Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Perfect Chicken Korma

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.

Chicken Korma

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)
Chopped cilantro

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.


  1. I love this post of yours , it's true we plan and plan andplan but things just don't happen , we shud just do stuff before it's too let . Moms are always patient , my mom is the same too , she does things on low heat saying it tastes better ( and it does ) but I just don't have that kind of patience , hope to achieve it someday . Again great post and delicious Korma :D .

  2. Le siigh... Love this post! Can't wait to try your mama's Korma!

  3. You are a fantastic writer. There are very few blogs that I can sit and read; your story telling has a feeling of "i'm right there in the kitchen with them".


  4. Ohh I love this post, Azmeena. Now that I live so far away from my parents, whenever I see them on Skype, I am struck by how much older they look. Mum especially. And you said it so well. I fully accept that I am evolving as a person and so much is changing about me but I can't seem to accept an older image of my mum. I crave how we used to be when I lived in Mumbai. Such a touching post and a great recipe!

  5. What a beautiful, tender post. I can sort of relate as my mom is in town to help me of with our new little one... Except my mom is a terrible cook and I'm teaching her what I know I the kitchen. But the role reversal is just as precious, because it's just me and my mom, for the couple of hours when I can tear her away from the melodramatic Beijing soap operas.

  6. I'm reading this a day before my mother's birthday, what a beautiful post! Really felt what you said about mothers getting older... But on a lighter note, I drew so many blanks today when trying to think of what to cook with my packet of boneless chicken. This is perfect :-)

  7. Love this post. I agree...I'm always waiting for the perfect day to break out the good dishes, to wear a nicer outfit, etc. etc. but there is no time like the present to do all of these things!

    It's so hard to see our parents get older, isn't it? Your mom is a lucky lady to have such a sweet, accomplished daughter. I hope Maya turns out half as great as you!

  8. Okay, you made me tear up a little as I read this. I hate thinking that my parents are getting older.

    But I love your post! And I love this recipe for korma, I'm so trying it out.

  9. What a lovely, poignant story, and just in time for Mother's Day. I am bookmarking the korma recipe now. A true classic.

  10. You have written about your mother's korma on several occasions and I'm so happy that you have now shared it with the rest of us! I will try it soon!

    And thank you for the reminder to enjoy my mother while I have the chance :-)


  11. This looks very tasty! I have never had this before, but might just be time to try something new. Love the flavor combinations. Your Mom sounds like quite a lady and hopefully you can celebrate together on Sunday for Mother's Day! Happy early mothers day to you!!!

  12. Perfect is over rated! I could be your mother or at least that is how I feel these days. I need to set things aside and sit down with my mom and something this good. I hope you have the Happiest Mother's Day and get spoiled rotten like you should. I got your message and that day works for me.

  13. oh Azmina this is a beautiful post. My mom is quite young because she had me quite early and recently hit her 40's. It was always like we grew up together and I still feel like my mom is that 28 year old pretty young woman with three tiny kids pulling her around! Its strange but her first white hair made me sad. I told her quite clearly, not to update me about them :-D

  14. What a beautiful post! The korma looks wonderful. Wish I could dig into it now.

  15. Hello, Thank you for your sweet comment, you have a very yummy blog, and your pictures are very awesome<3
    I will definitely try this recip :)

  16. I love this article. This is exactly what I am working on. When I am in the kitchen, I try to slow myself down and not be so expectant of the outcome. Just being 'in the moment' of chopping the veggies, or stirring a pot of soup is hard for me because I want to rush to the finish line. I hear you. It's hard to slow ourselves down in this triple task world. But, how wonderful that your mother's aging is prompting you to do just that...I wonder sometimes if it is the way life is supposed to progress or none of us would find reason to really stop and enjoy our time together.

  17. Azmina, this was a touching post. I bet you will carry the memory of your mom teaching you to make chicken korma with you for the rest of your life. What a special bond it seems like you have with her.

  18. Hi Azmina! I loved reading your post, I like the idea of you working in your garden planting roses with your mom enjoying a cup of tea in the garden.
    Looking forward to seeing you soon;-)

  19. You take the most beautiful pictures - I particularly really love the colour combination and the lighting!! What a delicious chicken korma...just perfect for a terriffic Sunday!

  20. Azmina you made me very melancholy, but in a good way. We rush, we look ahead, we wish for the perfect whatever, and in the meantime the people around us grow up and grow old. You need to have those imperfect days with your mom more often, as each one is special.
    I am going to Serbia this summer and it might be the last time I ever see my mom, because she is really ill. I'll try to learn as much as I can, the process I dragged out, thinking there is always time.
    Lovely post.
    I am going to make your mother's korma, as I have everything in my pantry and fridge, except for the chicken. I will be thinking of you and your mom, wishing you both a lot of perfect days filled with talks and cookery lessons:)

  21. Hi Azmina! It's nice to meet you and your blog!

    What a beautiful post. My parents live far and I miss so much especially when I can't celebrate this kind of occasion together. Your chicken korma looks SO delicious!!!

    I'm looking forward to following your blog. :-)

  22. I too obsess over getting things perfect, I remember making and eating scrambled eggs five days in a row to test out the best way to make scrambled eggs before I blogged about it.

    CHicken Korma is one of my favourite Indian curries, so was going to go down the experiment route again, but now that you've just shared the perfect recipe, you've probably saved me quite a few nights of curry! Lovely post, the food looks delicious !

  23. Amazing how you come up with such delicate flavors and combos

  24. I loved every second of this post. I'm calling my mom right now...

  25. I have to compliment for the perfectly hard-boiled egg in the dish. I love Indian curries but yet to try the chicken Korma. Your recipe seems simple enough for me to try. Thanks for sharing.

  26. your mom sounds as lovely as my mom and I treasure the time I spend with her... just wish she lived closer (I am in the US and she is in Italy). Today is always the perfect day! BTW, it's 1am in the morning and you made me hungry with this incredible looking dish!!!



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  28. I love chicken korma, one of my favorites! What a great idea to have a mom-day. My mom lives 1000 miles away, so I didn't get to see her nearly as much as I would like!

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