Chinese Chicken Salad with Peanut Sauce

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It doesn’t take much for my thoughts to turn to salad for a summer dinner. Since it has been in the 90’s all week with no true respite in sight, I not only want a salad but I want some spice as well. It’s well known in Asian and South Asian cultures that you want to eat “Heat” when it is hot outside. The theory being that the spice makes you sweat, thereby cooling down your body.

I used to make a salad with cold glass noodles from the Frugal Gourmet, but I decided to change it up a bit. For starters, I’m not wild about glass noodles and I also wanted a bit more complexity to the chicken. I did make this dish with Banh Pho, a large Thai rice noodle, but I think that next time I might even use an Udon noodle instead. All of the prep can – and should – be done ahead, so you can make the individual elements the night before or in the morning and then do your assemblage when you are ready to eat. If you are really pressed for time (or lazy) you can use prepared roasted chicken from your grocery. It won’t have the same depth of flavor, but will still be good. A slightly fruity Rosé would be lovely with this or a Pale Ale.

Chinese Chicken Salad with Peanut Sauce

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Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

For the chicken

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1.5 pounds)

3-4 star anise

2 Tablespoons rice wine or dry sherry

Water to cover

1/4 teaspoon 5 spice powder

2 teaspoons low sodium soy sauce

2-3 small jalapeno peppers, thinly sliced, with the seeds (optional)

For the noodles

8 ounces wide Banh Pho rice noodles

Water to cover

2 teaspoons chicken bouillon cubes or 2 teaspoons “Better than Bouillon”

Sesame oil for drizzling

For the cucumbers

2 Persian cucumbers, sliced and cut into matchsticks

2 Tablespoons of low sodium soy sauce

1 Tablespoon rice wine vinegar

1/4 teaspoon sugar (I used raw sugar but granulated will do)

2 teaspoons sesame oil

For the peanut sauce

2 Tablespoons unsweetened peanut butter (smooth or chunky)

4-5 Tablespoons hot water

3 Tablespoons low sodium soy sauce

1 very generous teaspoon Red Chili Paste with Garlic or Sriracha to taste

Garnishes

Roughly chopped cilantro

Roasted and lightly salted peanuts

Directions

For the chicken

  1. Place the chicken breasts in a pan large enough to hold them in a single layer that has a tight-fitting lid. Add the other chicken ingredients and enough water to cover the chicken.
  2. Cover the pan tightly and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer and cook for 20 minutes. While still warm, remove the chicken breasts and shred them using 2 forks. Place in a bowl or container large enough to hold all of the shreds. Using a fine-mesh strainer, pour the liquid over the chicken. Pick out the jalapeno slices if used and the star anise and add them to the chicken. Cover and allow to cool. This can then be refrigerated.

For the noodles

  1. If using the rice noodles, place in a pot large enough to hold them. Cover with tap water, place the lid on the pot and allow to soak for 1 hour. After 1 hour, add the bouillon and bring to a boil with the lid on. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook the noodles for 10 minutes. (If using another kind of noodle, follow the package instructions.) Drain the noodles and drizzle with sesame oil to prevent them becoming too sticky. Allow them to cool, uncovered. They can be refrigerated.

For the cucumbers

  1. Place the cut cucumbers in a glass bowl or dish. Marinate them in the soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar and sesame oil.

For the peanut sauce

  1. Mix the peanut sauce ingredients together until they are the consistency of heavy cream. Start with 4 Tablespoons of water and add more if necessary.

Assemblage

  1. Pour the well-mixed peanut sauce over the noodles and using tongs, toss it through. The noodles may have stuck together some, but you can carefully separate them as you mix.
  2. Place some 1/4 of the noodles in each bowl or plate and cover with 1/4 of the chicken shreds that you have drained from the liquid.
  3. Top with 1/4 of the cucumbers. Garnish with cilantro and some peanuts. IMG_3288

 

 

Szechuan Dry Fried Green Beans – Gan Bian Si Ji Dou

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I really love Szechuan Green Beans when they are well made – which unfortunately, just doesn’t happen all that often. My husband and I recently visited our local Chinatown and I decided to commit to a few authentic ingredients so I could make this dish and other Chinese foods we like.  I ended up ordering a few ingredients through Amazon that I had forgotten.

