Growing up, my father's curried chicken stew and nsima always meant that we would be eating dinner together as a family. Even more exciting to my sister and I, it meant we would be eating with our hands.
My ada, or “da” as we call him for short, grew up in a village in Malawi, moving to the United States when he was fifteen. His dinner repertoire was limited to just two dishes, but I can recall being in grade school and arriving home to the aroma of chicken that had been braising in curry all afternoon. This was a sign that an evening of quality family time around the table was in store.
The curry was usually served alongside nsima, a white cornmeal patty that doubled up as an eating utensil. My sister and I would each be served a patty smothered in a curried tomato sauce that contained chicken bones and meat that had separated from each other during their slow braising. We’d rip pieces of nsima and dip it in the sauce, searching for chunks of meat to pair with it before shoving it into our mouths.
All these years later, I do exactly the same thing, except now I've learned to cook it, too. And each time I do, I recall the stories of my da's childhood in Chituka, Malawi. —Nyanyika Banda
Test Kitchen Notes
Featured in: The Chicken Curry That Put My Broken Family Back Together Again. —The Editors
- Prep time 20 minutes
- Cook time 1 hour
- Serves 4-6
- Chicken curry
vegetable oil, divided
medium white onions, sliced into 1/4-inch half-moons
celery stalks, sliced 1/4-inch thick
garlic cloves, minced
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
large carrots, sliced in 1/4-inch rounds
(12-ounce) can tomato paste
(28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
white distilled vinegar
yellow curry powder
bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces
granulated sugar (optional)
ufa (fine-ground white cornmeal)
5 1/2 cups
unsalted butter or margarine (optional)
- Chicken curry
- In a very large soup pot or Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium heat. Add onions, celery, and garlic and season with a pinch each of salt and pepper. Cook for 4 minutes, or until vegetables are translucent, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon.
- Add the 1 remaining tablespoon of oil and the carrots and tomato paste. Fry about 1 to 2 minutes, then add the whole peeled tomatoes, using a wooden spoon to break them up in the pot to 1/2-inch pieces. Add vinegar, lemon juice, and curry powder and mix together.
- Add the chicken pieces and season generously with salt and pepper; stir together with the tomatoey vegetables. Pour enough water in the pot to cover the chicken (you may need to add more as the stew reduces). Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to a low, and cover. It takes at least 1 to 1 1/2 hours for the chicken to become fully tender, but it can also stay on the stove all day. The longer it simmers, the stronger the flavors and the more tender the chicken will be.
- Taste and season with more salt and pepper as needed, and a pinch of sugar. Serve over nsima or cooked rice.
- In a saucepan, heat the water until lukewarm. Slowly mix in the cornmeal while stirring, avoiding lumps. Bring to a boil while stirring continuously. Lower heat and let the porridge gently ripple for 2 minutes; the mixture should look like thin transparent porridge. Continue stirring until the mixture is smooth and cooked through.
- If desired, the butter or margarine can be added at this point. Nsima can be served in a dish or scooped onto a plate as patties. Accompany with meat, fish, or vegetables.