Just recently, I've made several chicken & salad meals by coating chicken pieces in some kind of sauce or rub, then baking it in the oven. I think, so far as I can remember, I've done a BBQ version, a Cajun version, a garlic and herb version - you get the idea. So when I was considering a curry for one of the week's meals, it occurred to me that I could do the same sort of arrangement - but with a vegetable curry instead of salad.
If I were to marinate the chicken in something, then bake it - and make a vegetable curry earlier on in the day, then that would result in a really quite simple dinner preparation. All I'd have to do is put the chicken in the oven, warm up the vegetable curry and cook the rice and peas. Lovely!
Now sometimes, this sort of plan goes awry at the last minute as I haven't anticipated how long it would take me to chop the vegetables, or I'd run out of pans and make horrid amounts of washing up. This time, however, it all went beautifully according to plan and was indeed the most satisfying dinner not just from an eating perspective, but from the preparation and clearing up perspective too.
I started off the processes by marinating the chicken in a mixture of curry paste, mango chutney and Greek yoghurt (doesn't have to be Greek - it's just that Greek yoghurt is my plain yoghurt of choice) for the day.
Next - and during the morning - I sat down and peeled, cut and chopped all the vegetables for the curry and set about making it. I do so enjoy cooking without time constraints. It was lovely to just sail along, cooking without having to keep an eye on the time. We try to have our meals on the table for 6pm, you see. Sometimes I have a lot of trouble hitting that 6pm deadline!
As ever, when cooking a curry, I had an end result in mind but no real idea how I was going to get there. So, I knew I wanted to emulate the British Takeaway vegetable curry flavour and texture of the thing - without over cooking any of the veggies and without it winding up too watery, too stew-like or too greasy. Shouldn't be a problem!
I went through the fridge and pulled out everything that didn't have a home to go to as well as the few veggies that I'd bought with this particular dish in mind. So we wound up with onion, garlic, red chilli, carrot, potato, mushroom, baby red peppers, cauliflower, broccoli, fresh quartered tomato, fresh coriander and red lentils. That should take care of our five a day!
Whenever I do the chopping-and-a-peeling, I always put the cut veggies onto plates or in dishes in the order I'll be needing them. So the onion, garlic and chilli went onto one plate, the carrots were in a dish on their own. The potato, mushroom and baby red peppers went into the colander and the tomato, cauliflower and broccoli were on another plate. That way, I don't have to waste any time separating one from the other - and they're all ready to go when I start cooking. I can't cook and chop - just doesn't work.
I was tempted to spice the curry myself, but in the end decided to use our pre-prepared Sharwoods Korma curry paste - the same one I'd used on the chicken. I was going for simplicity and the Sharwoods is a very good middle of the road curry paste that you can pep up with additional chilli if you want. The ingredients list reads very well, too. With tomato puree, coriander, cumin, turmeric, ginger, chilli, paprika, cardamom, mustard seeds, fenugreek and fennel and the only additive being acetic acid, it is a very acceptable quick curry fix.
So, it went like this. First of all I chose my biggest saucepan in which to cook so that I had enough room for everything as I wasn't entirely sure how much it would come to. I put 2-3 tbsp of sunflower oil in and got that heating, then added the onion - and a small pinch of salt - which cooked until golden brown, but not burned. The garlic then went in for a minute, before I added the chilli and carrot. Next in was the curry paste and tomato puree which I cooked until the oil was released - just a few minutes. The next things into the pot were the potato/mushroom/red pepper combo which got mixed all around and coated in the aromatic loveliness.
I wanted to include some coconut milk at this point, but didn't want to use a whole 400g tin of the stuff. Amazingly, I found a small carton of Blue Dragon coconut cream which did the job perfectly - and was just about to go out of date - so that went in next. I added a teaspoonful of Essential Cuisine chicken stock powder and approximately 200-300ml of water and gave everything a good stir. I was tying my hands behind my back to prevent myself from adding more salt at this stage. The temptation was enormous, but I resisted - and jolly good job too. I satisfied the urge by adding some black pepper instead. *chuckle* In went the red lentils and I let everything simmer gently together for around 20-30 minutes until almost cooked. Finally, I added the cauliflower and turned off the heat - leaving it to cool.
When I came back to start the dinner properly, first thing was to put the chicken into the oven, then start the vegetable curry warming up and boil the water for the rice.
Once the curry had heated through enough to start bubbling, I removed the lid and let it reduce slightly - just to thicken the sauce a little. In went the broccoli and the tomato quarters, plus three quarters of the chopped fresh coriander. Once the broccoli was cooked and the sauce reduced to my liking, it was done.