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I had mentioned in a much earlier post that whenever I decide to try something for the first time, I read between five and six different versions of the recipe, taking what I like best for my final product. This case was no different. One of the things that had put me off about making this recipe is that I hate to deep-fry foods. It’s messy, the house invariably smells and I always feel that I have wasted oil. So I was very excited when I found a recipe that showed a method for making the blistered green beans using my broiler and only one tablespoon of oil. The end result comes from 2 bloggers and a bit of me. Because this is not going to be part of a multi-course meal, I went a bit heavier on the pork. Some of the recipes showed this without the pork or dried shrimp, but I happen to like both so have included them here. Because you are using preserved foods, this will be a somewhat saltier dish than most.

Szechuan Dry Fried Green Beans – Gan Bian Si Ji Dou – adapted from Leng’s Kitchen Chaos and J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

Yield: Serves 5-6 as a side dish or 3-4 as a main course

Ingredients

1 pound fresh green beans (or long beans), rinsed, dried and ends trimmed
1/2 lb ground pork
2 Tablespoon dried shrimps, rinsed (rinse REALLY well) and soaked to soften, roughly chopped
6 whole, dried red chilies (such as árbol)
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon fresh ginger, finely minced
1/2 Tablespoon Szechuan peppers, crushed with a mortar and pestle or with the flat side of a large knife
3 scallions (white and light green parts) thinly sliced
3 Tablespoons finely chopped Szechuan, preserved mustard stems that have been rinsed (rinse REALLY, REALLY well!)
4 Tablespoons cooking oil (I use peanut oil)

Seasoning
1 Tablespoon hot bean sauce
1 Tablespoon Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1.5 teaspoons sugar

Meat marinade
a dash of white pepper
2 teaspoons light soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons corn starch

Directions

Mix the meat with the marinade slightly ahead of time and left refrigerated until ready to cook. With the seasoning, mix all the ingredients in a small bowl and set aside for later use. 

Adjust rack to as close as possible to broiler and preheat broiler to high. Arrange in a single layer on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet or broiler pan. Drizzle green beans with 1 tablespoon oil and season with salt and white pepper.Broil until beans are blistered and very lightly charred, 2 to 8 minutes depending on strength of broiler. Set aside or place in a serving bowl. IMG_3074

Add 2 Tablespoons of oil to a hot wok. Add in the Szechuan peppers and dried chilies and toss, cooking until aromatic. Then add the dried shrimps, garlic, ginger, mustard stems and stir fry for 3-4 minutes and the dried shrimps are slightly browned.

Pushing everything to one side of the wok, add in the ground pork. Stir-fry until the meat changes color, breaking it down into smaller pieces as it goes. Mix well with the rest of the contents in the wok. Toss in the scallions and the seasoning mixture and stir to mix.

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Add the cooked green beans and quickly mix through. I served this with brown rice.

Hot and Sour Soup

img_2398This is the time of year when the question isn’t “should we have soup” but which soup should we have? I realized that I hadn’t made hot and sour soup in quite some time and since it has always been a favorite of ours, I was determined to remedy that asap. This recipe is from a very early Joyce Chen cookbook. Joyce Chen had a restaurant in Cambridge, MA back in the ’70s and she was an early example of introducing Americans to Chinese food that went beyond egg foo yung and chicken chow mein. There are a couple of ingredients that you would have to get that would not be in your standard non-Asian pantry, but they won’t break the bank and because they are dried, they will last quite some time. They really make or break the dish, in my opinion, so they are worth seeking out if you want hot and sour soup. Everything is available in a good Asian market or online. This can be thrown together pretty quickly and frankly, I have never had one from a restaurant that I have enjoyed more. The seasonings I have given below are for a well-balanced hot and sour soup. I don’t like food that set my hair on fire when I eat them. If you want it hotter, you can increase the amount of white pepper and you can use a “hot” sesame oil; however, you need to keep the balance of white pepper and cider vinegar pretty much the same so you don’t end up with a “hot” but not sour soup. Alot of this can be prepped ahead of time and the actual cooking takes only minutes.

