At the very beginning of the pandemic, people who mostly ate out or relied on a steady stream of takeout had to return to home cooking. While COVID-19 was raging outside and our collective stress was at an all-time high, we all still had to eat and suddenly had a lot more time to cook. The upside though is that there is something healing about cooking – even when you are making a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese or Hamburger Helper. Maybe it’s because it the process of cooking (especially when you have time) is calming and soothing, giving the chef time and space to think. Maybe it’s because it’s a predictable, step-by-step process that yields a delicious product. Or maybe it’s the nostalgia of cooking the food of your childhood and the care and affection of your family that came with eating that food.
For me, being and cooking at home more has had me thinking a lot about my mother’s home cooking. My parents emigrated from Bangladesh in the late 1970s, and although they embraced many aspects of American life, my parents could not give up the delicious flavors of Bangladeshi cuisine. Not having the option to pick up or take out Bangladeshi food in the US, my parents learned to cook this cuisine at home. By the time I came around, my mother had become an excellent cook (my father was serviceable). When I was old enough, my parents involved me in the kitchen – it was important to them that my sister and I learned how to cook Bangladeshi food. It wasn’t just the connection to their country of origin, it was also about the time spent with us, storytelling and passing on our cultural heritage. For my mother especially, it was an act of love to cook homemade meals for her family and she wanted us to have the ability to provide the same love for our future families.
In March 2020, when my own anxiety about current events was through the roof, I returned to a dish that my mother made for special occasions or just when my family needed an emotional pick-me up: chicken korma. It’s still something that you can’t find in traditional Indian restaurants, so I have to make it at home.
It takes some time, but the result is well-worth the effort and provides an amazing and satisfying meal for these crazy times. I always include my loved ones, making them into home sous-chefs. So, from my home to yours, I hope that you take some time to cook this with and for your friends and family and enjoy the time spent, memories made. Certainly, we could all use a little peace and comfort that a good home cooked meal would give us.
Zahreen’s Bangladeshi Chicken Korma
Place the chicken in a medium Dutch oven or stainless-steel pot, and season with 2 teaspoons of salt. Thinly slice 1/4 of the onion and set aside. Roughly chop the rest of the onion, and purée it in a blender with the ginger, garlic and 3 tablespoons of water, until smooth.
Combine the onion purée with the chicken, yogurt, cardamom, cloves, bay leaves, cinnamon, sugar and peppercorns. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring. Cover the pot until the chicken releases its juices, 5 to 7 minutes.
Uncover the pot and adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook, stirring and flipping the chicken occasionally, until tender and the sauce has thickened and is gravy-like in consistency, about 35 minutes. Season to taste with salt.
Separately, heat the ghee and oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Once the ghee and oil is heated, add the sliced onions, a dash of kosher salt, and cook until they are browned, but not crispy, approx. 3 to 4 minutes. Top korma with fried onions. Serve with basmati rice, roti or naan.
Time: 1 hour
2 pounds skinless, bone-in
2 teaspoons of kosher salt, plus
more to taste
1 large onion, peeled
1 2-inch knob of ginger, peeled
4 cloves garlic, peeled
½ cup whole-milk yogurt
4 to 6 green cardamom pods,
3 to 5 cloves
2 bay leaves
1 3-inch stick cinnamon
½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon black peppercorns
2 tablespoons butter or ghee
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
by Zahreen Ghaznavi