Monday, January 26, 2009

Curry Mee

Gung hay fat choi, everyone! Happy Lunar New Year!

A few months ago, Sharon wrote about planning out a week's worth of meals. D. and I decided to give it a try ourselves, since we were eating out too much. Between the stress of test-taking, work, life, and the never-ending diet (17 pounds and counting!), we didn't make the time to plan and cook healthy meals. We'd make the healthiest choices possible when we went out, but it was still not good for us.

While we were meal-planning, we decided to clean out our pantry and freezer. Why buy more groceries when we had plenty of stuff on hand? Our problem was that we'd buy without a plan, so we had a mish-mash of ingredients that didn't seem to pair well.

To our surprise, we've had a lot of interesting meals. It's amazing what we've found in our hodgepodge of ingredients. After reading this article in the New York Times, I had to try one of the recipes. Believe it or not, we had almost everything on hand. Instead of half-and-half, we used 1:1 heavy cream and milk. The only things we had to buy were some of the fresh items: lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, ginger, scallions, Vietnamese mint, and noodles. We omitted the bean sprouts and cilantro, because I'm anti-sprouts and D.'s anti-cilantro.

The ginger and lemon grass went on to the next night's dinner: Ginger Honey Chicken.

Coconut Curry Chicken Noodle Soup (Curry Mee)
(from the New York Times, article by Julia Moskin)

Note: I halved the recipe, which made exactly two servings.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 small onion, minced

1 tablespoon minced ginger

1 tablespoon minced lemon grass or pale green cilantro roots

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon dark red chili paste, such as sambal, more for serving

3/4 pound boneless, skinless chicken thigh or breast meat, thinly sliced and cut into bite-size pieces

3 tablespoons curry powder, preferably Malaysian, Thai or Vietnamese

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1 can (14 ounces) unsweetened coconut milk

1/2 cup half-and-half

4 cups chicken stock

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

2 tablespoons fish sauce

1 tablespoon sugar, more to taste

About 12 kaffir lime leaves or curry leaves, fresh or frozen (optional)

8 ounces dried thin rice noodles (bun or vermicelli), or other Asian noodles such as udon or lai fun

Salt to taste

1 cup bean sprouts

3 tablespoons chopped cilantro

2 scallions, cut into thin rings

2 shallots, thinly sliced and deep fried in vegetable oil until brown (optional)

Quartered limes for serving.

1. Heat oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add onion, ginger and lemon grass and cook, stirring, until softened, about 10 minutes. Do not brown; reduce heat if necessary. Add garlic and chili paste and stir until fragrant. Raise heat, add chicken and stir-fry one minute. Add curry powder and paprika and stir to coat. Then add coconut milk, half-and-half, chicken stock, turmeric, fish sauce, sugar and lime or curry leaves. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 7 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, cook rice noodles in boiling water according to package directions (about 4 minutes). Rinse and drain.

3. Taste broth and adjust seasonings with salt and sugar. Divide noodles into large soup bowls. Bring broth to a boil, then ladle over noodles. Top with bean sprouts, cilantro, scallions and fried shallots, if using. Pass limes and sambal at the table.

Yield: 4 main-course servings.

Note: To make this rich soup more substantial, boiled potatoes are sometimes added to the simmering broth and cooked until very soft.

The resulting broth is hearty without being too thick, even without the potatoes. One thing to keep in mind is that the noodles will absorb a lot of the broth, so undercook them a little to keep them al dente. Or else they'll turn into mush, which isn't very palatable. I love rau ram, or Vietnamese mint, which adds a nice bite to the rich coconut milk.