There is something incredibly satisfying about stews, regardless of their country of origin. Pieces of vegetables nestled in a rich sauce, sometimes with meat, sometimes without. Once I discovered the wonderful aspects of Thai red & green curry pastes, I started playing with different versions of stews using coconut milk as a base. I remember a surprise visit of a large family, and making enough vegetable stew to feed us all easily, using a mixture of just the vegetables I had on hand, along with coconut milk and some curry paste. We served it over mounds of rice in large bowls while we got caught up on each other’s lives.
However, a day came when I didn’t have any curry paste in the pantry, so needed to go it alone. Often now, I tend to make this coconut based stew without the curry paste, and have sorted the ingredients out to make a wonderfully flavoured stew. I’ve shown it here with chicken, but as the option that follows shows, it is completely wonderful as a meatless stew (although it does use fish sauce, so not completely vegetarian).
2 T oil
8 chicken thighs (bone in, skin on)
1 large lime (or 2 small ones)
1 loose handful of basil leaves (I keep some in the freezer just so I have them on hand)
1 14-oz/398 ml tin of coconut milk
¼ c water, or chicken stock
¼ c brown sugar
2 T fish sauce
¼ t dried chili flakes
1 large shallot (about 2 oz)
1 lb. fingerling potatoes (or any small potatoes)
¾ lb. (4 or 5 medium sized) carrots, peeled & diagonally sliced
1 broccoli crown, cut into long florets
Parsley or cilantro for garnish
Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a deep skillet.
Add in the chicken in two batches, skin side down.
Brown for 5 minutes, skin side down. Remove to a plate, and repeat with the remaining chicken pieces. After 5 minutes, turn the browned chicken pieces over.
Add the other chicken pieces back into the skillet, skin side up, all in one layer.
Cut the unpeeled lime into about 16 pieces (8 each if using small limes).
In a medium bowl, mix the lime pieces, basil leaves, coconut milk, water (or stock if using), brown sugar, fish sauce, and chilies. Stir well, dissolving the sugar.
Carefully pour over the browned chicken thighs, using a spoon to distribute the lime and basil.
Bring to a gentle boil, cover, and cook at an active simmer for 10 minutes.
Mix in the shallot, potato & carrot.
Bring back to a boil, cover, and continue cooking at an active simmer for another 20 minutes.
Add in the broccoli, tucking it into the sauce.
Cover, and continue cooking at a simmer for the final 15 minutes. Once the liquid has been added to the chicken, the stew will have been cooking, at this point, for 45 minutes.
Serve in large bowls, scattered with chopped cilantro or parsley. Great on its own, or can also be served over rice.
Vegetarian Option: Omit the chicken. Lightly fry the shallots in the oil, just until they are starting to become golden. Slowly add in the liquid mixture, and stir carefully. Replace the chicken with about 1½ # of sweet potatoes, peeled & cubed, and a cored & chopped red pepper. Add both of these into the sauce with the potatoes and carrots. Continue with the recipe.
Potatoes – if no small or fingerling potatoes are available, cut unskinned yukon golds or red skinned potatoes into 1″ chunks.
Basil – I keep several small bags of loosely packed basil leaves in the freezer, ready to add to cooked dishes.
Coconut Milk – can be replaced with the same amount of reconstituted Coconut Cream – the dish will be a bit thicker and sweeter.