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Saffron Scented Chicken Curry with Chickpeas in Coconut Cream SauceThough The Goddess tends toward being heavy-handed with garnishes on curry, this chicken curry has a very subtle curry flavor.  The flavors intermingle and literally “bounce” around your palate, but the “curry flavor” is a back flavor.  And, this curry is fast enough for a mid-week family meal and tasty enough for company.  Either way, it’s delicious.  This is a protein-packed main course, using only one whole boneless, skinless chicken breast.  You’ll have two boobies when you remove that rib of cartilage that runs down the center.  This is where the breast attaches to the breastbone.  This recipe will easily serve four people and with a few minor additions can be stretched to serve six people.  So, not only is this dish delicious, but it’s economical as well…win-win.

One thing to note—makrut lime leaves, in the past were referred to as “kaffir” lime leaves.  I was just recently made of aware of this.  It turns out this term is highly offensive in Urdu, akin to the n-word here or elsewhere, so please make note of that.  However, you may still see them listed under the previous name, in markets.

Saffron Scented Chicken Curry with Chickpeas in Coconut Cream Sauce

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: Moderate
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  • 2 teaspoons oil
  • 2 teaspoons butter
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 1 1/2 pounds)
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder, divided (see NOTE)
  • 1 teaspoon powdered ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 cup diced onion (I used frozen onions
  • 1 handful bell pepper strips (I used frozen strips)
  • 3-6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped (or 2 teaspoons dried minced garlic)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2-3 makrut lime leaves, cut into fine julienne
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup broth (either vegetable or chicken)
  • 12 ounces coconut milk (1 can either whole-fat or low-fat)
  • 1 pinch saffron (optional-2 pinches of turmeric can be substituted)
  • 1 (15-ounce) can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained (see NOTE)
  • Lemon juice (you may or may not need this—it’s a matter of taste)
  • 6 cups prepared white rice
  • dry roasted peanuts (I use unsalted)
  • Fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Fresh Thai basil, julienned

Heat a pot over medium heat.  Add the oil; when hot add the butter and heat until melted.  Add the chicken chunks; dust with half the curry powder (about 1 teaspoon), the ginger, white pepper, cardamom, coriander, cinnamon and cumin.  Stir once to combine.  Continue to sauté until the chicken is just barely browned, about 2-3 minutes.  Lower the heat, drop the onions, bell peppers, garlic and makrut lime leaves on top.  Stir and continue to cook over low heat until the onion and peppers soften, about 3 minutes.  Add the wine, broth and coconut milk; stir well.  Turn off the heat; add the saffron and let stand for 30 minutes.  (Make ahead:  You can stop at the point, cool and refrigerate overnight or until you want to finish it—remember the chicken is probably not completely cooked through.)  Stir in the garbanzo beans and 1 teaspoon curry powder (add these to the mixture before refrigerating, if you’re making this ahead).

When ready to serve, if you’ve made this ahead, you’ll now need to finish cooking the mixture.  Return to the heat; cook over medium heat until the mixture returns to the boil.  Simmer over low heat for 3-4 minutes.  Taste; correct the seasoning, adding salt, and lemon juice, if needed.  Serve over rice, garnished with peanuts, cilantro and the basil.

NOTE:  The curry flavor is subtle, not a front flavor.  It will be there, but it will be subtle.  If you want more of a curry flavor, then add more.  It’s a matter of personal taste.  If you add additional curry powder at the very end of cooking, you’ll need to simmer the mixture for a couple of minutes to get rid of the “raw” taste that sometimes comes with curry powder.  The garbanzo beans aren’t necessary, but I like their texture and flavor.  Again, personal taste.  Also, if you wish to make a vegetarian version, instead of the chicken, add 1 cup green beans (cut into 1-inch pieces), 1 carrot, thinly sliced and 1 cup thickly sliced cauliflower.  Sauté as you would sauté the chicken, then add two cans of garbanzo beans and continue with the recipe, adjusting cooking times as needed.  If you wish, stir in about 1/2 cup peanut butter.  This will both thicken and boost the protein content of the mixture.  You can add whatever other vegetables you might like to either version.  I do like this with carrots added along with the chicken.  I prefer the green beans and/or cauliflower on the side, but that’s my preference.

Saffron Scented Chicken Curry with Chickpeas in Coconut Cream Sauce Recipe©Marcia Lahens 2019.  All rights reserved.

