Garam Masala Tuesdays: Chicken Stew with Appams

by Shumaila

I am truly the happiest when I am in India. I love the freedom (in certain terms) that I have here in the US and I love having friends and a house to take care of, but when I am in India, its just something else. It’s difficult to put the feeling in words, especially since I am not that great a writer, but I’m truly happy when I’m there. It’s the country I have born and grown up in. It’s just about the place that makes me feel at peace.

Last time I was in India, I got to spend some time with my parents in Trivandrum (or Thiruvananthapuram- trying saying that!), the capital of the southern state of Kerala. My dad is in the air force and he was posted there during my last India visit.

I loved Kerala, although it is quite a bit of travel since most of my other family members and friends stay in the north. But, nonetheless, it is a great place to spend time when you are on a vacation. Picturesque palm lined beaches, backwaters, spice gardens and ayurvedic massages. What else could you ask for!

My father is now posted out of Kerala and has moved closer home. Although excited about his new position, I am going to miss not going to Kerala and to the deliciousness that Kerala cuisine is next time we are in India.

Being north Indians, making south Indian food is not our forte, especially not mine. I still can’t make a dosa. I tried once two years back when I had just started cooking, but that failure has kept me away. For my fix of south indian food, I just eat out or hope that my south Indian friends in our small town invite us to their homes as often as possible!

During my last visit to Kerala, I learnt how to make chicken stew from the cook at my parents house. Its pretty simple, but the only reason that I kept from making it was that for the love of god, I could not attempt making appam. I don’t know if its the fear of dealing with boiled ground rice, letting it ferment and getting the right consistency for the batter, but I just could not fathom enough courage to make them at home.

In Kerala, the cook told me most of the people make the appams from the ready made batter you get in the markets. But, I was not in Kerala. So I did not have that kind of help.

Luckily, a few weeks back when we were in Phoenix I saw these appam packets in the frozen section of the asian store we buy our Indian groceries from. I am sure they must have always been there. I just never looked. But this time I did, and bought a packet. And I set out to make the stew.

In Kerala, stew is a mildly spicy, creamy dish which is very flexible to suit both vegetarian and non vegetarians alike. While the vegetarian version has potatoes, carrots and other veggies thrown in, the non-veg version can be made using chicken, mutton or even beef. It is generally served with appams, a lacey crepe which is very light in texture and flavor.

The stew is fairly simple and straight forward to make, if you have the necessary spices. The dish like my previous dishes on GMT uses whole spices. I can not stress much on the fact that cooking in whole spices  really adds a whole new dimension to your cooking, especially in curries. Do, do try it!

Before I share the recipe, I would like to announce the winner of the Ariosto seasoning giveaway and also thank everyone who participated.

The winner randomly selected through is Comment No.26: April, who commented:

Love rutabaga and love alternatives to potato fries! Will have to give this a try.

Congratulations, April! I will be contacting you soon to get all the necessary details.


Curry leaves impart a wonderful flavor to this mildly spiced stew. To know more about curry leaves, read this article on NPR. This stew will be ready from the chopping board to the table in less than 20 minutes. You don’t even have to finely chop the onions here. Finely chopping the onions always makes me cry, literally! In this case, you just slice them- always more convenient and quick. V describes this stew as an Indian spiced thai curry. So if you like thai, you will definitely like this stew!

For the appam recipe do check the Daring Cooks’ August 2011 challenge. Or else use frozen packets that you can find in the frozen section of your Asian/Indian store. Or just serve with some rice. This stew will taste great any way you serve it!

Serves 2-3

Preparation time: approx 20 minutes


  • 1/2 large onion or 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp ginger paste
  • 1 tsp garlic paste
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 2 inch cinnamon stick
  • 8-10 curry leaves/kadi pata
  • 10-12 black peppercorns (whole)
  • 1-2 star anise
  • 2 green cardamom
  • 5-6 green chillies, sliced
  • 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • salt, to taste


  1. In a wok/ large saucepan, heat the oil on medium high heat. The oil should be hot (but not too hot before you put the whole spices in. Test with 1-2 mustard seeds- if they sizzle, its hot. If they start burning in just a  few seconds, the oil is too hot.)
  2. Add in the whole spices- cinnamon, curry leaves, whole peppercorn, star anise, cardamom, mustard seeds. Let sizzle for a few seconds till the oil is flavorful.
  3. Add in the sliced onions, and saute till translucent.
  4. Add in the ginger, garlic paste and green chillies. Cook for another 1-2 minutes.
  5. Mix in the chicken pieces and turn the flame to high. Cook till the pinkness has gone and the chicken is brown. As soon as this happens, add in the coconut milk and stock. Switch flame to medium. Cook till chicken is cooked all through.
  6. Serve with appams or steamed white rice.