Throughout my life, I have had trouble connecting with South Asian cuisine. Largely because I felt shameful when eating foods my mom or grandma would often prepare for me.
I would chide my mom for making “unhealthy food” and often refuse to eat the dishes and instead opt for various “American” dishes.
Recently, I have developed a deep desire to revisit some of my childhood dishes after playing the video game Venba which follows an Indian family who recently immigrated. The characters in the game use various South Indian dishes to illustrate the various events happening within their family as they adjust to life in the United States.
The game specifically explores the relationship Venba, the mom, has with her son, Kavin. I related deeply to Kavin, as he also grew up hesitant about cultural dishes. However, eventually, he turned to the dishes out of a place of recognition and nostalgia.
With this in mind, I decided to reach out to my mom and grandma to recreate chicken karahi, a Pakistani dish known for its thick masala curry, with a base of fresh tomatoes, ginger and cilantro.
My mom and grandma both describe chicken karahi as a dish named after the pan it is traditionally cooked in. Although neither of us owned the pan, they were able to give me an accurate description of it.
Typically it is made in a deep circular pot, which can resemble a deep wok made of either steel or wrought iron. You can prepare a karahi dish with mutton, beef or lamb, but my family prefers chicken.
When we were cooking, my mom didn’t rely on any specific measurements for the family recipe, so I will be relying on a recipe by food blogger Fatima Cooks.
First, we begin by heating one-half of a cup of ghee or oil. After it is warm, we fry about 550g of chicken until golden brown.
Add a generous amount of ginger and garlic. We added about a bulb of minced garlic, and 2 tbs of ginger, but chicken karahi is a recipe that only benefits from a generous helping of flavor.
Next, we add around 600g of fresh tomatoes and spices such as salt, paprika, black pepper, chili flakes, cumin powder, kalonji and Kashmiri chillis.
After the dish has cooked for about 20 minutes, and the juices of the tomatoes have coated the chicken, let it simmer for about five minutes. Then top with fresh ginger and cilantro to your liking.
While making the recipe, it was fun having three generations of our family working together to make a dish that we had all eaten over the years.
My grandma and my mom are extremely close, and it felt like they were inviting me into that relationship by connecting over food. For years, food has served as an entryway for people to connect with one another, and it felt good to involve myself in that process and enjoy a meal that I had a hand in creating.