The whole of last week the weather has been dull and boring thanks to the
rains which made their appearance during an otherwise chilly January. This made me miss the monsoons of Mangalore/Mumbai all the more. Well, I don't miss monsoons in Mumbai as they transform themselves into a chaotic mess. Anyone who has lived in Mumbai would know how icky the whole season is. But if one is not venturing out into the rains and the flooded roads then well, it is a pleasant experience to welcome those first showers after the sweltering heat of the Indian summers.
It feels odd to be talking about the monsoons in January but I guess this is how its going to be moving forward. Yesterday the chilly weather outside beckoned me to cook something nice and spicy to beat the bleariness outside. I was looking for a recipe that included loads of pepper and I came across this typical Mangalorean chicken preparation that I remember my mum preparing a million years ago. Cunpir, pronounced as 'Khuhn-peer' means coriander seeds and Miri, pronounced nasally as 'mireen' stands for black or white peppercorns. Why didn't I ever try making this dish before? Why wasn't it in my repertoire yet? Beats me!
Mangalore is known for its pepper plantations. Many people who owned huge properties used to grow & harvest their own pepper. In the recent years many have sold off their lands and live in apartments so they no longer enjoy nature's bounty of free organic pepper (or many other home grown crops). Such a loss! My mum-in-law however gives me my annual quota of peppercorns harvested from her own garden. Half a kilo lasts me like forever. She insists that I use it as much as possible in various dishes as pepper is known for its wonderful medicinal properties. I pay heed to her advice and don't buy store bought peppercorns and pepper powder anymore. A good pepper mill that we invested in ensures that freshly ground pepper flavours our dishes everytime. Nothing beats the aroma of freshly ground pepper!
By the way because of the popularity of pepper in Mangalore we incorporate it into almost every savoury dish and home remedy. So much so that we have three main gravy bases that include the word 'Miri'. Jeere Miri (Cumin & Pepper), Losun Miri (Garlic & Pepper) and Cunpir Miri (Coriander & Pepper) are these three famous bases that are used to create vegetarian or non vegetarian dishes alike. However, one must note that since no coconut or coconut milk is used the masala yields very little gravy. The proportion of ingredients is such that you cannot add too much of one as it would throw the flavours off balance. So what do Mangaloreans do if they need more gravy? Well, they prepare this curry for their Sunday lunch and have a hearty rice and chicken curry lunch and for dinner they just eat the leftover pieces of chicken along with rice congee (gruel) or break fresh, soft chapathis to scoop up the last bit of curry. Tastes amazing, trust me!
Chicken Cunpir Miri (Mangalorean Catholic Style Coriander and Pepper Curry)
Prep time: 20 mins | Cook time: 25 mins | Serves 4
- 1 kg chicken
- 3 cloves
- 1 inch cassia bark or cinnamon
- 1 small onion finely sliced
- Salt to taste
- Ghee or oil for frying
- 1 big potato cubed (optional)
- Chopped coriander leaves for garnishing (optional)
For the Masala:
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 1/8th teaspoon (a big pinch) cumin
- 22-25 peppercorns (about 1/2 teaspoon)
- 5 long red chillies *see notes
- 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1 medium-big onion
- 1-1/2 marble sized ball of tamarind
1. Cut the chicken into medium sized pieces, wash and drain on a colander
2. On a tawa/skillet dry roast the chillies, peppercorns, coriander, cumin one by one for a few seconds just until you get a nice aroma. Take care not to burn them. Remove and allow to cool on a plate - they will turn crisp.
3. On the same pan roast the onions until the raw smell vanishes. Add turmeric powder just before taking them off the heat. Using a little water grind the onions, tamarind and the roasted spices to a fine paste. Retain the masala water from the grinder.
4. In a heavy based pan heat some ghee or oil and lightly fry the cloves and cassia bark/cinnamon. Toss in the onions and fry on a medium heat till they turn golden.
5. Add the ground masala and fry for a couple of minutes on a medium heat then add the chicken and continue to fry for a another 3-4 minutes till the pieces are well coated with the masala.
6. Add the masala water retained from the grinder and salt to taste. Add more tamarind juice if required. If you wish to add potatoes do that now. Cover the pan and cook on a medium low heat till the chicken (and potatoes) is/are cooked.
7. Remove from heat, garnish with chopped coriander and serve hot with hot rice, sanna, neer dosa, dosa or chapathis
This curry doesn't yield a lot of gravy as there is no coconut used. Do not increase the quantity of onions as it will alter the taste greatly. Ensure that the masala is ground very finely to achieve a gravy of medium thickness.
If you have a low tolerance to spice simply use the same quantity of deseeded (seeds removed) red chillies. For the real flavour of a Mangalorean curry try using the Byadge/Bedgi variety of long dry chillies. You may use Kashmiri chillies too, just adjust the quantity used as they are low on spice.