It’s not unusual in Kitchen Mayhem to find myself in the middle of cooking dinner, a dinner I’ve thought over, using a cookbook or ingredient to inspire, only to find that half the ingredients I need are not in the pantry. Things get lost in there; this kitchen is larger than many I’ve had over the years, but despite that, there is never enough storage for the equipment, the china, the ingredients. They all fight one another for space and lately the food is losing. Cans piled upon cans, bags and boxes and bits of things left from a dozen different meals. Compounding the problem, I’ve joined a couple of big box discount stores in the last three years and how do you pass up sales on two for one cases of organic canned diced tomatoes, I ask? Sigh. Generally, I follow the “use it, replace it” rule: the next grocery trip replaces whatever items were used so we always have certain “basics” on hand. Of course, our basics include things like kaffir lime leaves, tree ear mushrooms, three kinds of paprika, diet tonic water, and gelatin packets. Even with a list, it’s inevitable that something will be forgotten.
Which brings us back to the Thai Chicken Cups; I had planned to make a something like a cross between the Asian chicken lettuce cups at PF Chang’s and larb/lob, a Southeast Asian ground meat dish using some Thai seasonings, chunks of chicken thigh, and a few additions like water chestnuts, green onions and celery. Well, that is until half those things were missing. It does remind me though that good food can be cooked from the most basic of ingredients. Below, you’ll see a list of optional ingredients that will enhance the flavor, but if left out, will still result in a dinner or lunch with a nice balance of salty, tart, savory and sweet.
Thai Chicken Lettuce Cups
8-10 skinless boneless chicken thighs, or the equivalent in chicken breasts, or ground chicken
1/4 cup tamari (a strong fermented soy sauce made without wheat), if you use another type of soy sauce you made need to add more to get the same flavor.
juice of one lime, or half a lemon if limes are not available
1-2 Tablespoons of Thai red curry paste, depending on how much chili heat you enjoy (if you prefer milder food, substitute an additional clove of chopped garlic and about 2 teaspoons of chopped or grated fresh ginger)
1 clove garlic, chopped fine
1 Tablespoon of fish sauce
2 cups of any of the following: onion – chopped small, green onion – white and green parts chopped, celery – chopped small, water chestnut – whole or slices chopped, grated carrot, shredded cabbage
1 teaspoon of sesame seeds
white pepper and salt (if needed) to taste
few sprinkles of xanthan, or an appropriate amount of another thickening agent as needed
fresh cilantro leaves
1 large head of fresh whole lettuce leaves, bib, butter or leaf lettuce are best
1-2 Tablespoons of a neutral tasting oil for cooking: coconut, light olive, canola, etc.
If you cut back on the red curry paste, add additional finely chopped garlic and fresh ginger root
2 finely chopped Kaffir lime leaves, add at end
Siracha sauce or other hot sauce as a garnish to bring up the heat level
Sprouts: mung bean, sunflower, broccoli or other micro greens add nice texture
Chop the raw chicken into small (1/2 inch or less) pieces. If you don’t enjoy handling raw chicken, you can chop it by pulsing in batches in the large bowl of a food processor. Do not pluse the meat too much or it will turn to paste. Pre-ground chicken meat works well too. Mix the soy sauce, curry paste, lime/lemon juice, garlic and fish sauce in a small bowl. Place the chicken in a bowl (or in a plastic bag) pour the seasoning blend over and mix well to coat all the chicken. Marinate for at least an hour in the fridge, up to overnight. Heat the oil in a saute pan or wok, briefly cook the 2 cups of vegetables in the hot oil (especially the onion to mellow the flavor), for about 5 minutes or less stirring to prevent any browning. Add the seasoned chicken and cook until no longer raw, but tender. Add enough thickening agent while stirring to the juices in the pan to thicken slightly. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Serve with lettuce and cilantro. Spoon chicken into leaves of lettuce, top with cilantro and fold leaves around to form a cup or taco shell shape for eating. Don’t spoon in too much chicken – cups should be able to be eaten in one or two bites.