A South-Asian Feast: Coriander Chicken, Chickpea/Tomato Curry and Fragrant Rice

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There’s something about the smell of freshly ground coriander that evokes a flood of memories of India. It is fragrant, almost floral, and yet woody and herbaceous, with a tang of citrus. Very bright, complex and exotic. The kitchen fills with aromas and memories as the seeds gradually turn to powder in my mortar and pestle.

I remember one of my hosts, a catholic priest and the uncle of my first wife, who lived in the tea-growing mountains of Tamil Nadu, where we were visiting on our two-month honeymoon tour visiting far-flung relatives. He showed me the coriander plants that grew around the church and residence. 

I remember the little kids, crowding the gate of our compound in Palliport in Kerala, as they waved and called out what translated from Malayalam into “White Paper”, a reference to my rarely seen (at the time) skin tones. 

I remember the coconuts being harvested above me and later used in that night’s meal. I remember the heat, the crashing waves on the shores of the Indian Ocean, the ancient fishing nets and friendly people.

Ground coriander is a basic ingredient in most of the curries I make. Along with Cumin, Turmeric, Cinnamon, Ginger, Cardamon and a host of other herbs and spices that give complexity and depth to many a meal.

As usual, I make no claims to authenticity. This meal is based on the lessons that I learned from Lucy (my mother-out-law) as I worked as her sous-chef during the years that I was a part of that family. As time passes (it has been more than thirty years now) my recipes change and I’m pretty sure, even though the meal is still delicious, that it is quite different now then back when I first started learning Keralan cooking. 

There are three parts to this meal. Start with the chicken, then the Chickpeas, then the rice. Everything should be done at around the same time, and most of the dishes can rest if something is taking longer to cook or reduce than you expected. 


Amounts can be adjusted for the number of diners. This recipe feeds 6-8 people.

For the Chicken

  • 1 Organic chicken cut into pieces, or 1-2 pieces per perso
  • 1 sweet onion, thinly sliced
  • Juice and zest of one Lime
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed or finely chopped
  • 1 bunch Coriander leaves, chopped
  • 3 tbsp freshly ground coriander seeds
  • 1-2 tbsp ground Turmeric
  • 1-2 tbsp freshly ground Cumin seeds, or 1 tbsp powdered cumin
  • 1-3 tsp fresh ground Black Pepper
  • 1 tsp ground or 2 tsp fresh ground Ginger
  • 1/4 tsp (or more to suit your taste) of Cayenne Pepper or one small red chilli (chopped)
  • 1/4 tsp ground Cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds – these will pop pleasingly in the hot oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt (added later and more as needed) adjusted to taste
  • Cooking oil – I use avocado. Coconut oil would also work and adds flavour

For the Chickpeas

  • 1-2 cans Chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 2-4 medium tomatoes, diced
  • juice of one lemon
  • 1/4 cup diced onions
  • 1 tsp fresh ground coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp fresh ground cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1-2 tbsp oil

For the Rice

  • 2 cups basmati rice (this will feed six to eight people)
  • Water/broth for cooking rice (amounts should be based on the cooking instructions for your     rice  – usually 1/2 cup rice needs 3/4 cup liquid)
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2 cloves crushed or finely sliced garlic
  • 3 Cardamon pods
  • 6 whole Cloves
  • 1/2 stick Cinnamon
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp Turmeric
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • 1/2 tsp salt to (or to taste)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped chives or green onions – stirred in after cooking

It is best to have all the ingredients prepped and ready before you put heat to pan.

The cooking takes 45 minutes to an hour.


The Spice Mix 

(These amounts are approximate and can be adjusted to taste. I generally dump what looks like ‘enough’ of each ingredient into my palm and then into the pan, as Lucy showed me, so some experimentation on your part may be needed as this dish becomes your own.) 

  • 3 tbsp freshly ground coriander seeds
  • 1-2 tbsp Turmeric
  • 1-2 tbsp freshly ground Cumin seeds, or 1 tbsp powdered cumin
  • 1-3 tsp fresh ground Black Pepper
  • 1 tsp ground or 2 tsp fresh ground Ginger
  • 1/4 tsp (or more to suit your taste) of Cayenne Pepper or one small red chilli (chopped)
  • 1/4 tsp ground Cloves
  • 1/2 tsp salt (added later and more as needed) adjusted to taste

Heat a large lidded frying pan to Medium Low, add 1-2 tbsp of oil (avocado works well, and a little coconut oil adds a nice layer of flavour if you have it) and then add the spices and temper them, stirring slowly, until they are fragrant and blended together – 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce the heat if needed so that the spices barely bubble. You are merely releasing their volatile oils and flavours, not cooking them.

Raise the temperature to MEDIUM

Add in the sliced onions and garlic and let them sauté until tender

Add in the zest and juice of the lime, stir until blended

Add 1 organic chicken, in pieces, and cook on one side for 4-6 minutes, until lightly browned, then flip and brown the other side, making sure every piece is coated in spices and onions.

Reduce heat to LOW, cover and let cook, flipping the chicken and stirring every 10 minutes or so until done. 45 minutes to an hour.

This dish will provide a sauce for the rice. About twenty minutes before everything is done, and, after the rice is on its way, check to see if the moisture level needs to be reduced, which you can do by removing the lid and letting some fo the moisture escape while it continues to bubble.

Turn off the heat and let rest 5-10 minutes before serving, around the same time that the rice is resting in the end stages of its cooking.

Sprinkle the finished chicken with fresh chopped Coriander leaves.


In a medium lidded pot, bring heat to MEDIUM LOW, add some oil and temper the spices (see list above), letting them bubble and become fragrant.

Add the onions and stir until tender and coated with spice

Add the drained chickpeas and add fresh water until the chickpeas are no more than 3/4 covered. Stir. Bring to boil. Cover. Reduce heat to LOW

Let this bubble happily for about twenty minutes, stirring occasionally.

After 20 minutes, use a fork to mash about half of the chickpeas to thicken the mixture, then add the tomatoes and lemon juice. Stir. Cover and let it continue merrily bubbling away.

Add salt and pepper to taste during the last 10-15 minutes. Stir, taste, adjust. Repeat as needed.

FRAGRANT RICE – make this LAST (the other two dishes should be ready at around the same time the rice is done)

Gently sauté (MED LOW) the garlic in oil. Add the butter. Add in the cardamon pods, the whole cloves, the bay leaf and the cinnamon stick. Stir. 

At this stage your rice should be rinsed (if required) and drained. Add the rice, salt and required amount of broth or fresh water, stir and cook according to the package instructions.

When the rice is done (again, according to instructions which probably includes sitting for 5 minutes or so off the heat but with lid still on) fluff the rice with a fork, remove the pods, cloves, cinnamon stick and bay leaf, then stir in the chopped chives/green onions.

To Serve

Some rice, some chicken with sauce and some chickpea curry.

A dollop of plain yogurt if it is too hot or to add some creaminess to the dish.

Naan, if you can get it fresh, for mopping up sauce.

To drink: A nice pale lager/Asian beer or a spicy white wine.


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