Pakistan, young country that it is, having been cleaved from British-occupied India when the latter gained independence in 1947, often gets lumped with India when its culture or cuisine is discussed. This is neither entirely accurate nor very respectful of the tension that continues to exist between the two nations. What is accurate is that Pakistani cuisine is reflective of the regions that comprise it. The food borrows from Mughal, Middle Eastern, South Asian, British, and Indian traditions. Pakistani food tends to be meat-forward, fragrant with spices and layered in flavor profile.
The dish featured this month, Hariyali Chicken, translates to “green” chicken and is a Mughal dish that is found in the kitchens of Pakistan and India. The dish is a vibrant green braised stew of chicken that owes the green to a paste of fresh mint, cilantro, green chilies, and yogurt. Skinless, boneless chicken thighs are preferred as this dish requires braising, and chicken breasts tend to get dry when braised. While bone-in cuts can be used, the braise time will increase. Full- fat yogurt (from whole milk) is recommended as cooking with yogurts with lower fat content will separate. It is a dish that is a wonderful example of how dishes in this cuisine are layered in flavor, fragrant, and filling. Perfect for a cold winter evening, it can be eaten with rice (long grain basmati) or naan.
Serves: 5 – 6
Neutral oil – 1 tbsp
Chicken, skinless boneless thighs, cubed – 2 lbs.
Onion – ½, finely diced
Ginger – 1 inch
Garlic – 3 cloves
Mint leaves – ½ cup, packed
Cilantro leaves – 1 cup, packed
Birds eye chili pepper – 1, deseeded and veins removed
Yogurt, plain (full fat) – ½ cup
Water – ¼ cup (to add as needed to thin the sauce)
Turmeric – ¼ tsp
Salt – to taste, start with 2 tsp
Cumin powder – 1 tbsp
Coriander – ½ tbsp
**Kashmiri mirchi powder – 1 tsp
Thinly sliced onion
Pan with lid
Mortar and pestle
- Crush the ginger and garlic to a paste like consistency. I use a mortar and pestle, but you can use a (wet) spice grinder as well. Set aside.
- Blend the cilantro leaves, mint leaves, chili pepper, and yogurt until it looks like a bright green smoothie. If it is too thick, add some water to thin it to a pour consistency. Note: if you’d like the curry to have less “heat,” use half the chili pepper. Set the blended green sauce aside.
- Set pan on stove and when hot, add oil
- Add finely diced onions and sauté.
- Add the ginger-garlic paste and sauté to incorporate with the onions, making sure the paste doesn’t brown or burn, as that would impart a bitter taste to the curry.
- When the onions turn golden, add salt and stir.
- Add the cubed chicken pieces and stir to coat.
- Now add in the ground spices – turmeric, coriander, cumin, and mirchi powder.
- Sauté until the chicken is seared and coated in the mix of spices and mostly cooked.
- Pour the blended green yogurt sauce into the par-cooked chicken and stir.
- Add water if the curry is too thick.
- Cover the pan with a lid and allow the chicken to braise in the green sauce until it is fully cooked and tender.
- Garnish with sliced onion rings and enjoy hot with warm basmati rice or naan.
*While it wouldn’t quite be “hariyali chicken,” vegans can substitute tofu for the chicken and plant-based yogurt for the yogurt.
**Kashmiri mirchi powder is dried Kashmiri red chilies (mirchi = chili). It has a milder flavor profile (less heat) while being intensely red in color. It is used in Indian cuisine for a milder-tasting curry. You can substitute with paprika (not smoked) or cayenne if hard to procure.
Recipe and photo credit: Vinola V. Munyon