Monday, December 14, 2009
Vegan Murgh Makhan
We decorated our Christmas tree this weekend, and while hanging ornaments, I was struck by the variety of chickens represented - fat ones, attenuated, vaguely Seussian ones, folksy ones. Apparently, we have a bit of a thing for them, a realization which led me to musing about the strange position they occupy in the popular imagination. In our culture, chickens are among those animals made to straddle the weirdly fascinating space between the sunshiny farmyards of childhood picture books (the happy mama, followed by her fuzzy yellow chicks) and the center of the dinner plate (or as Colonel Sanders used to put it, "get a bucket of chicken, have a barrel of fun!"). I mean, check out this mother hen, all puffed up with pride as she surveys her brood of fluffy offspring as they peck around in the dirt; who doesn't find this charming? But few children who grow up in urban or suburban surroundings have much occasion to spend time with any actual, living birds, and it's precisely that distance that allows the disconnect between cute, clucking chickens and "chicken."
This is a particularly heartbreaking state of affairs, since nearly all children feel a natural affinity with animals - think of the affection lavished on our pet dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, etc. - and might have a very different reaction to those ubiquitous "nuggets" if they'd ever held a baby chick. We have several friends who keep backyard chickens, and anyone who has ever seen them in action can attest that they have a lot of personality, and can be very funny and affectionate. One couple, who also have several ferrets, relate that their oldest hen's favorite pastime is climbing onto the windowsill so she can look in and watch them playing; it's like interspecies reality TV! So how can we bear to condemn billions of similarly alert, curious animals to the miserable fate suffered by chickens who produce the eggs, boneless breasts, and "drumsticks" tossed heedlessly into grocery carts every day? Well, maintaining that sense of distance is a good place to start - the minute we start making that chicken=chicken connection is the minute we can start realizing who those nuggets are actually made from. (Hint: they have feathers, enjoy eating corn, and say "cluck-cluck-cluck!")
At this point the (probably vegan) reader may be thinking, "Okay, fair enough - I don't eat chickens or eggs; are you going to share a recipe with me now or what?" Well, it just so happens that I am, and a really good one, at that. Based -AHA! - on a dish often known as "Indian butter chicken," it's the result of one of those quixotic impulses by which I am occasionally seized. One afternoon I was looking online for something interesting to do with some now-forgotten ingredient, when I stumbled on a reference to Murgh Makhan; once the idea got in my head, there was nothing to do but give it a shot, and in the end it was no big challenge. Marinating the soy curls all afternoon turned them into the perfect stand-in for our feathered friends, and it was easy to replace the butter and cream of the original recipe with non-dairy versions. My partner - drawn from his work by the intoxicating fragrances wafting from the kitchen - had every confidence in a happy outcome, but the experimental nature of the enterprise decreed that I issue an honorable disclaimer, just in case. Luckily, I needn't have bothered, because this turned out so well that it's destined to become a regular meal, and one I wouldn't hesitate to serve to company. So - why not leave the real poultry in motion and give this a try? You won't be sorry, and neither will the chickens!
Vegan Murgh Makhan
~ 2 cups soy curls
~ 2 cups plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, chili powder, garam masala, curry powder, fenugreek
~ 1/2 tsp. cardamom
~ 1/4 tsp. each: ground cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg
~ 1 tbsp. each: minced garlic, ginger
~ Mix the soy milk and and seasonings in a large beaker, bowl or pot, add the soy curls, then cover and bring to a boil (about 4 minutes in the microwave, probably a minute or so more on the stovetop).
~ Leave covered and set aside for at least an hour; I left mine 3-4 hours, and highly recommend you do the same if possible.
~ 1/2 cup soy yogurt
~ 1/2 cup raw cashews (soaked in hot water for 30 minutes, then drained)
~ 1/2 cup mimicreme or soy creamer
~ Place all three ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.
~ 3 tbsp. vegan margarine (I used Earth Balance)
~ 1 ginormous onion (or 2 normal ones), chopped (about 3 cups)
~ 1 14 oz. can fire roasted tomatoes, drained
~ In a large skillet or wok, melt the margarine and saute the onions over medium high heat about 10 minutes, until clear and glassy.
~ Stir in the drained tomatoes and cook another few minutes.
~ Add the soy curls and their marinade and cook 5-10 minutes more, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.
~ Pour in the processed yogurt/cashew/mimicreme, mix thoroughly and heat through.
~ Cook another 5 minutes before serving hot with biryani, naan, a vegetable curry and/or plain boiled rice.