DH and I are trying to be good.
After the turn of the year, we decided to improve our diet and exercise plans. Coming from the Pacific Northwest, a veritable cornucopia of epicurian goodness, variety, quality, availability, sustainability, ad nauseum, it has been a surprise to discover that “that kind of food” here in Vienna is elusive. Eating cheaply, beautifully, and health-fully is more work than it used to be!
Here, we have delicious schnitzel (chicken, pork, veal), lovely clear broths, endless variations on the dumpling, potatoes (roasted, baked, pureed, salad-ified), and pumpkin (seeds, flesh, oil, pesto). And, oh yes, pastries, cakes, cookies, and confections galore.
But the delightful ease of an organic grocery store filled with seasonal and not-so-seasonal choices for things that I used to completely take for granted (like romaine lettuce, baby greens, chilis, corn tortillas, chicken sausage, italian sausage)…this is not to be found here in the same way. Viva la difference, right? Well. Yes. But.
When it’s dinnertime 7 days a week, one must have go-tos. And when the go-tos are 100% different, it takes awhile to rebuild the repertoire. Unfortunately, the grocery stores are filled with uniform, pre-packaged and heavily processed foods. It’s much easier to buy things in a box than to try to track down the ingredients to make them from scratch. And the processed factor of the boxed thiings is frustrating.
In our quest to “be good” I’m trolling the web, learning to make Austrian basics with a PNW twist, and listening to Lynn Rosetto Kaspar’s Splendid Table on a regular basis.
This fresh, easy dish was inspired by the high volume of curry recipes in Jamie Oliver‘s “Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals,” a birthday gift from my Austrian sister-in-law. This version of the book is published in the UK and after years of reading American food rags like “Food and Wine” and “Martha Stewart Living,” I find it one step closer to what’s available here and one step further away from “meat, starch, sugar.” Reading all that curry-talk and being reminded of the flavor pairings got me thinking…
2 servings, no leftovers — portions allow for small seconds, yet no feeling of “OMG, I need the couch.”
* veggies: I went to the fridge and found sweet bell peppers, mushrooms, a fresh hot chili, yellow onion. One could think ahead and get a selection of more traditionally Asian or Indian veggies like bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, edamame, eggplant, etc.. Simply working “from the fridge” was fine for me here.
* chicken breast: chopped into small bite-size pieces. I used one breast for 2 people. Protein choices could be anything from nothing to salmon to beef to shrimps to tofu…you’ll just need to adjust your cooking technique to accomodate the differences in how the protein cooks in the liquid.
* light coconut milk (one small can)
* nonfat, plain yogurt (2 tablespoons)
* green curry paste (1 tablespoon)
* salt & pepper to taste
* something to make it a little sweet (I used a partial packet of Splenda, but a teaspoon of regular sugar would be fine; whisking in a sweet chili sauce would do double duty and allow you to eliminate the hot fresh chili)
* fresh limes for garnish
* 1/2 cup jasmine basmati rice (could be brown rice, couscous, quinoa, noodles)
1.) Start cooking rice and/or starch
2.) Prep ingredients (new discipline for me that eases clean-up, makes the cooking faster, and allows me to make the most of a very tiny kitchen): Chop all veggies and chicken…chicken needs to be kept separate from veggies for food safety and timing reasons. If you are using fresh hot chilis, you might want to touch a chopped piece to your finger and then to your tongue to test its heat. If you feel a sharp burn, be sure to back off whether you include all of the chili pieces in your dish. You can make things hotter on the fly, but it’s hard to make them more mild after the fact! Whisk two tablespoons of nonfat yogurt into coco milk and set aside. Don’t forget to wash your hands with hot water and soap if you touched the chili and it was hot.
3.) Precook veggies: heat olive oil in wok-ish pan on stove. I choose to work with this kind of pan for this kind of dish because I want high sides for the saute process and the bowl (rather than flat) bottom for the sauce. Saute the veggies all together until they are almost how you will want them in the finished dish. I say “almost” because you will take them out to cook the sauce and meat and then add them back in later for a few minutes. You don’t want mush. Put them back in their prep bowl and set aside. They don’t need to stay hot. NOTE: This is also a time when you will get an indicator about the heat of your chili/s — if you start coughing from the oils in the air above your pan or near the stove, you know you’ve got something with some heat behind it. If your eyes burn and you still cough when you get away from the stove, you should either totally start over with your veggie mix, or at least get a bunch of those chilis OUT!
