What makes this dish unique from other coconut-milk-based stews is the toasting of the coconut before it gets blended with the spices, a step that helps to amplify the flavor. Water is finally added at the final stage to help draw out the milk, which is then thickened in part by heat as well as the flesh of the toasted grated coconut. This stew is typically served hot over a bed of plain rice and a light salad on the side.
- Heat a medium Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed saucepan on medium-high heat. Add the coconut, coriander, peppercorns, chiles, fenugreek, poppy seeds, and black mustard seeds and toast with constant stirring until the coconut starts to brown for about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer to a blender along with cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon. Add about ½ cup of water and blend until smooth and keep aside until ready to use.
- Heat the ghee or oil in the same Dutch-oven or saucepan on medium-high heat. Add the onions and sauté for about 3 to 4 minutes until they just start to brown. Then add the ground spice coconut mixture from the blender and cook with constant stirring for about 4 to 5 minutes.
- Add turmeric and salt and cook for one additional minute. Add the chicken pieces, add 2½ cups of water, and increase the heat to high. Bring the contents of the Dutch oven to a rolling boil, reduce the heat to low, and cover with a heavy lid and cook for about 30 to 40 minutes until the chicken is completely cooked and tender. Stir in the lime juice, taste, and adjust seasoning if necessary. Garnish with cilantro and serve hot.
Nik Sharma is an award-winning freelance food writer and photographer. He also writes a recipe-based food column for the San Francisco Chronicle called A Brown Kitchen and is also the author of the blog A Brown Table. He is currently working on his first cookbook, Season (Chronicle Books), which will be published in fall 2018. He lives in Oakland, California.