Monday, June 1, 2009

A Chicken Vegetarian

I recently bought a cookbook by Peter Berley titled, The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen after reading about it on  That 1-Click setting on Amazon gets me into more trouble.  I often find myself reading the customer reviews and then clicking around the site when a reviewer mentions another book that he or she also loves.  I end up with a virtual cart full of books I didn't know I wanted and then must curtail my urge to buy them all.  This one made it in and I'm glad it stayed.

I'm not vegetarian or even close to it.  I do however have a number of great vegetarian cookbooks as I like the focus on vegetables and grains and I keep thinking I might become vegetarian someday.  The idea of it is appealing to me.  Not for the animal-rights reasons (although I find myself sympathetic to those causes, my sympathies disappear in front of a fat-streaked, 2-inch chop), but just for the healthy lifestyle aspects of it.   It's like my desire to become an avid weight trainer.  I know it would be great for me, it would help me to get toned and strong, but hard it's hard for me to, well... Just Do It.  I think I want to become a fit, buffed vegetarian someday.  It sounds so cool.  Just not today.  

I'm telling you this to confess the worst sin I could have done when cooking from a masterpiece such as The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen.  This book won the James Beard Foundation book award for vegetarian cooking in 2001.  The author is an expert.  And I substituted chicken for tempeh in a recipe.  There, I said it.  

I've never worked with tempeh.  Berley provides an excellent description of what it is (soybeans and other grains and seeds mixed with certain spores, compressed into cakes and incubated for 18 to 24 hours.  The resulting slabs are held together "by a complex web of white mold."  Um, ew.)  I don't know what tempeh tastes like.  It doesn't sound like it will taste good therefore I'm afraid of it.  I don't know where to buy it and I'm not feeling adventurous enough to try today.  I want to make the recipe, so chicken it is.  Vegetarianism will wait another day.

Other than the aforementioned major substitution, I followed the recipe very closely.  I was intrigued by the addition of caraway seeds as it didn't seem to fit this Asian style dish.  I then remembered that caraway seeds are often used as a digestive aid when eating lots of vegetables, particularly from the cabbage family, to reduce the resulting, shall we say, discomfort?  That's a small example of the genius behind this cookbook.  Although the list of ingredients is somewhat long, they are all familiar (exception already noted) and the techniques are straightforward.  The result?  Fabulous.  It's a bright, slightly spicy, creamy and lemony vegetable (and chicken!) braise served over fragrant jasmine rice.  The sauce is so flavorful that I could have easily ditched the chicken altogether.  And perhaps tempeh would be just fine if someone else cooked it for me and I didn't know.

Chicken and Vegetables Braised in a Spicy Lemon-Coconut Broth
Very liberally adapted from The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen by Peter Berley
serves 4

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/2 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 cup thinly sliced onions
1 cup sliced carrot
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon tumeric
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1 (14 oz.) can coconut milk
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Finely grated zest from 1 lemon
4 cups sliced green cabbage (sliced 1/2 inch thick)
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1.  Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil over medium-high heat in an 8- to 10-inch skillet and saute chicken until browned, about 3 minutes per side.  Don't move the chicken around once you've dropped it in the pan or it won't brown properly.  Remove to a plate.

2.  Add the remaining 1 teaspoon oil to the now-hot skillet and saute the onions for about 5 minutes, until softened and the browned bits left in the pan have melted onto the onions.  You may have to reduce the heat so this doesn't go too fast.

3.  Add the carrot, ginger, coriander, tumeric, paprika, sugar, caraway seeds, and red pepper flakes.  Saute, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes.

4.  Add the chicken, coconut milk, rice vinegar, soy sauce, lemon juice, and lemon zest.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover and let simmer for 10 minutes.

5.  Place the cabbage on top of the chicken and sprinkle on 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  Cover the pan and simmer for 10 to 12 minutes, until cabbage is tender.

6.  Uncover, turn the cabbage gently into the sauce and let reduce slightly to thicken and coat the cabbage, about 2 minutes.  Stir in the cilantro.  Taste for seasoning (should be very flavorful as it's served over rice), and serve.


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