I’ve been on a real Thai kick lately. Probably has something to do with the temporary mental lapses I seem to encounter whenever I enter the “specialty” foods section of a supermarket and see all the appropriately-Americanized foreign ingredients staring down at me. I get overwhelmed. I get intrigued. But most importantly, I get hungry. And this is probably why in the past week, I’ve wound up coming home on three separate occasions with light coconut milk, dried pad Thai noodles, and a small jar of red curry paste.
But I’d say the biggest, most substantial reason that I’ve been eating so much Thai food lately is that it just makes sense. Thai food, and curry in particular, is jam-packed with a lot of spice and flavor, that doesn’t necessarily translate into extra fat and calories. Finally, an exception to the “Fat = Flavor” rule (sorry, culinary school).
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that all Thai dishes are flavorful and healthy. There are plenty of exceptions, like Pad Thai, or my one true Thai food love, Pad See Ew. BUT. And that’s a big but. With a little curry paste, and a little creativity, you can make a dish that has all the essence of cravable, rich Thai take out, but is low in calories and high in nutrients.
Okay I’ll prove it. So first, get yourself a jar of this.
Thai Kitchen makes a variety of pre-packaged sauces and pastes in all flavors and types. There’s pad thai sauce, peanut sauce, you name it. But I love the Thai red curry paste because there’s just 25 calories in one tablespoon, and you really don’t need more than that to give your whole dish a beautiful, deep, rich foreign flavor.
Now, I took a Thai cooking class a while back with my family at the Natural Gourmet Institute in NYC, and here I learned all about the amazing things a cook can do with coconut milk. I was intrigued by the way the fatty solids of the coconut milk (the coconut cream) rises to the top, while the thinner, coconut-water-like liquid sinks to the bottom. Combined, they form the rich, tropical basis for many a sauce, soup, or curry.
Unfortunately, regular coconut milk is rather fattening and caloric. However, most grocery stores carry light coconut milk, which is essentially the “skim milk” version – less of that coconut cream component. This is your second secret weapon.
In the end, all it takes is a little of your curry paste, light coconut milk, and some pantry staples like garlic, onion and chicken broth to create a delicious, light curry sauce that makes dinner feel like a real treat. Customize it to your liking with whatever veggies and protein you have on hand – it works great with delicate white fish as well as chicken.
Did I mention this is done in thirty minutes? Yeah. Pretty unreal.
Thai Red Curry Chicken – Serves 1
- 1 3-4 oz chicken breast, cut into 1 inch pieces
- 1 teaspoon canola or vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup of finely chopped onion
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon of Thai Kitchen Red Curry Paste
- 1/4 cup of light coconut milk
- 1/2 cup of reduced sodium chicken broth
- 1/2 teaspoon of fish sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
- 1 cup assorted chopped or shredded vegetables (I used 1/3 shredded carrots, 1/3 sliced baby bella mushrooms, and 1/3 green peas)
- Salt and pepper to taste
Heat a medium saute pan over high heat. Coat with cooking spray and season chicken with salt and pepper. Cook chicken for about 1 – 2 minutes on each side, until nicely browned. Don’t cook chicken through. Remove chicken and set aside.
Add the canola oil to the pan, reduce heat to medium and add chopped onion. Saute for about 3 to 4 minutes, until softened. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more. Add red curry paste and using a spoon, mash the curry paste into the oil and onions. Once the onions are coated with curry paste, add the coconut milk, chicken broth, fish sauce and brown sugar. Simmer gently for a minute or two.
Add the vegetables and continue to simmer until sauce has reduced to desired consistency (note: sauce should coat the back of a spoon) – about three minutes more. Add the chicken and finish cooking in the sauce, about another minute, adding water if the sauce gets too thick.
Serve on a bed of brown rice or barley.
Nutritional Info: 270 calories, 6 grams of fat, 4.3 grams of fiber, 29.5 grams of protein, 20.5 grams of carbs.