I recently had a “Eureka!” moment. Don’t you love it when that happens? So here is the long story. I had just returned from traveling for work. No time to unpack, either, because I was heading out in a few days to help some boyfriends settle into the new duty station. There’s next to nothing in my fridge except the cucumbers from the Virginia Food and Wine Festival (courtesy of Kroger) and tomatoes (courtesy of Em’s mom) and some chicken breasts I had luckily not frozen. I needed to make something out of these ingredients before my stomach devoured me instead of dinner! Then, eureka! Curry!
Being half Filipina and having grown up in Okinawa, Japan, curry is not such an exotic leap for me as it may be for others. Another result of my up bringing is that dishes don’t have recipes. Whatever you have on hand will do. There’s nothing like the power of necessity to inspire creativity in the kitchen. When I’m prepared, my coconut-milk based curry is usually chock full of my
favorite veggies like sliced bell peppers, green beans (Chinese Long Beans if I can find them), Japanese eggplant, zuchinni, maybe some frozen peas. I did have a bell pepper in the crisper, but apparently it did not like being left behind while I dined on delicious Charleston cuisine in between meetings. Cucumbers and tomatoes it was!
I bet I know what you are thinking. You’re sort of grasping the idea of the tomatoes simmering in creamy, spiced up coconut milk…but cooked cucumbers? Trust me, I get it. I was a little worried, thinking the poor bugger would break down into nothing, but cucumbers are much sturdier than I gave them credit for. After consulting the Flavor Bible (Karen Page and Andrew Dornenbeg) to make sure the flavors I had chosen for this particular curry complimented each other, I went ahead with my plan. Wow! The chopped cucumber absorbed all the flavors of the curry and the texture of the vegetable was pleasantly interesting. Not quite firm, but not mushy either. Even more exciting for me was that I had found a wonderful (and much cheaper!) substitute for another Filipino inspired dish I love making and will share with you one day: Sayote (or Chayote as it is called in grocery stores here in the states).
Now I know this recipe looks daunting, but it really is not too difficult. Don’t be scared, I’m right here with you!
Red Curry Chicken with Cucumbers and Tomatoes
Serves about 4
- 1 lb chicken breast, preferably marinated, cut into thin slices
- 2 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped
- 1 medium cucumber, seeded and chopped
- 1 can coconut milk (lite or regular)
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- Red Curry Paste*
- Fish Sauce**
- ¼ cup sliced basil leaves
- 2 tbsp smooth peanut butter
- 1 tsp Capsaicin Maple-Ginger rub***
- Splash of lime juice
- 2-3 tbsp olive oil
- Cooked Jasmine rice, at least 1 cup per person
- Cook rice according to package directions. While the rice cooks, begin cooking the Curry.
- Drizzle olive oil in a large pan and heat over medium high heat.
- Once oil is heated, add garlic and give it a stir around the pot and enjoy the released fragrance.
- Add Red Curry Paste*, start with 1 tbsp and increase to desired spiciness. I used 2 tbsp.
- Cook the curry paste in the oil and garlic until it starts to soften and break down.
- Slowly pour in the coconut milk and stir. The curry paste will turn the coconut milk a shade of orange, the more curry used the deeper the color (and heat!)
- Reduce heat to medium/ medium-low. This is very important!!!! If the coconut milk boils, it will curdle, but you still want it hot enough to cook the rest of the ingredients.
- Season coconut milk with Fish Sauce**, this is your salt. Start with 1 tbsp and increase as desired for saltiness. I ended up using ¼ cup this time around.
- Add 1 tsp Capsaicin Maple-Ginger rub***. If you do not have access to this delicious blend, you can use a combination of ginger, mustard, onion powder, your choice of ground pepper, and maple or brown sugar to your liking.
- When coconut milk starts to simmer, add in chicken and stir. Allow the chicken to poach in the warm liquid for about 5-10 minutes depending on how warm the coconut milk is. The chicken will start turning white when it’s ready.
- Add peanut butter and stir until dissolved into the coconut milk
- Add tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, and a splash of lime juice. Stir and allow veggies to cook 8-10 minutes depending on your preference.
- Serve over jasmine rice.
*Tip: You may want more than one cup of rice. You’ll want more to soak up all the delicious coconut milk.