I very rarely post a recipe that has come straight from a cookery book but when I made this dish last week it proved quite a popular item, so I thought I would share it with everyone on the blog. Unless you have a copy of the magnificent Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food, An Odyssey from Samarkand and Vilna to the Present Day (a wee bit of a mouthful), you will probably have never heard of Minty Carrot Chicken. I must admit it is one of those recipes that doesn’t exactly jump out of the page screaming to be tried and is easy to pass over, maybe because of its less than exciting name or its very simplistic list of ingredients give the impression of a dish rather lacking in the flavour department.
The Book of Jewish Food is a weighty tome, both in size and content. Part cookery, part history, the author documents over 800 (yes 800) Jewish recipes gathered from the world over, many of them originating in centuries past and never seen in print before. Not only an in-depth history of Jewish food, Ms Roden’s prose embarks on a culinary expedition around the globe, from our own England, neighbouring France, Germany and Poland, the USA, Russia, India and China, Syria and Morocco, charting the fascinating culture and history of the Jewish people as she goes.
To be honest, it is probably not a book for the novice cook who would benefit from learning the basic cookery skills before embarking on baking bagels or preserving a goose. There are no glossy, seductive photographs, in fact there are no photographs of the dishes whatsoever, just a meagre scattering of black and white plates of historical people and places. With cooking, as when learning any new skill, it is reassuringly comforting to have a photograph of the finished article and I know some cooks are put off trying a recipe that does not have an accompanying picture.
However, for those interested in culinary history it is a fabulous and important read and even though now nearly 20 years old, it still holds sway on my bulging book shelves, long after many others have been and gone.
Tastes in cookery are as fickle as in the fashion industry, with new trends and fads emerging each year. Some will last for a few years, some will fall by the wayside in a few months only to be replaced by a ‘new’ cooking sensation. Bombarded by press and peer pressure, consumers will rush out to buy the new must have cake tin, the latest health giving wonder ingredient or the newest, all bells and whistles garlic press on the market (a totally unnecessary item in a batterie de cuisine in my opinion).
Judging by the amount of pristine books which turn up at my local boot sale every week without so much as a sticky thumb print or dried bit of cake dough stuck to the pages, a lot of the new coffee table cookery books penned by celebrity chefs turn out to be nothing more than expensive photograph albums. The shiny pages flicked through on a cold night in front of the tele and then never glanced at again. After a few months consigned to a battered cardboard box marked ‘BOOT SALE’ the well meant but unappreciated Christmas present is then sold on to a stranger in a muddy field.
For me, the testament to a good cookery book is not so much the amount of times I refer to it for a specific recipe but the amount of times I will pick it off the shelf just to browse leisurely through its pages, each time gleaning a new snippet of information, noticing an ingredient I have never cooked with or, as in this instance, a dish previously unnoticed and untried. My favourites books are a little like my good friends, a little worn around the edges, with more substance than frou-frou and still loved even after a long absence.
This dish is very easy to make and the colours and flavours are a feast for the senses. Originally from Cochin in India it is not a peppery hot dish, although you can add a couple of green chillies if you prefer your food with a kick. As on this occasion I cooked this as a family meal, the chillies were omitted. Aged eleven, my son hasn’t yet acquired the asbestos mouth lining built up over the years by his father and I.
My bread fanatic husband, Michael, was very accommodating and whipped up some of his fabulous Indian flatbreads to mop up the deliciously minty juice.
There was one lonely piece of chicken left over which I managed to squirrel away for my lunch the next day. Using fingers, I gobbled it up it very unceremoniously, dipping it in the little puddle of juice that was left.
In the introduction to the recipe Ms Roden writes of the dish “It may seem ordinary, but it is quite delightful” and that seems to be a perfect description.
- 3 Large Onions Sliced, (I prefer red)
- 3 Tbs Sesame or Sunflower Oil
- 2 Cloves Garlic, crushed or finely chopped
- 4cm piece of Fresh Ginger grated
- 1 tsp Turmeric
- 1 Good Quality Chicken quartered and skinned (or chicken pieces)
- 600 Carrots Sliced lengthways and cut into 3cm lengths
- 3 Tbs Fresh Mint chopped
- Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the onions until soft.
- Add the ginger, garlic and chillies if using, then the turmeric and stir.
- Add the chicken, season with salt and fry for 15 mins, turning occasionally.
- Add the carrots and just enough water to cover the chicken.
- Cook uncovered for a further 25-30 mins until the liquid has reduced.(If necessary transfer the chicken and carrots to a warming dish at the end of cooking in order to quickly reduce the remaining liquid in the pan).
- Add the mint, cook very briefly and serve, preferably wth Indian bread or rice.