4.) Sauce: Add coco/yogurt mixture to pan and boil. The pan will already be hot from cooking the veggies, so this might happen really fast. You want to cook the milk a little bit, so reduce the heat and calm things down so it has a few moments to cook without browning. Whisk a tablespoon (+/-) of curry paste into the milk. One of the recipes I read online suggested 1/3 cup for 4 servings. I was only making 2 servings and wasn’t sure how intense to make it. So, I think it was about 1/3 of a small jar of the paste. Experiment! Once blended, heat back to boil (if only simmering) and let the sauce play for a couple of minutes. I think of it as time for the curry paste to “cook” but am not sure this is necessary. When I tasted at this stage, it seemed a little raw and unblended. This evolved by the end (15 mins later).
5.) Poach the meat: instead of stir frying/browning the chicken first, adding the chicken to the sauce poaches it and keeps it tender. A Splendid Table interview with Michael Ruhlman about poaching everything from shrimp and scallops to salmon and chicken with emulsified butter shed all doubts from my mind about whether this kind of approach to cooking meat works. Reduce the heat so that the sauce is gently bubbly but no longer boiling and cook the chicken until it’s no longer pink.
6.) Add the veggies: pop them back in the sauce pan once the chicken is cooked through (it’s easier to see the done-ness of the chicken without the veggies in the way) and simmer together while the rice finishes cooking. Set the table, light some candles, stir as needed. Add a little water if it’s thickening too quickly. Would white wine also work instead? Not sure if it would confuse the flavors, but I will try it next time. Salt a bit, pepper a bit, put on lip gloss, set out serving platters.
7.) Fluff your rice in the pan and let the grains air a little bit to ensure they are not too wet and smushy. Check the sauce and do a little taste test for seasoning levels. Adjust as needed, remembering that the flavor of the rice will be a factor and that if you garnish with a lime, it will also tang things up. I was going for spicy, creamy, fragrant, and a little sweet.
8) Serve! I served this dish on a single white rectagular serving platter, adding the rice in a low, uniform mound along the platter, then slowly pouring the curry sauce on top, taking care to center the pour in the middle. This lets the juicier liquid soak through the rice and then pool beneath it — reduces the chances of taking a scoop and getting only rice! It also looks terrific because the veggies and chicken are all presented on top. I wedged a lime and set the wedges to the four corners of the platter. Squeeze a wedge over the top after serving.
I had two concerns with this dish: 1.) what if it’s too hot?, and 2.) what if it’s too bland? To back myself up, I also made a very simple “green on green” leaf salad that featured a yogurt/orange juice/chopped avocado salsa on a bed of chopped romaine. I served this on a rectangle plate that matches the one used for the curry. The yogurt and citrus part of the salsa, I hoped, would offset any fire-mouth syndrome the curry might have caused. And the avodado would be satisfying if the curry was bland or just “didn’t turn out.” As it was, the curry’s heat built but didn’t escalate. It was perfect with the basmati rice and the squeeze of lime. DH says that above average spiciness is perfect for controling how fast he eats! The salad ended up being a simple complement with ideal flavor pairings that didn’t compete with or undermine the curry.
Salsa/dressing: 1 tablespoon nonfat, plain yogurt; solid squeeze from 1/2 small orange; pinch of sea salt; 1/2 small avocado, chopped. Whisk yogurt, salt, and orange juice. Add chopped avocado and stir to coat the avocado. The acid in the orange juice breaks down the avocado a bit so that it becomes softer and more creamy. Learned from Boudro’s in San Antonio, this is also a reason to use orange juice when you make guacamole — no need to mash the avos. Keeps them chunky and fresh tasting while still being pasty enough to sit nicely on a chip! Serve over the top of salad greens…every bite is “dressed” by the salsa, and best of all…there’s no oil involved to add calories.
Beverage: sparkling water, crisp white wine (dry and citrusy Sauvignon Blanc would be good), or a cold pilsner/lager.