Friday, September 25, 2009

Coconut Barley Pilaf with Corn, Chicken, and Cashews

Apologies, dear readers, for my absence. Consider this my triumphant return.

And we begin again with one of this week's featured recipes from the New York Times, prefaced by an adorable and appealing article about this homemade takeout-style dish to cuddle up with on the couch. Living in New York, resisting takeout can be difficult, as walking home from the subway requires peeking through the windows of all the local restaurants, watching folks consume delicious-looking food with smells wafting towards the street. But it's expensive, for one, and often feels so extravagant when I could just go home and make something simple and good. This dish is a great compromise.

Now before you get all hyped up that I'm leaving my mostly vegetarian roots, fear not! I've substituted the chicken in this recipe for one of the single best ingredients of all time: Delight Soy Nuggets. Imported from Taiwan directly to North Carolina, they're impossible to get in New York. I was lucky enough to have mine specially delivered to me. They're so good, so juicy, so much like real meat, and so incredibly addictive, that they've come to be known in my circle as "soy crack." Once you start, you'll be hooked for life. In a good way.

Coconut Barley Pilaf with Corn, Chicken, and Cashews

1 large boneless, skinless chicken breast (about 10 ounces), rinsed and patted dry
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup salted roasted cashews, roughly chopped
1/2 medium onion, diced small (about 1 cup)
1 jalapeño pepper, diced
2 cups pearled barley
1 can (15-ounce) coconut milk
2 ears corn, kernels sliced off the cob (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, cilantro or parsley (I used cilantro)

Cut chicken into 1-inch chunks; season with salt and pepper.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until light golden and almost cooked through, about 4 minutes. Stir in cashews and cook 1 minute more. Transfer mixture to a plate.

Add remaining tablespoon oil to pot. Stir in onions and jalapeño and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, until onions are slightly softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in barley and 1/2 teaspoon salt; cook 1 minute more.

Add enough water to coconut milk to yield 2 cups liquid and add to pot. Bring liquid to a simmer, then cook, covered, over low heat until the barley is almost tender, about 40 minutes.

Stir in corn. If mixture looks dry, stir in 1 1/4 cups more water; cover and cook until barley and corn are tender, 10 to 15 minutes more. Return chicken mixture to pot and stir well. Fold in herbs and more salt to taste.

This dish is really, really good. The grain is hearty, the flavors are really full, the coconut milk and corn combo makes it a touch sweet. It reheats really well and doesn't take too long or much effort. The soy crack, of course, is fab. Definitely will be making this one again.

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