Not your usual Chicken Curry

The rumble and flash, of thunder and lightning, were followed by a distant roar from across the San Luis Valley. The sound persisted and several campers likened it to that of a train, one that was approaching us slowly but surely. A tornado? At 8200ft? Unlikely but unsettling enough for my neighbor Lisa to quietly start gathering her chairs and other belongings as the wind picked up and brought the sound even closer. Soon there was an increased urgency in her movements and I followed suit, neither of us knowing what we were hedging against. It hit us before we knew what it was. We scrambled to our cars and campers, some to the closest tents. Within seconds, the ground was covered with the largest hail I have ever seen, some almost 2 inches big. Many of us had bruises for show-and-tell later. Others, like my husband, had a sore head from sticking it out of the car to try and catch some of that frozen wonder. In my haste to get to our van, I forgot to pick up leftover cherries from our pit spitting competition.

Cherries split by hail
Cherries split by hail

And because you want to know, I am the reigning champion of the pit spitting competition. My neighbors will vouch for me.

The hail continued for what seemed like forever, only to be washed away almost immediately by heavy rain. By the time it was safe to emerge from our various hideouts, most of the hail had melted and been soaked up by a thirsty ground. Across the plains, we saw several large dust tornadoes dance around sheets of rain and hail. The dunes looked eerie dressed in dark brown. As we watched the storm move across the dunes, we saw a powerful bolt of lightning hit the dunes in what seemed to be a straight line from the clouds to the sand. Barely 2 miles away. The ground shook and most us screamed. Well, I did. Even as the weather continued to threaten, we planned to look for fulgurites in the sand the next day.

This was two weekends ago when we camped at the Oasis Campgrounds, just outside the Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado. That I had forgotten my toothbrush seemed to be a minor detail on my first truly relaxed camping trip. The previous day we had spent the evening frolicking in the quickly cooling sand dunes, dipping our toes in the freezing waters of the Medano Creek as the sun set.

Sunset at Medano Creek
Sunset at Medano Creek

Temperatures of over 80F during the day warm the creek and it's a surreal sight to see people basking in the sun against the backdrop of snowy peaks that are over 13,000ft tall.

As tall as the mountains
This baby makes my heart melt

Playing in the creek
Playing in the creek

It was a good thing we had had our potluck earlier in the day than usual as it would have been hard to pick up all that food and run to safety from the hail, wind, and lightning. There's always an incredible amount of food at our camping potlucks. That's one of the reasons we try to hike during the day so that we can do justice to the spread before us! But hiking in the dunes is not the best thing to do during the day. The sand reaches temperatures of 120F and hotter, making lazing in the creek infinitely more attractive.

I knew I was taking chicken for the potluck but I didn't know in what form until D returned from the Indian store bearing luscious sprigs of curry leaves. It had to be kadipatta chicken. It doesn't take much time to put together with disproportionately high rewards.

Kadipatta leaves
So they were a little worse for the wear by the time I took this picture

This was a recipe that had been given to my sister several decades ago. By the time she handed it to me, it had undergone several iterations in her kitchen. I have since added my own to arrive at a version that we enjoy.

Kadipatta Chicken

  • 2.5lbs of chicken tenderloins, diced 
  • 3-4 tbsp oil
  • 2 tsp black peppercorn
  • 1 stick cinnamon (rolled cassia), broken into pieces
  • 3 green cardamom
  • 5 cloves
  • 15-20 fresh curry leaves, washed and dried
  • 3 dried red chillies
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 medium onion, chopped fine
  • 1 tbsp grated ginger
  • 2 tsp grated garlic (optional)
  • a ball of fresh tamarind pulp that fits easily into a 1/8 cup measure
  • salt to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper

