A quick Pesca Paleo weeknight dinner

** See the end of the post for a concise recipe for lemon coconut chicken

 

Tonight I wanted to make a healthy, satisfying paleo dinner for my husband, get some green veggies into my system, eat up some leftover Indian food, and not be in the kitchen for more than a half hour.

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Even for a quick weeknight dinner, there’s no rule against candle light!

Here was the menu:

For him – Cubed (organic) chicken breast in a light coconut garlic sauce; balsamic asparagus; and a baked sweet potato.

For her – Malai kofta (Indian veggie balls in a heavy sauce) and balsamic asparagus.

Here’s how to make the chicken:

Crush two to four cloves of garlic (about two per chicken breast, or to taste). Spray a large frying pan with olive oil (or preparation of your choice). Warm the pan, then toss in the crushed garlic and let it brown on medium-low heat, moving around the pan as needed.

While the garlic browns, cube one to two chicken breasts into 1″ pieces. Works best with a big, sharp knife in one hand and a fork in the other.

Turn the pan up to medium heat; place the chicken breast in the pan and stir/toss so that the crushed garlic coats it. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and generous freshly ground pepper (regular works fine too).

Pour a quarter cup or to taste of full fat coconut milk into the pan and stir so that it coats the chicken.

Cook the chicken for about twenty minutes on medium low heat or until done. You can pour off the excess coconut milk (and save it later for a soup or to season veggies!) to cut the fat.

The asparagus:

While the chicken simmers with occasional stirring, wash and prep a big fistful of asparagus. I chop the stalky last inch or so of the spears off. On a wide, flat pan, heated to medium heat and sprayed with olive oil, place the spears so that most of them are in contact with the cooking surface. Drizzle the spears in balsamic vinegar (I douse, because I love balsamic). Turn the spears so that they cook evenly until softened but still crisp, about ten minutes.
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As the asparagus and chicken cooked, I poked a sweet potato with a fork and baked it in the microwave, cut it open, added half a tablespoon of pasture butter and drizzle of cinnamon. I reheated my Indian food leftovers and ate them with the asparagus.

Malai kofta balls come bursting with vegetables, Indian cheese (paneer) and nuts, so they pack a decent punch of protein as a vegetarian option along with flavor. I might just have to try a recipe one of these days.

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A few thoughts: This chicken dish is not rich in flavor by itself and makes an excellent base – you could cook a big batch at the beginning of the week and dress it up with curry sauce one night and a squeeze of lemon juice the next.

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When one decides to eat paleo (or any other “clean” eating regime), it helps a lot to punch up the flavor. Balsamic vinegar is a burst of acidity and sweetness; coconut milk (an ingredient in both the chicken and the Indian food) is fatty with a hint of sweetness. Cinnamon on a sweet potato is earthy and associated with sweet things. Parmesan cheese, which I sprinkled on my asparagus, tastes sharp and rich at the same time, and adds a little zing of protein with the flavor. You have to be careful with calories in coconut milk, cheese and other fatty ingrediens, but many things (garlic, lemon, black pepper, cinnamon, balsamic vinegar to name just a few) are practically calorie-free.

I’m not a health expert so won’t speculate about how seriously to take concerns about sodium, but if you ARE eating clean – staying away from packaged foods, takeout, etc. that are sky high in the stuff – you can be a little less stingy with the salt shaker. And  the perfect combination of just a couple ingredients – any mix of garlic, lemon, black pepper, for example – with a little salt to bring out the flavors can taste amazing. You’ll see those ingredients show up a lot!

LEMON COCONUT CHICKEN:
Organic chicken breasts
Salt and freshly ground black pepper (about 1/4 a teaspoon pepper per chicken breast)
Full fat coconut milk (quarter cup per chicken breast)
Fresh lemon juice (the juice of 1/4 a lemon per chicken breast)
Garlic cloves, minced or pressed (1-2 per chicken breast)
Cooking spray or oil

Brown the garlic on medium low heat in a pan with just enough cooking spray or oil to prevent sticking. Cube the chicken breasts into 1″ pieces. Toss with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Place chicken in pan and turn up to medium heat. Pour coconut milk around the chicken. Squeeze in the lemon juice. Cook for about twenty minutes on medium low heat or until chicken is cooked through. Pour off the excess coconut milk liquid before serving to cut calories if desired (but save it as a broth for vegetables the next day!).

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