Pakistani Ginger Chicken


The silver filigree antique jhumkas you see in Ami’s earlobes- she gave them to me when I was 18- and the irresponsible teenager that I was, I lent them to a dorm mate who lost them. It didn’t even occur to me that they were missing till I saw this photo recently.


I watched Ami, as she stirred the pot in a circular motion.

Round and round her arm circled, the gold bangles glistening on her wrist. Clink, clink, they went as she stirred and stirred.

The same gold bangles given to her by her Ami, when she married my father in her China-red and gold brocade gharara.

All twelve of them, 22kt gold, passed on to me as part of my trousseau. I don’t wear mine when I cook. They lay wrapped in muslin and velvet, in a safety deposit box.

I stand in my kitchen alone, making Ami’s Pakistani Ginger Chicken, and I think of her milky arms and hands, as I stir the pot.

And I hear her.

“A small pour of oil, just enough to make the bottom of the pot glossy,” she says as she tilts the bottle into the pot.

She chops an onion through its crisp layers. Not like a chef, but like a mother.

Meticulously, slowly.

As my eyes start to water, she says, “Sauté them till reddish-brown. Then add some ginger for khushboo (fragrance).”

“But for how long, Ami?” I ask her.

She does not know.

“Just keep watching as the colour changes,” she casually says.

She’s chopped some blanched tomatoes.

“But how many?” I ask her again.

She still does not know.

“Enough for double the amount of people we’ve invited,” she laughs, and adds the mound of chopped tomatoes into the pot, the fresh red juice dripping down the sides of her hands.

I tilt my head and try to imagine the number of tomatoes she’s used.

Ami stirs the pot till the tomatoes become jammy and candy-like.

She adds some salt, and a heaped spoon of brick-red chilli pepper.

Then a smidgeon of turmeric, staining her fingertips yellow; the colour of the robes of Buddhist monks.

Without ever tasting the contents of the dish, she continues to stir with brisk movements.

Clink, clink.

The steam from the pan turns the window above her stove opaque.

The window which looks out into the lawn with the trees, the same kind of trees whose leaves used to turn a garnet-red by the time it was my birthday every Fall.

Now the chicken goes in. She slathers it with the tomato sauce reduction, and continues to stir.

“You’ll see. The oil will start to separate from the sauce. It means it’s almost done,” she tells me.

“Maybe a little bit more chilli powder,” as she reaches for the jar.

She adds a pinch of red dust. She then turns to the sink, cups water in her hands and lets it seep onto the chicken.

“It’s almost done,” she says, decidedly.

“But how long has it been, Ami? How will I know?”

“You’ll just know, the way I know, the way my Ami knew. By andaaza, it’s all estimation.”

She covers the pan, places the wooden spatula in the sink and asks, “Tea with milk and cardamom?”

I nod and reach for the cumin-spiced wafers to go with the tea.

When I am in my kitchen chopping fresh coriander for ginger chicken, I remember the clinking of Ami’s bangles, and her arms as she stirs and stirs.

Clink, clink.

Ami’s Pakistani Ginger Chicken

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Pakistani Ginger Chicken

Yield: 3
Author: Shayma Saadat


  • 3 tbsp corn oil (or any other neutral oil)
  • 1 very small onion, chopped fine
  • 2+2 in knob of ginger; 2 inches cut into small cubes + 2 inches julienned
  • 4 vine-ripened tomatoes, blanched, skins removed and finely chopped
  • Pinch turmeric (haldi)
  • 1 tsp coriander powder (sukha dhania powder)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp red chilli pepper
  • 2 lb boneless chicken, cut into 2 inch long strips, (or you may cube them if you so like). I use chicken breast, but you can use thigh meat, too
  • handful fresh coriander / cilantro leaves and stalks, chopped like confetti. The stalks of coriander are as fragrant and sweet as the leaves; use both


