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A road trip and a chicken Kolhapuri break

A highway journey reflected the year gone by—trials and challenges made agreeable by good food, both at home, on the road, and at the homes of friends and family

Chicken Kolhapuri curry.
Chicken Kolhapuri curry. (Photo by Samar Halarnkar)

I write this column with great difficulty.

I have, you see, just come back from our annual Christmas lunch with my friend Naresh Fernandes’ family in Bandra, Mumbai, after devouring Goa sausages, sorpotel, roast chicken, chicken curry, cutlets, neer dosas, sannas and—you get the picture. His brother and sister-in-law, Prakash and Joanna, and their parents have given us honorary family status and for that, we are most grateful and substantially satiated, hence the said difficulty.

Also read | Chasing Christmas treats around the world

We have come to realise over the year that good food, friends and family are invaluable and irreplaceable. As the year comes to an end, we reflected on our good fortune in having all three in abundance and the effort needed to keep it that way, which is why when we found round-trip air ticket prices between Bengaluru and Mumbai for the three of us seemingly unaffordable, we turned to our car.

For a family that had spent its happiest days with the wind in our hair and the road stretching ahead and behind, we had done precious little travel these last few years. Put it down to the dearth of school holidays, work, and lethargy.

This time, the normally reluctant child was keen, if she was allowed to jam blankets on both rear-seat windows, create a small bedroom for herself, and go to sleep. So, we set out with blankets flapping in the wind and the child asleep on the backseat-turned-bedroom. It took us two days and 16 hours to cover 1,000km. The first day was easy enough, as we made good time on Karnataka’s smooth highways.

Also read | Eat better, travel better: a new India advisory

We stopped for the evening and night at a peaceful, little resort amidst sugarcane fields before Kolhapur, home to fiery Kolhapuri mutton and chicken, jowar bhakris and Kolhapuri chappals. To my delight, they had Kolhapuri chicken and bhakri, but while the chicken was fiery and delicious, it was swimming in oil and extraordinarily heavy for a road trip. We washed it down with Old Monk on the patio of our room, as a crisp, chill evening descended around us.

I was a little irritated.

Why must everything made outside the home be so hard on the stomach and damaging to the arteries? That is why I swore to make Kolhapuri chicken, just to see if it could be light and easy. I am happy to report that it can be. My version (see recipe) was drier, more earthy, and certainly as tasty and more satisfying.

To return to the journey, as we set out at 5.30am from Kolhapur on Day 2, we quickly realised that the smooth sailing of the first day was over. South Maharashtra’s highways were being converted to six lanes from four, slowing us down greatly, as we were guided into diversions every 10km or less. Passing through Pune late morning was hellish, and just when we thought we could breathe easy on the Pune-Mumbai Expressway, we were caught in a gigantic traffic jam in the Khandala Ghats. When we descended the hills, the toll plazas were backed up, and I had to dangerously fight off cars and SUVs trying to cut in from the left and right.

Eventually, we lurched into Mumbai, chastened yet satisfied at surviving the long haul. Soon, we were ensconced in the warm embrace of those closest to us: parents, cousins, nieces, aunts, uncles, and friends.

In a sense, the journey reflected the year gone by—trials and challenges made agreeable by good food, both at home, on the road, and at the homes of friends and family. There was always lunch or dinner involved, food that taught us more about ourselves and expanded our horizons.

I reflected on all these things in the Fernandes home, as everyone gathered around, exchanged gifts, and shared stories. The children amused themselves—and I tried to hide the plate that I had already filled before we heard grace.

Serves 3

Half-kg chicken, curry cut
1 large onion, sliced thin
2 tomatoes, deseeded and chopped
Half-tsp turmeric powder
One-and-a-half-tsp ginger-garlic paste
Juice of half lemon
Quarter-cup coriander leaves, chopped
2 tbsp vegetable oil
Salt to taste

Rub the chicken with turmeric and set aside.
Roast and grind the ingredients and spices listed below on a medium griddle until the seeds begin to pop. Take care not to burn. Grind to a powder.

4 dried Byadgi chillies
Half piece cinnamon
3 cloves
1 piece mace
Quarter-tsp nutmeg powder
1 large black cardamon
3 small cardamoms
4-5 whole black peppercorns
2 tsp poppy seeds
1 tsp white sesame seeds

Meanwhile roast 3 tbsp grated or sliced coconut separately and add to the spice powder in the grinder. Set aside.

In a pan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil and fry the onions till golden. Add ginger-garlic paste and sauté for a minute. Drizzle in a little water if you suspect it is sticking and in danger of burning. Remove, and add the friend onions to the roasted spice powder and grind to an uneven paste.

Rub the paste into chicken and allow marination for at least 30 minutes, preferably overnight.

In a pan, heat the second tablespoon of oil and sauté the tomatoes until soft. Add the marinated chicken and sear for five minutes. Add salt, and water to cover. Bring to a boil, lower the flame and simmer for 40 minutes or longer, depending on how you want the chicken. Stir in most of the fresh coriander for the last five minutes.

Mix in the lime juice and garnish with the remaining coriander before serving.

Our Daily Bread is a column on easy, inventive cooking. Samar Halarnkar is the author of The Married Man’s Guide To Creative Cooking—And Other Dubious Adventures. He posts @samar11 on Twitter.

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