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Cranky for curry

The cooking cure-all



It's a new year, and everybody on cable television says I should feel bright and shiny like a brand-new penny or a twinkly star, full of determination and potential.

And I do kinda sorta feel that way, with this year's to-do list permanently tucked into my pants pocket, hoping it will somehow etch its way onto my person, like a henna tattoo. Despite my meditative efforts, I must confess I'm already tired (or maybe I'm still tired from last year?), and the 10-minute daily ration of January sunlight is making me cranky.

Unfortunately, my escape route is covered with ice, and the January whites sales are long gone. My only recourse is to get into the kitchen and make a pot of curry. Aromatic, warming and soul-cushioning, a pot of curry is everything that January is not. It is the quintessential antidote for seasonal affective disorder, or any disorder, for that matter. Out of Zoloft? No problem; curry can pinch-hit.

Chicken, Lemongrass and Potato Curry (Ca-Ri Ga)

Adapted from Into the Vietnamese Kitchen by Andrea Nguyen

2-3 chubby stalks lemongrass, exterior layers removed, trimmed to about 8 inches, quartered lengthwise and coarsely chopped (about 2/3 cup)

1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped

1 yellow onion, coarsely chopped (alternatively, 3 shallots)

2 tablespoons canola or other neutral oil

2 tablespoons Madras curry powder

1/2 teaspoon dried red chili flakes

2 1/2 pounds bone-in chicken thighs or drumsticks, skin removed

1 1/2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 can (13 1/2 ounces) coconut milk (I recommend Chaokoh and Mae Ploy brands)

1 1/2 pounds white or red waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

1 lime, cut into wedges

Meatless variation: Replace the chicken with any of the following: 1 cup sweet potatoes or eggplant cut into 1-inch chunks, 1/2 cup green beans or cremini mushrooms, sliced in half. Diced extra-firm tofu would be nice here as well.

Place lemongrass into the bowl of a food processor or into a blender and whiz for about 3 minutes, until uniformly pulverized. Pause occasionally to scrape down sides of the bowl. Add ginger and pulverize, using "pulse" function. Add onion (or shallots), processing until mixture forms a paste.In a large, deep skillet or wok, heat oil over medium heat. Add lemongrass paste and saute for about 2 minutes, or until fragrant. Add curry powder and red chili flakes, and saute for about 1 minute. Season chicken with salt and add to mixture, along with pepper and coconut milk. Liquid should cover chicken; if not, add water as needed. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook, uncovered, until juices run clear in chicken, about 40 minutes. (Meatless version: Eggplant, potatoes and sweet potatoes need twice as much cooking time than green beans and mushrooms. Add to the curry accordingly.)Add potatoes and return to a simmer. Cook until potatoes are tender, 15-20 minutes. Turn off heat and cover, allowing it to cool for at least 15 minutes.When ready to serve, taste curry, reheat and adjust seasonings as necessary. Serve in bowls with lime wedges, with French bread or over rice.Makes four entree-sized servings.

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