  • Place large pan on stove on medium-high heat. Add oil.
  • Add onions and sauté till a golden-nutty brown, this will take 5-7 minutes. Don’t worry if the onions become a golden-dark brown, this will only add to the flavour of the sauce.
  • Add the cubed ginger and continue to sauté for 1 minute till fragrant, (the ginger should not caramelise).
  • Add chopped tomatoes, turmeric, coriander powder, salt and chilli powder and keep stirring till the tomato sauce reduces and becomes thick. This will take approximately 10 minutes.
  • Add the chicken and stir-fry for 10-15 minutes with a handful of water- (approximately ¼ cup). You should begin to see some of the oil leak onto the surface of the tomato sauce.
  • Add the rest of the julienned ginger and remove from heat immediately. (Keep some of the ginger for garnishing.)
  • Garnish with lots of fragrant, fresh coriander/cilantro sprinkled on top like confetti and some fresh julienned ginger.
  • Serve alongside chapati or naan. You could also have this with Pakistani Basmati rice, though we tend to have rice with sauce-based dishes like lentils or curries. Chapati and naan is for the more ‘drier’ dishes such as this one.

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  1. My dear, you always manage to bring tears to my eyes, make my tummy rumble and make me reach for the phone so I can call my mom. I don’t think anyone else I know has such power on me!
    Again, thanks for sharing. It’s truly special.

  2. Lovely post!I miss my ammi so much more after reading this. She makes a “karahi qeema” that I can not stop eating. She garnishes it with ginger just like your chicken. Tried making it several times but just dont get the same flavour profile.

  3. I always visit you quietly and never make a comment..I love your recipes some are similar to my Indian dishes, some not- but your measurements are so perfect when I try something from your recipe it comes out wonderful but most importantly I love the way you write, from your heart..Sumana.

  4. @Petu @Fifi You are both darling friends, thank you so much. x s

    @Nida I am sure you are able to make the karahi qeema just like your Ammi does, perhaps you just miss her too much and want her to make it for you 🙂 It sounds delicious.

    @Maninas @Kavey Thank you, lovelies, as always.

    @Sumana You are so right- North Indian food and Pakistani food is so similar- we are, after all, from the same part of the world-we have so many beautiful things in common. My favourite region in India, food-wise, is Kerala. I love the use of coconut milk and fragrant spices in their cuisine. Thanks for your kind words and for leaving your web address here, I look forward to reading your posts.

  5. OMG–the earrings! Oh well. Shayma, would it be wrong to sub ghee for the oil? And when oh when will we share a cup of milky cardamom tea?!

  6. @Arjumand @M Thanks, girls. x s

    @Gluttonforlife You can absolutely use ghee, it will probably make it taste even better! It’s just a *wee* bit more fattening tee hee…I would love to have that cardamom tea with you, or your tamarind drink. It’ll happen, I am sure of it. Just no grizzly bears, please. x s

  7. @TasteofBeirut haha thanks, Joumana. I sometimes wear one on each wrist, but more than that, for Toronto, it’s a bit much 🙂

  8. She’s beautiful… you remind me of her actually, in that picture. Thanks for another lovely post, thanks to all those beautiful mothers out there. Much love to you, Ines

  9. Such a fitting post for Mother’s day Shayma. You mother’s photo at the start of the post looks stunning. Its amzing how even in black & white pics beauty always stands out. Love the Jhumkas… only wish you had kept them! The adrak chicken looks yum:)


    Hi Shayma,
    As always, beautifully written. It makes me miss my mother!!! You are surely lucky to be her offspring but she too is equally lucky to have a daughter like you..keep writing.. i absolutely love reading it…
    Lots of love,

  11. What a lovely and personal post! Beautiful picture of your mother, she is a stunner – like mother like daughter if i may say!

    Luiz @ The London Foodie

  12. Gorgeousness all round.

    ‘Enough for twice the amount of people we’ve invited’ – a great philosophy to cook by.

  13. What great writing, Shayma. You really take us into your memories with you.

    A gorgeous post, and a Happy Mother’s Day to your Mom. I’m sure she misses you a lot.

  14. Another beautiful post.

    I so feel your pain over the lost antique jhumkas. Twenty-five years ago I lost a silver and enamel charm bracelet passed on to me by my grandmother. I still think about that bracelet and feel irresponsible and thoughtless.

    This recipe looks absolutely scrumptious–can’t wait to try it.

