Once upon undergraduate studies at UCLA, I met this hockey-playing electrical engineer. And eventually he wooed me with an ice skating date where he initially showed off his skillz (yes, with a “z” because I’m reasonably certain that’s how he perceived his skating and wooing abilities at the time) but then was kind enough to stop intimidating my elementary skater self and just hold my hand while we chit-chatted rapidly and skated (what probably seemed to him) woefully slow around the ice. And before long, I fell in love. With his mom’s chicken curry.
And him. But let’s be clear: that second part is beside the point here. And while we’re getting clear on things, I’ll readily admit that this is not a made-from-200-different-spices and requiring-lots-of-time curry. Rather, it is a very flavorful, easy-to-make, and healthy dish that benefits from using a good curry powder. And frankly (yes, I can hear all you food snobs out there gasping, “Oh no! Curry powder?!?!?), if this curry is good enough for Jay’s Vietnamese mother, it’s certainly more than good enough for me.
But back to the story … there I was, visiting Jay’s parents over spring break. And before me, Jay’s mother had laid out an impressive spread, including the wonders that are Vietnamese pork roll and pickled cucumbers. I quickly realized these two foods fell more in the “acquired taste” category (and acquire that taste I did, eventually). But then, I feasted my eyes upon something a little more familiar – chicken, apples, onions, raisins – but tinged a bright and intriguing yellow. Sweet yet spicy, crunchy yet juicy, full of good-for-you ingredients and easy-to-make yet impressively flavorful.
This curry is an easy appetizer when entertaining, and can (should!) be made a day or two in advance so the flavors meld together so that you can enjoy more time with your guests. And it took me something like four years to draw it out from the clutches of Jay’s mommy dearest because she knew it was a surefire way to guarantee Jay would continue to visit just wings it each time she makes the curry and had never actually written the recipe down. So now, please enjoy the fruits of four years’ worth of my nagging her to take notes while whipping up the curry. And when you do, please think of César Chávez, champion of labor rights for lettuce and grape farm workers and the reason for this glorious mid-week holiday for California courts.
Notes on ingredients and substitutions: Make sure to use a good curry powder, as that’s the main flavor in this dish, and feel free to add more (or less) to taste. I used the regular curry powder by Spice Islands, but they also have a spicy version that I imagine would go very well with this dish. You can also mix up some coriander, turmeric, cumin, fenugreek, and paprika to make your own curry powder, but that’ll cost you a few more dollars and minutes unless you already have all the spices on hand (personally, I’m lacking fenugreek, and see no reason to commit to a full bottle of the stuff at this time). You could also substitute tofu cubes in place of chicken. And I imagine that adding some cooked lentils would also taste delicious and make it a bit heartier.
Chicken Curry (adapted from Hanh H.’s family recipe)
Serves 6 as a main dish atop greens or rice, or 12 as an appetizer atop crackers
This curry tastes best after sitting in the refrigerator for a day or so to let the flavors meld, so prep it in advance if you can! I usually munch on some of the curry the same day as I made it (I’m just “testing” it to make sure it tastes right, I swear!), and save the rest for an appetizer or entree a day or two later.
2-3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 c. yellow onion, diced (I used 1 1/2 or 2 c. because I love onions)
4 c. green apples, diced (about 3 medium apples)
3/4 c. raisins (I used currants because that’s what I had on hand)
2-3 c. chicken, diced slightly smaller than apples and onions
1 tsp. salt, plus more to taste
juice of 1 lemon
1 1/2 c. low-sodium chicken broth
2 Tbsp. curry powder (e.g., Spice Islands)
In large pan over medium heat, sauté diced onions in 1 Tbsp. of olive oil until soft and translucent or slightly browned. Transfer onion into a large bowl, and set aside.
If needed, add 1 Tbsp. of oil to pan, then add diced apples. Sauté apples until slightly softened but still firm, adding raisins just before apples are done. Transfer raisins and apples into bowl containing the onions.
Add 1 Tbsp. of oil to the pan, and turn to high heat. Add chicken cubes to the pan, sprinkle with 1 tsp. salt, then stir to mix the salt around more evenly. Sear both sides of the chicken until slightly golden and cooked through. Transfer chicken into bowl with the onion-apple mixture.
Add chicken broth to the pan. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower heat to medium. Whisk curry powder to the broth, simmer for 2-3 minutes. Remove pan from heat, allow sauce to cool for a couple minutes, and then add lemon juice. Pour sauce over the chicken mixture in the bowl, and toss well to ensure that curry sauce evenly and thoroughly coats everything.
Serving options: (1) hot curry over rice; (2) cold curry over chopped greens; or (3) hot, room-temp or cold curry on crackers. Stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, this curry should keep 3-5 days but rarely lasts that long if you share … or if you snack.