Goat, chicken and fish highlight holiday meal in India

By Steve Wideman | For The Compass | November 27, 2013

Fr. Joseph Irudamoney enjoys preparing chicken curry for Christmas


NEW LONDON — The savory aroma of ginger and garlic wafts through the rectory of New London’s Most Precious Blood Parish as Fr. Joseph Irudamoney prepares his favorite curried chicken dish for dinner with a visiting priest.

Fr. Arul Joseph Irudamoney cooks chicken curry in the rectory kitchen at Most Precious Blood Parish in New London. (Steve Wideman | For The Compass)
Fr. Arul Joseph Irudamoney cooks chicken curry in the rectory kitchen at Most Precious Blood Parish in New London. (Steve Wideman | For The Compass)

Four bins filled with dozens of packages of spices common to Indian cuisine line the kitchen countertop as Fr. Joseph stirs the pot of chicken steeped in a golden soup colored by the ingredients of his home-made curry.

The nose-pleasing bouquet of cooking curry, combined with anticipation of a visitor, brings images of Christmas celebrations in Fr. Joseph’s home in Channai in southern India.

“In India, Christmas is the time of year when families and friends come together and celebrate the Christmas feasts. We celebrate Christmas with new clothes, good food and travel,” said Fr. Joseph, 51, who came to the United States from Tanzania in 2006 and became administrator at Most Precious Blood following the 2011 death of Fr. David Lewis.

A new outfit of clothes is the preferred gift in India and children have the opportunity to build a crib to hold Jesus, Mary, Joseph and other figurines they make from plaster or clay.

“My dad would provide the wood that we had to cut to make a crib. We kids would also cut a Christmas tree,” Fr. Joseph said. “We would start at one friend’s house making the cribs and decorating the tree, then move to another friend’s house, then our house and finally to the church where everyone would bring their best decorations.”

The outside walls of homes are whitewashed prior to the Christmas season, but decorative lights are not used outside.

“Electricity is too expensive and we don’t have electricity in India 24 hours a day,” Fr. Joseph said.

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Families in India are largely vegetarians, except during Christmas and a few other special occasions when meats take center stage, Fr. Joseph said.

“In India we don’t eat meat every day, but during Christmas we would generally have three kinds of meat, mostly goat, chicken and fish. Many families can’t afford to buy meat, but they don’t miss out on anything because eating vegetables is a way of life,” Fr. Joseph said.

He said goat meat “is kind of gamey tasting, so you have it with a lot of gravy. It does go well with rice or flatbread.”

Seer fish, a member of the mackerel family known in India as vanjiram, is a local favorite in southern India where it is considered a delicacy.

“Vanjiram is the most expensive kind of fish,” Fr. Joseph said. “My favorite Christmas dish is rice and chicken, and fish if I cook it myself with all the Indian spices. I don’t buy curry, which is a combination of spices, as such, because I know how to make it. There are hundreds of spices. Turmeric, cumin, coriander, chili powder and pepper powder are among the main ingredients I use in my cooking.”

Cookies, cakes, special breads and other baked items are not part of Christmas season meals as most homes do not have ovens.

“If you want baked goods you have to go the bakery, but we typically eat bakery only when we are sick. It goes down easy,” Fr. Joseph said.

Chicken curry: South Indian style

• 1 lb. Chicken cut in pieces
• 1 Large or 2 medium onions (chopped)
• 2 Tomatoes (chopped)
• 1 tbsp. Ginger Garlic Paste
• 2 Green chilies (slit)
• 1 sprig curry leaves
• 8-10 stems cilantro/coriander leaves (finely chopped)
• 3 sprigs mint leaves (leaves only)
• 1/4 tsp. Turmeric powder
• 1 1/2 tsp. Chili powder
• 2 tsps. Coriander powder
• 1 tsp. Chicken masala powder (optional)
• Salt to tasteTo Temper
• 1 tbsp. oil
• 1/2 tsp. mustard seeds
• 1/4 tsp. fennel seeds
• 1 inch stick of cinnamon
• 3 whole cloves

Fruits are another centerpiece on tables in India during Christmas.

“We have lots of mangos and hundreds of varieties of bananas — small and large, yellow, red, green and other colors,” Fr. Joseph said.

The flow of food continues until the last Christmas visitor goes home, which could be days, he said.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_message color=”alert-info”]Christmas treats from afar: Fr. Irudamoney’s chicken curry: South Indian style

Cooking Directions

1. Cut and wash chicken pieces and sprinkle little turmeric powder, mix and keep covered.

2. Heat oil in a pressure cooker, add the tempering ingredients one-by-one and sauté, then add green chilies and curry leaves, sauté, then add onions and sauté for a minute.

3. Add ginger garlic paste and sauté until the raw smell leaves.

4. Add chopped tomatoes and sauté until soft and mushy.

5. Add chicken and turmeric powder and sauté for 3-4 minutes.

6. Add dry powders-chili, coriander, chicken masala and stir-fry for 2 minutes and add the ground paste and stir well.

7. Add enough water and salt, chopped cilantro and mint leaves, mix well and close the lid and pressure cook for 2-3 whistles.

8. Once done, wait till pressure cools down, that’s it. Tasty Chicken Curry ready. Serve hot with steamed rice or flat-bread.[/vc_message][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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