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Sunday Supper & More

Cornish hens with exotic spices

(Sally Pasley Vargas for The Boston Globe)
September 22, 2010

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Serves 4, with leftovers

Vegetable oil (for the pan)
9 cardamom pods
1/2teaspoon whole cloves
3/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
3/4 cup plain yogurt
1 large clove garlic, thinly sliced
1 piece (3 inches) fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Salt and pepper, to taste
3/4 cup packed fresh mint leaves
3/4 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves
6 Cornish hens (about 1 pound each)
1 bunch watercress, stems removed

1. Lightly oil a baking dish large enough to hold all the hens.

2. On a cutting board with a rolling pin, gently press down on the cardamom pods to separate the seeds from the husks; discard the husks. Add the cloves and cumin seeds to the cardamom seeds. With the pin, crush them together to break them up.

3. In a blender, combine the yogurt, crushed seeds, garlic, ginger, jalapeno, cinnamon, and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Work the mixture to a coarse puree. Add the mint and cilantro leaves. Work again to make a puree.

4. Remove any giblets from the hens. Wipe them out. Spoon about 1 tablespoon of the yogurt mixture into each hen. Set them in the roasting pan and tie the legs together with kitchen twine.

5. Spread the remaining yogurt mixture on the skin of the hens. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or for up to 4 hours.

6. Set the oven at 425 degrees. Let the hens sit at room temperature for 20 minutes.

7. Roast the hens for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 170 degrees. Remove from the oven. Set aside 2 hens for the biryani. Divide the watercress among 4 dinner plates. Set a hen in the middle of each one.

Sally Pasley Vargas