Back when I was a just a wee little girl, my palette could really only handle fairly middle-of-the-road flavors. If something had too much of a punch, it seemed to overwhelm my taste buds and I didn’t care for that too much. When there were strong spices or too many herbs, or if there was a combination of sweet with savory, you wouldn’t find me chomping at the bit to get a bite. Fresh rye bread that had caraway seeds in it? Wouldn’t touch it. When I would go visit my grandparents in Europe during the summers, I noticed that people used a lot of finely chopped parsley to garnish various dishes, and at the time, I wasn’t the biggest fan of parsley. It just seemed so…green. I thought it tasted a bit too much like grass, and couldn’t understand why it was always so liberally used on so very many things. I remember skipping into the dining room to eat dinner at a family member’s home, excited to eat a favorite meal, only to be stopped in mid skip at the sight of my beloved buttered potatoes covered in a light blanket of chopped parsley! I tried to eat around it, but to no avail. I remember thinking, “If they had just left this off…” Now I love the stuff. Back then, if a savory dish veered too far into the sweet lane for my taste, I couldn’t help but wonder if someone accidentally mistook the sugar for the salt, because it seemed “weird”. Why would someone add sweetness to a savory dish? And how could people eat peach compote or applesauce with pork chops? Oh, how far I’ve come. I probably wouldn’t have believed it if someone had told me that I would one day absolutely adore herbs, sweet-savory combinations; and the most surprising to me, super spicy -the more the better, now. But that’s the beauty of the evolution of the palette. When I was young, I never imagined that over time I would grow to love what I once thought I’d rather do without. Isn’t that how life goes?
As I got older, my appreciation for food began to grow and eating became more of an adventure. Experimenting with different cuisines became a neat treat, and the first time I tried authentic Indian food, I fell in love with it. My taste buds woke up, as if out of a slumber, and I knew I would be a life-long fan. The rich, tangy sauces contained hints of sweetness; and warm, toasted spices along with bright herbs, perfumed the dishes. The “heat” would often come on over a few moments, creeping up slowly from behind, giving me a gentle kick. I could taste the delicious character in the curries that were gently simmered until just the right consistency and depth of flavor was reached, and that coupled with fragrant Basmati rice, and the coolness of a side of creamy cucumbers in yogurt, was something I enjoyed immensely.
Venturing out and trying new flavor combinations would create in me a deep love of various ethnic foods and a genuine joy in experimenting with creating my own unique meals using those fabulous ingredients. Long gone are the days of being middle-of-the-road when it comes to flavor. Now I say, “Bring on the parsley! Bring on the caraway seeds! Bring on the sweet with the savory, and make it extra spicy!” It’s all good eats now. Yes, I’ve grown to love what I once thought I’d rather do without, and it’s what makes my life taste as good as it does today.
Taste what’s good and pass it on.
Sweet, Curried Mango Chicken with Cashews and Basmati Rice and Minted Cucumbers in Yogurt
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Sweet, Curried Mango Chicken ingredients:
1½ pounds of skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into large chunks
½ teaspoon salt, divided use
¼ teaspoon black pepper, divided use
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided use
1 tablespoon butter
1 onion, cut in half and sliced into thin, semi-circles
3 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press
½ teaspoon yellow curry powder
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
• Pinch red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups frozen, unsweetened mango, thawed and cut into bite-size chunks
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped, plus 2 tablespoons leaves for garnish
2 cups chicken stock, hot
2 tablespoons honey
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons roasted, unsalted cashew pieces
-Season chicken thigh pieces with ¼ teaspoon salt and a pinch of pepper; in a large pan/skillet set over medium-high heat, add in 2 tablespoons of olive oil and when hot, quickly brown the chicken pieces until golden but not cooked through, about 3-4 minutes; remove chicken with slotted spoon onto a clean plate and set side for a moment.
-Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil and the 1 tablespoon of butter to the pan, then add in the sliced onions; sauté onions for about 3-4 minutes, until golden; next add the garlic, the curry powder, the cinnamon and the red pepper flakes and stir together until fragrant, being careful not to burn them; next, stir in the tomato paste and allow to cook for a minute, then add the mango chunks and 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro; next add back to the pan the chicken along with the hot stock, and stir to combine; cover with lid slightly askew, lower the heat and allow to gently simmer for 40 minutes until slightly thickened.
-After 40 minutes, turn off the heat and fold in the honey and the roasted cashew pieces, and serve with Basmati Rice and Minted Cucumbers in yogurt, garnished with cilantro leaves.
Basic Basmati Rice ingredients:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, pressed through garlic press
1 ½ cup Basmati rice
2 ¼ cup water
1 teaspoon salt
-In a medium pot set over medium heat, add the oil; once warm, add the garlic to the oil and once fragrant, add in the rice and allow it to toast in the garlic-oil for about 3-4 minutes; add the water, bring to the boil, cover and reduce heat to medium-low to simmer until rice is cooked, about 15-20 minutes; once cooked, allow rice to sit for 5 minutes, then fluff with fork and cover to keep warm until ready to serve.
Minted Cucumbers In Yogurt ingredients:
4 large Persian cucumbers, diced very small
1 clove garlic, pressed through garlic press
1 tablespoon fresh mint, finely chopped
1/3 cup plain, non-fat Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
-In a small bowl, combine all of the ingredients and keep in refrigerator until ready to serve.