In mid-April 2013, I signed up to enter a cooking competition open only to members of The Association of Food Bloggers. The challenge was to create an original recipe using ingredients supplied to contestants by SERV International, an organization that provides lifesaving meals to impoverished countries for only 5 cents. My entry in this competition follows below, and I wish the best of luck to all entrants.
The ingredient, a blend of vegetables, vegetable protein, and rice, came to me in dry form, with instructions to add water and then make it our own using whatever additional ingredients we chose. We had six weeks to come up with something, and I probably spent the first four of those oscillating between all the ideas flooding my head. Should I prepare an appetizer? A main course? A side dish? A dessert? Should I go for a hot dish or a cold one? Sweet or savory, or both? Should I use meat? Poultry? Seafood? In the end, (and largely because the June 20th deadline was fast approaching and would soon come and go whether I made a decision or not,) I decided on a main course featuring among other ingredients, poultry, fruit, and Jasmine rice.
Tropical flavors of coconut and lychee complement each other in this recipe. The delicately spinach-like flavor of Swiss chard plays a refined and faintly salty counterpoint to the sweetness of the fruit, contrasting rather than competing with it. When properly prepared, the rice-vegetable mixture will have a smooth, creamy texture and chard leaves will retain their bright green color.
- SERV International vegetable blend
- 1 cup Jasmine rice
- 1 liter coconut water
- 1 can (400 ml) coconut milk
- 1 1/6 cups chicken broth
- 8 thin-sliced chicken breast filets
- 1 can (20 oz.) of lychees in syrup
- 4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
- 1 level tbsp all-purpose flour
- 1-2 bunches of Swiss chard (about 8-14 large leaves)
- 2 tbsp honey
- ½ tsp red curry powder
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
- ½ tsp granulated garlic
- ½ tsp thyme
- Open can of lychees in syrup. Drain, reserve and set aside syrup (typical yield about 1 to 1 1/3 cups of syrup). Using a sharp knife, halve each lychee. Set aside.
- Divide each chicken filet in half lengthwise to form two strips.
- In a bowl, mix together salt, black pepper, granulated garlic, thyme, and 2 tbsp lychee syrup. Rub onto chicken strips and marinate, refrigerated, for 40 minutes (approximately the same length of time the rice/vegetable blend takes to cook.)
- In a stock pot over medium heat, combine coconut water, coconut milk, and 2/3 cup of chicken broth and bring to a boil. Add SERV International vegetable blend and one cup of Jasmine rice. Reduce heat and simmer for 40 minutes or until tender. When cooked and tender, remove from heat and set aside.
- In saucepan over low heat, melt butter and stir in flour to form a roux. Stirring occasionally, cook until roux darkens to about the color of peanut butter.
- Into roux, stir in ½ cup chicken broth, ¾ cup lychee syrup, red curry powder, and honey. Cook over high heat for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until volume reduces by about half and thickens enough to coat a spoon dipped into it.
- Preheat oven to 350 ᵒ F.
- Layer seasoned chicken filets into reduced glaze. Cover and reduce heat. Simmer over low/medium heat for 6-8 minutes or until all chicken is thoroughly cooked. About halfway through cooking, turn all pieces (so they brown on both sides) and add halved lychees to pan. Replace cover and finish simmering.
- Trim stem and thickest part of the spine from each chard leaf. Blanch trimmed leaves in boiling water for 60 seconds, then shock them in ice water to stop further cooking. Drain.
- Spreading each leaf on a flat surface, spoon 2-3 tbsp* of coconut rice-vegetable mixture onto each leaf.**
- Fold outer leaf edges over filling toward middle of leaf, then roll leaf into cigar shape. Do this gently to avoid tearing leaf.***
- Place rolled, filled leaves in a single layer in oven-safe casserole pan along with ¼ cup water. Cover with lid or foil and bake for 20-25 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.
*For smaller leaves, use 2-3 tsp of filling.
**For a bit of added texture and flavor, thinly slice some of the removed chard stems and leaves too small to make rolls, and sprinkle over the rice-vegetable filling before rolling leaves.
***If leaf should tear, use smaller leaf to patch it from inside before rolling into cigar shape.
SERV International‘s global projects don’t end with combating world hunger, and its ongoing efforts to help those in need are worth supporting. You can read more about what the organization does and how it does it here.