Lilli chatni, or cilantro chutney, will most likely be found on every Gujarati family’s kitchen table at dinner time. I make it regularly and always keep a jar of it in the fridge. I love eating it with samosas, on bread, with cheese, or whatever else is happy to sit underneath it while I carry it into my mouth. But when there’s some left over, it also makes for a magnificent curry when combined with chicken.
Although you will need to make the chutney before cooking this curry, it takes very little effort: you just need to combine a few ingredients in a blender and blitz.
- 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
- 6 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
- 3/4 fresh green chili, roughly chopped (seeded if you prefer less heat)
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 2 onions, finely sliced
- 1 3/4 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs, chopped into 3/4 x 1-inch pieces
- 6 tablespoons cilantro chutney (recipe follows)
Throw the ginger, garlic, and green chili into a mortar and pestle, along with a pinch of salt, and bash up to a coarse paste.
Put the oil into a wide-bottomed, lidded frying pan on a medium heat. When it’s hot, add the onions and fry, stirring occasionally, for 6 to 8 minutes, until they are starting to turn golden. Transfer half of the onions to a bowl and put to one side.
Add the ginger, garlic, and green chili paste and cook for around 3 minutes. Put the chicken pieces into the pan, sear them on all sides and add the chutney. Stir the chutney, pop the lid on, and turn the heat down to medium-low. Cook for around 15 minutes until the chicken is cooked through and tender.
In the meantime, transfer the onions from the bowl into a small frying pan and continue to cook them on a medium heat for another 10 to 15 minutes, until they are dark brown, soft, and sweet, then take them off the heat.
Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt (or to taste) to the chicken little by little, until it tastes just right, then take it off the heat.
Scatter the caramelized onions over the top of the curry just before serving. Serve alongside some steaming hot basmati rice or a pile of hot, homemade chapatis.
Makes 16 chapatis (enough for 4 people)
Chapati making is a beautiful sight to behold. When the family gathers together in the kitchen, it becomes a proper little production line. With one person rolling, another at the stove cooking, and everyone else getting all floury in between, pretty soon a brilliant tower of hot chapatis starts to form to the song-like Gujarati chatter in the background.
These quick, wholesome flatbreads are the perfect sidekick to curries as well as a great wrap for leftovers. Make as many as you can.
- 3 1/2 cups whole grain chapati flour or 1 3/4 cups whole wheat and 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (plus extra to dust the dough)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- canola oil
- 1 1/4 cups hot water
Put the flour into a bowl, add the salt, and mix together. Make a well in the middle, add 3 tablespoons of oil, and mix, using your fingers, until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Pour in 1 cup of the water, then add the rest little by little – you may not need to add all of it – until you can knead the mixture into a soft and pliable dough, which will take around 6 to 8 minutes.
Lightly rub the dough with a teaspoon of oil (so it won’t dry out) and put to one side while you get your chapati rolling station ready. You will need a clean surface or a floured board like a chapatti board, ideally on one side of the stove top. You’ll also need a rolling pin, a bowl of flour in which to dip the balls of chapati dough, a spatula (or chapati press), a frying pan, and a plate for your cooked chapatis.
Once all is ready, divide your dough into 16 pieces. Put the frying pan on a medium to high heat. Take one piece of dough, roll it into a ball between your palms, coat it generously with flour, flatten it into a disc, and then roll it out to around 4 inches in diameter. Lightly coat both sides in flour, roll it out to around 6 inches, and put it face side down on the hot pan.
Wait for the edges to turn white and for the chapati to start to bubble (30 to 40 seconds), then turn it over and cook the chapati for the same amount of time. Turn it over again – it should start to puff up at this point, so press it down gently with the flat side of the spatula – for around 10 seconds, then turn it over again and do the same. Check that all the dough is cooked (any uncooked spots will look dark and doughy) and put onto a plate. Cover with a towel or wrap in foil to keep warm, then repeat.
Many Indian women have mastered the art of rolling out a new chapati in exactly the time it takes to cook one, keeping a close eye on both the cooking and the rolling. It’s enormously efficient and rewarding, but many burned chapatis have been sacrificed in getting there, so don’t worry if it takes a while.
Makes around 6 ounces (a medium-sized jar)
Cilantro is to Indians what parsley is to the British. This delicate green leaf punches above its weight like a great showman and can brighten any dish with its fresh and citrusy taste. Whizzed up in this classic family recipe, it hits all the right notes. Sweet, sour, tangy, and delicious, this chutney is the perfect accompaniment to most Indian snacks.
This is a fresh chutney which is made to be consumed quickly, so there’s no need to sterilize the jar to store it in. You can keep it in a clean container in the fridge for a week, use any leftovers in my cilantro chutney chicken, or freeze it for another time.
- 4 ounces cilantro
- 2 ounces peanuts, unsalted and unroasted
- 4 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 teaspoons brown sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 2 to 3 small fresh green chilis, roughly chopped (seeded if you prefer less heat)
To wash the cilantro, fill a bowl full of cold water and put the cilantro in it. Move the cilantro around in the water, then take it out and shake off the excess water.
Roughly chop the stems and leaves and put them in a blender. Add the peanuts, lemon juice, salt, sugar, turmeric, and 2 small chilis, and pulse them in the blender until the mixture has a smooth, almost pesto-like consistency. Add some water to help the mixture to blend if necessary. The result should be a smooth cilantro chutney which is equally sweet, fiery, and lemony. Add the remaining chili, or more lemon juice, salt, and sugar to balance it to your taste, then spoon it into your clean jar.
From Made in India by Meera Sodha, Fig Tree 2014.