Food + Drink

From the Chronicle Kitchen
5 Spices, 50 Dishes

This week’s guest blogger is Ruta Kahate, author of the widely acclaimed cookbook 5 Spices, 50 Dishes. You will never be intimidated by cooking authentic Indian food again after reading and making these outstanding recipes, centered on five simple spices: coriander seeds, cumin, mustard seeds, ground cayenne, and turmeric.

Let us know what you think of these recipes by posting a comment. And, by commenting, you’re entered to win a copy of the book!

No one writes a book hoping it dies an early death, but when your little labor of love is still going strong after 3 years and then, to be picked for an honor… An author can be excused for bristling with pride. I love Omnivore Books, the small gem of a bookstore in Noe Valley where a cook can go to get some real cookbooks—old and new. I love Celia’s collection, passion and gumption and generally everything the store stands for.

When I found out that Williams-Sonoma had partnered with Celia for a program called “Omnivore’s Pick” I was floored. It’s not often that a mega-store partners with an independent seller. Under this program, Celia will suggest a cookbook ‘no cook should live without’ every month. And then Celia announced 5 Spices, 50 Dishes as her very first pick as a ‘book that represents everything she loves in a cookbook’!

I have to say that when I got this news, that author-ly pride sort of came bristling out. I usually try to restrain myself, but I have to admit, I’ve been bragging a little lately.


Chicken in Cashew Nut Sauce
This recipe may challenge your perception of Indian food—it’s neither spicy nor a curry. Using a technique borrowed from the old princely kitchens of North India, you’ll use cashews to make a sauce that’s surprisingly complex, despite its minimal ingredients. While most Indian chicken recipes call for bone-in meat, this sauce complements boneless chicken breasts very well. Serve with the Rice and Lentil Pilaf (see below).

3 tablespoons canola oil, divided
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
3/4 cup water, divided
4 ounces finely ground raw unsalted cashews
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger (about 2-inch piece)
1 teaspoon finely grated garlic (about 2 large cloves)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 pounds), tenderloins removed
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup plain whole or low-fat yogurt, whisked

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a medium skillet and fry the onion until well browned. Cool slightly and then use a food processor to grind the browned onion with 1/4 cup of the water, the cashews, ginger, garlic, and cayenne until it forms a smooth, thick paste.

In a large saucepan, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil along with the butter. Add the cashew-onion paste and stir constantly over medium heat, deglazing the pan by adding a few tablespoons of water and using a spatula to loosen the browned bits until the sauce has browned evenly. This should take about 5 minutes.

Thin out the sauce with the remaining 1/2 cup water and stir in the salt. Add the chicken and turn to coat well with the sauce. Simmer, covered, over low heat until the chicken is cooked through but is not overdone, 8 to 10 minutes. You can discreetly pierce the thickest part of a breast with a paring knife and check for doneness. Carefully turn the chicken breasts over once during cooking. Turn off the heat.

Remove the chicken breasts to a serving platter, gently stir the yogurt into the sauce, and mix well. Immediately pour the sauce over the chicken and serve. If the dish has to sit for a while, return the chicken breasts to the pan after you have stirred in the yogurt and cover to keep warm.

Serves 4

Lentil-Rice Pilaf
When I was in college, I had a friend whose family employed an extraordinary cook by the name of Bashir. Being a Muslim, he cooked with techniques and ingredients that were unfamiliar and fascinating to me. Needless to say, I didn’t decline a single invitation to lunch at my friend’s house. Bashir often served a pilaf similar to this one with his meat curries.

1 1/2 cups long-grain white rice, preferably basmati
1/2 cup small brown lentils, picked over
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 small green serrano chiles, sliced in 1/8-inch-thick rounds
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 cups hot water or chicken broth
1 medium tomato, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Rinse and soak the rice and lentils together in cold water while you prepare the rest of the ingredients, for at least 10 minutes. Drain well.

Make the tadka: Heat the oil in a large stockpot over high heat. When it begins to smoke, add the cumin seeds, covering the pan with a lid or spatter screen. After the seeds are done sputtering, add the onion, chiles, and butter and sauté over medium heat until the onion turns golden brown.

Add the drained rice and lentils, and stir gently until all the rice is coated with the oil and butter, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the water, tomato, and salt and stir well. Bring to a boil, cover, and turn the heat down to a simmer. Cook, covered, for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the pilaf sit, covered, for another 5 minutes. Do not open the lid during the cooking period or resting time, as the rice is absorbing any remaining moisture in the pot. Fluff with a fork and serve hot.

Serves 6

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