A “Flavors First” Chicken Curry

Dara O'Brien
4 min readJun 17, 2020

Turning Up the Heat

My sister used to do an imitation of my mother cooking. She would raise her hand in front of her like she was holding a small jar above a pot on a stove. “This is hot pepper,” she would say. Next she would tilt her pretend jar down for a bare fraction of a second like she was adding less than a pinch of seasoning to a simmering pot below, then jump back and say: “Oooooo that’s spicy!”

That’s the food I grew up on. Not a lot of heat to it. Of course, even if my mom had regularly concocted meals that incorporated the headiest blend of herbs and spices, you can bet I wouldn’t have eaten any of it.

Whole cuisines were always off limits to me. I was way into my twenties before I dared to try Indian food. I warily joined friends at an Indian restaurant on East 6th Street—Curry Row—in Manhattan. I ordered the Chicken Tikka Masala (not exactly a challenging flavor profile, I know). I loved it, and it opened me up to whole new realms of food.

Indian food led to Tex-Mex; led to Thai; led to eventually trying ramen. (Who knew it would be so good?) When I began paging through “Flavors First: An Indian Chef’s Culinary Journey” by Vikas Khanna, (published by Lake Isle Press), I welcomed the chance to be led somewhere new once more.

Vikas is the Indian culinary superstar who was founding Executive Chef of Manhattan’s Michelin-starred Indian restaurant Junoon. “Flavors First” is part cookbook, part memoir, as Vikas shares recipes along with the stories behind them.

One of my first decisions in cooking from the book was whether to follow Vikas’s recommendation to buy whole spices and grind as needed or use the ground spices and blends I had on hand. He makes a good case for the former, and I decided to set using whole spices as a goal and finally bought a spice grinder. But the transition is going to be a gradual one. I didn’t want to throw out spices I already had, which were still pretty new-mostly.

Another choice was how bold to be in my selection. I decided to start with something somewhat familiar, and make his recipe for North Indian-Style Chicken Curry, since curries, both Thai and Indian, are on my radar these days. And since I am cooking during the pandemic lockdown, it wouldn’t be too hard to find the…

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Dara O'Brien

Dara O’Brien is a freelance writer based in New York City. When she isn’t cooking or writing about cookbooks, she writes plays and sometimes acts in them..