I mentioned in an earlier post that the biggest challenge since becoming a vegetarian has been cravings: having tasted the flavor-loaded bounty of bar snacks and take-out classics, like buffalo chicken and teriyaki beef, it’s easy to crave those bold flavors and comforting familiar flavors. Add to that the irresistible combo of sweet-spicy-salty…please excuse me while I wipe the drool off my chin!
This week’s craving: chicken satay.
Is there anything more crave-able than sweet and salty? When you’re in the mood for an afternoon treat, or a midnight snack (or you’re just watching daytime television and want to stuff your face)…it’s often hard to choose between chips or chocolate, popcorn or candy. Sweet and salty solves all these problems. Anyone who’s eaten an entire bag of chocolate-covered pretzels in one go knows this. But the ultimate example? Peanut Butter.
That’s why chicken satay (and all Thai food in general) is so addictive. Whether it’s drunken noodle or pineapple fried rice, every bite of this cuisine packs a peanut buttery, sweetness with just the right kick of cayenne pepper to keep us coming back for more. A CNN.com article from July 2011 also elected masaman curry as the most delicious food in the world, thanks to the juicy chunks of mango, crunchy peanuts and spicy sauce it offers.
(Make sure you have a snack while you read this. It’s torture to an empty stomach
Returning to my agonizing craving…how can you enjoy the flavors of all your favorite meat dishes while maintaining your vegetarian diet?
I soon realized it was the sauce I wanted, not the chicken. Easy enough to make peanut sauce…but what to eat it with? It’s not exactly the type of thing you dip your potato chips in…but potatoes, especially sweet potatoes, are a delicious and very healthy vehicle for any form of sauce. Most Thai curry dishes (especially masaman curry) contain big filling pieces of both sweet and yellow potatoes. They’re perfect in that they’re filling, cheap, and absorb pretty much any flavor you throw at them.
I chose sweet potatoes for this because they’re not only healthier (they are very high in fiber, protein, and vitamin A), but they have a naturally earthy, sweet (obviously) flavor that complements the sweet-salty-spicy flavor of satay sauce. And I was not disappointed!
Start by peeling 2 or 3 medium-large sweet potatoes, and cutting them into wedges (cut the whole potato into fourths, and then make slices).
Next spread them onto a greased cookie sheet and bake them until they’re soft in the middle but not limp, about 20 minutes.
While they’re baking, prepare the sauce (recipe below): First combine the garlic, ginger, oils, vinegar, teriyaki, and brown sugar, cayenne pepper. Once they’re evenly mixed, slowly stir in the peanut butter with a spoon. NOTE:I wouldn’t recommend whisking this! I tried to, but the thick heavy peanut butter sloshed a wave of oil and garlic all over the counter and my clothes. A spoon is much gentler. Once the peanut butter is combined and smooth, taste it and make sure you’re spices are how you want them. All peanut butter is different. Sometimes it will enhance the salt, while other times it will be way too sweet. Once you’ve gotten your spice level where you want it, gradually add the hot water.
The water serves several purposes. First, it allows the mixture to be smooth without using fat. Peanut butter already has so much oil in it, and you don’t want to keep adding more if you can avoid it. Second, when you saute/grill the potato wedges in the sauce, the water will allow the sauce to stick to the potato and not the pan. Third, it breaks down the thickness of the peanut butter and allows it to be a thin dip as opposed to a thick paste.
Once the sweet potatoes are out of the oven, heat a tablespoon of oil in a wok on high heat (or heat up your grill pan, those lucky people out there who have one!) and add the wedges. I like to let mine get a little burnt, as the smoky charred flavor really balances the sweetness of the peanut butter and brown sugar. When they have a nice crisp to them, lower the heat to medium and add about ⅓ – ½ the sauce (if you add the sauce to high heat it will burn and get all crumbly and weird!). Once the pieces are all evenly coated and the color changes to the sauce (about 3 minutes), take them out. You may have to work in batches depending on the size of your skillet and the amount you’re making. You really want to avoid crowding them.
Garnish with chopped scallions and serve with the remaining sauce!
This will please both your vegetarian and meat-eating friends! It pairs especially well with a good amber beer, like Sam Adams (my favorite).
Got extra sauce? Dilute with water and use it for stir-frying tofu and veggies, or as a marinade for Thai BBQ chicken (or you could always make more sweet potatoes!).
Lots of love! Enjoy!
2-3 medium or large sweet potatoes
½ cup peanut butter (creamy or chunky)
1 teaspoon fresh minced garlic
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon teriyaki sauce
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil (optional. it adds a wonderful smoky flavor)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons vinegar
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Warm water (not boiling)
2-3 chopped scallions (optional)