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A Yellow Soul

Chiken Madras Curry

Cultural Perspectives

By Tim Hazell

Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) had an obsession with yellow. Paul Gauguin described his friend’s infatuation in “Essay About Free Art,” published in 1894: “His yellow-chrome ‘Sun’ bursts forth from the canvas, flooding houses and flowers. Oh yes, Vincent had a fondness for yellow; sun bathed his inner life.”

Yellow for painter and color theorist Wassily Kandinsky was the inspiration for “The Yellow Sound,” his collaborative experimental theater piece created in 1909, the earliest of four “color-tone dramas” that blended multiple art forms.

Used in ancient times as a dye, turmeric has an incandescent yellow soul and a myriad of health benefits. It is the base for Madras curry, an Indian classic originating in the Madras region of southeast India. This tantalizing dish can be made with a variety of meats or vegetables.

Eighteenth-century Indian merchants prepared bags of Madras curry powder to sell to British nationals returning home from the colony. Brits became masters in their own right at creating variations on traditional Indian cookery. Chicken Madras owes its famous yellow-red color to the addition of chilies and turmeric. Savor the fragrance of roasting aromatics!

Chicken Madras


8 skinless chicken thighs

3 tbsp. oil

1 tsp. cumin seeds

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 tbsp. chopped coriander leaves

1-2 small red chilies, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2-inch piece ginger root, peeled and grated

2-3 tsp. ground turmeric

2 tsp. ground cumin

2 tsp. ground coriander

1 tsp. ground nutmeg

1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper

2 tsp. coriander seeds

1/2 tsp. cardamom seeds

1/2 tsp. fenugreek seeds

3-4 cloves

3-inch piece cinnamon stick

1 tbsp. vinegar

2 tsp. salt

3 tsp. brown sugar

2 ripe tomatoes, chopped

2 bay leaves

Water or unsweetened coconut milk

Garam masala (optional)

Coriander leaves and lime wedges

Season chicken with salt and pepper and gently roast coriander, cardamom and fenugreek seeds, and cloves in a dry saucepan until fragrant.

Transfer to a bowl to cool. Grind into a powder using a spice or coffee grinder or mortar and pestle. Heat oil in a large saucepan and brown chicken pieces. Set aside. Fry the cumin seeds until browned, about 30 seconds. Add onions and 1 tsp. sugar and fry until golden. Add chopped coriander leaves, chilies, garlic, ginger, and 1 tsp. salt. Cook, stirring, 2-3 minutes. Add turmeric, ground cumin and coriander, cayenne pepper, cardamom, fenugreek, cloves, and nutmeg and fry for a further minute. Add vinegar. Stir to blend into a paste. Add chicken thighs. Toss to coat the meat. Add chopped tomatoes, cinnamon stick, bay leaves, 2 tsp. sugar, and water or coconut milk to barely cover and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook, partially covered for one hour until chicken is tender. Uncover to reduce. Taste and adjust seasonings. Sprinkle with garam masala. Garnish with chopped coriander leaves. Serve with lime wedges.


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