Being a pre-teen with a mom who’s hipper than you is both humbling and awesome. While you would have preferred that you revealed to her that Nolita was the latest up-and-coming neighborhood for shopping and dining, when you marched into your Monday homeroom in a pair of the coolest high-waisted magenta suede pants anyone in middle school has ever worn, from a tiny downtown boutique your mom had discovered in a neighborhood your classmates didn’t even know meant “North of Little Italy,” the payoff for being bottom rung on the mother-daughter hipness ladder was clear. (Now that hipness is judged by one’s ability to name streets in the far-flung Brooklyn neighborhoods, it seems incredible that Nolita was ever under the radar, but in 1998 it was. Maybe I’ve lived in New York too long.)
Our downtown outings usually involved lunch at a hip restaurant. After a few jaunts, we adopted a handful of cafés as our own, nourishing beacons in still uncharted urban territory. One of our mainstays was Pommes Frites, of 3am craving fame (we went at 3pm). The other was Rice.
Rice, which closed recently, wore fusion cuisine like the best of its founding decade, the ’90s. Its concept was simple and brilliant. You ordered a bowl of rice–white, brown, Thai black, green–and then added toppings from anywhere in the world where rice is eaten, which is to say everywhere. I might eat Mediterranean lentils while you forked into vegetarian meatballs. I could order black beans and you could choose Indian curry. We craved that variety after walking through Nolita all morning. It’s one dish, the curry, that I want to talk about today, a dish that outlived the fusion trends and endured the crowds that began to stream into Nolita from neighboring SoHo, to remain just as hip today as it was back then.
The reason? Rice’s Indian chicken curry contained bananas. Salty sweet: sounds like 2013. The creamy sauce also coated raisins and mango chutney, and I’ve never forgotten the taste combination of salty curry, filling meat, and echoing sweetness. So while there are a million curry chicken recipes, some that take a long time to cook and some that are thrown together after work and a supermarket pitstop for coconut milk, this is the one I’ve been making recently.
In my current rendition, I really play up the sweetness, sautéeing two whole onions as a base, and then plumping up raisins as the chicken cooks in the coconut curry sauce. If you can chop fast, you can make this dinner fast. Sometimes, to save yet more time, I even make the rice the night before and reheat it. Don’t skip the salty peanuts as garnish. They really make this.
Chicken Curry with Banana, Raisins, and Peanuts
Serves 2 to 3
You can make the curry up to the point when you add the bananas in advance. Reheat in a pan, add the bananas, and you’re good to go.
If you want to make this meat-lite, sub in a sweet potato for half of the chicken. If you want to make it totally vegetarian, do sweet potato plus a can of chickpeas. And if you just want a few more veggies in your meal, a few handfuls of spinach thrown in towards the end would be welcome.
As with any curry, please use fresh curry powder!
2 tablespoons safflower or vegetable oil
2 onions, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
4 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 tablespoons raisins
1 can coconut milk (lite is fine but regular is better)
3/4 cup water
Juice of half a lemon
Dash of fish sauce (optional)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
2 bananas, cut into 1/2-inch slices
1/4 cup roasted salted peanuts, chopped
In a large pan over medium heat, sauté the onion for 8 minutes, until translucent, stirring frequently. Add the ginger and the garlic, and sauté another 2 minutes. Add 1/2 teaspon salt. Push the vegetables to the side.
Add the chicken to the empty space you created. Sprinkle with salt and let chicken brown slightly, 2-3 minutes a side, flipping once. (This doesn’t have to be perfect.) Add the curry powder, coriander, turmeric, and cayenne, and stir them into the chicken and onions, until fragrant.
Add the raisins, coconut milk, and water. Bring the stew to a boil, then cover and lower the heat so it simmers, and let cook for 5 minutes. Remove the cover and cook 5 more minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and cilantro and fish sauce if using. Add the banana slices and gently stir them in, letting them warm for about 2 minutes. Be careful not to smush them. Taste for salt, adding more if needed.
Serve the curry over rice with the chopped peanuts on top.