Coconut-Curry Chicken, South Indian Style

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By popular demand, I am sharing a special Indian recipe from the Club Dine In! test kitchen. This is the perfect dish for a cold winter evening (it’s supposed to snow in SF this weekend). Like most Indian dishes, it tastes better the next day so don’t worry about having leftovers. I highly recommend using organic, cage-free chicken for health, environmental, and ethical reasons. If you cannot find rasam powder, use 1 tablespoon gharam masala. The gharam masala will change the flavor, but it’s a still a good substitute.

Ingredients
serves 4
* 2 pounds chicken breasts, boneless and skinless, cubed
* 1/4 cup coconut milk
* 2 tablespoons grapeseed or olive oil
* 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
* 1 tablespoon chopped fresh garlic
* 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
* 1/4 cup dried curry leaves*
* 1 tablespoon black mustard seeds
* 1 tablespoon rasam powder* (see headnote)
* 1/4 teaspoon asafoetida*
* 1 teaspoon red chile powder, more or less for your palate
* 1 teaspoon turmeric
* 1 cup chopped ripe tomatoes or 3/4 cup canned tomatoes
* 1 teaspoon salt, less if using canned tomatoes
* 1/4 cup water
* 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
* 1 tablespoon coconut flakes*
*Can be found at specialty Asian and Indian markets.

Method

1. Rinse the chicken breast under cool, running water. Cut them into 1-inch cubes and marinate in coconut milk and 1 tablespoon oil, garlic, and ginger for 15 minutes.

2. Add 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and then add the onion. Cook for 5-7 minutes, until onions are soft and golden. If the onions start sticking and browning, add 1 tablespoon of water and stir.

3. Add the curry leaves, mustard seeds, rasam powder, asafoetida, red chile powder, turmeric, and salt to the pan and cook for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and water. Stir well.

4. Add the chicken with the coconut milk and stir well. Cover and let cook for 20 minutes. Stir occasionally and add a few tablespoons of water at a time if sauce is burning out.

5. Garnish with cilantro and coconut flakes. Serve with basmati rice or roti.


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Ubuntu- Raising the Bar on Compassion and Ingredients

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Since Valentine’s day fell on a Monday this year, we used it an excuse to finally check out Ubuntu in Napa. We have been meaning to go for the last three years, but always got distracted by the other restaurants in wine country. Anyway, we couldn’t think of a better place than Ubuntu for a romantic Meatless Monday meal. I have to admit, we made reservations only three nights before the big, romantic day and were so happy that we got the only time slot left on Open Table.

In a time of restaurant apps, blogs, and review sites, we walked in with no expectations. I had always wanted to check out this restaurant and I have always heard really positive things about it. Though, contrary to our usual ritual when making a reservation at a new restaurant, we simply booked it. No Yelp, asking friends, or reading up on the gossip. We just wanted to have fun and enjoy a good meal. We didn’t even bother looking up what “Ubuntu” meant, even though I just knew it meant something really good. Satish told me that Ubuntu was a Linux software distribution, so he couldn’t imagine it being the name of a vegetarian restaurant. What I did know was that Ubuntu has it’s own culinary garden, there was a recent chef change, and it had one Michelin star. I even debated leaving my camera at home, but couldn’t go through with that silly idea.

As we walked in, we were surprised to see how large and beautiful the restaurant was. I had always imagined a tiny, funky space with hippies and yogis (not that there is anything wrong with that) with a yoga studio directly above the dining area.  Though, the design is comparable to any of the new, modern restos in San Francisco. The airy space puts you at ease with large, vibrant artwork on stone walls adding warmth. The yoga studio is on the second floor loft directly above the open kitchen. The floor to ceiling window is opaque and overlooks the dining room. There was a class in session  and all you can see are silhouettes of people doing yoga. There were no empty tables, but the noise level was low, making the ambiance perfect for a modern, romantic dinner.

Since we arrived a bit early for our reservation, we got wine at the bar. Their wine list features mostly sustainably farmed wines from around the world. We were served marcona almonds to make up for the wait. They were really good, but a little sweet for a starter and we were really hungry. The micro-green garnish provided a great balance between sweet and savory.

The marcona almonds were delicious, but a tipped on the sweeter side.

We ended up waiting 35 minutes after we our reservation time and it turned out that there was a communication error between the two hostesses. I was a little upset, but the waitress and hostesses were very apologetic, and we did not want that to taint the rest of our night. They comped our wine and brought us a chickpea dish that was not on the menu. The chickpea dish, alone, made up for the miscommunication. This dish had almost every flavor profile I crave. It was meaty, saucy, sweet,  light, spicy, and pretty. It’s the kind of dish that inspires me to be a better cook and explore unfamiliar flavors.

Slow Cooked Chickpeas a la Catalan

The amuse-bouche made up of mushroom stock and green coffee beans was only a teaser of what we had to expect for the rest of our dining experience.

We ordered 3 dishes total for the two of us, even though about 2-3 is recommended per person. We are not big eaters and we already had the macarona almonds, chickpeas, bread, and amuse-bouche. I was almost full, but gladly managed to find more room in my stomach. The menu compromised of local, seasonal produce (as expected), and many of it came from their biodynamic gardens. We ordered a side of the Arbuckle Grits cooked with goat’s milk whey and sharp cheddar cheese ($7), which was decadently rich and amazing. The Garden-Infused Fiore Pasta ($19) was our least favorite dish of the night. We thought it was rather bland. The Rutabaga and Bread ($16) was our favorite dish. It had a medley of citrus, including perfectly crimson blood oranges, a thick citrus-saffron sauce, a moist wedge of bread, and rutabaga. I wish I could eat that everyday. The saffron sauce was just divine; the flavor was sheer perfection. Really, I have no words to describe the sensation I got when I ate that dish. The runner-up was the Little Potato Pillows ($18) and I normally do not like radishes. The potatoes sat on creamy sauerkraut mousse and were adorned with caramelized sauerkraut, black kale, radish giardinieria, including the pretty watermelon radish.

