The Paleo diet. It’s something you’ve probably been hearing a lot about lately — as I like to say (purposely trying to sound like Paris Hilton) “It’s so hot right now.” But what is it anyway? As the name suggests, it is based on the diet that mimics what the cavemen of the Paleolithic era might have grazed upon, wild plants and animals. It includes fruit, vegetables, roots, fungi, nuts, seeds, eggs, and pasture-raised, grass-fed animal protein. Followers of this way of eating subscribe to it because they believe it to aid in healthy digestion and weight loss, and prevent blood sugar spikes, systemic inflammation, autoimmune-related diseases — among a slew of other health benefits. Many people who previously followed strict gluten- and/or dairy-free diets have taken to this diet because it nixes the foods that they cannot eat.
So what’s on the ‘NO’ list? Grains, legumes, dairy, soy, added sugars, booze, white potatoes, vegetable oils, and processed foods. Though there are quite a few dietary restrictions, it doesn’t mean that the Paleo plate must simply consist of a hunk of meat and some bland, boring vegetables. Many Paleo cooking enthusiasts have made it their mission to come up with creative and tasty ways to incorporate the Paleo rules into their (and others’) diet. My friend Melissa Joulwan, author of Well Fed, the upcoming Well Fed 2 (on store shelves later this month) and TheClothesMakeTheGirl.com, is one of those cheerleaders of creative Paleo cooking. She’s been my mentor and inspiration when dabbling in, as she calls it, “dino-chow.”
I do not strictly follow the Paleo lifestyle, but I do love the culinary challenge that it gives me to come up with dishes that are appetizing to Paleo folks and enticing to those (open-minded) non-Paleo people. That’s why I came up with the following recipe for Thai red curry with pork over “noodles.” It’s a Paleo-friendly spin on the classic Thai peanut and coconut milk sauce with red curry paste. I used roasted cashew butter in place of peanut butter (because peanuts are a legume) and substituted coconut aminos for the soy sauce and zucchini peels for the rice noodles. They were easy swapouts and, in my opinion, this dish tastes as good as the original.
In closing, this is only a brief description of the Paleo diet and just the tip of the iceberg. There are also many versions of Paleo out there and, if interested, I encourage you to read up on them and find the one that suits your lifestyle best.
Thai Coconut Red Curry with Pork over Zucchini “Noodles”
Makes 6-8 servings
3-4 raw zucchini
Sea or Kosher salt, as needed
Thai Coconut Red Curry with Pork:
3 tablespoons coconut oil, divided
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tablespoon minced or grated fresh ginger
1 Thai bird chile, minced OR 1/2 teaspoon chili pepper flakes (optional)
1 1/2 tablespoon Thai red curry paste (with only natural ingredients, like Thai Kitchen brand)
1/2 cup creamy roasted cashew butter (substitute any other nut or seed butter)
1 (15 oz) can coconut milk, shaken
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth (no salt added)
1/2 large onion, sliced
1 bell pepper, cored, seeded and sliced
1-2 teaspoons coconut aminos
1-2 teaspoons Asian fish sauce (like Red Boat brand)
1 teaspoon rice vinegar (optional)
1 lime juiced, or more to taste
1 tablespoon honey (preferably raw)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Garnishes: Toasted unsweetened coconut, toasted chopped cashews, chopped fresh cilantro
With a regular or julienne peeler, peel the zucchini into long strips to the cores (stop when you see seeds). Throw away the cores and put the strips in a colander over a bowl. Add a few heavy dashes of salt, enough to lightly coat all of the zucchini, and massage it in with your hands. Let the zucchini sit and let out their excess moisture for 30-45 minutes, then rinse them thoroughly under cool running water. Squeeze out excess water and set aside until ready for use (up to 24 hours in the refrigerator). Right before using, put them in a clean dish towel and squeeze out excess liquid. Use raw or quickly saute to heat them up.
For the curry sauce, heat one tablespoon of coconut oil in a medium sauce pan over medium heat. When oil is hot, add in the curry paste, garlic, and ginger and chile or (chili flakes), stirring constantly so nothing burns. Cook for about a minute and whisk in coconut milk, then the cashew butter. When smooth, whisk in the broth, then simmer over low heat.
Meanwhile, heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat, add the other 2 tablespoons of oil, and when its hot add the bell pepper and onion, stirring occasionally, and let cook until just soft, about 5 minutes. When vegetables are softened, add the curry sauce to this saute pan. Stir to combine and let the curry come to a heavy simmer. Lower the heat and simmer for at least 10 minutes to let the flavors marry.
Stir in the coconut aminos, fish sauce, vinegar, lime juice, honey, and a pinch of pepper, adding more of any of these if needed. Add the pork and simmer for at least another 10 minutes, or until the pork is cooked through and the sauce has thickened.
Serve hot over zucchini noodles and garnish with toasted coconut, cashews and cilantro.