July 25, 2021
Kitchen Capers

My Great Grandmother’s Chicken Kurma

Each family has their own Deepavali dishes that they eat every year. For mine, it’s luscious chicken korma that always runs out every festival day. So this year I tracked down the recipe by visiting the cooks of my family so I can make some anytime!

” Kurma-licious! “

Good home cooked food is usually the result of a recipe that has been passed down through generations. On my search to get this delicious chicken kurma recipe not only did I have to go talk to my Indian great grandmother, I then had to visit my Chinese step grandmother (Amah) to watch her cook it. This journey was well worth it though as I believe this to be one of the best chicken kurma’s around.

It is spicier than a typical kurma with more depth of flavour and when cooked just right the chicken is tender and falling off the bone while the kurma is thick and luscious. The best way to eat it is with freshly made idli; the sourish contrast of the fermented savoury cake goes well with the rich gravy. We usually have this kurma during Deepavali when the whole family gathers for brunch with some idli and an array of curries. Afterwards we adjourn to the living room where we sleepily digest and munch on sweet treats till late into afternoon.

The quest for this recipe started in Melawati where I went to visit my 84year old great grandmother. This turned out to be quite a challenging attempt as she had forgotten some of the steps after not having cooked for years and only knew the names of the ingredients in Tamil, a language that I don’t speak a word of. So after a few minutes of miscommunication, I decided to talk to her about where this recipe originated instead.

My great grandma explaining the finer points of making korma

She picked it up, as most would, from her mother. “I don’t know how to give you the exact recipe because when I cook it I just know how much to put. When you cook it so often you just cook without the recipe,” she explained. “We are Telugu people and this is a traditional Madras style chicken kurma. The ingredient that turns this from being a good dish to a great one is the use of kasa kasa (poppy seeds). This, along with the cashew nuts gives it the right amount of thickness.”

Once I got the history, I visited my Amah who learnt this recipe from her many years ago when she married my grandfather. She’s in her 70’s but still cooks daily therefore the recipe is fresh in her mind. Being from an older generation her cooking is by feel rather than measurements. “You have to just look and see then you know how much you need. If you use more chicken you use more spices and coconut milk. If you like it more spicy you use more chillis,” she explained. I had to watch each step carefully to get rough measurements of the ingredients. It was worth it though to get a family gem like this. Within an hour she was able to whip up the kurma without even batting an eyelid and it was absolutely delicious.

Chicken Kurma


1 Chicken (chopped into pieces)
½ pack kurma curry powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp fennel
1 tsp white pepper
3 Tbs oil
8 cardamom pods
1 star anise
10 cloves
1 stick cinnamon
5 curry leafs
1in ginger, roughly chopped
5 shallots, roughly chopped
5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
3 Tbs chilli boh
3 cups coconut milk
1 red onion, roughly chopped
5 chillis(red or green), deseeded
10 cashews, ground
1 Tbs poppy seeds, ground
1 bunch cilantro
1 handful mint
Water, as needed
Pinch of sugar
Salt, to taste


Grind cumin, fennel and white pepper into a powder and mix with the kurma powder. Mix cashews and poppy seeds with 1 cup of coconut milk and set aside.

Heat oil and add cardamom, star anise, cloves and cinnamon. Fry till fragrant. Add onion, garlic, ginger, and curry leaf and cook till softened and lightly browned.

Add in korma paste with ¼ cup water and stir. Once fragrant add in the chicken pieces and chilli boh. Make sure the chicken is well-coated and let cook for 30mins stirring often.

Add in 2 cups coconut milk, cover and simmer on low fire for 15mins. Add in chopped red onion and chillies. Pour in coconut milk with poppy seeds and cashew nuts.

If it is too thick add in some water to your desired texture. Simmer an additional 10mins till chicken is tender. Add in the chopped cilantro and mint with a pinch of sugar and simmer an additional 5mins. Add salt to taste and serve with hot rice.

Now where’s my idli?

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