cashew nut (called castanha de caju in Portuguese) were eaten by native tribes in the region and became known to Portuguese explorers shortly after their first arrival on Brazilian shores in 1500.
As part of the Columbian Exchange of foods between the New and Old Worlds during the 16th Century, Portuguese navigators carried the cashew from Brazil to the Portuguese colony of Goa on the coast of India sometime between 1560 and 1565. From Goa its cultivation rapid spread throughout India, as in most of the subcontinent the growing conditions are similar to those in the cashew's homeland. Today, the cashew is firmly established as a commercial crop in India, and in fact India is the world's largest producer of cashew nuts. As well, the varied cuisines of India have welcomed the cashew into their larder, and curries which include cashew are common throughout the country.
In a country where the large majority of the population is vegetarian, adding cashews to a all-vegetable curry significantly adds to the quantity of protein in the dish. And the meaty texture of braised cashew nuts provides a satisfying, rich mouth feel. It's no wonder the Indians have taken so well to this nut from Brazil.
This recipe for a chicken curry, therefore, can be considered a Brazilian-Indian hybrid. The style of cooking and the spices used make it clearly Indian. But there's a touch of Brazil in the use of cashew nuts. Notice that in this dish, as in most Indian curries, the nuts are raw, not roasted, when they are added to the dish. Raw cashews are available in most health food stores and in many supermarkets as well, so this dish is very easy to make almost anywhere in the world - a fact for which we can thank those Portuguese navigators who took the cashew nut far beyond its natural habitat.
RECIPE - Chicken Curry (Curry de Frango)
2 lbs (1 kg) skinless, boneless or boned chicken thighs
1/2 cup (125 ml) neutral vegetable oil
1/2 lb (300 gr) raw cashew nuts
3 medium onions
3 cups whole-milk yogurt (for the cashew cream)
1 cup whole-milk yogurt (for the marinade)
1 Tbsp turmeric
1 Tbsp garam masala (available in Indian markets - can be substituted with a good quality mild curry powder)
1 Tbsp freshly-grated ginger
1 Tbsp minced garlic
salt to taste
Cut the chicken into large chunks, approximately 1 1/2 inch (3 cm). In a large mixing bowl combine the 1 cup yogurt, the turmeric, the garam masala or curry powder, the ginger and garlic, then add the chicken, mixing thoroughly to coat all of the meat with marinade. Place in the refrigerator and let marinade for about 2-3 hours maximum.
Halve the onions, then slice them. In a large heavy saucepan heat the oil until hot but not smoking. Add the onions and fry them, stirring frequently, until they have become golden. Then, stirring constantly, continue to cook them until they turn dark brown and have caramelized, but do not let them burn. Watch carefully, and remove the pan from the heat at the first signs of burning.
Return the pan with the onions to the heat, then add the marinaded chicken, including the marinade. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the chicken is cooked through and is tender.
Combine the remaining yogurt and the cashews in another mixing bowl and when the chicken is cooked, add the mixture to the pan. Continue to cook until the mixture is well incorporated and the marinade thickens slightly. Do not let the cashews overcook.
Serve immediately, accompanied by white rice, basmati if possible, and a mango chutney.