Mariel here. A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of spending a few blissful days in Belize. While technically on assignment – just another cross I must bear as a freelance writer – I managed to thoroughly enjoy myself in spite of the balmy 85-degree weather, the sparkling sunshine and the azure bathwater lapping at the front door of my overwater bungalow.
OK, enough bragging.
While Belize’s incredible topography – beaches! mountains! wet caves! savannahs! – and its kaleidoscope of land- and sea-dwelling creatures provided enough stimulation to keep my multitasking Manhattan mind thoroughly enraptured, I also managed to sneak in a few meals that just about knocked off my flops. I was in Ambergris Caye for the majority of the trip and, despite shelling out for more than a few overpriced dinners at resort-bound dining “destinations,” my favorite meal – a rich, flavorful coconut curry – cost less than $10 at the sand-covered Elvi’s Kitchen. Go figure.
Back on the decidedly less dreamy island of Manhattan, I found myself still drooling over the Caribbean rendition I so enjoyed in Belize. So, like anyone with too much self-confidence thanks to a mom who thinks you can do anything, I set out to recreate the dish in my NYC nook. And you know what? It was incredible.
I proudly present my own Caribbean-Style Coconut Curry. This vibrant sauce works well with cubes of lean chicken breast or fresh shrimp. And it saves (and freezes) beautifully.
Caribbean-Style Coconut Curry
Makes 6-8 Servings
2 lbs raw shrimp peeled and de-veined – $10.00
2 lbs chicken breasts cut into 1-inch cubes – $6.00
1 zucchini, diced – $1.20
1 large sweet onion, chopped – $1.40
1-inch piece of ginger, grated – $0.60
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced – $0.72
3 medium tomatoes, chopped and seeded – $2.44
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped – $1.89
Juice of 1 lime – $0.69
4 green onions, chopped – $0.79
1 TBS minced garlic – stock
1 TBS olive oil (or virgin coconut oil, if you have it) – stock
2 15-oz unsweetened coconut milk – $3.78
1 cup chicken stock – stock
1 TBS brown sugar – stock
2 TBS tomato paste – stock
2 TBS curry powder – stock
1/4 tsp cinnamon – stock
1/4 tsp ground cloves – stock
1/4 tsp chili powder – stock
Grand total, assuming well-stocked kitchen – chicken version: $19.51
Grand total, assuming well-stocked kitchen – shrimp version: $23.51
Cost per serving – chicken: $2.44
Cost per serving – shrimp: $2.94
1. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onions, ginger and garlic and cook until the onions become soft and translucent. Add the jalapenos and zucchini and continue cooking another 5 minutes. Stir frequently to avoid burning the veggies.
2. In the large skillet, add the tomato paste, curry, cinnamon, chili powder, ground cloves over med-high heat. Stir well for about a minute. Add the coconut milk and chicken stock, simmer through until steaming (but not boiling), then reduce heat to low and simmer for about 20 minutes – or until the sauce has thickened. At this point, make sure to taste the sauce and incorporate salt & pepper, according to your preferences.
3. Meanwhile, cube the chicken or de-vein and peel the shrimp. Sprinkle both sides with salt, pepper and a dash of chili powder.
4. In a separate skillet, heat a bit of olive or coconut oil over high heat and brown the chicken on both sides. If using shrimp, cook until the shrimp become pink and a bit browned on both sides. Set the chicken or shrimp aside.
5. Once the curry has thickened, add the CHICKEN, tomatoes, brown sugar, most of the cilantro (reserve a pinch for garnishing), green onions and lime juice (if using SHRIMP, hold off on adding it to the curry and see step 6). Combine well and simmer on med-low heat for 10 minutes. Taste-test and adjust spices.
6. Serve the curry hot over white (or jasmine-infused) rice. If using SHRIMP, keep the shrimp and the curry separate until you’re ready to serve, otherwise I find that the shrimp tends to distort the flavor of the curry with a certain “fishiness.” Garnish with fresh cilantro.