Health, Diet & Family

Curry Please. Hold the Fat!

by Aurora J. Photography FriedChillies on Mon, July 04, 2011

Just a few simple steps can make a simple chicken curry that is lower in fat and calories and won't pack on the pounds. It is every bit as delicious minus the bad stuff!

Healthy but delicious too!

Curries have and will always be a much sought after dish in my family, especially the ones cooked by my mother, Nisha Ibrahim, a 67-year-old retired nurse who still runs Hash in Penang. We love her curries so much that sometimes we turn into curry snobs, where we deem any other curry that lacks a certain ingredient inferior and should be banished from this earth.

Many people have the misconception that curries should be dowsed with copious amount of coconut milk. Coming from a family which has a history of high cholesterol, my mother stopped using coconut milk in her curries since 20 years ago. Truth be told, without it her curries are more aromatic and the colourful mix of flavours from the spices as well as garlic and onions make the curry taste great. This was obviously a healthier alternative and the fact is that turmeric used in curries is a great boost for health.

Whatever curry she makes, be it chicken, fish, beef or mutton, it is savoured until the last drop. Her ‘old school’ way of cooking doesn’t really require specific measurements of ingredients. It’s usually a pinch of this, a dollop of that and a handful of something. For her chicken curry, coconut milk is replaced with low-fat milk and cashew nut and almond paste. The idea is to soak the raw nuts (almonds should be peeled) in hot water for a few hours and then blended into a paste. This thickens it up without the need for coconut milk. Another trick is to add a ginger and garlic paste to boost up aroma and flavour. This can be done by blending ginger and garlic into a puree. The four spices she uses comprising cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and star anise are considered the “Four Friends” – which are always added into her sambals, curries as well as briyani rice.

As a kid I was always encouraged by my mother to watch her cook in the kitchen and learn. That, my friends, did not go down very well, only because the women in our family tend to get very territorial in the kitchen. So, in the end, I got out my notebook and pen and asked mumsy to dictate the recipe to me.

Enjoy trying out my mum’s recipe and experimenting adding and improvising as I sure did. In the end, we all learn from trial and error. Nothing is perfect the first time.

Healthy Chicken Curry

1 medium chicken, washed, skinned and chopped into 12 pieces (Alternatively you can use diced chicken breast as a healthier option)

3 Tbs canola or vegetable oil

4 cardamoms

2 small cinnamon sticks

4 cloves

2 star anise

1 pandan leaf, washed and tied into a knot

2 stalks of lemongrass, bruised lightly

A handful of curry leaves

1 big onion, sliced finely

2 medium tomatoes, de-seeded and quartered

1 Tbs chilli powder

1 tsp turmeric powder

2 Tbs meat curry powder

2 Tbs cashew nut and almond paste

1 inch ginger + 3 garlic cloves, blended into a paste

½ cup low-fat milk

Hot water


Mint leaves or coriander leaves (optional for added garnishing)

Drain chicken in colander. Marinade chicken with a bit of the turmeric powder, chilli powder , salt and oil. Leave for 30 minutes. In a stainless steel or heavy pot, heat oil. Toss in the Four Friends along with the lemongrass, curry leaves, pandan leaf. Sautee until fragrant. Add in onions and garlic-ginger paste. Sautee until onions are soft. Add in tomatoes. Put in chicken pieces and remaining turmeric, chilli and curry powder. Add in hot water until you reach your desired consistency. Stir until chicken is well coated. Simmer for 10 minutes. Add in the nut paste and milk and salt. Taste to make sure the flavour is balanced. Leave to simmer until chicken is cooked. Garnish with mint or coriander leaves.