Margarita's International Recipes

Bene Israel


Chicken in Coconut Milk

This chicken dish is so central to the cuisine of the Bene Israel, that I have found numerous variations online, under a variety of different names (malcalcal, Chicken Curry with Cilantro and Tomatoes, Coconut Chicken Curry, Coriander-Cumin Chicken, masala chicken). It's not surprising, as before moving to Bombay, the Bene Israel lived in a plethora of small villages in the Konkan area, without much communication. The recipe I used, like my other Bene Israel recipes, is the "Chciken with Fresh Spices" recipe from Copeland Mark's "Sephardic Cooking"book and is rather simple. Others include the addition of potatoes or vegetables, masalas (spice mixes) or more spices.

This dish was fairly easy to make and quite pleasant. I wouldn't consider it a traditionally curry, though it's so fragrant that my daughter remarked the cat - whom she'd found outside upon her arrival home - smelled like Indian food. The aroma lingered inside the house until the next day. Still, the flavoring is very subtle and it reminded me more of a homey chicken stew than of a curry.

I followed Mark's recipe closely, except that I had to use jalapeņo pepers rather than the red peppers it called for. They did nothing to add either heat or flavor to the sauce, so when I reheated it before serving it the next day, I added a couple of deseeded dried red peppers which gave the curry a subtle heat. If I made it again, I'd use 4 for a mildly spicy curry.

I served this with rice.

Chicken in Coconut Milk


  • 3 Tbsp. oil
  • 3 medium onions, thinly sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, passed through a press
  • 1" fresh gingerroot, grated
  • 4 dried red Thai or Kashmiri chilis, seeded
  • 2 cardamon pods
  • 2 cloves
  • 2 peppercorns
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp. salt or to taste
  • 2 tomatoes, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 3 lbs chicken parts, skin & extra fat removed
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 3 cups coconut milk
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice


Heat the oil over medium heat in a large saute pan. Add the onions and saute until golden, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic, ginger, chilies, cardamon, cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon and salt. Stir fry for 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and turmeric and stir fry for 2 more minutes.

Add the chicken and cilantro and fry until chicken starts to change color, about 3 minutes. Add the coconut milk, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is cooked through, about 40 minutes.

Add the lemon juice and serve.

Adapted from a recipe in Copeland Marks' Sephardic Cooking

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