Updated: Apr 26, 2021
To understand what a "korma" is, we need to first delve into the history of what it is NOT. When Indians traveled abroad, mainly UK and America, they opened restaurants that followed a formula for success. The menu was composed of a spicy vindaloo, butter chicken as the medium option, and a light creamy korma. These kormas were bland, easy and cheap to make, and do not resemble a true korma in any sense.
So what is a korma? The korma originated in India with the invasion of the Mughals (10th century AD) and the term is derived from the Persian askhorma, qorma or kurma. It is a decadent curry of meat braised in cream, milk or yogurt with mild spices and usually ground nuts that help thicken the curry. This is a dish that was made in the king's kitchen, so it was rich, filled with expensive ingredients, nuts, saffron and other exotic essence flavorings and usually covered in edible gold or silver leaf. There are vegetarian kormas too, the most popular being navratan korma.
This specific korma is probably one of the best curries I have enjoyed, and everything a great korma should be, without the gold and silver though! Tender chicken, slow simmered in a rich curry with loads of ground pistachios and cilantro till creamy and delicious. I serve it with naan and a touch of spicy mango pickle, but is it also just as good with rice.
This curry is also just as delicious as a vegetarian dish, made with paneer.
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1 large onion, about 2 cups, sliced
2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole milk yogurt
1 green bell pepper, I prefer a poblano pepper, seeded and diced
2-3 green chilies, Thai, or other, or to taste
3/4 cup cilantro, stems and leaves
1 cup pistachios
1/2-3/4 cup water
2-3 tablespoons oil
1 tablespoon garlic paste
3/4 tablespoon ginger paste
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 lbs chicken, your choice of legs, thighs or breast
Salt to taste
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons cup pistachios
Fresh cilantro, minced (Optional)
Add the sliced onions and salt to a pan with the water and simmer gently for 10-12 minutes till the onions are very soft. Cool. Add the yogurt and puree the mix till very smooth in a small blender or using a hand blender.
Add the bell peppers, chilies, cilantro and pistachios to a small blender with minimal water to make a smooth puree. Add enough water so the ingredients do not stick to the sides but settle and are pureed well. Set aside.
Fry the chicken, with skin if preferred, in a frying pan with 1 teaspoon oil till lightly browned all over. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a pot and add the ginger and garlic and cook over medium heat for 1-2 minutes till fragrant. Do not brown. Add the onion puree and bring to a gentle simmer. Simmer for 5 minutes.
Add the ground pepper-chili-cilantro-pistachio paste and simmer for another 10 minutes. At this point the curry should be quite thick with the texture of heavy cream. It is critical to remember that this is a very delicate curry, never allow it to boil, it should always gently simmer on a medium or low stove. Also, you need to pay attention and stir this sauce frequently.
Add the chicken, or paneer, and simmer closed till the meat is cooked through, about 30 minutes or 15 minutes paneer. You can add a touch of water if the curry is too thick and is starting to stick to the bottom of the pot.
Add the cream and whole pistachios, keeping some to garnish, and stir in well. Take the curry off the stove and taste for salt. Serve garnished with pistachio nuts and cilantro, with rice or naan bread.