Updated: Aug 9, 2020
I’ve been reading a fabulous book: Abraham Lincoln in the Kitchen: A Culinary View of Lincoln’s Life and Times, by Rae Katherine Eighmey. Part biography, part cookbook, It’s a fascinating view of Lincoln’s life through the foods he ate. Plus, the man knew how to cook, and frequently put on an apron at the end of the day to help his wife Mary in the kitchen (well, not while he was President – he had a war on. Plus, in the White House, they also had a cook). Mary and Abraham lived in Springfield, Illinois, for many years, and that’s where they cooked together. The house is open to visitors.
I tried Eighmey’s recipe for a chicken curry of the day, the kind that Lincoln would have eaten at a boardinghouse in New Orleans. As a young man, Lincoln made two trips to the Big Easy by flatboat, helping to deliver cargo. He stayed there a couple of weeks each time, encountering a multicultural city where slavery was a fact of life. He would have experienced so many different foods there: pineapples and citrus; French, Creole, and Caribbean foods. It would have been nothing like the plain Midwestern fare he’d grown up on: baked beans, corn dodgers (a kind of fried corn bread), and simple roast meats.
Eighmey’s homemade curry powder is just delicious, and an unusual combination of spices, compared to some of the Indian-style curries I’ve made before. So, don’t use a pre-made curry powder! This is easy to make, and it makes about a cup, so you’ll have it to use at least several more times. It would also be a nice spice blend for rice, or vegetables.
I’ve gussied up Eighmey’s original recipe by adding New Orleans style vegetables to it. I added bell pepper, celery and onion, what in Louisiana is called the “holy trinity.”
This makes a great, easy but elegant weeknight dinner. Serve it with rice, or make your own cauliflower rice. Recipe included.
For the curry powder:
1 Tbs. ground turmeric
1 Tbs. ground coriander
1 Tbs. ground cumin
1 Tbs. ground ginger
1 Tbs. freshly ground nutmeg
1 Tbs. ground mace
1 ½ tsp. cayenne
Combine all ingredients, the fresher the better. I always like to grind my own nutmeg, it tastes so much better when freshly ground. Store in a glass jar. Makes about ½ c.
Yield: 4 servings
2 Tbs. ghee or butter
2 lbs. boneless chicken thighs, cut into 2” pieces, and dried on paper towels
¾ c. diced red pepper
¾ c. diced green pepper
¾ c. chopped red onion
½ c. diced celery
3 Tbs. white rice flour or arrowroot powder
1 Tbs. homemade curry powder (recipe, above)
2 c. chicken stock
1 tsp. salt, or to taste
Generous grinds of black pepper, to taste
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice, optional, to taste
Melt ghee in a large frying pan and heat to medium. Add chicken pieces, and cook for 3 minutes; turn and brown other side for 3 minutes. Remove chicken pieces and set aside. Add red and green pepper, onion, and celery, and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add flour and curry powder and stir to coat vegetables, and cook for about a minute. Add chicken stock, salt, and the chicken pieces. Bring to a simmer, stirring, and cook about 3 minutes, until flour is cooked and a nice glaze forms. Add black pepper and lemon juice if using. Serve with cooked rice or cauliflower rice (recipe below).
Yield: 4 servings
We find that chopping the cauliflower rice a little finer gives a nice texture to serve with our chicken curry – almost like risotto.
1 large cauliflower
3 Tbs. olive oil
½ c. chicken stock, or mushroom or vegetable stock
Cut cauliflower into quarters, discarding core. Break into large flowerettes. Place pieces in food processor, and pulse until cauliflower looks like very fine rice, but stop short of puree-ing it!
Heat olive oil in a large non-stick skillet, over medium heat. Add cauliflower rice. Let it almost brown, not stirring it. After a few minutes, turn it over, and add stock. Cover and steam for a few minutes, until tender. Serve.