Get off here, go right then left and take the second right OR was it go left, then right and take the second left. DAMNIT. I got lost, so I had to go back to asking people again. I came across a lovely older Indian woman who was warm and welcoming and told me where she gathers her spices. We walked the 5 minutes together down the road (it was left and a right only) and she brought me to a small Indian spice market that had spices I’ve never seen before. I asked my new friend what spices would she use for a chicken curry. Without hesitation she glanced over the overly crowded spice store and as if she was on an episode of ‘Supermarket Sweep’ off she went.
My herbs and spices were collected and was very much appreciative of her help and assistance. She was so kind and helpful I felt like I needed to invite her over for a meal, but happily declined my offer. Now, my bag was filled with cumin, turmeric, coriander, garam masala and other yummy spices. It was time for me to go home and I was feeling pretty tired at this point and was very excited to prepare this dish, eat and take a siesta.
I started by chopping up onions, garlic and grating fresh ginger and fresh turmeric. In a pot I had ghee melting down and sautéed the first couple of ingredients. Next, I mixed the next several spices together in a bowl and dropped them into the pot. I started thinking about the lovely older woman who helped me and how amazing this food is going to taste. The aromas filled the apartment and lingered into the hallways. My tomatoes were next to be placed into the mix, as well as the chicken. I lowered the heat and placed a lid on the pot and let the process begin. In the meantime, I unpacked my bags and made myself at home.
One hour later, it was time to see how everything was coming together. Patience and time is the name of the game here and the kitchen smelt like heaven. Unveiling the pot, a cloud of curry aromas brushed my face leaving a bit of moisture on my cheeks. A scoop of coconut milk is added to pot for a light creamy touch.
Why is food special to me? You go from having nothing to having everything. So, when I cook it becomes a meditation for me. I have to be all there when I cook or the food will not taste or feel loved. The next time you cook take your time, enjoy the process and share your creation because food should not be eaten alone.