Sometimes what I cook has a good story behind it: maybe a memory or funny turn of events. Today, I have Coconut Chicken Curry for you and no great story, which kind of poses a problem. How do you introduce a recipe? What was it that caught my eye?
Simply put, I saw the recipe in the most recent Bon Appetit, made some tweaks, and after we finished licking our dinner plates clean that night, decided it made for a perfect weeknight meal. You can come from work in the evening and put it together in about thirty minutes, which for a school night dinner, isn’t bad. In the time that you could order and have delivered Thai take-out, you could make this curry. It’s also nice that this is a one-pot meal, as lately, my cooking endeavors have taken me into the “get every pot dirty” territory: a fun experiment that makes me feel like a restaurant chef while I am cooking, that ceases to be fun when you spend what feels like an eternity cleaning those pots.
At the time that I’m trying to write this, I’m sitting in one of our local coffee shops. While their coffee is great, it’s rare that you can find a table and sit for a bit. It’s not designed for people lingering, let alone lingering enough to write, so they only keep a few small, white marble, round tables in a relatively spacious room. They expect you to come in, sit for a bit, and leave. Or just take your coffee to go. There’s no wifi, no outlets nearby to plug a computer. It’s unfortunate because where we live, outside of Starbucks, there’s a dearth of coffee places where you can also do a little bit of writing, which for me is critical: I spend so much time at my desk at home that I need to get out or I start going a little crazy.
But this afternoon, Andrew and I are here for the long haul, and got lucky with a free table, though it’s right next to a ginormous speaker. The music isn’t bad: Robin, Queen, Bob Dylan, the Ramones, Paul Simon, the Beastie Boys, to name a few, and while it’s nice to feel the bass at my feet, I suspect that my inability to concentrate has partly to do with the fact that I’m tapping my foot to the beat and mouthing the lyrics.
Folks keep coming in and out. There’s a gentleman at a nearby table with a big stack of books (I even sneaked a picture). He’s wearing a grey flannel wool suit, a pink dress shirt, and nice, brown suede shoes. All in all, he looks like he’s an academic from the 60s. His books are an impressive if not a strange collection: Best Loved Poems of the Best Loved Poets, Paris Le Jour, Paris La Nuit, a small yellow book I can’t make out, and Stella Adler’s Art of Acting. I’m kind of dying to know how he came to have such an eclectic collection of books and why he’s reading them at once. Next to us are two girls talking (loudly!) about their Sundance schedules. Andrew thinks they’re agents. I think they are just plain loud. Their itineraries (and lives) sound so far away from our quiet lives. One girl says to her friend, “I barely got to brunch this afternoon. I think I crawled to it… I went out last night ‘til 4, and when I woke up, I was all, I can’t do this anymore! I was so hungover. I’m still sooo hungover.”
And I think to myself, I bet this isn’t the first, or the last, time you say that to yourself.
And then I remember that Andrew and I couldn’t think of anything to do last night, so we stayed in, made dinner (beef stew with carrots) and watched episodes of The West Wing. And I wound up making sour cherry jam, because in an effort to empty our freezer (to battle the moths, of course, why else would anyone clear out their freezer?), I found two smallish, airtight bags of pitted sour cherries that I saved for a late summer pie (and forgot to make). I saw these sour cherries and thought, Well, looks like they’re past their prime. And then I remembered just how much I paid for them (an arm, a leg, and then some!), and decided to try to make them into jam. It set okay, I think, a little runny, but I’m okay with my sour cherry jam runny. And then I stuck it into a clean jar – without even bothering with canning it long term. It won’t last, that tiny amount of jam; and we eat a lot of toast here, so there goes.
Ah, yes, and then we went to bed before midnight. On a Saturday. Honestly, I’m okay with that, but hearing about that girl’s outing put our relatively calm evening in stark contrast with hers, which is not to say we didn’t thoroughly enjoy ourselves. We most certainly did: There was prosciutto, there was wine, there was beef stew, and there was President Bartlett and CJ Craig—what’s not to like?
Coconut Chicken Curry
Adapted, loosely, from Bon Appetit
I can’t claim Thai expertise or authenticity. I leave that to the experts. It is nice, however, to be able to put together something that is fast and delicious, especially on a weeknight. Much of the success here will depend on the kind of curry paste you use. I recommend taking a bit of effort and getting a decent curry paste. Most grocery stores carry small jars of Westernized curry, and while I’m no expert, they taste flat to me, while the brand I use at home (which I order online), is lively and has a nice kick. It winds up being a lot cheaper too. A jar of this brand lasts me for quite awhile. Usually I have the red and the green, with the latter being more spicy. But if you prefer your food with less heat, simply add less curry paste.
Here, I swapped out regular potatoes for sweet potatoes – partly because that’s what we had and partly because I love sweet potatoes in a coconut curry. I added the red pepper in the last minute because if you add the at the beginning, they cook out too much and become mushy. This way, they stay a bit firm and crunchy. Finally, instead of using coconut milk with water, I just added two cans of light coconut milk. You can definitely use one can and an equal amount of water if that’s what you have in your pantry.
Vegetarians: if you want to skip the chicken and go with tofu, this curry is even easier. Just pat dry and cut your extra-firm tofu in desired-size pieces and add to the curry a few minutes before you’re ready to remove it from heat, perhaps at the same time as the red pepper. The only thing is that Thai curries often contain ingredients like fish sauce and shrimp paste. Does anyone know a workaround for that if you absolutely cannot eat meat?
3 tablespoons grape seed or vegetable oil
2 to 4 tablespoons red curry paste (depends on brand, intensity, I used Mae Ploy which I purchase here, so you can play around with what your taste buds preferred)
1/2 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch coins
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium parsnip, peeled, and cut into 1/2-inch coins
1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled, halved and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 (13.5-ounce) cans light coconut milk
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
Fresh Thai basil leaves, for garnish, optional
Cilantro leaves, for garnish
Steamed rice, for serving
Heat oil in a large, heavy pot (Dutch oven is perfect) over medium heat. Add the curry paste and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the carrots, onion, and parsnip, and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent, about 10 minutes.
Add the sweet potatoes, chicken, coconut milk, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, and cook, stirring from time to time, until chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Add the pepper and cook another 2 to 3 minutes. Divide the curry among the bowls and garnish with basil and cilantro. Serve with steamed rice.