Fabulous food from the land of the coconuts

Scarsdale-based chef and artist Rajni Menon joins WAG as its What’s Cooking? columnist with a twist on a traditional chicken curry dish.

I’m a native of Kerala, India, an artist and a passionate cook. In this new column, I’ll be introducing you to three kinds of cuisine from Kerala, the southernmost state in India, whose name means “Land of the Coconuts” (from kera, for “coconut” and alam for “land.” They are Hindu cuisine, mappila ( or Muslim) cuisine and Syrian Christian cuisine. Hindu cuisine consists of a variety of vegetarian and nonvegetarian options typically served with rice, while Mappila cuisine is a blend of traditional Hindu cuisine and Arab cuisine. Syrian Christian cuisine features a unique kind of meat preparation.

One of the most popular dishes of Hindu cuisine is called Nadan Chicken Curry. “Nadan” refers to “being traditional.” This is a traditional chicken recipe where the coriander seeds are toasted and then ground into a fine powder. The chicken is then cooked in this powder along with an aromatic blend of other spices, beet juice and coconut milk to produce a delectable curry. This chicken curry is a staple in most Kerala households. It can be cooked quickly and it is usually served with rice and a vegetable dish. The bone in the chicken adds a fantastic flavor to the curry.

This recipe is my twist on the traditional curry with the addition of beets. When my son Adi was younger, I created this chicken curry for him. He was a picky eater when it came to vegetables and did not like them stir-fried. Hence I thought of puréeing vegetables and integrating them into the chicken curry, which was and still is his favorite. So I started adding spinach, sweet potatoes, beets, kale, broccoli and so on to the curry. He loved the addition of beets the most. 

This curry had the most beautiful color from the beets and is flavorful due to the addition of coconut milk and toasted spices. So whenever Adi wanted this curry, he would ask me, “Would you please make beetroot chicken curry for me?” And I would say, “Yes, of course.”

 At one point, Adi even started inviting his friends to try my beetroot chicken curry. They all loved it and they would keep coming back for more. I was happy to cook this curry for my son and his friends. Hence this curry became a staple in my home and Adi named it as Mummy’s beetroot chicken curry. I hope to inspire you in making this velvety, smooth curry in your own home. 

Beetroot Chicken Curry
(Serves 4)


8 bone-in chicken thighs

4 tablespoons coriander seeds

1 cup diced red onions

2 diced Roma tomatoes

10 curry leaves, julienned

2 cups coconut milk

4 tablespoons ginger and garlic paste

2 teaspoons mustard seeds

3 tablespoons coconut oil

1/2 cup diced shallots

1 teaspoon turmeric powder

1 teaspoon Kashmiri chili powder

2 cups beetroot juice

1 inch cinnamon stick

2 star anise

1/4 teaspoon garam masala

2 cups chopped cilantro leaves

2 dried red chillies

1/2 a beetroot peeled and grated

2 tablespoons salt


1. Heat a small nonstick pan and dry roast the coriander seeds until they give out an aroma and turn a little brown. Cool them, then grind into a fine powder. Set this aside.

2. Heat coconut oil in another deep pan and add cinnamon stick, star anise and red onions to it. Sauté this well until reddish brown. Add ginger and garlic paste and stir well for a minute on low flame.

3. Add roasted coriander powder, Kashmiri chili powder, turmeric, salt and stir for 30 seconds.

4. Add in the diced tomatoes and sauté well until the tomatoes are thoroughly combined.

5. Add in the chicken thighs, beet juice and coconut milk. Cover it and cook until chicken is fully cooked. Set it aside.

6. In a separate small saucepan, add in coconut oil and, when hot, add the mustards seeds and let them crackle. Now add in chopped shallots, dried red chilies and curry leaves and sauté well until reddish brown.

7. Add this shallot, red chilli, curry leaf mixture to the chicken curry and stir well to combine. 

8. Add chopped cilantro leaves and garam masala and mix well. Before serving,  add 1/2 cup of grated beets on top of the chicken curry for garnish.

9. Serve hot with steamed basmati rice.

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