Normally I cook for this column over the weekend because that’s when I have the time to really play in the kitchen. This week, I decided to shake it up and cook a weeknight recipe. We were planning a camping trip over the weekend and stayed at Nickerson State Park until Wednesday. It was a mini vacation and I didn't plan to open my laptop even once during that time.
Instead we planned to go hiking, canoeing and fishing. We wanted to play with the dogs and read all the magazines that have piled up unread over the past few busy months. We cooked over the campfire most evenings. The Kitchen Genius was worried it might rain on Tuesday, and if it did, I was cuddled up with the pups in the pop-up camper reading a novel.
Our weeknight meals are often as adventurous as the weekend ones. For example, this week, KG wanted to explore curry. Since we haven’t cooked a lot of curries, I decided to do some research. The word curry refers to a spice mixture but also to any dish made with that spice mixture. The dish curry is part of many different cuisines around the world. It usually refers to a dish with a spicy rich sauce make with meat and vegetables or even just vegetables.
Some form of curry is popular in India, Thailand, Morocco, Malaysia, Indonesia and England. KG learned how to cook with curry from the Jamaican cooks at the restaurants. They always add the curry powder to the pan while you are sautéing the vegetables and meat. They say it has to be “cooked out” or it can upset your stomach.
Since I have eaten raw curry powder sprinkled on tossed salads or in chicken salad, that seems like a myth, but cooking the curry powder with the meat and vegetables seasons them nicely and eliminates the need for additional salt.
Curry powder is a blend of other spices. The predominant ones are coriander, cumin and turmeric, but some recipes or labels include ingredients like dry mustard, ginger, cinnamon or cardamom. The ingredient list on my spice bottle is pretty vague: “spices including turmeric, salt, dehydrated onion.”
To up the curry flavor KG also added some red curry paste. Red curry paste contains red chili peppers, garlic, lemon grass, salt, shallot, coriander root and kaffir lime peel. It sounds a lot spicier than it actually is. The finished dish was mildly spicy but by no means hot.
Coconut milk and brown sugar add a bit of sweetness that plays well with the spice. Some additional garlic, coriander, lime juice and fresh ginger enhance the flavors of the curry and add to the complexity. Fish sauce creates umami and fresh cilantro contributes an additional citrus note. If you don’t like cilantro, you can easily substitute fresh basil for a similar effect.
The beauty of a curry is that you can use any vegetables you want. We used red bell pepper and beans because that is what we had on hand and what is still growing in our garden. You could use mushrooms, diced carrots, peas or anything else you enjoy. The meat is easily swapped too. This dish would be equally good using chicken breasts or shrimp. Just adjust the cooking time to the ingredients you use.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, diced (about 1/2 cup)
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh ginger root, minced
2 tablespoons curry powder
2 teaspoons ground coriander
8 grinds fresh ground pepper
3 tablespoons red curry paste
1 1/2 cups red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1/2 cup green beans, julienne cut
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 can coconut milk
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
Prep all ingredients before you begin cooking. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté for 3 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and stir. Lower heat to low and add curry powder, coriander, pepper and red curry paste. Stir frequently and cook for 2 to 3 minutes until fragrant.
Turn heat up to medium-high. If skillet is dry, add a bit more olive oil. Add red bell pepper strips and green beans. Stir-fry for 1 to 2 minutes and then add chicken. Cooking, stirring frequently for 4 to 5 minutes until chicken is browned on all sides but not fully cooked. Add coconut milk, lime juice, brown sugar and fish sauce. Cook, stirring frequently until chicken is cooked through and curry is slightly thickened, about 8 to 10 minutes.