Not long ago, someone asked me an interesting question: "If you could choose any type of food, which would you pick as your favorite?". I really had to think on that one for awhile...
My first thoughts were of universally-beloved, Italian cuisine and the delightful fresh, sunny flavors of the Mediterranean. Then I remembered France and all the delightful regions, each one with their own delicious specialties. I thought about Germany and the wonderful sausages, dumplings and hearty comfort-food dishes. Even historically bland British food has gone upscale and innovative in recent years with fabulous chefs like Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsey and others storming the culinary world with fresh, vibrant and healthy creations.
It was fun letting my mind wander around the globe, recalling all the delectable ethnic specialties, but finally I settled on the Far East. I cheated just a little bit, choosing two cuisines instead of just one, but the two I chose have a lot in common. Thailand and Vietnam are the places I landed, and just thinking about the flavors of those countries makes my mouth water. What I love most about these two cuisines are the fresh bold flavors and the way they combine common ingredients in such delicious and unique ways.
If you search the archives of The Café, you'll be sure to find lots of evidence of our fondness for Thai and Vietnamese cuisines. We just can't seem to get enough!
Being January, there's a scarcity of local fresh ingredients at the market, so I decided to have some coconut-curry fun with the super sweet, tiny corn that can be found in the frozen section all year round. I also picked up some beautiful snow white mushrooms, a bunch of cilantro, a bag of mini bell peppers, a small piece of fresh ginger and some skinless, boneless chicken breasts. The rest of the ingredients I had on hand in my pantry or fridge, so I went to town creating a new Café coconut curry.
It took me two tries to get it just right. With each batch making a big pot, we've been eating a lot of curry lately, but we haven't tired of it at all. Each flavorful, bowlful has been happily gobbled up. I love that it's super healthy with lots of fresh veggies; onions, carrots, garlic, peppers, mushrooms and corn.
To intensify the flavor of the frozen corn and the mushrooms I combined them with a drizzle of olive oil and a scatter of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and roasted them in a hot oven.
I used an old Asian culinary trick with the chicken called "velvetizing". Have you ever heard of it? It's common in many stir-fry dishes and makes the chicken melt-in-your-mouth-tender. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts can be tough or dry (or both) when cooked, but this trick eliminates that problem. The chicken is sliced thin and marinated in a mixture of egg white, corn starch and a splash of rice vinegar. I add it to the curry at the very end, when it's bubbly and hot, then I cover it and turn off the heat. After 10 minutes, the chicken is perfectly cooked and so tender you won't believe it.
Well, it's just about lunch time. Guess what I'm going to have?
Yup, a BIG bowl of Roasted Corn and Chicken Coconut Curry. Wish I could share some with you but, I guess, in a way I have! Make a shopping list and next time you're at the market, pick up the ingredients for this delicious and flavorful curry.
ทานให้อร่อยนะ! - that's how you say Bon Appetit! in Thai (please don't ask me to pronounce it though).
- 1 large egg white
- 3 tablespoons corn starch
- 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
- 1 ½ pounds boneless skinless chicken breast
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil divided
- 12 ounces tiny frozen corn kernels
- 16 ounces mushrooms
- 1 medium onion roughly chopped
- 4 medium carrots roughly chopped
- ¼ cup finely chopped cilantro*
- 4 medium cloves garlic
- 1 ½ tablespoon chopped fresh ginger
- 1 ½ tablespoon finely chopped lemongrass**
- 2-3 tablespoons red curry paste available in the Asian section at most larger grocers
- 1 tablespoon mild curry powder
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 3 cups low sodium chicken broth
- 2 tablepoons fish sauce
- 2 15 ounce can coconut milk I almost always use the light variety
- 1 medium red bell pepper quartered lengthwise and then sliced crosswise or you can use 6-8 of the mini bell peppers, depending on size
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- fresh basil for garnish
- fresh cilantro for garnish
Place egg white in a medium size bowl and beat with a fork until frothy. Add cornstarch and rice vinegar and mix until smooth.
Slice chicken into thin (¼-inch) bite-size strips. (If chicken is difficult to slice thinly, it helps to stick it in the freezer for 20 minutes before slicing). Add chicken to bowl with egg white mixture and stir to combine. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 450˚F. Line 2 sheet pans with foil for easy clean up.
Combine frozen corn,1 tablespoon olive oil and ½ teaspoon kosher salt on one of the prepared sheet pans. Stir to combine. Place mushrooms on the other sheet pan, drizzle evenly with 1 tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle with ½ teaspoon kosher salt. Give a few grinds of pepper to each pan. Stir to combine. Place both pans in the preheated oven. Roast corn for 10 minutes, stir and remove. Set aside. Continue roasting mushrooms for a total of 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minute to redistribute. Remove from oven and set aside.
Heat oil over medium heat on a large Dutch oven or heavy bottom pot. Add onions and carrots. Cook for 5 minute until onions are soft, stirring frequently. Add cilantro*, garlic, ginger, lemongrass**, curry paste, curry powder and brown sugar. Cook for another minute.
Add chicken broth and fish sauce and bring to a boil. Reduce to a steady simmer, cover and cook for 20 minutes or until carrots are very tender.
Add coconut milk and remove from heat. Use an immersion blender or a regular blender and puree until smooth. (If you use a regular blender, allow soup to cool a bit before blending and blend in batches).
Return soup to pot (if using a regular blender). With pot over medium heat, return to a full, steady simmer. Add chicken, discarding any liquid that has accumulated in the bowl. Add the red peppers and stir to combine. Return soup to a boil then cover and turn off heat. Let sit, covered for 10 minutes. The chicken will cook during this rest time but will remain tender and velvety – if you allow it to cook for longer it will become tough.
Add corn and mushrooms and stir to combine.
Garnish with fresh basil and cilantro, if desired. Serve with jasmine rice or noodles.
* Even if you don't like cilantro, don't skip it here. You won't taste it in the finished product, I promise but it adds great flavor to this curry.
** Sometimes lemongrass is difficult to find. I like to keep this lemongrass paste in my freezer. It tastes really fresh and keeps for a long time in the freezer. This paste is becoming quite easy to find – I’ve noticed they’re even carrying it in the produce section at Super Walmart.) They also carry ginger in tubes like this. I usually keep some of that in my freezer also for when I'm in a pinch.