Everyone Should Make My Mom’s Curried Chicken Pasta (Even Though She Does It Best)

published May 5, 2021
Secret Family Recipes
Curried Angel Hair Chicken Pasta

This curried pasta dish is inspired by fried rice. It's bursting with colorful vegetables and delicious flavor from curry powder and turmeric.

Serves6-8

Prep25 minutes

Cook30 minutes

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curry pasta in a bowl
Credit: Nicole Rufus

When I was growing up, my mom never kept her disdain for cooking a secret. She found the peeling, chopping, and sautéing way too tedious — and she hated the fact that once you cook you have to clean. Despite this, you could often find her in the kitchen after work making my brother, sister, and me something for dinner that we could eat as leftovers over the course of several days.

Our go-to was rice with Nigerian stew. When I say we ate a lot of rice and stew … I mean we ate a lot of rice and stew. “There’s rice at home” was a common refrain throughout my childhood. When we felt like switching it up a bit, we took the tomato and red pepper base for the stew and added ground beef to make a tomato sauce for spaghetti.    

One day, when she’d had her fill of rice and stew, my mom created a curried pasta. She was really into angel hair pasta at the time — mostly because it cooks more quickly than rice —  and so she decided to try something new. She rounded up a bunch of vegetables (bell peppers, carrots, broccoli) and started to riff on her infamous fried rice, which was one of our family favorites.

Credit: Nicole Rufus

I remember being confused when she called my sister and me to come eat. It was a dish I’d never seen before, and definitely not one I’d ever seen my mom make. But it was a welcome respite from rice, and with all of the colorful bell peppers and the yellow-ish tint from the curry and turmeric, it looked absolutely beautiful. And here’s the funny thing about my mom: Despite the fact that she hates cooking, she’s actually really good at it. She has natural instincts that help her understand flavors and what tastes good. So, unsurprisingly, this pasta was delicious — and it quickly became one of the meals my sister and I requested most often.

Over the years, my mom has spent quite a bit of time coaching me over the phone on how to make certain dishes. As Nigerians, we don’t generally use exact measurements. Instead, through practice and by watching others, we begin to instinctively learn how much of a certain ingredient to add in order to make the dish taste the way we want it to.

Learning to make this curried pasta from my mom was a really fun experiment in turning a dish she created by feel into a step-by-step recipe other people can follow. Mine never tastes quite as good as it does when my mom makes it, but the nostalgia it conjures when I’m the one cooking is more than enough to make up for that.

Curried Angel Hair Chicken Pasta

This curried pasta dish is inspired by fried rice. It's bursting with colorful vegetables and delicious flavor from curry powder and turmeric.

Prep time 25 minutes

Cook time 30 minutes

Serves 6-8

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 5 cloves

    garlic, divided

  • 1 (1 1/2 inch) piece

    ginger, divided

  • 1 pound

    dried angel hair pasta

  • 1 1/2 pound

    boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs

  • 2

    habanero peppers, divided

  • 2 1/2 teaspoons

    kosher salt, divided, plus more for the pasta water

  • 1 tablespoon

    plus 1/2 teaspoon curry powder, divided

  • 1 teaspoons

    ground turmeric

  • 1

    medium red onion

  • 1/4 cup

    olive oil

  • 1

    large green bell pepper

  • 1

    large orange bell pepper

  • 1

    large yellow bell pepper

  • 2

    medium carrots (about 4.5 ounces)

  • 1

    medium head broccoli (about 12 ounces)

  • 2 teaspoons

    finely chopped fresh basil leaves, or 1 teaspoon dried basil

Instructions

  1. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, cook the chicken.

  2. Coarsely chop 2 of the garlic cloves, then finely chop the remaining 3 cloves. Peel a 1 1/2-inch piece ginger. Coarsely chop 1/2 inch, then finely chop the remaining 1 inch.

  3. Place the coarsely chopped garlic and ginger, 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken, 1 of the habanero peppers, 1 teaspoon of the kosher salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of the curry powder in a medium saucepan. Add enough cool water to just cover. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover, reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, and cook until the chicken is cooked through, 10 to 15 minutes depending on thickness. Meanwhile, cook the pasta and chop the remaining vegetables.

  4. When the water is boiling, add 1 pound angel hair pasta and cook until the pasta is flexible but still quite undercooked (less cooked than al dente), 1 to 2 minutes. Drain.

  5. Trim and finely chop the remaining habanero pepper (for less spice, remove the seeds and membranes before chopping). Dice 1 medium red onion, 1 large green bell pepper, 1 large yellow bell pepper, and 1 large orange bell pepper. Peel and dice 2 medium carrots.

  6. Remove stems and coarsely chop 1 medium head broccoli. If using fresh basil leaves, finely chop until you have 2 teaspoons.

  7. When the chicken is ready, pour through a fine-mesh strainer set over a heat-proof bowl. Transfer the chicken to a clean cutting board and discard the habanero, garlic, and ginger. When cool enough to handle, shred or coarsely chop the chicken.

  8. Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the finely chopped garlic, ginger, and habanero, and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, remaining 1 tablespoon curry powder, and 1 teaspoon ground turmeric, and stir to combine.

  9. Add the chicken and cook until heated through, about 1 minute. Add the carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the bell peppers, broccoli, and chopped fresh basil or 1/2 teaspoon dried basil. Cook until slightly tender, 1 to 2 minutes. All vegetables should remain slightly crunchy.

  10. Reduce the heat to low and add the pasta. Gently fold into the chicken and vegetables with tongs. Cover and cook everything together for 2 to 3 minutes, adding the reserved chicken cooking liquid a tablespoon at a time if the pasta is dry. Taste and season with more kosher salt as needed.