I can never seem to get enough of coriander, or dhania as we call it in Durban. I’m often surprised when some people list it as one of the herbs they find offensive on a plate, but to me, it’s mellow but distinct flavour with vague citrus overtones, can really enhance the flavours of meat, fish and salads. And today’s lunch: basmati rice and coriander salad with cherry tomatoes, spring onions, red pepper, tuna and slivers of green chilli. Lemon juice and spices optional. I think it’s delicious on its own. Healthy too. And it was a great way to use up the left over rice from last night’s Thai curry.
Every now and again I get this intense craving for a hot red Thai chicken curry. All the way home on my scooter, at red lights and pedestrian crossings, I was ticking off ingredients in the cupboard and fridge and making a list of what I’d need to buy – coconut milk (reduced fat!); lime; fresh ginger. No lime leaves unfortunately, but there were satsuma leaves in the fruit bowl and I was contemplating using this as a substitute. I can’t make curries too hot however, seeing as I’m cooking for a partner who, while he enjoys hot food, does not have as much of a resistance to heat as I do. After all, I have been raised (virtually!) on curry.
Back at the ranch, out comes the wok, left over lemon grass from last week’s Thai cooking extravaganza, chicken breasts, ginger, lime, and I decide to add some red pepper and petit pois for some extra colour and flavour. I also find some ready-made red curry paste which will make this a whole lot easier, and also means I will have to forego the satsuma leaves.
I pour a little oil (extra virgin rapeseed on this occasion – gorgeous nutty flavour) into the smoking hot wok and add some freshly grated ginger, frying this a little before spooning in the curry paste, some chopped coriander root, additional lime zest and some of the thick cream skimmed form the top of the tin of coconut milk. I let these have a good fry and as the delicious aromas waft around the kitchen, but before it starts to stick, I throw in the thin strips of chicken. I always feel that chicken thighs used in curries have bags more flavour, but on this occasion, I’m limited to what’s in the fridge. And…I hold myself back from chopping in more fresh red chillies.
I let the chicken brown a little on all sides then add most of the coconut milk to the wok, adding the rest after a few stirs, scraping off all the bits that have stuck to the bottom of the wok. I turn the heat down and let it bubble gently for about 15-20 minutes. I usually prefer the sauce to reduce slightly so it is all thick and juicy and oh so creamy.
I served it on a wonderfully large plate, above a bed of fragrant basmati rice and garnished with coriander. Yum yum.
One of my earliest memories of food is the musty, sweet, dried wild grass smell of coconut milk slurped out of a giant green coconut, cut fresh by skinny young boys from the lanky palms of Goa, India. I was about three years old and on a family holiday from South Africa. The distinct smell is something I associated with exotic places and the taste of the milk itself, is not something I took to straight away. In fact the next time I drank green coconut milk was in Maputo, Mozambique as an adult in January 2000. And perhaps, by then, my tastebuds had matured so I did not recoil from the earthy flavour.
Coconut however, has been part of my diet since childhood (Hindu upbringing!). If the milk of mature coconuts was not being drunk, we’d be eating the flesh, my sister and I hollowing out the shell to be able to poke out the eyes in the spherical shell with the uneven crack created when the coconut was split in half. My grandmother would also finely slice coconut meat and roast it in the oven to make chevdah (a savoury snack with nuts, spices, toasted cereals, and colour-flecked coconut).
Why these thoughts of coconut, and why today? I’m making my own muesli and adding slivers of roasted coconut to the mix of cashew, walnuts, brazils, chopped dried apricots, dried cranberries, pinenuts, hulled sunflower and pumpkin seeds, whole rolled oats, rye flakes and puffed mixed grains lightly coated in honey. That’s going to be breakfast tomorrow and will taste fantastic with ice cold milk, and perhaps, chopped banana dusted with cinnamon.