• Recipe by Neil Roake 

    Vietnamese chicken, sweet potato and butternut ‘cari’

    Serves: 4 – 6
    Cooking Time: 1 hour


    • Vietnamese star anise ‘cari’ powder
    • 10 curry leaves
    • 2 star anise
    • 1 dry red chilli
    • 5ml (1 tsp) black peppercorns
    • 60ml (¼ cup) coriander seeds
    • 10ml (2 tsp) cumin
    • 8 cloves
    • 15ml (1 tbsp) ground turmeric
    • 5ml (1 tsp) ground ginger
    • 5ml (1 tsp) nutmeg, freshly grated
    • 2,5ml (½ tsp) ground cinnamon
    • Caramel

    • 45ml (3 tbsp) white sugar
    • 120ml water
    • ‘Cari’

    • 500g (about 3) sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 3cm slices
    • 1,5kg butternut, chopped into 4cm chunks
    • 30ml (2 tbsp) olive oil
    • 4 x 150g chicken breasts, cut into 3cm slices
    • 30ml (2 tbsp) sesame oil
    • 1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
    • 10ml (2 tsp) garlic, peeled and finely chopped
    • 2 lemongrass sticks, bashed and tied together
    • 10ml (2 tsp) dried chilli flakes (optional)
    • 1 x 400ml tin coconut milk
    • 400ml water
    • 45ml (3 tbsp) fish sauce
    • handful fresh coriander
    • sticky rice, to serve
    • 50g raw flaked almonds, toasted, to serve



    Preheat the oven to 180°C.


    For the ‘cari’ powder, dry-fry the curry leaves, star anise, chilli, peppercorns, coriander seeds, cumin and cloves over low heat until toasted and fragrant, shaking the pan as you fry, 1 – 2 minutes. Transfer this to a spice blender or a pestle and mortar and blitz or grind. Tip into a screw-top bottle, add the remaining powdered spices and shake until combined. Set aside.


    For the caramel, add the sugar and water to a small frying pan over medium heat and cook until the sugar has melted and turns golden brown. Watch it like a hawk, as it can burn very fast.


    For the cari, toss the sweet potatoes and butternut chunks in the olive oil. Place in a roasting dish and cook in the oven, 40 – 45 minutes. Toss halfway through the cooking time to ensure even caramelisation around the edges. Remove from oven and set aside.


    Coat the chicken in 25ml ‘cari’ powder mixture and set aside. Add the sesame oil, onion, garlic, lemongrass and chilli flakes to a large pot and stir-fry over medium heat, 3 – 4 minutes, ensuring it does not burn. Add the chicken and stir-fry until golden brown on the edges. Add the coconut milk, water and caramel, reduce the heat and simmer, 15 minutes. Stir gently and taste.


    Add the roasted butternut and sweet potatoes and stir gently. You should notice it tastes a little bland, but, now you add the secret ingredient – the fish sauce! Kapow! Your taste buds explode and you can taste the saltiness of the fish sauce, the sweetness of the caramel and it all comes together.


    Just before serving, stir in half the coriander and let this wilt. Pour into a serving dish and sprinkle over the remaining coriander to garnish. Serve with sticky rice and top with toasted almonds.