Marinated grilled chicken with crunchy cashews, grated coconut and charred scallions, inspired by South Indian flavors. Whole 30, Paleo and Gluten-Free.
This coconut lime chicken recipe came about after one of my former personal chef clients wanted a diet reset.
Always looking for healthier ways to eat, they requested some ideas that were Whole 30 compliant.
What is the Whole 30 diet?
In case you’re not familiar with the plan, Whole 30 functions as a kind of lifestyle reset.
It’s a diet that focuses on changing detrimental eating habits, making a kind of clean sweep of “bad” choices.
While the plan allows all animal proteins, spices, many condiments and lots of fresh produce, it forbids all added sugar, dairy and grains (to name a few).
Many “healthy” diets seem cruelly restrictive, especially a program like Whole 30 which has a long list of foods to avoid.
It seems limiting, but there’s actually a lot you can do with even that short list of food.
Fortunately, as a personal chef I’ve been trained to customize menu plans for people with all sorts of needs.
Rather than see a list as an obstacle, I approach it as a creative challenge — instead of what isn’t allowed on a specific meal plan, I look at what is there.
I find that it helps to come up with a flavor profile: Ingredients like coconut milk, citrus and spice jump out and point my culinary compass toward the Southern Hemisphere.
I’ve learned so much about food and cooking from writers who open the doors to cultures I probably wouldn’t ever travel to or experience firsthand.
Flipping through a great cookbook can be its own journey, and food is often the best way to discover the heart and soul of a place.
A favorite book that sets me dreaming of culinary paradise is Savoring the Spice Coast of India: Fresh Flavors from Kerala.
Kerala is located on the southwestern tip of India on the Arabian sea, “a colorful land of spices and coconut palms.”
Keralan cooking is fresh and flavorful, based on an abundance of the native tropical ingredients that thrive there: Coconuts, ginger, and spices like black pepper and cardamom.
Sign me up!
Some of the ingredients you’ll try in this recipe:
- Cardamom and black pepper: both of these aromatic spices grow and thrive in tropical climates. Cardamom’s distinctive floral-citrus note is popular in baked goods, but it’s also really good in curries and savory dishes paired with creamy, fatty coconut milk. Black pepper plays in the background, offering sharpness and warm heat.
- Nigella seed — confusingly also known as black onion seed, black cumin and kalonji — is a great spice to add to your cooking. It looks like a black sesame seed and has a mild, intriguing flavor of toasty onion and oregano. You can find it in some markets, but if it’s hard to track down, leave it out or substitute with sesame seed.
- Coconut milk powder is nice to have around. Not to be confused with coconut flour, which is made from the dried pulp of the coconut, coconut powder is made from dried coconut cream. You can rehydrate it with as much water as you want to make thick or more liquid coconut milk. Coconut powder comes in handy if you ever need a small amount of coconut milk and don’t want to open a whole can (liquid coconut milk is very perishable). You can also add coconut powder to smoothies and sauces where you want coconut flavor but not the liquid.
Coconut Lime Chicken Skewers
- 2 tablespoons (30 g) grated unsweetened coconut
- 2 tablespoons (30 g) roasted unsalted cashews, finely chopped
- Grated zest of 1 lime, juice the rest of the lime for marinade
- 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
- 1 teaspoon nigella seed, optional or substitute with sesame seed
- ¼ teaspoon flaky sea salt
- ½ teaspoon EACH ground cardamom, ground black pepper, ground coriander and ground turmeric
- 1 ½ pounds (680 g) boneless, skinless chicken (breasts or thighs), sliced into 2-inch chunks
- 2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated
- 1 shallot, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml) fresh lime juice
- ½ cup (120 ml) coconut milk
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 8 green onions/scallions
- ½ cup (120 ml) coconut powder or unsweetened coconut cream
- 1-2 small hot green chilies such as serrano, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml) water
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) fresh lime juice
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Mix the ingredients for the gremolata and the spice blend in two small bowls and set aside.
- Put the chicken in a container suitable for marinating, such as a bowl or baking dish.
- Combine the ginger, shallot, lime juice, coconut milk, salt and spice blend. Pour over the chicken. Cover and marinate for up to 6 hours in the refrigerator, or 15-30 minutes at room temperature.
- To make the chutney, stir the coconut powder with the rest of the ingredients and set aside until ready to serve.
- Heat an oiled stovetop griddle or outdoor grill to medium-high. Thread the chicken onto skewers.
- Cook the chicken until firm and cooked through, rotating the pieces with tongs, about 5 minutes per side. Lay the scallions on the grill and cook until they're wilted and charred in spots.
- Sprinkle the chicken with 2 tablespoons or so of the gremolata. Serve with the scallions, additional gremolata and the sauce on the side.
- Gremolata is an Italian blend of chopped herbs and aromatics, but here I've given it an Indian accent by using cashews, dried coconut flakes and cilantro.
- Accompany this chicken with steamed basmati rice or rice noodles if your not restricted by a plan.