I am a self-diagnosed clutter-phobe, which is why I am so selective about buying jars of spice mixes and condiments. Of course I am tempted by their creative packaging and promises of can't-live-without flavor. But I know most will sit, barely half-used, taking up valuable real estate in my cupboard and refrigerator, only to be tossed during my next cleaning rampage.
But Thai red curry paste is one of those jarred blends that more than earns its place in my kitchen. The condiment can effortlessly flip the switch on a basic stir-fry, soup or stew, immediately imparting a bold, mouthwatering, distinctly Thai taste.
The accompanying recipe showcases how easily this one ingredient can turn everyday chicken and vegetables into a healthful Thai-style dinner that pops with flavor and panache. It is cooked in one big skillet, or wok if you have one, in less than 30 minutes.
First you brown strips of chicken, then you transfer them to a plate so you can quickly stir-fry the vegetables; here, the mix is shallots, green beans and sliced red bell peppers, but you could swap scallions or onions, snow peas, steamed broccoli or cauliflower, asparagus or thinly sliced carrots, as you like.
The sauce is made in the same skillet by simply simmering chicken broth, coconut milk and the Thai red curry paste. The chicken and vegetables are returned to the pan with the sauce, and the dish is finished with tender spinach leaves, a squeeze of lime and a sprinkle of cilantro.
It's a meal you will want to make again and again, which means you're sure to make good use of that little jar.
THAI CURRY CHICKEN AND VEGETABLES
SERVINGS: 4 (makes about 6 cups)
Despite the red curry paste, the dish skews fairly mild for those who are used to bold flavors, so taste and adjust accordingly
• 1 1/4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1/2-inch-thick strips
• 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
•2 tablespoons canola oil
• 1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots
• 12 ounces thin green beans (haricots verts), trimmed
• 1 medium red bell pepper, seeded, then cut into thin strips
• 1 1/2 cups no-salt-added chicken broth
• 1/2 cup canned unsweetened light/low-fat coconut milk
• 2 teaspoons Thai red curry paste, or more as needed
• 2 cups loosely packed baby spinach leaves, coarsely chopped
• 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
• 1/4 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves
Season the chicken all over with 1/4 teaspoon of the salt.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet or saute pan over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the chicken and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it is just cooked through. Transfer to a mixing bowl.
Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pan, then add the shallots, green beans and red bell pepper strips; cook for about 3 minutes, stirring, so the vegetables are just crisp-tender. If the pan seems dry while cooking the vegetables, add a splash of the broth. Transfer the vegetables to the bowl with the chicken.
Add the broth, coconut milk, Thai red curry paste and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt to the skillet, whisking to incorporate the paste and form a sauce. Once the mixture begins to boil, reduce the heat to medium; cook for about 4 minutes or until the sauce has reduced to about 11/2 cups. Taste the sauce; add more red curry paste 1/2 teaspoon at a time, if desired, stirring to incorporate with each addition.
Return the chicken, vegetables and any accumulated juices to the pan, stirring to coat; cook for 2 minutes or until warmed through, then stir in the spinach and lime juice. Cook for 30 seconds or just until the spinach has wilted.
Divide among individual bowls or plates. Garnish with fresh cilantro; serve hot.