Good korma

Kormas were first prepared in kitchens in northwest India and gradually spread to much of the country.

I sampled a wonderfully rich vegetable dish at anIndian vegetarian restaurant in Los Angeles owned by a Sikh chef. Thedish, navratan korma, was made of diced vegetables in a buttery sauce,enhanced with little chunks of paneer, or Indian cheese, as well ascashews and raisins. One of the chef's two turbaned sons, who were incharge of serving, explained that this dish was cooked in the northernIndian style.

Infact, korma is a category of Indian specialties. I had eaten lamb kormabefore, but this was my first taste of a vegetarian korma. According toJennifer Brennan, author of Curries and Bugles: A Memoir and a Cookbook of the British Raj,"Korma is actually the Indian name for the technique of braising meat.It originated in the lavish Moghul cuisine wherein lamb or chicken wasbraised in velvety, spiced sauces, enriched with ground nuts, cream andbutter. While kormas are rich, they are also mild, containing little orno cayenne or chillies."

Brennan flavors her lamb korma with fresh ginger, sauteedonions, garlic, ground coriander, black pepper, cardamom, cloves andturmeric, as well as lime juice and sugar, and thickens it with groundalmonds and cream. Others use rich yogurt instead of cream.

Julie Sahni, author of Moghul Microwave, compares Moghulfood to classic French cuisine and calls it "the food of thearistocrats... represents splendor, beauty and a certain elegance inevery dish." In fact, she notes, this style did not originate entirelyin India. The Moghuls, who ruled the subcontinent from the 16th to the19th century, were originally from Turkish Persia, and brought manycooking techniques and dishes from their native land, and thenincorporated Indian ingredients.


Sahni considers korma of vegetables "an aristocraticvegetarian masterpiece." This is noteworthy because she makes the dishfrom common vegetables - her recipe features carrots, turnips, greenbeans and cauliflower. It's the sauce and spices that make vegetablekorma a dish fit for nobility. The vegetables are cooked in milk andthen added to a sauce of tomatoes and cream flavored with sweet spices- cinnamon, cardamom and cloves, as well as fresh ginger and a littlecayenne. Other vegetable kormas are enriched with nut butters or fruitpurees.

Stendahl, author of The Bombay Palace Cookbook, makesluxurious korma dishes using butter and heavy cream with a liberalhand, raisins and almonds as garnishes and saffron as a primaryseasoning. He calls navratan korma "a jewel-like fantasy ofvegetables," and notes that the word navratan translates as diamonds;to make it, you use nine vegetables and cut them into diamond shapes.This recalls French classic recipes that call for carving vegetablesinto pointed ovals, tiny squares or other shapes.

Kormaswere first prepared in the Moghul kitchens in northwest India andgradually spread to much of the country. Maya Kaimal, author of Savoring the Spice Coast of India,presents a south Indian version of the dish as prepared in Kerala. Hersis a chicken korma, enriched with coconut and cashew paste, which isperfect for kosher cooking. Kaimal's korma is peppery; in addition tothe usual ginger, garlic and sauteed onions, her version includes hotgreen chilies and cayenne pepper.


This dish is inspired by a specialty I learned from Indian cooking expert Neelam Batra, author of 1,000 Indian Recipes.Neelam flavors the sauce for this aromatic chicken dish mostly withfresh seasonings rather than dried spices, and then thickens it withground almonds and cashews. She makes it with yogurt; I use coconutmilk to make it kosher. Serve this luxurious dish with plenty of hotcooked rice, preferably basmati.

You can keep the chicken, covered, for two days in therefrigerator. If necessary, add a few tablespoons coconut milk orchicken broth when reheating.

  • 1.4 kg. or 1.5 kg boneless skinless chicken breast halves
  • a 1- to 2-cm. piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut in 4 pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 small onion, quartered
  • 1 medium tomato, quartered
  • 1⁄2 cup chopped fresh coriander
  • 1⁄2 cup coconut milk (unsweetened)
  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 2 or 3 dried red peppers (optional)
  • 10 almonds, ground
  • 10 cashews, ground
  • 1⁄4 tsp. ground cloves, or to taste
  • 1⁄4 tsp. ground cinnamon, or to taste
  • 3 whole black cardamoms, pounded lightly
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Fresh coriander sprigs and tomato wedges for garnish

  • Cut each chicken breast half in two pieces.

    Process ginger, garlic, onion, tomato and cilantro in a food processor or blender until well blended.

  • Heat oil in a large pan over medium heat and saute whole driedpeppers for 1 minute. Add almonds, cashews, cloves, cinnamon,cardamoms, salt and pepper. Saute 1 minute, stirring; do not let spicesburn.

  • Immediately stir in onion-tomato puree, followed by chickenpieces. Stir in coconut milk. Cover and bring to a simmer. Reduce heatto medium and cook until chicken is tender and sauce is thick, about 20to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. If sauce is not thick enough,uncover pan and cook for a few minutes longer.

  • Garnish with coriander sprigs and tomato wedges and serve.

  • Makes 4 to 6 servings.


  • This vegetable dish, enriched with almonds, butter and yogurt, is from Charmaine and Reuben Solomon's book, The Complete Curry Cookbook.I have added cumin to their list of spices, and raisins and freshcoriander as a garnish. Their recipe calls for ghee, or Indianclarified butter. If you can get Yemenite samneh, which is similar, youcan substitute it. Otherwise use butter or vegetable oil. Use anycombination of vegetables you like, cut in small pieces, or even afrozen vegetable medley. Cauliflower, broccoli, mushrooms, turnips,zucchini, white squash (kishuim), corn kernels and pumpkin are also good in this dish.

  • The Solomons recommend Indian bread as an accompaniment. Freshpita is also good instead, or you can serve the creamy vegetables withbasmati rice.