We grew up surrounded by many trees in our backyard back in the Philippines. I woke up everyday, knowing we had an abundance of coconuts and mangoes. I wish we had taken more pictures back then. Picture taking was a luxury , before the internet, pre-digital age. But come to think of it, if I had pictures, then I wouldn’t be blogging, and instead will just be staring at old photos to relive the memories.
But now, I recreate my childhood memories from the Philippines, through cooking, writing and then sharing it on my blog . And in this mosaic of words, food, and pictures, I am able to create wonderful images of timeless recipes.
Most of you know that my recipes were from what my late Mom taught me when I was growing up. One thing I have always wished was to cook for her again, one more time, one last time. Instead of pining for the past, I have rechanneled energies to the present and have taught my sons how to cook.
One of Mom’s best recipes was CHICKEN CURRY paired with MANGO CHUTNEY. I clearly recall that once Mango season was about to end in July, we would get busy in the kitchen cooking with mangoes and doing everything to use up and store the surplus of this delicious golden fruit. We made jam, candies, pickles, smoothies, juice,ice cream. We used mangoes in salads, as ingredients, side dishes.
Often, Mom made Mango Chutney and I remember how crazy things got on hot summer days. There I was, in my teens, peeling, slicing, chopping. Boiling, mixing, blending, and then canning and preserving. After we had an endless supply of the Mango Chutney, then Mom would whip up a favorite family dish : CHICKEN CURRY, one of the best dishes she made using coconut.
And yes, Mom used fresh coconuts. While she was preparing the “native chicken” (organic, free-range chickens), someone else was climbing the coconut tree in our backyard, chopping it open, so that Mom could squeeze the cream out of the coconut meat. If I close my eyes, I can still hear the heavy plop of coconuts when they landed on the grass in our yard. It was followed by the sound of a swift blow, a sign that the coconut had been cut open, its juice oozing out, the fresh meat ready to be scraped out. And how can I forget the sweet aroma of a freshly cut coconut?
When we moved to America, I worried I would not be able to recreate Mom’s chicken curry. Where was I going to find a coconut tree, I asked myself? Where was I going to find mangoes in the winter? In time I learned how to improvise and substitute. And even better, as I got better recreating Mom’s Chicken Curry, I made sure I taught my sons how to cook the dish.
Today, not only does my son, Toby* make the Chicken Curry with expert precision, but he actually TEACHES me how to make the dish better.The Chicken Curry comes alive once Toby gets cooking. In a few minutes, the familiar aroma of a spicy, pungent, flavorful curry dish simmering in a sweet coconut broth soars from the skillet.
Life indeed has come full circle. Mom’s recipe is something I taught Toby. And now Toby, not just cooks for me when he comes home from college, but he is my CHICKEN CURRY Guru….Grasshopper, I have taught you well! And my late Mom would have been so proud of her grandson’s version of Chicken Curry and Mango Chutney!
CHICKEN CURRY Filipino Style
*Toby Quirino’s version, adapted from my Mom’s recipe
2 pounds chicken breasts, boneless, cut in 2-inch serving pieces (about 3 large pieces)
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large onion, sliced
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
2 cans coconut milk
¾ cup chicken broth or water
2 Tablespoons yellow curry powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 large potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 cup cubed carrots
1 cup green beans
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
Red bell pepper strips, for garnish
1 whole hardboiled egg, sliced for garnish
Mango chutney, for a side dish (recipe follows)
Naan (Indian bread), to serve with meal
Jasmine rice, to go with meal
Onion rings, deep-fried to serve with meal
Eggplant slices, deep-fried to serve with meal
1 cup raisins, pan-seared, to serve with meal
1 cup crushed peanuts, to serve with meal
1. In a large skillet, over medium heat, sauté in the oil the onions and garlic.
2. Add the chicken pieces and pan-sear for a few minutes till it is slightly brown.
3. Add the coconut cream and broth. Blend in the curry powder and cinnamon.
4. Once the coconut has blended and starts to boil, lower the heat to a slow simmer. Keep stirring so that the ingredients do not stick to the bottom of the skillet.
5. Keep cooking over slow heat till the chicken is tender. This should take about 35 minutes.
6. Towards the last ten minutes of cooking, add the potatoes, carrots and last the green beans. Season with salt and pepper.
7. Garnish with red bell pepper strips, hardboiled egg slices and serve over hot steamed jasmine rice or some Naan.
8. Accompany this dish with : crisp onion rings, deep-fried eggplant slices, pan-seared raisins, crushed peanuts and a generous cup of Mango Chutney.
MOM’S MANGO CHUTNEY
2 large overripe fresh mangoes, peeled, pitted, and sliced
½ cup white vinegar
1 and ½ cups brown sugar
1 cup water
1 large red bell pepper, sliced in strips
1 large green bell pepper, sliced in strips
1 tablespoon paprika
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
1 large red onion, sliced thinly
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 red chili
1 Tablespoon black peppercorns
2 large bay leaves
½ cup raisins
1. In a medium pot, mix together the brown sugar, vinegar and salt.
2. Add the sliced mangoes, and all the other ingredients. Blend well.
3. Let the mixture boil, then lower to a slow simmer. The chutney will turn to a thick, jam-like consistency. Keep stirring while cooking so that it does not burn.
4. Once mango chutney has cooked, allow to cool. Then store in pre-sterilized jars and keep in a cool place. Keep refrigerated if possible.
COOK’S COMMENTS: The ingredients for the Chicken Curry are easy to find in regular markets, in the Asian cooking aisle. This is a good curry recipe base, but packed with flavors. Feel free to be creative and use other types of vegetables desired. Try green peas, bok choy (Chinese cabbage), chayote or even squash. Or if preferred, make it an all-vegetarian dish.
For the Mango chutney: mangoes are available in the USA from the early spring to the late summer months. They can be found in large groceries or the Asian markets. Since I know they will not be available in the winter months, I buy a large supply of mangoes in the summer, peel and slice them, then keep them in Ziploc containers in the freezer. They keep till the next mango season comes around.
*TOBY QUIRINO, Drexel University 2012 will graduate this summer with a degree in BA Communications/Global Journalism & Sociology.