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Desserts are undoubtedly the most tempting of all foods and most us perhaps swear allegiance to it like nothing else. But as much as we love our desserts and savouries, bitter foods too make an interesting, and for some, an integral component of our diet; may that be a cup of coffee, arugula or radicchio or broccoli in our salad, marmalade on our toast, collard greens in a curry or soup, mustard green in our Saag, turmeric in a glass of hot milk or spinach parathas. My taste buds especially have a penchant for bitter foods. Growing up I never liked the milk chocolates and all my friends thought I was a weirdo to not love chocolates. I found the chocolates to be overly sweet, at least the ones that were available at that time in India.

It wasn’t until my brother went abroad on a junket and brought back some chocolates that I learnt of another world – that of dark chocolates. To my advantage, the ones that I liked the most were not touched by anyone else in the family coz everyone found them to be too bitter. On hind sight I can’t blame them for not liking those dark chocolates coz their taste buds had comfortably adapted themselves to the sugary milk chocolates. However, my thoughts then were “Are you kidding me!? These are out of the world”. I specifically remember these particular dark chocolates that were shaped like small flat discs, filled with strawberry, champagne and bitter almonds. They were heavenly!! And that is how my love affair with chocolates began.

Similarly, I love coffee although I am not able to have it because the caffeine does not suit me. In my view any food can taste good depending how it has been ‘treated’ or cooked. For instance, these Indian gooseberries taste quite bitter and sour but treating them with alum and cooking them in sugar syrup changes their character and makes them a nice and healthy treat to enjoy after a meal in winters. Similarly this dry ginger concoction tastes heavenly when cooked in cream and sugar. It is ideal for the winter season and can help keep flu or sore throat at bay. Amongst the summer vegetables, I like karela (bitter melon or bitter gourd). This Karela Alu stir fry is a really scrumptious summer treat to be enjoyed with tandoori roti and a glass of lassi.

Ayurveda advices that one should activate and gratify all sensory buds on the tongue i.e. sweet, salty, bitter, sour and pungent. We tend to incorporate sweet, salt and savory in our diet but bitter foods are definitely not on everyone’s choice of food. However, these foods are natural cleansers, aid in digestion, provide vigour and improve endurance. Fenugreek is one such gem, of many, from the winter produce.

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1¼ C Methi (Fenugreek greens)

For Marination:

650 grams Chicken (curry cuts)

1 tbsp Ginger Paste

1 tbsp Garlic Paste

1 tsp Garam Masala

3 tbsp Yogurt

For Curry:

3 tbsp Mustard Oil (for authentic taste)

2 medium/ 1½ C Onions (thinly sliced)

1 medium Tomato, finely chopped

1 tbsp Ghee

½ tsp Methi Dana (Fenugreek Seeds)

1 Bay Leaf

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4 Cardamoms

3 Cloves

1 inch Cinnamon

½ tsp Black Pepper Corns

¾ tsp Degi Mirch (adjust heat +/-)

¾ tsp Turmeric Powder

½ tsp Cumin Powder

Salt to taste

2 Green Chilies

2 tbsp Cream

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Whisk the yogurt and add ginger and garlic paste along with garam masala. In a non-reactive container, transfer the chicken pieces and massage the pieces with the marinade. (Since I used only drumsticks and thigh portion, and the pieces were plump, I made slits to ensure that the marinade penetrated well inside the flesh. You can prick the chicken with a fork.) Cover the container with a foil or better, with a cling wrap and keep it in the refrigerator to marinate for at least two hours but preferably overnight.

Remove the chicken from the refrigerator. Pick, chop and wash the fenugreek greens. Ensure that you wash the methi 3-4 times to get rid of any grit. Set aside to drain in a colander or sieve. Coarsely grind the black pepper corns and set aside.

Take a frying pan and add mustard oil. Allow it to smoke and then reduce the heat. Carefully add the sliced onions and fry till they turn brownish (be careful not to burn them). Add chopped tomatoes and sprinkle the onions with a little water. Cook on medium till the tomatoes are well cooked and you can see the masala leaving oil. Add the chopped fenugreek and fry on high for a minute and switch off the heat. Keep aside.

In another frying pan heat the ghee and add whole garam masala i.e. the fenugreek seeds, bay leaf, cardamoms, cloves and cinnamon. Fry for 15–20 seconds and then add the marinated chicken. Fry on high heat for 2 minutes to sear the chicken and then add fenugreek masala.

Mix in the spices – black pepper, red chili, turmeric, cumin and salt. Also, drop in the green chillies, split in two (this will add just the flavour and not the heat). Cook on low flame, stirring gently once in a while, for 20 – 25 minutes or till the chicken is well cooked (this will depend on the size of the chicken pieces). Stir in the cream and serve hot with chapatti or rice. You should try to pair this piquant curry with this sweetish flat bread – Bakarkhani but it goes equally well the Peshawari Naan goes equally well.

Note: You can swap mustard oil with groundnut oil or sunflower oil or canola oil.

Note: To make the curry richer, you can add cashew nut paste or almond paste to the curry.

Note: Degi mirch adds a mild heat and is used specifically for the color that it imparts to a dish. You can use a combination of Paprika (for colour) and Cayenne (for heat) as a substitute for degi mirch.

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Also check out these recipes,

Masaledaar Dhaba Chicken (Highway Chicken)

Dhaniwal Korma

Methi Makai Matar Malai (Sweet Corn & Peas in Creamy Fenugreek Curry) 

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