To other cultures, curry is basically a soup or a stew. There is no specific set of ingredients or spices that make the dish a curry, but rather it is simply a style of cooking that involves a combination of different ingredients in a sauce or broth base, and which varies quite a bit by region and culture. Here in western cultures, we’ve come to associate the word curry with the “signature” blend of spices (most often including turmeric) and most often with Thai and East Indian cuisines.
For the Primal cook, curry offers us some room to experiment. They can be made as a calorie-dense complete meal loaded with good fats, proteins, and veggies, or they can be simplified into a simple side dish highlighting a few simple ingredients (personally, I prefer the former). They are also very simple and quick to make, offering the chance to turn out a whole meal quickly without much prep.
Here is a curry recipe I’ve made a few times, and it seems to evolve a little each time. It also gives us an opportunity to introduce a staple “substitution” used in our kitchen for Primal eating – the use of “riced” cauliflower instead of carbohydrate-loaded and nutrient-poor white rice.
- Coconut oil (you’ll use 2~3 tbsp for cooking)
- 1/2 large or 1~2 small yellow onion
- 1~3 scallions or green onions
- 2 large cloves of garlic
- 1 to 1-1/2 lbs boneless chicken – partially frozen (I’ve got 2 breast halves here, but any thighs would work well too)
- 1 can coconut milk (not “lite”)
- 1 head cauliflower
- 1 tsp whole cumin seed
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp generic curry powder
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp red curry paste (I’ve got Thai Kitchen brand here because the ingredients were the most Primal-friendly)
- 1-1/2 tsp fish sauce (try to go for as low-sodium as you can find…or omit the sea salt)
- ~1/4 cup rough-chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 can of water chestnuts (drained)
- 1 can of bamboo shoots (drained)
- ~1/4 pineapple
- 2~3 sprigs of fresh basil leaves
As you can see, it’s pretty easy to just keep tossing in something else that sounds good. Try a cup or so of fresh sugar snap peas, or julienned carrots, or julienned summer squash. How about some green beans? Leeks?
Start by prepping your ingredients – veggies first and meats last (to avoid contamination from raw meat). Chop the onions and scallions and toss in a prep bowl. Finely dice (not mince) the garlic cloves and toss in another small prep bowl. Chop the cilantro and throw into a small bowl. Tear the basil leaves into roughly 1/4-leaf pieces and set aside. Cut the pineapple into chunks (I usually cut it into eighths lengthwise like you see in the photo above, then slice each eighth into ~1/4″ wide slices) and separate into another bowl with the drained water chestnuts and bamboo shoots.
Cut the cauliflower into small florets, minimize the length and size of the stems (which can end up a little “stringy” for what we’re going to do with them). You can see the approx size we’re looking for in the photo above. Put them in a steamer basket inside of a large sauce pan, with an inch or two of water in the bottom, and put the lid on. Set aside for now.
Finally, once you’ve got all the veggie prep done, slice the chicken lengthwise in approx 1/8″ to 1/4″ thick slices. Having it partially frozen helps hold it firm while slicing. If the pieces are long (such as breast halves), you can also cut them shorter so they’re around 2~3″ long.
Add in the chicken and dry spices. Cook and stir another 4 minutes or so, adding a little more coconut oil if needed to keep from sticking, until the chicken is nearly cooked through…something like this:
Next, add in the coconut milk (make sure you get everything out of the can using a rubber spatula or similar), curry paste, fish sauce, and salt (optional). Toss in the water chestnuts, pineapple, and bamboo shoots…as well as any other veggies you’ve decided to add.
Get the cauliflower going on high and steam it about 6 minutes – until you can poke a fork into the florets easily but before they turn into mush. Transfer to the bowl of a food processor, and pulse in 1~2 second bursts until you achieve the consistency of rice. For me, that’s about 10 times. The trick is not to pulverize everything too fine, but to make sure there aren’t any big chunks in there either. This is why you started with the florets a little small (with small stems), and steamed them just to the point they were “al dente” (from your pasta-eating days). You should get a result something like this:
You can see along the sides of the bowl the individual “grains.” It’s amazing how this can mimic the texture of rice. And since rice has very little flavor, the difference when served topped with a curry dish or other sauce-based dish is hardly noticeable.
Fill a bowl with a healthy serving spoon full of “riced” cauliflower, then top with the curry (make sure to get a good couple spoonfuls of sauce on there as well). Garnish with the chopped cilantro and torn basil. Dig in!
Invitation for a little discussion: what sort of things would you throw in this dish (or keep out of the dish) to make your own version?