WND – Spicy Coconut Chicken & Liberal Guilt

February 14, 2008

I am amenable to a good guilt trip in the right cause. Barbara Kingsolver tipped me over the edge to shopping at farmer’s markets and buying (mostly) seasonal food. Al Gore got me to buy a water filter instead of bottled water, and use cloth napkins instead of paper. I object to neither result, although it’s probably not going to stop me complaining about the inconvenience from time to time.

I sat down to read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life expecting to be guilted, but also expecting to be entertained. I like reading books about people going off and doing things that I find highly appealing in theory, but have no interest in actually doing (gardening, backpacking through Asia, refurbishing a house in a small French village . . . . ). I was predisposed to the particular brand of guilt trip that she was hawking. I believe in supporting small local farmers, and in food that tastes like food and not preservatives. On the other hand, she was occasionally so out of touch with reality that I found it hard to read, much less enjoy the book. Even supposing that I had the inclination to spend my summer canning tomatoes I bought at a farmer’s market, I don’t have space to store them. My pantry is full, and let’s not even talk about my freezer. Granted, I have no idea what it’s filled with half the time, but I know that I don’t have the space to freeze summer corn so that I can eat it in February.

What really irked me about Barbara Kingsolver, however, was not so much her message as how she chose to disseminate it to her friends. It’s one thing to enthuse to your guests about how much you’re loving your year of living off the land, and to explain to them why you’re doing it. It’s another thing entirely to harangue them about the carbon footprint their desire for a banana and yogurt is causing.

I firmly believe that there is an unspoken social contract that exists between guest and host. The duty of the guest is to inconvenience the host as little as possible. Translated this means that as a guest you eat what is put in front of you with a smile whether you like it or not*. Conversely the duty of a host is to make sure the guest never feels that they are inconveniencing you no matter how strange their habits. It is perfectly permissible to complain to your family before and after about your guest’s strange preference for drinking coffee from a saucer, or their deep and abiding dislike of garlic. But, while they are your guest you serve them coffee in a saucer and eliminate garlic from your menu. You certainly don’t cow them into guilt-ridden submission for a simple grocery item. It’s mind bogglingly rude, and worse, it’s tacky.

Also, I like bananas. I have no particular desire to return to the 19th century when they were considered an exotic delicacy. Besides, think of the poor Brazilian farmers who rely on the banana export market to support their families.

* Obviously if you have medical, religious or other dietary restrictions they are something you should make clear to your host ahead of time.

Chicken in Spicy Coconut Sauce
Roasted Curried Cauliflower
Spinach Salad

Chicken in Spicy Coconut Sauce

(serves 6-8)

3 lb chicken drumsticks and thighs
2 teaspoons salt
2 rounded tablespoons tamarind from a pliable block
1/2 cup hot water
1 cup chopped shallots (4 large)
10 (5 1/2-inch) fresh Holland red chiles, including seeds
1 tablespoon peeled fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 fresh lemongrass stalks, 1 or 2 outer leaves and all but lower 6 inches discarded
6 cups well-stirred canned unsweetened coconut milk (not low-fat)
1 (1-inch) piece galangal (fresh or thawed frozen), sliced crosswise
2 teaspoons packed dark brown sugar

Rub chicken with salt and let stand at room temperature 30 minutes.

While chicken stands, gently mash tamarind with hot water in a bowl using your fingertips until pulp is softened, then force with a rubber spatula through a medium-mesh sieve into a small bowl, discarding solids.

Pulse shallots, chiles, ginger, and turmeric with cumin and coriander in a food processor until finely chopped. Lightly smash lemongrass stalks with bottom of a heavy skillet.

Stir together coconut milk, tamarind purée, shallot mixture, lemongrass, galangal, and palm sugar in a 6- to 7-quart wide heavy pot. Add chicken and bring to a simmer over moderately high heat, stirring frequently, then reduce heat and gently simmer, partially covered, until very tender, 40 to 45 minutes. Transfer chicken with tongs to a bowl and simmer sauce, uncovered, stirring frequently, until thickened and reduced to about 4 cups, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes, then skim off any fat if desired.

Serve with roughly chopped peanuts, raisins and bananas (hence why I was thinking about bananas this week).

Ingredient Notes:
I used boneless skinless chicken thighs because I find dealing with the bones annoying.

For reasons that I am not entirely clear about the overwhelmingly WASP suburb of Boston that I live in has a mix of ethnic grocery stores that span the culinary globe from Greece to India via Armenia. The upshot of this is that I have access to tamarind paste fairly easily. I’m guessing I could also have found it at somewhere like Whole Foods, but I haven’t actually verified this theory.

Ethnic grocery stores not withstanding I was not able to find fresh galangal. I used a generous ¼ tsp of powdered galangal (courtesy of Penzeys, up the street from me but also online) and added some extra fresh ginger and a little lime zest. Galangal is apparently a close relative of ginger, and it sounds like ginger and lime zest are a reasonably decent substitute.

The 10 chilies this recipe calls for do not make it as spicy as you might expect/fear. Six cups of coconut milk absorbs a lot of heat. I ended up not being able to find Holland chilies and used jalapenos instead. I also seeded my chilies which cuts down on the heat a lot. I think the next time I make it I’ll leave the seeds in some of the chilies because it needed a little more kick than it had.

I forgot to take pictures of Dinner this week until the very end. I was tempted to post a picture of my cat because I said that if I got a camera I’d turn into one of those people who only ever take pictures of their pets, but I took a picture of the after dinner tea tray instead.



One comment

  1. […] Recipe previously given: Spicy Coconut Chicken & Liberal Guilt […]

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