This Sri Lankan-inspired creation is based on a David Tanis recipe published in the New York Times. The original contains two nightshades: tomatoes, and cayenne in the spice mix. While both are minor ingredients by volume, experience suggests they probably contribute significantly to the final flavor.
That’s another way of saying that, to make me happy, this recipe would require more than a simple substitution. By the time this recipe crossed my desk, I had already created a good red-sauce replacement suitable for pizza and lasagna. But it just wasn’t quite right as a tomato paste stand-in.
I went back to the drawing board, in search of a new variation. After a lot of trial and error I created two. The first will probably never see the light of day, since the second—Beetuto—was so superior
Properly replacing both the tomato and the spice mix requires significant advance preparation. Beetuto is a two hour operation. And the substitute Thai spoof spice mix has some ingredients you’re not likely to find at even a really good ethnic grocer.
- 2 pounds skinless boneless chicken thighs, cut in chunks
- Salt and pepper
- 3 inches of ginger
- 6 cloves crushed garlic
- 2 tablespoons Thai spoof mix
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 3/4 cup raw cashews
- 1/4 cup shredded dried unsweetened coconut
- 1 pound small parsnips, peeled and cut
- oil or ghee for sauté
- 1 1/2 cups finely diced onion
- 1/4 cup Beetuto
- 1 2-inch piece cinnamon stick
- 2 cups chicken broth or water
- 1 can coconut milk
1Make the Beetuto and the Thai spoof mix.
2Salt and pepper the chicken in a mixing bowl, then work in the ginger and garlic. Add the Thai spoof mix and the lemon juice and mix again. It doesn’t need to marinate for long, but pop it, covered, into the refrigerator if it’s going to be longer than 15 minutes.
3Roast the coconut and the cashews. You can do this in an oven, but a more energy-efficient approach is to use a toaster oven. HOWEVER toaster ovens tend to be a little less reliable in the temperature control realm, so if you’re a beginning roaster don’t do anything else while you’re doing this. And do the coconut first; it will cook faster. Starting from a cool oven should give you a little more margin for error.
Put the coconut on a baking sheet and roast at 375 degrees until lightly browned, 4 to 7 minutes—again, keep your eyes on this; the margin between toasted and charred can be razor slim. Set coconut aside to cool, then repeat the process with the cashews until it is lightly browned. Set aside separately to cool. Using the grinding implement of your choice pulverize the coconut with 1/4 cup of the cashews. Careful here—you’re saving most of the cashews for later.
4Lightly salt a small saucepan of water and bring it to a simmer, then drop in the parsnips and cook until barely tender, about 5-8 minutes. Drain and submerse in cold water to stop the cooking, then drain again.
5To bring it all together you’ll want a wide and heavy-bottomed pot or skillet. Add the ghee or oil and fire up a medium-high heat. Briefly sauté the parsnips until lightly browned, then set these aside. Add the seasoned chicken pieces to the pot. There may be some spicy liquid at the bottom of the bowl—don’t lose that, but don’t add that until the chicken is slightly browned, about 5 minutes. Remove the chicken and add the onion, cooking until softened. Add the tomato-like base (if you’ve got frozen cubes, you can toss it in frozen—at that size it melts quickly) and cook with the onions for a minute or two. Add the broth and raise the heat, using your stirring utensil to liberate crispy bits from the pan. Add back the chicken and the ground coconut and cashew mixture, then reduce to a simmer and, cover and cook for about 30 minutes, until chicken is tender. Taste the sauce and adjust seasoning if necessary.
6Finally, stir in the coconut milk and the waiting parsnips, cooking for a final few minutes. You want the parsnips warmed and the sauce thickened—whether you use whole or lite coconut milk will affect the final texture. The original recipe calls for less than a full can of coconut milk I prefer to use the whole can and simmer until the texture is right. (Which is also why I suggest a wide skillet—more area for evaporation.) You can also add the cashews here; in the original they are a garnish, but I really like their texture after they’ve cooked for a few minutes in the sauce.
Serve over rice. I’m not big on garnishes—though having to take a lot of food pictures is definitely forcing me to reconsider this utilitarian approach. If you’re inspired, any combination of cilantro, lime wedges, and cashews will work.