Due to my own propensity to various food and chemical sensitivities, I try to stay away from things like preservatives in my food. I’ve currently narrowed down the culprits to sulfites and benzoates, both very common additives in prepared sauces, and nearly impossible to avoid when eating out. Both sulfites and benzoates trigger asthma attacks, which can mean they provoke respiratory distress (a more obvious reaction), skin reactions, headaches, digestive discomfort, or all of the above. You too may be familiar with them if you’ve ever felt icky after sipping a cheap white wine.
But I didn’t really want to write about food allergies today. The thing is, you can google these things and easily look up foods you should be avoiding. I’m more interested in what I can eat, which usually isn’t the Chinese, Thai or Vietnamese take-out I so often crave. Enter the realm of DIY cooking. From scratch. Even more fun if you grew your own lemongrass- not entirely necessary, but if you have the option, it’s not a lot of work, and the result is infinitely more tender than what you can get at the store, and, of course, more local.
Vietnamese Soy-Grilled Chicken
This is one of my favorite ways to prepare chicken for grilling. The recipe is green, floral and citrusy, with a distinct richness from the soy sauce and cinnamon. If you are lucky enough to be able to grow your own lemongrass or purchase some from a farmers’ market, it will likely be much thinner and more tender than the thicker stalks available at most Asian or Southeast Asian markets- so you’ll need to use twice as much. Don’t even try to use dried lemongrass, just replace it with a big bunch of cilantro and the zest of 1 lime. It won’t be the same, but you’ll get an equally satisfying herby-citrus flavor. Be sure to use organic soy sauce- most brands contain sodium benzoate (and often no soy whatsoever).
- 6 chicken thighs or legs or 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 Tb minced, fresh ginger
- 4 thick stalks lemongrass or 8 stalks thin, thinly sliced (if using tender, thin stalks, you can include most of the green leaves. Otherwise, just use the bulbs)
- 1/2 tsp ground corriander
- 1/2 Tb minced fresh galangal or 1/2 tsp dried galangal powder
- 1/4 tsp ground pepper
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 3 Tb organic soy sauce or tamari (reduced-sodium is okay)
- 1/2 tsp palm sugar, coconut sugar or organic brown sugar
- 1 Tb sunflower seed, grape seed or olive oil
Blend the garlic, ginger, lemongrass, coriander, galangal, pepper, cinnamon, soy sauce, sugar, and oil in a food processor until mostly smooth and evenly combined.
Rinse the chicken pieces, place in a deep bowl or container and pour the marinade all over, rubbing it in to coat the pieces entirely. Cover and refrigerate 8-24 hours.
Remove the chicken from the refrigerator about 15-30 minutes before cooking. Grill over medium heat, turning occasionally, until the meat springs back when pressed and the meat is opaque throughout.