Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Coconut Chicken and Vegetables

I was busy seeing clients all day and have been craving vegetables - probably since my quick lunch was mostly all protein. Since I'm staying at a friend's house (who luckily lets me cook), I found a chicken breast and various veggies in her fridge and grabbed a can of coconut milk in her pantry to make for dinner. I sliced the chicken and the vegetables - some had to be blanched in boiling water for just a few minutes - like the pea pods and carrots. But if you are using other hard vegetables that take a long time to cook like broccoli, cauliflower and green beans in particular, they will take from 5 - 7 minutes to get just tender crisp. You want to make sure that all the vegetables continue cooking in the sauce. The bean sprouts were a bit wilted, so I spent a lot of time making "Silver Needles" - snipping off the heads and tails of the bean sprouts with my thumb nail. It was tedious work, but it always makes me happy because the bean sprouts then look so pretty. This was something my Chinese Grandfather insisted on and I spent years of my life getting them ready for dishes he cooked. Somehow, I can't use beansprouts without doing it too. 

I seasoned this dish mostly with leeks, garlic, ginger and a dash of fish sauce. Of course we also included the can of coconut milk and salt and pepper and a pinch of Cayenne Pepper. We served it over steamed rice. It was wonderful and very soothing. It was also beautiful with all the lovely colors of the different vegetables - that's a sure sign that many of the Five Elements will be present. And, almost any vegetables will do. You can change the meat too and use beef, pork or fish or if you are a vegetarian - tofu would also be great although for texture and color, I would use fried tofu. When I make this dish again, I would probably add some Red or Green Thai curry Paste or some curry powder or some turmeric or cumin and maybe a bit of fresh chili, but it was so good just the way it was so why mess with a good thing? Let me know what you think if you try making it.

Coconut Chicken and Vegetables

1 pound chicken breasts sliced into thin strips about 1" long (easiest if partially frozen)
3 - 4 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 leek - white part and light green part only, sliced into rings and rinsed carefully
1 inch of ginger root, peeled and minced fine
1 red pepper, cut into 1' pieces
1 carrot, peeled and sliced into thin rings
1 cup snow peas - tips removed
1 - 2 cups bean sprouts (heads and tails removed if you are a purist)
1 can (14 oz) Coconut Milk
1 Tablespoon Fish Sauce (a Thai or Vietnamese brand)
Salt and Pepper to Taste
Pinch of Cayenne Pepper

Optional Vegetables - onion, garlic, green onions, green pepper, cabbage, or any green leafy vegetable, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, canned baby corn, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, potatoes, eggplant, Thai Bird Chilies, etc.

Optional Seasonings: 1 Tablespoon Red or Green Thai Curry Paste or 1 teaspoon Curry Powder, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric and 1/2 teaspoon cumin, 1/2 teaspoon coriander.


Bring small pot of water to a boil and put in any hard vegetables. Cook anywhere from 3 - 4 minutes for softer vegetables and from 5 - 7 minutes for hard vegetables - keep checking. You want them just barely tender. Drain and rinse in cold water and put aside.

In wok or large frying pan, heat oil until it shimmers. Add leeks (onions, green onions or garlic) and ginger in oil and cook until leeks or onions become soft. Add in chicken and stir fry until it is no longer pink. Then add vegetables from hardest to softest (bean sprouts last) and stir fry for 3 - 5 minutes with each addition. Pour in coconut milk and season with fish sauce, salt and pepper and Cayenne Pepper. Simmer for 5 - 10 minutes or until heated through and the flavors have time to meld. Serve over steamed rice and garnish with cilantro sprigs or sliced green onion if you have them.

Five Element Analysis

The colorful nature of this dish gives you the biggest clue that this is a more balanced meal than most. Chicken brings in the Fire Element and so does the red pepper and the bit of Cayenne Pepper. Pea pods and bean sprouts add the Wood Element. The Allium family of onions and garlic brings in the Metal Element. The Earth Element is represented well by the coconut milk. The Water Element has only the bit of fish sauce to represent it so it is the only element that really needs help. Using pork or fish instead of chicken and/or adding some eggplant would balance this meal out.

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