This simple, vibrant curry, which originates from the Indonesian island of Java, makes a splendid “introductory” curry. It’s mild enough for sensitive palates, since it does not include any chiles and the white pepper is optional, and it’s super easy to make.
This dish makes a great weeknight dinner, especially if you make the curry paste ahead of time. We often make several batches of the paste at once, and freeze recipe-sized portions so it’s ready whenever we get the craving.
A few ingredient notes: Toasting and grinding the spices makes a big flavor difference. Galangal is an aromatic root you’ll find at most Asian markets and, increasingly, in well-stocked supermarkets, including Whole Foods. Candlenuts, a traditional ingredient used to thicken curries, are available at most Asian markets, but feel free to substitute macadamia nuts.
If you like, you can add 2 potatoes (peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes, about 2 cups) at the same time as the chicken. Just increase the spices a little bit and add a shallot or two more to the paste. For a vegetarian option, skip the chicken and use tofu instead, or carrots, green beans or any other vegetables that catch your fancy.
Serve this curry, topped with crispy shallots or peanuts for texture, with rice and a side of steamed greens. (And for those of you who prefer heat, serve the curry with a side of spicy, fiery sambal.)
Opor Ayam (Javanese White Chicken Curry)
Serves 4Ingredients5 shallots peeled and roughly chopped, about 1 cup
2 medium cloves garlic, peeled3 or 4 candlenuts (or macadamia nuts)
2 tablespoons galangal, peeled and roughly chopped
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 tablespoon ground coriander1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon white pepper, optional
2 stalks lemongrass, bruised and tied in a knot
2 kaffir lime leaves, bruised, optional
1½ pounds boneless, skinless, chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch cubes
1½ cups water, or as needed1½ cups coconut milk
Salt to tasteINSTRUCTIONSMake the curry paste: Using a small food processor or blender, puree the shallots, garlic, candlenuts, galangal and 2 tablespoons vegetable oil to a smooth paste, adding more oil as needed.
In a heavy pot set over medium heat, heat a tablespoon of oil until hot. Add the curry paste and fry until lightly golden brown, 7 to 8 minutes. Add the coriander, cumin, white pepper (if using), lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves (if using) and fry until aromatic, about 1 minute.
Season the cubed chicken with salt and add to the pot. Saute for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the water and bring curry to a boil, then lower heat, cover and simmer gently for 20 to 25 minutes.
Stir in the coconut milk and simmer gently until chicken is cooked through and tender, 5 to 10 minutes more. Taste and adjust seasoning, and serve.
San Francisco food writers Stacie Dong and Simran Singh’s blog, A Little Yumminess (www.alittleyum.com), focuses on family food adventures and recipes with a global twist.