The chicken came out of the oven still beautifully coated in the curried yoghurty mix, which had slightly caramelised on top, thanks to the mango chutney - which was exactly what I was hoping for.
The plain basmati rice was brightened up by the addition of a few green peas. A tip for adding frozen peas to cooking rice is to run the peas under the hot tap to defrost them and warm them up before adding them to the rice with around 2 minutes to go. That way, you don't stop the cooking process by adding freezing peas and they will stay a vibrant green.
The whole meal was absolutely delicious, comforting, satisfying and got a huge thumbs up from everyone. So long as you make the veggie curry earlier in the day, it was ultimately all finished in around 30 minutes and was a perfect arrangement for anyone who loves curry but wants healthy along with it - and who can't spend too long in the kitchen making it.
Son and heir was practically begging for this curry to be made again and soon - so I'm sure it won't be long!
CURRY BAKED CHICKEN, VEGETABLE CURRY WITH RICE AND PEAS (Serves 3 with leftover vegetable curry)
3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
3 tbsp plain (Greek) yoghurt
1 tbsp mango chutney
1.5 tbsp curry paste.
3 tbsp sunflower oil
2 onions, sliced finely
2 fat garlic cloves, chopped finely
1 hot red chilli (seeds are optional)
1 donkey carrot, peeled and diced
3 tbsp curry paste
2 tbsp tomato puree
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
6-10 mushrooms, washed and quartered
6 baby red peppers (or one red pepper, cut into pieces), top & tailed
250ml coconut cream
1 tsp chicken stock powder or a low salt chicken stock cube
enough water to just cover the contents
3 heaped tbsp red lentils
3-4 cauliflower florets, broken into small pieces
3-4 broccoli florets, broken into small pieces
1 large ripe tomato, quartered (or smaller) into wedges
a large handful of fresh coriander, chopped.
1 cup of uncooked basmati rice
half a cup of frozen peas.
1. In the morning, mix together the yoghurt, chutney and curry paste in a large bowl.
2. Trim the chicken breasts of fat and gristle, then score lightly across the top to allow the marinade to more easily penetrate the meat.
3. Add the chicken to the marinade and mix gently to ensure every little bit of chicken is covered in marinade. Cover with cling film and refrigerate until 30 minutes prior to cooking.
4. To make the vegetable curry (which I recommend should also be done in the morning), heat the oil in a large, deep saucepan. Add the oil.
5. Add the onion -
and a small pinch of salt - and cook for around 10-15 minutes until golden brown, but not
burned. Add the garlic and stir quickly, then add the chilli and stir.
6. Next, add the carrot pieces, which will help to cool the pan and so avoid burning the garlic.
7. Next add the curry paste and tomato puree and stir well to combine with the rest of the ingredients. Cooked until the oil is released - just a few minutes.
8. Add the potato/mushroom/red peppers and stir well to ensure they are coated with the curry mixture.
9. Add the coconut cream, stock powder and water and stir gently to combine. Do not add any salt at this stage, but if you're yearning to - add a little black pepper instead!
10. Stir in the red lentils and let everything simmer gently
together for around 20-30 minutes until almost cooked.
11. Finally - for this stage - add the
cauliflower, turn off the heat, cover and leave to cool.
12. Several hours later and when you're ready to prepare the dinner proper, begin by turning on the heat under the vegetable curry and pre-heating the oven to 200degC/400degF/Gas 6. Line a shallow baking tray with silver foil (optional - but it helps with the washing up!) and place the chicken onto the foil. Spoon any additional marinade over the top of each chicken breast. Place into the oven for 25-35 minutes or until the juices run clear if pricked with a knife.
13. Three quarters fill a good sized saucepan with water, add a pinch of sea salt and place it on a high heat, to boil.
14. Put the dry rice into a seive and run it under a hot tap until the water runs clear. Once the water in the pan boils, add the rice and cook - simmering - for 7-9 minutes. 2 minutes before the rice is due to be ready, add the defrosted peas.
15. As the rice is cooking, the vegetable curry should have come up to temperature. Remove the lid and allow the sauce to reduce a little as you add the broccoli, tomato and three quarters of the fresh coriander. Stir from time to time, to make sure it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan.
16. Once the rice is ready, drain and return to the warm pan. You can add a little of the chopped coriander for some extra flavour, if you like.
17. Once the chicken is done, serve with the vegetable curry and green pea rice - with an added flourish of a sprinkle of chopped coriander for garnish.