Dum ka Murgh (Chicken) from Bethesda Curry Kitchen. (photo by Renee Comet; styling by Bonnie S. Benwick)

A dish that was once known only to the aristocracy in ancient south-central India sure sounds humble on the menu at Bethesda Curry Kitchen: “chicken chunks in cashewnut paste and yoghurt gravy.” But Anil Sustarwar’s dum ka murgh is not to be overlooked.

The chef learned how to make it in India 24 years ago, where his teacher doled out its secrets over the course of five years. Sustarwar has simplified the steps in this recipe — “dum” refers to a way of slow cooking in a dough-sealed pot — without yielding much of the dish’s complex flavors. When you’re up for trying your hand at Hyderabadi cuisine, this is a worthy starting point.

Dum ka Murgh (Chicken)

6 to 8 servings

To make the sauce as smooth as it should be, it's best to use a Vitamix or other high-powered blender to puree the onion-nut paste.

Serve with jasmine rice.

Make Ahead: The onions can be caramelized, cooled and refrigerated up to 5 days in advance. The chicken needs to marinate for 1 hour. The dish tastes even better after a day's refrigeration.

Where to Buy: The ginger-garlic paste, black cumin seed (shahi jeera), Indian bay leaves (tej patta) and Kashmiri chili powder are available at Indian markets; the dried spices are also available at Bazaar Spices in the District's Union Market.

INGREDIENTS

1 1/2 cups peanut oil

2 medium yellow onions, cut in half, then sliced into very thin half-moons

3 ounces (scant 1 cup) whole blanched almonds

3 ounces (scant 3/4 cup) raw unsalted cashews, toasted (see NOTES)

1 ounce (1/4 cup) white poppy seeds

1 ounce (about 1/2 cup) dessicated (dried, unsweetened) coconut

Water

2 ounces ginger-garlic paste (see headnote)

Juice of 1/2 lemon

One 3-inch cinnamon stick

7 green cardamom pods

4 whole cloves

2 Indian bay leaves (tej patta; see headnote)

1/2 teaspoon black cumin seed, toasted (shahi jeera; see headnote and NOTES)

1/2 teaspoon Kashmiri chili powder (see headnote)

Pinch kosher salt

Pinch saffron threads

1/2 cup plain whole-milk yogurt

3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, excess fat trimmed

2 small green chili peppers, stemmed (not seeded), then thinly sliced

Leaves from 2 stems mint, coarsely chopped

Leaves from 2 stems cilantro, coarsely chopped, plus more cut into thin ribbons for garnish

2 tablespoons clarified butter (see NOTES)

DIRECTIONS

Pour the oil into a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, then stir in the onions. Cook for 50 to 60 minutes, stirring occasionally and adjusting the heat as needed so the onions don't burn, until caramelized to a rich, dark brown. Remove from the heat to cool completely.

Meanwhile, combine the almonds, toasted cashews, white poppy seeds and desiccated coconut in a high-powered blender; puree until fairly smooth, then add the caramelized onions and their oil. Puree to a smooth paste, adding a little water (up to 1 cup) as needed.

Combine the ginger-garlic paste, lemon juice, cinnamon stick, cardamom, cloves, Indian bay leaves, toasted black cumin seed, Kashmiri chili powder, salt, saffron threads and yogurt in a mixing bowl, stirring until well combined. Add the chicken thighs and toss to coat thoroughly. Cover and let it sit at room temperature for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Have at hand a large, ovenproof, lidded saute pan or deep-sided skillet with a lid.Uncover the chicken; add the nut-onion paste, the green chilies, the chopped mint and cilantro and the clarified butter, stirring to incorporate. Transfer to the saute pan or skillet. Seal tightly (a crimped layer of foil and/or parchment paper under the lid will help) and slow-roast for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until the chicken is tender and cooked through; start checking after 1 hour.

Discard the cinnamon stick, cloves and bay leaves, if you wish. Garnish with ribbons of cilantro.Serve hot, with rice.

NOTES: To toast the cashews, spread them in a small, dry skillet. Cook over medium-low heat for a few minutes, until fragrant and lightly browned, stirring or shaking the pan as needed to prevent scorching. Cool completely before using.To toast the black cumin seed, cook in a small, dry skillet over medium-low heat for a few minutes, until fragrant and lightly browned, stirring or shaking the pan as needed to prevent scorching. Cool completely before using.

To clarify butter, place more of it than you need in small saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook without stirring until it has liquefied, then begin skimming the foam off the top (discarding the foam) until the butter is clear enough to see through to the milky solids at the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat and strain the clear butter into a separate container.

NUTRITIONAL ANALYSIS Per serving, based on 8: 780 calories, 39 g protein, 12 g carbohydrates, 67 g fat, 16 g sat fat, 12 g cholesterol, 330 mg sodium, 3 g fiber, 4 g sugar

RECIPE SOURCE

From chef Anil Sustarwar of Bethesda Curry Kitchen in Bethesda.

Tested by Bonnie S. Benwick. E-mail questions to food@washpost.com

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