Last night I watched a show on Netflix called Raja, Rasoi Aur Anya Kahaniyaan about Indian cooking and how Indian kings and nobility encouraged and enjoyed fine cuisine. The show elaborated on a variety of traditional dishes which are widely enjoyed throughout India even today. I was struck by how vivid in color and lively in spice the dishes were, and once more reminded of how spices rule supreme in Indian cooking. I felt very inspired to make something traditional for dinner tonight and so my Dear Reader; today I present to you Achari Chicken.

Achari chicken is unique in its flavorings and strays away from the usual spice mixture of cardamon, cinnamon, cloves, garam masala etc. A quintet of five whole seeds takes center stage in the spice scene here – onion seeds, fenugreek seeds, black mustard seeds, cumin seeds and fennel seeds. Together they are called Panch Phoran and impart a delightful and characteristic taste to this recipe. They are sometimes refered to as ‘pickling’ or ‘Achari’ spices. ‘Achari’ means ‘of pickles’ in Hindi. This method of preparing chicken appeals hugely to my family and this dish is a regular at our dinner table. I typically serve it with fresh and smoky phulkas smeared with ghee. Phulkas are whole wheat flatbreads. The dough is rolled thin into small circles, partially cooked on a cast iron tava or pan and finished off on an open gas flame.

Cooking time: 1 hr
Serves: 4

1.5 lbs boneless skinless chicken, diced into 1.5" cubes
3/4 tsp onion seeds or kalonji
3/4 tsp fenugreek seeds
3/4 tsp black mustard seeds
3/4 tsp cumin seeds
3/4 tsp fennel seeds
2 tbsps vegetable oil
2 large onions, sliced
1 - 1.5 tsps salt, per your taste
1 tbsp grated ginger
1 tbsp mashed garlic
1 tbsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp red chilli powder or more, per your taste
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 cup yogurt, at room temperature
2 tomatoes, diced
1 tbsp lime juice (optional)
2 green chillies, slit lengthwise
chopped cilantro, for garnish

Heat oil in a pan, and all the onion seeds, fenugreek seeds, black mustard seeds, cumin seeds and fennel seeds into the oil. Wait a few seconds until they sizzle and pop. Lower the sliced onions into the pan. Sprinkle about 1 tsp of salt on the onions and let cook gently and uncovered, on medium heat, stirring often, until the onions are lightly caramelized around the edges. Combine the diced chicken, grated ginger and mashed garlic with the onions. Stir carefully so as to not break up the chicken and cook until the chicken is no longer pink. Now add in the powdered spices - coriander powder, cumin powder, red chilli powder and turmeric powder. Toss the chicken mixture and ensure that the spices have evenly coated the chicken. Add the yogurt and stir constantly to even out the heat. This will make sure that the yogurt does not separate when added to the pan. No worries if it does; the flavor is still there! Cover and lower heat, cook about 10 minutes. Remove the cover and add diced tomatoes. Stir and cook covered for 10-15 more minutes, on gentle or low heat. Adjust seasonings and salt, add the green chillies, cilantro and lime juice and serve with hot rotis or rice.