Healthier choice recipe: Chilli-sesame chicken

It was during a trip to Italy that I discovered anew - and improbably - my love for chilli.

As I was on a group tour, dinner was catered for every night. It was perfectly edible, but well, safe and totally unexciting, or maybe I was also homesick by then.

Then someone made chilli dip from a plate of chilli flakes that was on every table at a restaurant.

To the chilli flakes, he added olive oil and salt, which were also on every table, and mixed them together.

The resulting dip was spicy, rich and flavourful. It was wonderful with the roast chicken that night, with the baked fish the next and, indeed, with any dish that we ate from then on.

We stopped complaining about the food.

Now, the Chinese also have similar chilli dressing, except that lots of other things are also found in it - black vinegar, soya sauce, sugar and sesame, both the oil and the paste - on top of chilli flakes, of course.

During the same trip when we also visited Britain, I had this dressing in a Sichuan restaurant in London called Seventeen, and enjoyed it with gusto, possibly because I was hankering for spice.

I looked again at this chilli dressing and thought: "Why, it could be part of healthy eating."

Made of oil and seasoning, it did not contain anything truly unhealthy, despite its spicy and oily taste profile.

Indeed, who says that eating healthy has to be bland and forgettable?

With this dip, everything - even chicken breast, as used in my recipe - can become an unforgettable eating experience.

There is probably nothing quite as innocuous as chicken breast.

With its skin removed, it is white meat with a fat factor so low that it is the meat of choice for low-fat eating, which is also why it is avoided by many Singaporeans.

You see, it can be tasteless when badly cooked. Then it becomes hard, dry and totally unappetising.

This is a shame, as one chicken breast contains a whopping 54g of protein, which you need for muscle repair and maintenance, among other things.

And it has only about 3g of total fat and, of this, less than 1g is saturated fat.

It is undeniably healthy, as are the different types of oil used in this recipe.

Both sesame oil and peanut oil are low in saturated fat and contain a combination of monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat.

Both of these types of fat are thought to lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol or "bad" cholesterol, while monounsaturated fat may raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol or "good" cholesterol.

Both of these types of fat are also rich in vitamin E and other antioxidants.

And all this is important because both types of oil are the main ingredients in the dressing that we are making for an otherwise bland chicken breast.

The dressing is also fiery with chilli, rich with sesame flavour and piquant with black vinegar. It will have you eating both the chicken and your rice (brown, please) with alacrity.

By the way, the fresh cucumber shavings in this dish are not there for nothing.

Yes, they are green, raw and healthy, but the cool crunch in between bites of spicy chicken is such a pleasure that you will forget about its health benefits.

And you can say the same about eating the chicken breast in this dish as well.

wdspice@gmail.com


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