Monday, January 13, 2014

Cooking: Yellow Curry with Chicken, Green Beans, and Purple Yams

This Thai curry is easy to make if you have yellow curry paste on hand.  I am fortunate to live where a wide variety of exotic grocery items are not difficult to find. For those in the Seattle area, I bought this curry paste at Central Market in Shoreline.

At their most basic, Thai curries are rooted in curry pastes, made from ground lemongrass, galangal, ginger, chilies, shallots, spices, and other ingredients. Yellow curry is one of the mildest; green and red are hotter.

Purple yams show up seasonally here in the Northwest. I found organic ones at both Central Market and at PCC. They have a deep purple skin and mottled purple flesh that turns bright purple when cooked. They are less sweet than garnet or jewel yams. If you can't find purple yams, use another type.

This version features two cooking techniques: simmering and roasting. Roasting the yams and mushrooms intensifies their natural flavors and prevents the yams from turning to mush in the curry. I served this with Thai jasmine brown rice (recipe follows main recipe).

Thai Yellow Curry with Chicken, Green Beans, and Purple Yams
serves 4

2 yams, scrubbed and trimmed
6 crimini mushrooms, trimmed, then sliced into 1/8-inch slices
1 Tblsp olive oil

1 Tblsp coconut oil
1 tsp whole cumin seed
½ large onion, thinly sliced
2 Tblsp Thai yellow curry paste
1 tsp sea salt, divided
1 ½ lbs fresh green beans, trimmed and snapped into 2-inch pieces
1 can (15 oz.) coconut milk
2 single skinless, boneless chicken breasts*
1 large avocado, quartered, peeled, and sliced
1-2 Cups fresh cilantro leaves

*Cut each chicken breast into four pieces, then cut each piece into ¼-inch slices

Preheat oven to 400°F with a rack in the middle of the oven.

Cut each yam in half, then cut each half in half again lengthwise. Starting at one end, make an angled cut, rotate the yam a quarter turn toward you and make the next angled cut. The goal is to end up with pieces that are about the same mass and no larger than 1 inch in any dimension. (This is called a roll cut in Chinese cuisine.)

Toss the yam chunks and mushrooms with the olive oil, then spread in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. I lined my sheet pan with parchment paper. Season lightly with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast the vegetables until a knife tip easily pierces the yams, about 25-30 minutes; remove from oven and reserve.

While the yams and mushrooms are roasting, heat the coconut oil in a large sauté pan, Dutch oven, or wok over medium-high heat. When the oil is very hot, add the cumin seeds; they should sizzle.

Add onions and ½ tsp sea salt and stir. Fry the onions, stirring occasionally, until they are wilted and just starting to color, about 8-10 minutes. Stir in the curry paste a fry for a couple of minutes.

Add green beans and stir fry a couple of minutes, then add the coconut milk. Bring to a simmer, add remaining ½ teaspoon sea salt, then lower the heat to medium-low and cover. Simmer 6-8 minutes; beans should just be tender-crisp. Add the chicken, stir well, and cover. Simmer an additional 6 minutes, add the roasted yams and mushrooms, stir gently, then turn the heat off and let sit covered another 5 minutes. Taste and correct salt if necessary.

Serve with brown, red or black rice. Garnish with avocado chunks and lots of fresh cilantro leaves.

Thai Jasmine Brown Rice
serves 4

2 cups Thai jasmine brown rice (any whole long-grain rice can be used, such as brown basmati, Thai red, or black rice)
4 cups water
½ tsp sea salt
1 Tblsp butter (optional)

Wash the rice well in a bowl of water; strain with a mesh strainer.

Heat two burners—one to high, and the other to the lowest setting. If you have a gas range, this step is unnecessary. Bring water to a boil, then add salt, washed rice, and butter, if using.

Boil, uncovered, until the water level falls just below the level of the rice. Don't stir it! Move the pan to the cooler burner (or adjust your gas burner), cover, and let gently simmer for 15 minutes. Lift lid and gently use a fork to check if water remains in the bottom of the pan; if so, recover and continue cooking  for 5 minutes, then check again. When the water has been absorbed, turn off the heat, fold a clean towel and cover the pot, then set on the lid. Let rice sit at least 10 minutes or more. The towel will absorb moisture and prevent the rice from getting wet.

Just before serving, fluff rice gently with a fork.