Garden Infused Fiore Pasta

Rutabaga and Bread

Rutabaga and Its Bread

Little Potato Pillows

Little Potato Pillows

After all of that and two more glasses of red wine, we were in a perfect state. Though, we could not pass up dessert. All of the options looked good and we debated between the chocolate brownie ($10) and a dessert made out of celery. Our waitress (Rachel) told us that the celery dessert was really like dessert and not a vegetable dish. Me being me, got the brownie. The micro-greens on the brownie balanced out the sweetness of the candied kumquats. I loved that this dessert wasn’t overpoweringly sweet. Compliments from the kitchen, we also got the celery root dessert. Wow. I don’t even know how to describe it, but Satish liked it over the brownie.

Compressed Chocolate Brownie

The flavors and textures are inventive and we didn’t even miss the meat. My enthusiastic husband just loved every bite. I did too, but my meat-loving sweetheart loved every single bite. He was right, every single bite offered so much good flavor.  At most places, the first five bites really pleases and then your taste buds get used to it, but at Ubuntu, each bite is unique and kept teasing you. And at the last bite, you are sad that it’s all over, but you are equally satisfied and left in a zen-like state.

After our meal, executive chef Aaron London, came over to talk to us. I was surprised to find that he was younger than me and that he is not a strict vegetarian. His food seemed to come from a much more experienced chef. Though, Chef London has been cooking since his teens and has worked at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Au Pied de Cochon, amongst other acclaimed restaurants.

Ubuntu pushes boundaries on not vegetarianism, but the importance of sourcing ingredients. We live in a world, where our eating habits are not sustainable and are damaging to ourselves and the ecosystem.  Ubuntu stands for “an ethic or humanist philosophy focusing on people’s allegiances and relations with each other emphasizing community, sharing and generosity.” Restaurants are leaders for what consumers demand and Ubuntu certainly creates a demand for fresh, local food. Most of us also do not know where our food comes from and Ubuntu does a fine job of reminding you the importance in knowing all aspects of your food. The restaurant takes ingredients to new heights and pushes boundaries on sustainable eating.

I would really like go back during the Spring and late Summer to experience the different seasonal flavors and vegetables. Though, next time I would come in a large group, because there is nothing better than eating good food with great friends!

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Farmers Market Find: Blood Oranges and Traditions

Last Monday, Satish and I walked over to the Marina Middle school to pick up our first Christmas tree as a married couple. It was really exciting and I even made up a Christmas tree song while we carried it back home. Even though I am of Indian ethnic origin, my family always celebrated Christmas. It was more about embracing the American culture and spending time with family than religion. My family went all out with the decorations, presents, and food. On Christmas Eve, my many aunts, uncles and cousins would gather at my parent’s place and it would just be a big family gathering. The food was really interesting in the sense that we didn’t eat ham, squash, or green bean casserole. We had  Mexican fried rice, enchiladas, Chinese soup, frozen corn, a large variety of Indian dishes, and turkey. So the turkey and frozen corn were the only traditional, “American” food at our “American” holiday gatherings.  Since my parents grew up in India, enchiladas and Chinese soup represented traditional American food to them. Christmas had to have been my most favorite time of the year, when everyone was so happy and together. Now, I look forward to this time of year so I can make the food that is available seasonally and create my own traditions.

 

Our tree!

Our tree decked up with simple ornaments.

Between holiday parties and my parents and brother-in-law visiting, I am going to make really easy dishes that require no time or attention and am making large batches to stretch throughout the week. (I also want to spend the little free time testing out a healthier, gluten-free cookie recipe).  I caught the first sighting of blood oranges today at the market! Blood oranges are one my most beloved fruits. They are extremely seasonal and gorgeous. When just right, they have the perfect balance of sweet and sour. One of my most memorable experiences with blood oranges was at Ella’s Restaurant. Every winter they serve a 6 ounce glass of pure blood orange juice that is a brilliant blood-red color. The juice is worth the long wait at Ella’s and this year I will make my own!

 

Blood Oranges- Hamadas Farm

Stinging Nettle were also sighted!

Weekly Dinner Plan:

Monday:  Lentil salad, Butternut Squash and White Carrot Soup
Tuesday: Arugula salad, Cumin Cauliflower, leftover soup
Wednesday: Grub Crawl!
Thursday: Cumin Cauliflower, Chicken Kebabs
Friday: Dinner out
Saturday: Leftovers + Holiday Parties
Sunday: Friends and Family Brunch + Holiday Parties

Miscellaneous Cooking
Savory Muffins
Sun-Dried Tomato and Olive Pesto
Pistachio Cookies (gluten-free)
Earl Grey Cranberry Sauce with Dates

Did you know that Club Dine In! is on Twitter and Facebook? Follow @clubdinein for daily health, fitness, and social news, recipes and delicious tips! Join the Club Dine In! community on Facebook to connect with like-minded people and find out about exclusive Club Dine! events.