December food is abundant, rich, opulent. And then winter sets in. After all the stuffings and roasts, sweet potatoes and cranberries, January food should be warm and cozy but with a little edge.

Which was exactly the kind of dish I was looking for when we invited friends over for a buffet supper a few weeks ago. I could have made a crowd pleaser from my repertoire, but I wanted to serve something I hadn’t made before. I wanted someone else’s food!

I headed to South America, first googling Argentinian dishes, then Chilean and Venezuelan. I moved on to Brazil and liked what I saw, but my search was too broad. With such a large, diverse group coming for a buffet dinner, I decided to play it safe with chicken.  I typed in “Brazilian chicken stew”. Sure enough several recipes popped up.

I usually find that the first few search engine offerings are not always reliable. Not this time. Top of the list was a Joyce Goldstein recipe for Brazilian Chicken Stew on the Food and Wine website.

This dish offered exactly what I was looking for–all the comfort of a stew, all the speed and broad appeal of chicken. And then were all those bright flavors–jalapenos, lemon, coconut, peanuts, cilantro.

A recipe published in 2001, it needed updating as well as my personal touch. I traded in the jalapenos for poblanos, lemon juice for lime, whole tomatoes, chopped for petite diced, sweet paprika for smoked. It went well.

Everyone noted what a lively party it was. No doubt we were all happy to see one another after the holiday rush, but I believe Brazilian Chicken Stew deserves much of the credit.


Brazilian Chicken Stew

Serves 6

1/3 cup peeled and thinly sliced ginger (3 ounces)
4 large garlic cloves
1 poblano pepper, stemmed, seeded and cut into large piece
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into large bite-size pieces
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
2 cans (14.5 ounces each) petite-diced tomatoes, drained (juices reserved for another use)
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 cup dry-roasted peanuts, chopped
1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut, plus extra for garnish
1/4 cup chopped cilantro, plus extra for garnish
3 cups chicken broth
Steamed rice

Mince ginger, garlic, poblano, lime juice, and paprika in a food processor. Starting with 2 tablespoons, add enough water to process mixture to a thick paste.

Heat a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Toss chicken with 2 tablespoons of the oil and a light sprinkling of salt and pepper; toss to coat. Add chicken to hot skillet and cook, turning once, until brown on both sides and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Heat remaining tablespoon of oil in empty skillet; add onions and cook over until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add ginger paste and cook until it begins to darken in color, 2 to 3 minutes. Add half the tomatoes along with coconut milk, peanuts, coconut and 2 tablespoons of the cilantro; cook until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.

Transfer sauce to a food processor or blender and puree. Return sauce to skillet and add broth, remaining tomatoes and cilantro and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until reduced to thick gravy consistency, 15 to 20 minutes. Add chicken; continue to simmer to blend flavors, about 5 minutes. Adjust seasonings, including salt and pepper to taste. Serve with rice,  garnishing with additional coconut and cilantro.