I had recently received a gift of dried apricots and while wonderfully delicious on their own, I immediately thought of Murgh Khubani or Apricot Chicken. This delicious dish hails from the Indian state of Kashmir and has its origins in Mughlai cooking.
The state of Kashmir is located in Northern India, in the region of the Himalayas. It was a strong trade route between the Middle East, Central Asia and the rest of India. This distinctive chicken dish has those wonderful Middle Eastern and Persian influences making it very unique. Kashmir is well known for their use of dried fruit and nuts and this particular recipe is no exception.
The Parsi community of India also makes a similar chicken curry with apricots known as Murgh Jardaloo. Indian Parsis are an extremely close knit community, they are the direct descendants of Persian Zoroastrians who fled Iran thousands of years ago to escape religious persecution. They have since settled in India and made it their home. Parsi cuisine is a wonderful and rich blend of both Persian and Indian cuisines, cooking styles and methods. Parsi dishes are famous for their unique combinations of bold flavors.
MURGH KHUBANI (Murgh Jardaloo or Chicken with Apricots)
2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken cut into 1.5-2 inch pieces
2 large onion, finely chopped
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced
2 large garlic cloves, finely minced
2-3 small green Thai chilies, slit in half lengthwise
2 medium tomatoes
1 cup dried apricots
1-2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick (about 1.5-2 inches in length)
½ tsp garam masala
½ tsp turmeric (haldi)
1 tsp ground cumin powder
½ tsp ground coriander powder
½ tsp cardamom powder
¼ tsp red chili powder, to taste
salt and pepper to taste
½ cup toasted, unsalted almond slices
½ cup cream (you can use yogurt if you prefer)
2 tbsp oil (vegetable or canola)
freshly chopped cilantro leaves for garnish
In a small mixing bowl, allow the dried apricots to soak for at least 1 hr in enough warm water to cover. After an hour or so, drain the apricots well and chop them in smaller pieces (quarters). You can reserve the apricot soaking water and add it to the curry when needed.
In a large deep skillet or wok on medium high heat, add 1 tbsp of oil. When hot, start browning the chicken on all sides until golden brown. This may need to be done in batches, do not over crowd the pan. Set aside until needed.
To the same skillet, add the onions. Keep stirring and let the onions fry until browned, this may take up to 7-8 minutes. Next add the garlic and ginger, stir fry for a few more minutes and then add the cinnamon stick and bay leaves. Now add the green chilies along with the rest of the spices (garam masala, turmeric, ground cumin powder, ground coriander powder, red chili powder, salt & pepper). If the skillet is dry, you may need to add another tbsp or so of oil. Stir fry the spices well so that their raw taste is “cooked” out, this may take a few minutes.
Now add the chicken pieces along with any liquid to the skillet, mix well to combine all of the ingredients. Let cook for a few minutes and then add the tomatoes along with the apricot pieces and any soaking liquid. Reduce the heat to low, cover and let simmer for 10-12 minutes or until the chicken is done. The chicken should be fully cooked yet remain moist and tender. Finish the dish with cream (or yogurt) and the almonds. Stir well to combine all the ingredients. Garnish with the freshly chopped cilantro leaves and serve with warm chapatis and fragrant Basmati rice.