I spend a lot of time planning for the perfect time. When it's the perfect summer day, I will wear my cute, floppy gardening hat and plant rose bushes on both sides of the walkway leading to my house. When I have the perfectly furnished and decorated house, I will host a fabulous dinner party. And when I have a perfectly free weekend, I will spend the day with my mom, drinking countless cups of chai, learning to cook the amazing recipes from my childhood, and cackling about all sorts of random mother-daughter matters. But the problem is, that perfect day never comes.
It's always a bit too overcast to garden, too cluttered to host a dinner party, and too busy to just hang out with my mom. But there will come a day when my knees ache too much to garden (heck, that day might be next week because my knees hurt!) and when I am too old to cook for large groups of friends, laughing and hanging out in our home. And worst of all, a day when my mom can't hang out. I notice how it takes her longer to get up from her chair, how she can't pick up our heavy little man as easily, and how she pauses on the landing when climbing the stairs. Her eyes look a little more tired, her skin a bit more weathered. She's still the same feisty mom though, with her deep-rooted love of fancy handbags, fine restaurants, and overly dramatic Pakistani soap operas. But there's no denying that my mom is getting older.
It has taken a long time for me to be able to admit that. I fully recognize that I am getting older, my family is growing, my career is developing, and my world views are changing. But I have the hardest time admitting that while all of that is happening, my mom is getting older.
And so this past Sunday, I decided it was the perfect day for a mom-day. It didn't look perfect at all. It was pouring rain, I had a bit of a cold, and we had run out of the good loose leaf tea I like to brew for chai. But my mom and I forged ahead. We turned up the heat in our house, I tucked a handkerchief in my sleeve to address my runny nose situation granny style, and we brewed a giant pot of chai using some not-so-great tea bags. And somehow, hanging out with my mom in the kitchen was perfect all on its own. We laughed about my aunt's brave foray into the world of blonde hair highlights. We chattered about my doctor-cousin's decision to go on tour with his punk rock band. And I asked her to teach me to make her chicken korma. The one I'd been eating for years. The one I'd tried to replicate a million times. The one whose very smell was synonymous with my mother's kitchen.
My mom painstakingly set out the ingredients. As I watched her methodical movements, I was struck by her preparation. Maybe my korma never turned out like hers because I insisted on frantically rifling through cabinets for missing ingredients while things were burning on the stove. Or maybe, it was just because I didn't have her touch.
My mom says the trick to making the perfect korma is to relax and go slow. Forget about relaxing and actually going slow, just writing about going slow makes neurotic, tightly-wound me feel agitated. But I took a few deep breaths and backed up a few steps and watched the cooking master in action. I watched her brown the onions, lovingly add the spices, slowly mix in the yogurt. And I saw her watch the korma carefully as the color turned from pale to golden brown.
The truth is, my korma will never be perfect. But all those Sundays spent with my mom, learning how to make her korma, certainly will be.
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 tbs. Greek yogurt
1/2 tsp. pureed ginger
1 tsp. pureed garlic
2 tbs. tomato paste
2 cinnamon sticks, broken into pieces
1/2 tb. ground corriander
1/2 tb. ground cumin
1/2 tb. cayenne
1/2 tb. curry powder
4 whole cloves
4 whole peppercorns
2 cardamom pods, smashed
2 medium chicken breasts, cut in strips
1 medium potato, cut in medium cubes
2 hard-boiled eggs (optional)
Heat approximately 3 tablespoons oil in a pot. Add onions, sprinkle with salt, and fry until onions are light golden in color. Remove onions from heat. Add 2 tablespoons yogurt and fried onions to blender and blend until slightly chunky in consistency (you may need to add 1/4-1/2 cups of water if the onion/yogurt mixture is too thick to blend).
Heat another 3 tablespoons of oil in same pot. Add pureed ginger and garlic and fry for a few seconds. Add tomato past and continue frying mixture over low to medium heat. Add all ground spices (and salt to taste) and continue frying (you may need to add 1/4 cup water to get the mixture to a paste-like consistency).
Add onion/yogurt mixture to spice paste 1/4 cup at a time. It is important to keep stirring and not add the onion/yogurt mixture too fast or the heat will cause the yogurt to curdle.
Add potato cubes and 1/2-1 cup of water to korma. Cover and lower heat to simmer to allow potatoes to cook thoroughly. In a separate pot, heat 2 tablespoons of oil and add whole spices (cinnamon stick pieces, cloves, cardamom, and peppercorns). Fry spices for 1-2 minutes until fragrant. Add chicken breast and cook chicken half way.
When the potatoes in the korma are almost cooked, add the oil mixture with the whole spices and chicken breast. Stir the korma and add the lid again. Continue cooking the korma at a low simmer until potatoes and chicken are cooked completely. Top with halved boiled eggs and chopped cilantro if you wish.
Serve with basmati rice or naan or with whole wheat toast or sourdough bread or or or. The korma is supremely tasty and the carbs are mostly just a vehicle to get the korma into your mouth as fast as possible.