Originally created 02/19/03

Fit to be Thai



I get the winter doldrums about this time every year. Short days, sporadic sunshine and chilly weather leave me longing for an escape - a culinary journey. So this week and next I'll offer recipes with a foreign flair.

This week's journey takes us to Thailand with Thai shrimp and spinach curry. This dish is unbelievably simple and delicious.

It's amazing that just four ingredients can land big foreign flavors, but that's the case here. A can of coconut milk, a jar of Thai curry paste, a pound of shrimp and a bag of fresh spinach are your passport.

The coconut milk and curry paste are classic Thai ingredients, deliciously marrying both sweet and spicy flavors. I always use the light coconut milk, and although it contains less fat than the "full-strength" coconut milk, it's still a high-fat ingredient. People watching their fat intake can substitute 1 1/2 cups of fat-free half and half with 2 teaspoons cornstarch and 1/2 teaspoon coconut extract for the closest coconut milk replacement I can come up with.

The chili paste comes in red and green versions, and both deliver a spicy kick. Although I call for 2 tablespoons of the paste, you probably should start by adding one tablespoon, tasting the coconut milk and spice paste mixture, then adding more to taste. I found the Thai Kitchen brand curry pastes at Publix, but have seen other Thai ingredients in most local supermarkets.

I chose the combination of shrimp and spinach because peeled and deveined shrimp are readily available in most fresh or frozen seafood departments, and the washed and ready-to-use bagged spinach is as quick as cooking with vegetables gets! However, use the recipe as a starting point to come up with your own favorite version.

You could replace the shrimp with sliced chicken breast, flank steak or even pork tenderloin. Just saute the poultry or meat you choose in the skillet until browned before adding the coconut milk and curry paste. If your family isn't made up of spinach fans, saute some sliced squash or broccoli, bell pepper strips and mushrooms with the poultry or meat. When everything is almost completely cooked, add the coconut milk and curry paste and bring to a simmer before serving. (Whisk the coconut milk and curry paste together before adding to the sauteed ingredients to avoid lumps of curry paste in your sauce.)

Take a look around your supermarket - you won't believe all the specialty foreign cuisine ingredients available. Many Thai sauces (the peanut sauce is especially delicious) can turn plain seafood, poultry or meat into an exotic meal. Add some cooked basmati or plain white rice for a quick taste of Thailand.

THAI SHRIMP AND SPINACH CURRY

1 13.5-ounce can "light" coconut milk*

2 tablespoons Thai red curry paste

1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 10-ounce package fresh spinach**

Place the coconut milk in a large saute pan over medium high heat. Whisk in the curry paste until well combined and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and add the shrimp and the spinach, stirring once. Cover and cook for 2 minutes. Remove lid and stir again. Return lid and cook 3 minutes more, or until spinach is wilted and shrimp are pink.

Makes 4 servings.

*Look for "light" coconut milk in the Oriental foods section of your supermarket.

**Washed, ready-to-use spinach is available in bags alongside other salad greens in most supermarket produce departments. One bunch of fresh spinach may be substituted. Wash spinach well by soaking in a bowl or clean sink filled with cool water. Soak, undisturbed, until sand and other dirt floats to the bottom. Spin dry in a salad spinner or pat dry with paper towels.

Nutritional information per serving: 164 calories, 19.3 grams protein, 7 grams carbohydrates, 1.9 gram fiber, 6.4 gram fat, 5.5 gram saturated fat, 161 milligrams cholesterol, 376 milligrams sodium.

Nutrition analysis provided by Fran Frye, a licensed and registered dietitian of the Augusta District Dietetic Association. Send questions via e-mail to augustadietitian@yahoo.com.

COMING Feb. 26: Szechuan chicken

See Karin prepare the recipe at noon Tuesday on WJBF-TV (Channel 6).

Write to Karin Calloway in care of The Augusta Chronicle Newsroom, P.O. Box 1928, Augusta, GA 30903. Or send e-mail to karin.calloway@comcast.net. You can find previous Quick Cooking recipes through the online archive at augustachronicle.com/karin.