There’s more to the Easter feast than chocolate bunnies and painted eggs. In fact, the real hero of Easter — apart from the Risen Christ himself — is the meat!
As Easter is the culmination of 40 days of fasting and penitence, it’s only fair that the feast is one of grand indulgence. I remember how, growing up in the 70s and 80s in Madras (now Chennai), the season of Lent was a time of complete abstinence at home, when even eggs were off the menu. Stretching into 46 days (to include Holy Week), it was a time to embrace a variety of vegetarian dishes, pachchadis, pickles and vadams, which blended quite well with the onset of spring and summer. Surprisingly, this brief dalliance with vegetarianism would be quite spiritually uplifting, and I wouldn’t really miss the meat — until Easter.
But the dawn of Easter awakened the senses in more ways than one, and the first dish for breakfast on Easter morning was our cook Shankar’s green chicken kurma with soft, melt-in-the-mouth idlis. Lunch was a different story. But that kurma, with its profusion of fresh greens and succulent chicken pieces, brings back many fond memories of festivals and the coming together of family and friends. Now, with both my parents gone and community gatherings becoming increasingly rare, it is memories such as these that I find myself reliving often.
Feast for the soul
Back in the 80s, my family used to man one of the breakfast stalls at the CSI St. Thomas English Church’s annual thanksgiving festival, for the sole reason that our cook used to make the best chicken kurma. I still remember how, on the carnival day, Shankar would arrive at four in the morning to start his preparation, and soon the house would be filled with the aroma of fresh mint and coriander, till the chicken joined in and took it to a different level.
My father was a stickler for punctuality and we would arrive at the church well ahead of time, chicken kurma, gas stove, cylinder and Shankar in tow. The freshly-made idlis, dosas and kurma would fly off the plates in a jiffy. By popular demand, we would repeat the ‘idli-kurma’ treat for carol rounds and choir Sunday breakfasts. Every annual mission fundraiser sale would also feature this star dish.
Fresh as a memory
Recently, I happened to delve deeper into the origin of the kurma (or korma, as it is called in the north), which has its roots in Mughlai cuisine. I was surprised to find that this particular green variant is quite popular in the Nilgiris and the surrounding hilly regions of Kongu Nadu. A staple of the tribal Badaga kitchen, the recipe is unique as no powdered masalas are used — it’s only whole spices and fresh herbs. And the fresher the coriander and mint, the greener the kurma. These little bits of information fit in so neatly, like the missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle, as our cook too was from Coimbatore.
I still have Shankar’s recipe. I remember writing it down as he narrated it the very year I was married. Now my daughter thinks it’s the only worthwhile dish in my rather limited repertoire of culinary exploits. I make it only for Christmas and Easter.
Green chicken kurma
1/2 coconut, grated or cut into small pieces
5 sliced onions
7 green chillies
2 tbsp ginger & garlic paste (freshly ground)
1/2 a bunch fresh mint leaves (pudhina)
1/2 a bunch fresh coriander leaves
3 bay leaves
2 inches cinnamon sticks
1 tbsp fennel seeds
3 star anise
1 kg chicken
Salt to taste
1. Add around two tablespoons of oil in the pressure cooker pan and fry the grated/ cut coconut with a teaspoon of fennel seeds till the coconut turns slightly brown and gives out a delightful aroma. Transfer to a vessel and allow it to cool.
2. Pour some more oil in the pan and fry the green chillies, along with half the quantity of sliced onion. Fry till onion turns translucent and transfer to another vessel to cool.
3. Grind the above two fried items separately in a mixie.
4. In the same pan, add more oil and when it heats up, add the remaining fennel seeds, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, clove, cardamom, star anise and curry leaves, along with the remaining onion, and fry well.
5. Cut the tomatoes into medium-sized pieces and add.
6. After the tomatoes are cooked, add the ginger-garlic paste, and then the green chilli and onion mixture, and fry well.
7. Add the chicken pieces and salt and mix well. Add water and bring to a boil, allowing the chicken to cook. If you are pressure-cooking, close the lid and cook for one or two whistles.
8. Open the cooker, add the ground coconut and allow it to cook fully.
9. Grind fresh coriander and mint leaves and add, bringing it to a boil. The kurma is done when the oil separates and it still looks green. Bon appétit! Happy Easter!
The writer is a freelancer based in Chennai, who loves telling stories from the past.