North India cuisine pleasing to the eye and the palate

By: Gopa K. Kapur, Special to The Press-Tribune
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From the lush valleys of Kashmere down to the fertile plains of Punjab, the cuisine of North India uses dried fruits and nuts to add nutrition, texture and visual appeal. Slow-cooked onions, combined with garlic, ginger, and fresh tomatoes add layers of taste bud rousing flavors. Cinnamon, cardamom and star anise offer tantalizing aromas. Saffron (reasonable priced at Trader Joe's) and ground turmeric provide the rich golden finish to the dishes. Don't let the large variety of ingredients discourage you. All are easily available in most supermarkets and the results will tantalize your family and friends. Murg Mahal Palace Chicken, serves 4 to 6 8 chicken thighs, skinned, boned, defatted 8 dry apricots minced 3 tablespoons minced unsalted pistachios 2 tablespoons canola oil (preferably expeller), divided 2 cups diced yellow onion 2 teaspoons minced garlic 2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger 2 tablespoons coriander seed powder, preferably freshly ground 2 teaspoons curry powder ½ teaspoon cumin seeds, crushed ½ teaspoon ground turmeric ½ teaspoon sweet paprika ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes, adjust to taste ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg ½ teaspoon salt 1 cup cored and diced tomatoes ¾ cup low sodium tomato sauce 2 cinnamon sticks 2 black cardamoms (available in Indian food markets) 2 bay leaves 1 star anise (available in Indian food stores) Pinch of saffron threads, crushed 2 cups chicken broth, fat free, low sodium, divided 1 tablespoon minced cilantro Wax paper Kitchen string cut into 9 inch long pieces Cooking spray Place each thigh between two wax paper sheets and pound to about ¼ inch thickness, without tearing. Add 1 shallow teaspoon each of minced apricots and pistachio in the center of each thigh and roll, tucking the sides in, to make a log. Slip a string under the center of the log and tie it gently. Repeat with remaining logs. Set aside. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat; add onions and sauté, stirring for 12 minutes. Turn the heat to medium low, move the onions towards the outer edges of the pan, coat the bare pan center with oil spray, add garlic and ginger and sauté for 3 minutes, stirring the garlic and ginger often; avoid scorching. Move the garlic and ginger mixture toward the outer edges of the pan; add coriander seed powder, curry powder, cumin seeds, turmeric, paprika, red pepper flakes, nutmeg, and salt. Stir and cook spices for 30 seconds only. Add diced tomato and tomato sauce, stir to combine all ingredients and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer the pan contents to a food processor or a blender; add 1 cup chicken broth and process to a smooth paste. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a heavy bottom sauce pan with a lid, over medium high heat; add onion and tomato mixture, chicken thigh logs, cinnamon sticks, cardamoms, bay leaves, star anise, saffron, and remaining chicken broth. Stir gently and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low, cover the pan and simmer for 30 minutes; stir occasionally to avoid sticking. Turn off the heat and let rest for 10 minutes. Cut and discard strings from the chicken logs, plate and garnish with cilantro. Kashmiri Biryani Rice Pilaf from Kashmir, serves 4 to 6 1 tablespoon canola oil ½ teaspoon cumin seeds ½ teaspoon sweet paprika ½ teaspoon salt ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric 1½ cup basmati rice 3 cups low sodium fat free chicken broth or water, heated 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice 2 cinnamon sticks 2 bay leaves 4 black cardamom pods (available at Indian food markets) Pinch of saffron, crushed 1 cup frozen baby peas, thawed ½ cup unsalted cashews, lightly toasted in a dry skillet ½ cup diced carrots ¼ cup coarsely diced dried cranberries ¼ cup golden raisins 1 tablespoons cilantro, minced Over medium-low heat, in a medium saucepan, heat canola oil. Add cumin seeds, paprika, salt, turmeric, and rice, and sauté for 1 minute, stirring. Add chicken broth or water, lemon juice, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, cardamom pods, and saffron; mix well and bring to a boil. Cover the pan with a tight lid, reduce heat to lowest setting and simmer for 20 minutes. Add peas, cashews, carrots, cranberries, and raisins to the pan, cover, and continue to cook for another 2 minutes. Turn heat off and let the cooked rice rest for 5 minutes. Gently flake the rice, plate and garnish with cilantro. “ Gopal Kapur, founder and president of the Center for Project Management, consults, writes and educates in both the public and private sectors as a noted authority on general and project management. His hobby is developing nutritious and tasty recipes, which he uses to raise funds for a number of charities. He can be reached at