Monday, February 2, 2009
You probably know that Balti is a type of Pakistani cooking. You may not know that there are still Balti people living in the northernmost regions of Pakistan. Baltistan was once an independent kingdom. It's now part of Pakistan but it's commonly known as "little Tibet." Despite a remote and inhospitable terrain, the area is a magnet for trekkers and climbers who are drawn to the area by imposing mountain peaks that include K2. The Balti people welcome outsiders and love to share their colorful history and aromatic food with visitors. Balti is a type of Kashmiri curry; the name refers to the place where it originated as well as the dish in which it is cooked and served. A true Balti pan is made of cast iron with a round bottom and handles to facilitate the serving of food. The curry is served with bread - like naan or pita - that is used to scoop it up. Traditionally, no utensils are offered and only the right hand is used for scooping. The way the food is served reflects a tribal, nomadic culture that is romantic and slightly alluring to those of us not eating on craggy slopes in extreme weather with only horses to keep us company. The curries are simple to prepare but their flavors are complex as you are about to see.
2 pounds chicken thighs
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1-1/2 cups chopped red onion
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh garlic
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt + salt to taste
1 (14.5-oz.) can chopped tomatoes
1 large green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Chopped scallions for garnish (optional)
Naan or pita for serving
1) Cut each thigh into 4 or 5 approximately even-sized pieces.
2) Heat a wok or heavy skillet over high heat. Add oil and swirl to coat sides of pan. Add onions and cook over medium heat until very soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and stir-fry until fragrant.
3) Add cumin, coriander, turmeric, chili powder and salt to pan. Cook for 1 minute. Add 1/2 cup water. Stir-fry over high heat until mixture thickens slightly, about 2 minutes. Watch carefully to prevent burning.
4) Add undrained tomatoes and 1 cup water to pan. Cook, stirring often, until mixture thickens and oil rises to surface, about 10 minutes.
5) Add chicken, reduce heat and simmer, stirring often, for 15 minutes. Stir in bell pepper and chili flakes and simmer until chicken is tender, about 25 minutes longer. Add water if mixture becomes too thick. Stir in cilantro and garnish with scallions if using. Serve with naan or pita. Yield: 4 to 6 servings