How I stepped up my cooking game with Vietnamese chicken curry

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How I stepped up my cooking game with Vietnamese chicken curry

Stepping up her weeknight supper game, Sam Woulidge tries to impress her husband, Jacques, with a cheat’s Vietnamese chicken curry. She made a few changes to Diana Henry’s original.

I was adamant that I had no interest in going out for drinks with Jacques’ colleagues. It was the Friday after a long week and I was feeling anxious and antisocial. Jacques was insistent. “I won’t be paraded around like some exotic parrot,” I argued defi antly, looking decidedly unexotic in my slouchy stretch-out-onthe- sofa pants. He looked at me in a contemplative manner. “You are not,” he told me in a measured tone, “nearly as exotic as you think you are.” I laughed. He was right. Lately I am more exhausted than exotic. Still, I like to think my husband’s life would’ve been less exciting without me in it, but that doesn’t mean I’m always the prize.

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I have loved Jacques for 24 years. Some of those years have been glamorous and carefree, others have been sad and stressful, but mostly they’ve been happy and loving, even when they were complicated. But the parenting part of our lives together has been the most beautiful. We get that right. Mostly. So that Friday we dropped Seb off at his cousin’s for a few hours and went for drinks. And it was perfectly lovely. “So you’re a food writer? You must love cooking?” went the small talk. “Er, not so much,” the exotic parrot confessed, owning up that I only like cooking for special occasions, while Jacques is the better, more adventurous, everyday cook. He finds cooking relaxing. I don’t. Weekday stuff consists mostly of chicken, despite our family’s affection for red meat. So Jacques, who would prefer not to eat chicken schnitzels four times a week, has taken to making stir-fries. His sweet-and-sour chicken is deep-fried and delicious.

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When asked to name his favourite dish of mine, Jacques will reply that it’s the rosemary-and-lemon chicken I’ve been making for 28 years; the recipe from my friend Nicky that I made to impress him when we were dating. I am mortified. Am I so predictable? So unexotic? I need to up my game. Or at least shake up the bird a little. Enter Diana Henry, and her book of chicken recipes titled A Bird in the Hand. The recipe that appealed to me most was the Vietnamese chicken-and-sweet potato curry. And so I made a meal that was adventurous enough to impress the man whose cooking and parenting skills impress me daily. It was a sweet reminder of the last trip we took before becoming parents, the one to Vietnam where, despite our longing for a child, we relished the unfamiliar flavours of our host country, and the familiarity of one another.

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Having deep gratitude for what Jacques calls “the poetry of everyday life” is what has made parenthood and our lives together so meaningful. Seeing him through the eyes of his nine-year-old son is a gift. Hearing Seb tell a friend his imaginary superhero powers are increased when his dad tickles him. Listening to Jacques’ voice reading a bedtime story and their excited conversations about car suspensions as they leave to take Truffl e for a walk. The loud laughter from the pool during a pre-bedtime swim while the chicken nuggets I’ve taken out of the oven get cold. These are the things that take hold of my heart: things both familiar and familial.

Find the recipe for Sam’s Vietnamese chicken curry here. 



Sam Woulidge Article by: Sam Woulidge

Cape Town-based writer Sam Woulidge is a regular TASTE columnist, blogger and author of 'Confessions of a Hungry Woman'. Follow her on Twitter @samwoulidge

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