Kadipatta chicken
Spicy, tangy and peppery

  1. Heat oil in a kadhai and when hot, add black peppercorn, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves. Fry these whole spices in the hot oil, making sure they do not burn.
  2. Add curry leaves and quickly cover the pot to stop the oil from splattering all over your stove and you.
  3. When the curry leaves are nicely fried in the oil, add dried red chillies and fry some more.
  4. Add chopped onions and fry until soft and light brown in color.
  5. Soak the fresh tamarind pulp in about 1 cup of warm water and mash into a thick paste, discarding pits and hard fiber. If necessary, use more water.
  6. To the onion mixture, add ginger and garlic, if using, and cook for a few minutes. 
  7. Add turmeric powder and mix well.
  8. Add the diced chicken and cook on medium-high, until the chicken is lightly browned on the outside. Stir only as necessary.
  9. Add tamarind paste and salt. Stir so that the chicken is well coated with the sauce that starts to come together. Cook for another 10-15 minutes until chicken is completely cooked.
  10. Garnish with freshly ground peppercorn and serve hot over a bed of rice or with rotis.
Kadipatta chicken
Tastier than it is pretty
  •  Use less oil if you have more time on hand to fry the onions.
  • Add more water if you would like a thinner sauce. I prefer a thick sauce and therefore I use less water.
  • Add red chilli powder or use more dried red chillies if you would like to up the heat.
  • The original recipe called for the chicken to be deep fried. There's no way I am doing that.
  • You don't see any freshly ground pepper in the pics above as Medha doesn't like ground black pepper. I keep the pepper mill handy at the table and we grind our own over each serving.


chow and chatter said...

great blog and delicious curry

A_and_N said...

I'm not a huge fan of black pepper too!

High-Five Medha!

That said, I like how the dish is totally based on one innocuous leaf! :)

And I want to move to CO, how much fun you guys have!

john k.Tas. said...

lovely to read, and to admire the photos. sunny winter's day here in Kingston, southern Tasmania,Australia.regards, john kelly.

Anita said...

Looks like you had exciting camping! We have not got much rain this summer but monsoons should be here soon and the prediction is that we will have a 'normal' monsoon this year.

I love black pepper! The kootu we ate last night used the heady heat of black peppercorns. This looks like an easy curry - should give it a try while son is home for the hols!

Meeta K. Wolff said...

OH yes I shall be reproducing this one! love the incredible flavors in this!

The Cooking Ninja said...

Funnily my mom cooked somewhat similar to yours but she just called it curry chicken. hehehe

Finla said...

Wowo i can imagine the aroma of this chicke dish. Looks so so good. I want this for my lunch but alsa i am having pasta.

Soma said...

bookmarked. i have a kadipatta plant at home (fingers crossed). I don't cook chicken that often, but i love the way this sounds with not many ingredients.

I will have to visit CO .. HAVE TO!


Kavitha G said...

Nice recipe. This is how my mother-in-law cooks too - except for one variation - roasts all the spices, ginger, garlic, onion, curry leaves in oil & grinds it all together, then the chicken is cooked in this gravy.

Manjusha Nimbalkar said...

hey Manisha...u r such a fantastic cook.Only I knew few years back when we were in touch...missed i t damn.How u doing..long time. I religiously follow ur blog....yumm food....

Indian Food Rocks said...

A lightning strike from the storm we witnessed ignited a fire on the sand dunes and they have been burning ever since. Initially a small fire of about 300acres, it grew to over 3000 acres today due to high winds. Fire plays an important role in the eco-system of the dunes and fire-fighters were using natural methods to allow it to burn and contain it. Now unfortunately, it's a cause for concern. Here's the latest report from The Denver Post.

chow, thanks and I hope you hang around!

A&N, amazing leaf, it is! It's a critical ingredient in this recipe No kadipatta, no chicken curry.

John, thank you! A sunny winter's day sounds perfect!

Anita, it is easy but you will need to add a truckload of red chilli powder to make it spicy enough for your tastes. So remember that!

Meeta, simple but very appealing!

Ninja, how interesting! I love how cultures seem to merge in South and South East Asia and yet remain so distinct!

Happy, make it for lunch tomorrow!

Soma, it's easy and you can adjust the seasonings to suit your taste!

Kavitha, I like that idea and I think I will try it the next time I make this. Maybe I could use fish instead of chicken if I do that. Thank you so much!

Manju, kuthe ahes tu? I miss you and your crazy sister!

Anonymous said...

lovely lovely read and the recipe is a super handy one. Must print and paste on my kitchen cabinet...

Shaheen said...

I have a kaddipatta plant growing in my window and I really don't do justice to it. Good wake up call.