Archive for March, 2010

Thai Red Curry Chicken

Serves 8


  • 1 can (4 oz.) Maesri brand red curry paste
  • 1 can (13.5 fl. oz.) Chef’s Choice brand coconut milk, divided
  • 1.5 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thigh
  • 1.5 lb. green beans, potatoes, or kabocha squash
  • 3 tbsp Tiparos brand fish sauce, divided
  • Thai basil or kaffir lime leaves (optional)
  • Palm sugar (optional)


  • Clean chicken thoroughly, trim fat, and cut into bite-sized pieces.
  • Rinse the green beans if using.  Trim the edges and cut into 2-inch pieces. If using potatoes or squash, rinse, skin, and dice them into 1/2-3/4″ cubes.


  • Set a large pot over high heat for 1-2 minutes.
  • Scoop the thick layer of coconut cream from the top of the can, approximately ½ cup.  Stir until half of the cream evaporates, being careful not to burn it.
  • Add the curry paste and 1 tbsp of fish sauce.  Stir until the mixture thickens again being careful not to burn it.
  • Add the chicken and stir occasionally.
  • Add the remaining 2 tbsp of fish sauce when the chicken is almost cooked through.
  • When the chicken is done, add the green beans if using and cook until the beans turn bright green. 
  • Add the remainder of the coconut milk and bring to a boil.  Let simmer for 1 minute. If using potatoes or squash, add them now, and cook on low heat until they become soft.
  • If using basil or lime leaves, toss them in just before serving.
  • If using kabocha squash, sprinkle in a bit of the palm sugar to taste.

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P is for Pupusa

Another coworker I will always remember is Celina Benavides, whose beautiful name befits her beautiful person.  This is my tribute to Celina, a native of El Salvador.

“Let’s get pupusas,” Celina says.

“I’ve heard of those.  What are they?”  I ask.

“They are made of masa and then fried like a tortilla.  Yeah, they’re sort of like thick tortillas,” adds Sylvia, helpfully.

“So they’re chewy and dry like a tortilla?” I press.

“No, not quite,” is the reply.

“So they’re thick and chewy like flat bread?” I try again.

“No, not quite.”

“So they’re thick and mushy like tamales?”  I am undaunted.  “Like cornbread?  Or polenta?”

“No.  No.  No.”

“What do you eat them with?” I ask.

Curditas, a pickled cabbage.”

“Pickled cabbage?  Like sauerkraut?  Like kimchi?”

“No.  No,” and finally, “I’ll bring you some tomorrow.”

Persistence pays off, I tell you.

True to her word, Celina rushed into the office a few days later, arms laden with fragrant bundles.

Each pupusa is about ¼” thick and is filled with cheese, refried beans, chicharrones (fried pork skin), or some combination of the three.  Pupusas are like fried tamales, soft and mushy with sharply salty center.  They are topped with curditas and a thin tomato sauce, almost like a very mild salsa.  They are more like Chinese pickled cabbage than like Korean kimchi — lightly marinated, freshly pickled and made with the normal cabbage rather than napa.  I tasted vinegar, red chili flakes, cabbage, carrots and onion.  My coworker noticed oregano.  Other than the oregano, the similarity to Chinese pickled cabbage is striking.

Another similarity between pupusas and the food I grew up with is the pupusa itself.  Consider the two pictures below.  The photo on the right is of ho dduk, my father’s favorite Korean street food, a fried cake made of sticky rice and filled with cinnamon, sugar and nuts.  The photo on the left is the pupusa, a cake made of white cornmeal and filled with savory items instead.  Food knows no boundaries, be they geographical, national, political or ideological.

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M is for Mexican Mole

Since I began my first full-time job last June, I have had the pleasure of getting to know many blessed souls.  One in particular is Sylvia Sosa, whose spirited personality has earned her the nickname “Sylvia Saucy.”  While Sylvia is quite “saucy,” I will remember her more for her generosity, which spills out of her large heart and blesses those around her.  A fellow foodie and a native Chicagan, Sylvia’s family is originally from Mexico, and she has shared her wonderful (edible) heritage with me.

Julia made mole in college, which was my first experience actually tasting the nutty stew, almost curry-like in consistency, but I first read about it in Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate.  The book was actually my brother’s high school assigned reading, but I (four years his junior) picked it up one afternoon and couldn’t put it down until I finished.  Needless to say, I didn’t understand much of the storyline, but I do remember being fascinated by Esquivel’s use of recipes to both provide structure as well as further the plot of the novel.  I would like to read it again sometime.  Mole was the dish that caught my attention because in my culinary repertoire, chocolate and chicken were not complementary ingredients.

So when Sylvia told me she had made mole over the weekend and has brought some to share, I was very excited.  The sweet, salty and nutty stew was rich and complicated, and I astonished her by finishing my portion and asking for more.  I requested the recipe, and so here it is.  I have yet to make this myself, but I will update when I do.

This is my tribute to Sylvia Sosa, a memorable character in my life.

Red Chicken Mole

Chicken breast
1 jar Dona Maria brand red mole paste
1 jar Bueno Rogelio brand red mole paste
¼ cup sesame seeds
5 tbsp pumpkin seeds
1 heaping tbsp peanut butter
½ disk Ibarra brand Mexican chocolate
1 slice white bread
1 corn tortilla
Oil for frying
1 or 2 garlic cloves

Simmer chicken breast in salted water.  Add garlic cloves.  Once chicken is cooked, remove from water and cool.  Shred once chicken has cooled.
Add both jars of mole to about 2 cups of chicken stock and bring to a boil.  Use enough liquid to create a thick, soupy consistency.
Deep fry tortilla until crispy.
Pan fry bread until crispy.
Toast sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds.  Do not use any extra oil.
Adding a little at a time, use a blender to create a paste from the tortilla, bread, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds and peanut butter.  Add just enough chicken broth to make a paste.
Add the paste and chocolate to the mole mixture and bring to a boil.  Mix thoroughly.
Add shredded chicken and simmer for 20 minutes on low heat.
Serve with Mexican rice and warm tortillas.

Mexican Rice

2 cups rice
1 medium tomato, diced
1/3 small onion, finely diced
1/3 green bell pepper, diced
2 cloves crushed garlic
¾ small can tomato sauce
About 2 heaping tablespoon Knorr chicken bouillon seasoning
Large pinch cumin powder
Large pinch ground pepper

Brown the rice about 1 tbsp of oil.
Add the tomato, onion and bell pepper, stirring for1 minute.
Add the tomato sauce and stir for 1 minute.
Add 4 cups of water, bouillon powder, cumin, pepper and garlic.
Taste the broth and add extra seasonings if needed.
Cover and cook for 10 minutes.
Uncover and stir.
Cover again and cook for 10 minutes or until rice reaches desired consistency.

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