One Hundred Almond Curry

Sau Badam Ni Kari

In my mother’s house and in my grandmother’s, One Hundred Almond Curry was always regarded as one of the great festive dishes because of the double extravagance of chicken and almonds. The idea seems quaint now, when chicken is an everyday food both here and in India, and especially in a place like California, where almonds can be used in heedless abundance. Because it’s inauspicious to count things out in even numbers, the masala for this curry always has an extra almond added to it, just like the extra rupee added to even-numbered cash presents for weddings and such. The masala or curry paste is made with spices that are roasted first, to give them a deeper, darker flavor and color than the same ingredients ground without roasting. I like to use chicken thighs because the meat remains succulent and you don’t have to worry about breasts drying out before legs are cooked through. Of course, our house is one where a chicken with six legs and no breasts would be the perfect bird.

Serve with Perfect Plain Rice, toasted or fried Papads, Simple Onion Kachumbar, and a raita of cucumbers, spaghetti squash, or bottle gourd.

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Ingredients

Masala

  • 10 dried red chiles
  • 4 teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 3 teaspoons white poppy seeds
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 8 whole cloves
  • 4 cardamom pods
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 2 (2-inch-long) sticks cinnamon or cassia
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 101 unblanched almonds
  • 8 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 (3-inch-long) piece peeled fresh ginger, coarsely chopped
  • ¼ to ½ cup water

Chicken

  • 2 pounds chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat (8 to 10 thighs, depending on size)
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
  • 4 cups (about) water
  • 2 teaspoons (or more) salt
  • Milk of 1 coconut, or 3 cups canned or frozen coconut milk or reconstituted powdered coconut milk
  • Juice of 2 Key limes or 2 to 3 tablespoons prepared tamarind pulp

Method

  • To make the masala: In a heavy skillet, toast the chiles, coriander, poppy seeds, and cumin over medium heat until the seeds turn brown and the chiles look toasted. Be careful not to char the spices. If you have an Indian wet-dry grinder, all the masala ingredients can now be ground to a fine paste. If you don’t, start out by grinding the toasted spices along with the cloves, cardamom, peppercorns, cinnamon, and turmeric into a fine powder in a coffee or spice grinder dedicated to this purpose. Combine this powder with the almonds, garlic, and ginger in a food processor. Pulse until the almonds are finely ground. Add the water, starting with ¼ cup and using more as needed, and process until the mixture is as smooth as you can get it.
  • To make the chicken: Heat a heavy skillet, either dry or with the merest film of oil, over high heat. Brown the chicken thighs quickly. Set aside. Discard the chicken fat. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a deep heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. Add the onions and brown them, stirring occasionally. Then add the masala paste and stir the mixture for a few minutes over moderate heat until the aroma rises. Keep careful watch because the masala can catch on the bottom of the pan and burn while the surface remains innocently moist. Add the browned chicken, water, and salt. Bring to a boil; reduce the heat and simmer until the chicken is almost tender, adding more water if necessary, about 20 minutes. The gravy should be fairly thick. Add the coconut milk and check for salt. Bring to a boil again and simmer until the chicken is very tender but not falling off the bone, about 15 minutes longer. Add the lime juice and serve.

Vegetarian Variation

This curry can be made with eggs instead of chicken. Follow the recipe instructions, simply leaving out the chicken and adding 1 or 2 small hard-boiled eggs per person in the last few minutes. For a vegan version, use vegetables like cauliflower, eggplant, and pumpkin, singly or in combination.

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