  15. shams beautiful post and you look so much like her in the black and white shot, so touching I hope all our moms are blessed with long beautiful lives ameen

  16. Ah, nobody knows how to cook like a mother knows how to cook. Great Mother’s day posting Shayma – evocative and thought provoking…and delicious.

  17. Shayma,

    I am entranced by your writing and your recipes, not to mention the gorgeous photo of your mom. Yours is fast becoming on of my favorite food blogs. Cheers – S

  18. HOLA darling. What a gorgeous piece of writing. It’s beautiful written by a beautiful person of a beautiful mother. I hear you, clink clink, as I still have a thin bangle from my Mum’s Mum on my wrist. It’s been there forever, just a part of me …
    I love the recipe and it’s been bookmarked … with your sweet Mum’s andaaz! Bhuno is the way I go too! xoxo

  19. What a beautiful post! The “andaza” business was definitely the hardest thing to overcome when learning how to cook from my mom. It’s comforting to know it’s consistent for many South Asian kids learning from fabulous mom-cooks 🙂

  20. Thanks for stoping by my blog. I am glad I’m not alone on my love for a Thousand Spelndid Suns. Your writing is beautiful. I am blessed to have found your page. I can close my eyes and see my mom and aunts stiring that pot, I can hear their bangles clang. My mom is Indian (but grew up in Kuwait, Iraq, Pakistan, India and America). And I have a whole variety of Aunts that span from Afghanistan to India and Beyond :). I look forward to reading more.

  21. just made this for dinner, yum-my! adjusting ingredient amounts by andaza, of course 😉 thanks for your comment on my post, i feel the same way about your writing…though i love how yours is so simple and straightforward, uncluttered, where every word has value. that is really hard to do! 🙂 we’re going to get busy packing for ny soon, but i’m planning to post a story when i get time, the saif-ul-malook legend, straight from old redhaired baba’s crack-toothed mouth. you will love it!

  22. What a wonderful tribute to your Mom!!! Shayma, I have tears in my eyes, your style of writing is mesmerizing!!! Your Mom is gorgeous just like her loving daughter!!! 🙂 Oh and I love the ginger chicken recipe!!!

  23. That’s a mother’s embodied knowledge for you, mine does the same, as did both my grandmothers. They just knew. Lovely post Shayma.

  24. You are such a talented writer, I LOVE reading your stories and memories with food. Love it! Next time we are in the same city (New York? Seattle?) let’s definitely have dinner together! Right now I am loving Rose–crisp, easy, and great for the summer–but I tend to drink a good glass of what goes with the meal :). How about you?

  25. Made me remember my mother so much , I wish she was with me , am sure she is watching me from somewhere …….

  26. My grandmother once chided me after she saw me cooking without my bangles saying, “when a married woman cooks without her bangles the food won’t taste as good.” I don’t think you have to worry. Your food is lovely!

  27. Shayma, what a beautiful post! Thanks for writing so passionately. Your mom is so beautiful. My first visit here, will be back to read more..

  28. Haha this post was an absolute delight! It really reminded me of my mum. Thank you for writing this! I can’t wait to try out the recipe.

  29. I just wanted to say that a friend showed me a link to your blog today after tearing apart the internet for an authentic pakistani recipe for ginger chicken. All the recipes i found had unnecessary ingredients, some even had ketchup. really? like who cooks with ketchup? I’ve never had it, but my husband grew up in Pakistan, and he’s been craving it for days now. I made it, and we loved it. So simple, yet the taste was so amazing. He said it reminded him of when he went to Muree and had it at some authentic restaurant. I can’t wait to try some of the other recipes. Thanks again!

  30. Ur words r beautiful…..ur writing has brought tears to my eyes n im missing ami even more. Its been 2months that im away from my homeland..i recently moved abroad n this is my very first experience of cooking 🙂 thanks to skype that im always calling ami for her recipies n TOTKAS 🙂 i love her alot n her precious things too…i actually wore her rust bridal dress (kimkhab kaa gharara with organza ka dopata) n jewellery on my wedding 🙂 mothers r a precious gift children could ever have!

  31. Salaam
    Its my day off and I am awake as usual and was thinking of cooking
    for mywife as she is sleeping put the keyword Karhai Chicken and saw your web
    after going thru fell in love with Spicespoon keep the good work going.

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