A couple of things—you’ll find a couple of things that are available in cities, but not usually in your local supermarket…makrut lime leaves and saffron.  We’ll address those in a bit. Cubed Chicken Breasts However, first let’s talk chicken. I like the cubes to be slightly larger than normal, at least 1-inch cubes.  They are less likely to over-cook and not dry out.  Feel free to use boneless, skinless chicken thighs.  You need about 4-5 large thighs.  Saffron Scented Chicken Curry with Chickpeas in Coconut Cream Sauce in the MakingI like to add the spices while I’m sautéing the chicken.  The heat activates the flavors and cooks into the chicken, thus releasing the flavors into the sauce.Kaffir Lime LeavesNow, to the makrut lime leaves.  They are available fresh, are rather leathery and can’t really be eaten whole, so keep that in mind.   They have a spicy, lime flavor—go figure.  Frozen Kaffir Lime LeavesThey freeze beautifully.  They darken, but the flavor is still very forward and true.  Frozen Kaffir Lime Leaves, JuliennedI love that spicy-lime flavor, so I want to leave them in the mixture, therefore I prefer to julienne them, so I you’re not chewing on a branch.  But, if you want a more subtle flavor, then leave them whole and remove them before serving. Saffron Scented Chicken Curry with Chickpeas in Coconut Cream Sauce in the MakingAdd the onions, peppers, garlic, tomato paste and julienned makrut lime leaves to the chicken, cooking them all together—again, this enhances the flavors like crazy.  I used dried, minced garlic here, because I knew I was going to do the “make-ahead” version.  You can use either.  Saffron Scented Chicken Curry with Chickpeas in Coconut Cream Sauce in the MakingStir in the wine, broth and coconut milk. Saffron ThreadsNow, we can talk about saffron.  Saffron adds both flavor and color, and it is the most expensive spice in the world.  There’s a good reason for this.  It takes a football-sized field of the crocuses to produce one pound of saffron, which are the stamens from the crocuses.  They are hand-harvested, dried, graded and packaged, so you can see why saffron is so expensive.  The good news is that they have a shelf-life of seven years!  You can purchase saffron at The Spice Mill; they have Spanish saffron and at a very good price.  However, if you leave it out, this will still be delicious. If you want the yellow color, add turmeric, but just add a pinch—a little goes a long way.

Saffron added to the Saffron Scented Chicken Curry with Chickpeas in Coconut Cream Sauce in the MakingIf you are using the saffron, it needs to “bloom”, i.e. be reconstituted in liquid.  I took a short-cut and added it directly to the sauce, turned the burner off and let pot stand for about 30 minutes.  Bloomed Saffron in Saffron Scented Chicken Curry with Chickpeas in Coconut Cream SauceThat worked for my time-line.  You can see how it’s “bled” into the sauce.  If you don’t do this, then put it into a small bowl with the wine or chicken broth; let stand for 10 minutes.  You should do this before you even begin cooking.  I’ve given you the amount of curry powder we enjoy.  We like the “other” flavors to shine a bit more, so I used less curry than most “curry” recipes call for.  I add half at the beginning of the cooking process and the remainder nearer the end to “correct” the flavor profile.  You may need to add salt and some lemon juice at the end of cooking, to adjust the flavors.

Saffron Scented Chicken Curry with Chickpeas in Coconut Cream SauceThe sauce on this is rather runny, but if you want it slightly thicker add 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch to the broth, stir well and add.  I don’t mind it a bit runny.  At times I stir in about 1/3 cup of peanut butter, which adds both flavor and thickens the mixture.  But, you will taste the peanut butter.  Otherwise, it’s the same recipe.  There is no doubt that the flavor improves when you make this ahead and chill at least overnight (see the makrut lime leaves).  I’ve made it up to 3 days ahead, then reheated it and continued with the recipe.  It is one of the best versions of curry I make.

Speaking of vegetarian (yeah, I know we weren’t), this can easily become a vegetarian entrée, I suppose even vegan entrée.  Simply cook green beans, carrots and cauliflower, as you would the chicken, and add an extra can of garbanzos and of course, veggie broth.  Saffron Scented Chicken Curry with Chickpeas in Coconut Cream SauceThere are those among us who aren’t just head-over-heels-crazy about curry and the subtlety of this version is palatable to even “those people”…yeah, you know who you are, but I love you anyway!