Nepalese Chicken Tarkari

Nate Tate and his sister Mary Kate Tate (yes: their real names!) are the authors of a brand new cookbook, “Feeding The Dragon,” that documents their travels around China (nine regions, 9,700 miles) and the recipes (100) that they collected on their journey. I first encountered the book when they asked me to write a blurb for it (look for me on the back cover); I didn’t know what to expect when they sent it my way. But what this book contains is the real deal: authentic recipes, impressive photography, and real world stories of making one’s way around China. (Don’t miss the episode where they’re chased by feral dogs, pg. 69.)

Last week, I didn’t feel like cooking a big elaborate dinner. I thumbed my way through the book’s pages and found a recipe that I could put together rather quickly: the Nepalese Chicken Tarkari on pg. 196. Half stir-fry, half braise, you rub cubed chicken breasts with a combination of turmeric, black pepper and salt:


That sits for 30 minutes and then the cooking begins. You basically flavor the cooking oil by frying garlic, ginger, mustard seeds, fenugreek (which I couldn’t find, so I skipped), cumin, chiles and bay leaves for 20 seconds in a wok:



To stop the garlic from burning, you quickly add a chopped up onion:


You cook that until translucent, then add the chicken:


Stir-fry for four minutes and then the stir-fry becomes a braise when you add the liquid (chicken stock and tomatoes):


That simmers for 35 minutes and, as it does, the sauce thickens and the chicken grows more tender.


What you wind up with is a saucy, spicy mix that works beautifully over rice:


It’s a great recipe, exotic enough to feel special but simple enough for a weeknight. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I’m excited to cook my way through this book and to live vicariously through Mary Kate’s and Nate’s Chinese adventures. Maybe one day I’ll get to eat my way around China too.

Recipe: Nepalese Chicken Tarkari

Summary: A flavorful and relatively quick chicken dish from “Feeding The Dragon.”


  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 4 dried red chiles, seeded and minced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cups chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 large tomatoes, chopped
  • Handful of fresh cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cups cooked white rice, for serving


  1. Wearing rubber kitchen gloves so the turmeric doesn’t stain your hands, rub the turmeric black pepper, and salt all over the chicken and let marinate in the refrigerator, covered, for 30 minutes. [Note from Adam: I did this at room temperature and lived to tell the tale!]
  2. In a small skillet over medium heat, dry-roast the mustard seeds for a few seconds, or until they are fragrant, and then remove from the skillet and repeat with the fenugreek seeds. Be careful not to burn the spices. Combine the mustard seeds and fenugreek seeds in a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder and grind into a coarse powder.
  3. Heat the oil in a wok or large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, ginger, ground spice mixture, cumin, chiles, and bay leaves and stir-fry for 20 seconds. Add the onion and saute for about 6 minutes, or until slightly translucent. Drop in the marinated chicken and stir-fry for 4 minutes, then add the stock and tomatoes. Bring to a boil, then decrease the heat and simmer gently for 35 minutes. Sprinkle with the chopped cilantro and serve with the rice.

Preparation time: 15 minute(s)

Cooking time: 35 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 4

Culinary tradition: Chinese

My rating 5 stars:  ★★★★★ 1 review(s)

5 thoughts on “Nepalese Chicken Tarkari”

  1. Johan Zietsman

    Hi Amateur Gourmet,

    I made this dish and thought it worth to share the recipe on Google+. Definitely a keeper.

  2. Can I be emotional here and say Tibet is not a part of China either!! As a Tibetan born and brought up in Nepal, I thought it was offensive you categorized it under China but thanks for the explanation anyway. Will be cooking this dish tonight.

    1. suman jung basnet

      Hard to say tenzin,its better to be a part of China than ,being another landlock know the situation of Nepal these days because of blockade…i wish nepal to be a part of china rather than being a part of india(if we were not souveriegn) ..

  3. My hub and I had the opportunity to try Nepalese/Himalayan food (at the risk of being ignorant of mixing the 2 cuisines!) in Amsterdam 20 years ago. I have never forgotten the experience and unique blend of Indian spices and flavors, mixed with something just a wee bit different. Nom!

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