My father's Kenyan-Indian fusion chicken curry served over hot ugali. (Benjamin Velani/Sun Dining Editor & Ben Parker/Sun Assistant Photography Editor)

My father's Kenyan-Indian fusion chicken curry served over hot ugali. (Benjamin Velani/Sun Dining Editor & Ben Parker/Sun Assistant Photography Editor)

June 8, 2020

Diaspora Cooking

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With all the disheartening news, events that give you horrific flashbacks and the nagging feeling that little progress has been made, it’s very comforting to have a nice, hot meal. This Kenyan chicken curry is the product of Indian diaspora into east Africa. Like the ancestors of Black Americans, tens of thousands of Indians were brought to African colonies by the English as forced labor to build the Kenya-Uganda Railway. Many died and many left after construction, but once the railway was open, so was trade. Indian emigrants took root.

During the 50s and 60s, when independence movements were taking place all across Africa, the Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru told the emigrants to rally with their African brothers and sisters and work towards independence with them. Many did so. After helping free their new countries, Indian-Africans were persecuted, exploited and even expelled from their new homes by native Africans. My father and his family are from this heritage.

This narrative probably sounds familiar to many Black and African American families across the country. But, as opposed to Kenya, where the Asian community was officially recognized as the 44th tribe because of their contributions to the country, Black Americans have seen no such official acknowledgement of their peoples work in building the United States.

Cultural foods, however, have started to bridge the gap between White and Black Americans, as well as between just about every other race and ethnicity that has a distinctive and delicious food culture. Enslaved Africans brought over many ingredients and recipes that eventually became American staples of Southern cooking instead of European-rooted recipes like pies and puddings. Dishes like gumbo, jambalaya, pepper pot and okra stew fed and continue to feed this diverse nation. Granted, at first, this was a forced and ruthless process; but now the recipes are so integrated that I would bet most Americans couldn’t tell you gumbo is “an adaptation of a traditional West African stew.”

For a more modern African-rooted meal, I suggest you try my father’s Kenyan-Indian fusion chicken curry he brought with him in 1978.


Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

Yield: 4 to 5 servings


Start by marinating 1 ½ lbs chicken breasts and thighs (about a 1:1 ration of dark to light meat). Your marinade consists of:

  • 1 T. plain greek yogurt
  • 1 t. ginger paste (or fresh minced ginger)
  • 1 t. garlic paste (or fresh minced garlic)
  • ½ t. cumin powder
  • ½ t. coriander powder
  • ½ t. turmeric
  • ½ t. red chili powder
  • Pinch of salt and pepper
  • Juice of ⅓ lemon

 

Let your chicken marinade for about 30 minutes as you prepare the ingredients for the actual curry:

  • 2 T. vegetable oil
  • 3 to 4 whole green cardamom seeds
  • 1 t. cumin seeds
  • ½ t. fenugreek seeds
  • ¼ t. fennel seeds
  • ½ chopped medium red onion
  • 1 finely chopped serrano chili
  • 1 T. chopped ginger (medium-small chunks – not minced)
  • 1 chopped medium tomato
  • 1 ½ T. tomato paste
  • 1 t. ginger paste (or fresh minced ginger)
  • 1 t. garlic paste (or fresh minced garlic)
  • ½ t. cumin powder
  • ½ t. coriander powder
  • ½ t. turmeric
  • ½ t. red chili powder
  • ½ t. garam masala powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 C water
  • 8 ounces spinach

You can get all of these spices at your local Indian grocery store.

 

  1. Start by heating your oil in a medium sized dutch oven or pot with a lid.
  2. Season oil with green cardamom seeds, fenugreek seeds, cumin seeds and fennel seeds. Wait until seeds become aromatic, then move to step 3.
  3. Add your chopped red onion and serrano pepper. Cook on medium heat until onions become translucent (~ 3 to 4 minutes).
  4. Add the tablespoon of chopped ginger (not your minced stuff), and add your chopped tomato.
  5. Add all of your spices, the garlic, ginger and tomato paste/mince and salt/pepper to taste.
  6. Let simmer for 5 to 6 minutes until the mixture softens and becomes paste-like.
  7. Add marinated chicken and cook for 2 to 3 minutes.
  8. Add 1 C water and stir well.
  9. Put the lid on and let simmer on medium heat for 15 minutes.
  10.  Add 8 ounces of baby spinach, stir and let simmer with the lid on for another 15 minutes.
  11. Turn heat to low and let simmer for another 15 minutes.

This curry is best served over ugali (white maize meal) or rice. From my home to yours, I hope this meal brings you some comfort.

 

Benjamin Velani is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at bvelani@cornellsun.com.