Hot and Sour Soup by Joyce Chen and tweaked by me

Yield: 4 to 6 servings with other dishes

Ingredients

1/4 cup pork loin, thinly sliced and cut into strips

1 teaspoon dry sherry

3 Tablespoons corn starch

4 cups salted chicken stock (I used a lower sodium version)

1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

1 Tablespoon lower sodium soy sauce

1/4 cup dried wood ears (black fungus)

1/4 cup dried golden needles (lily buds)

1/2 cup firm tofu, shredded

1 large egg, lightly beaten

4 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoon white ground pepper

Toasted sesame oil (hot or regular) for serving

6 scallions, minced for serving

Directions

  1. Mix the shredded pork with the sherry and 1 teaspoon of the corn starch and set aside.
  2. Snap off any woody pieces from the wood ears and hard stems from the golden needles – better quality wood ears and golden needles won’t have this problem generally. Soak the wood ears and golden needles in separate bowls of boiling water, covered for at least 15 minutes and up to 30 minutes.  Rinse, drain and squeeze out excess water. Cut golden needles in half and cut the wood ears into smaller pieces. (This can be done ahead, drained and kept aside.)
  3. Mix the remaining corn starch (2 Tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons) with 1/2 cup of cold water. If this sits, the corn starch will harden and you will need to whisk it well just when you are ready to use it.
  4. Bring to a boil the chicken broth , salt and soy sauce. Add in the pork mixture and boil for 1 minute.
  5. Add the drained wood ears and golden needles and boil for another minute. Then add the tofu. As soon as the soup returns to a boil, whisk in the well-stirred corn starch mixture until the soup thickens, which happens pretty quickly. It will continue to thicken so as soon as it starts, whisk in the beaten egg and remove from the heat. The egg will form egg shreds, which is what you want. Stir in the white pepper and vinegar. Garnish with the scallions and sesame oil. Serve hot. This is best eaten fresh.

Vegan Stir Fry That Even Non-Vegans Will Like

img_2175Some nights even someone who likes to cook is just stumped. My car is in the shop, so I am limited as to how many groceries I can carry home. Since I almost always have a good supply of vegetables and some extra firm tofu around, I thought why not do a stir fry? I quickly looked online and found this recipe which I played with and decided for a little decadence to make some vegan coconut rice to go alongside. After speaking with Frances’ mother recently, I decided to mix my rice up a bit and added dried moong beans to the rice. This may be more South Asian than stir fry Asian, but I’m a big believer in not being totally bound by tradition, and am willing to mix it up a bit, taking the best from complimentary cuisines. And please don’t tell Frances’ mother, but I am not nearly as big a fan of sticky rice as I am of Basmati rice, so my other heresy is to use that to accompany my stir fry!

While I used fresh tofu for this recipe, there is decent shelf stable tofu available so you can always have some on hand for a quick dinner. Cooking the tofu this way gives it a wonderful bite and mouth-feel. This dish was deliciously sweet and spicy and very, very satisfying. I used what I had on hand, but don’t be afraid to play with the mix of vegetables. And if you want to keep it simple or lower in calories, make plain, sticky rice.

Tofu Vegan Stir Fry with Coconut Rice adapted from the Minimalist Baker

Yield: 2 generous portions

Ingredients

Stir Fry

One 14-ounce package firm or extra firm tofu

2 cups roughly chopped green beans ( I used the French haricot verts and just cut them in half)

1 cup each sliced carrots and sweet bell peppers

4 large mushrooms, sliced (I used Cremini, but almost any kind will do)

2 Tbsp peanut oil for sautéing

Toasted sesame oil for drizzling

Possible garnishes

Finely chopped scallions (optional)

Lightly toasted cashews (optional)

Toasted sesame seeds (optional)

Sauce

1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce

1 Tbsp fresh grated ginger

1 rounded teaspoon minced garlic

1 Tablespoon granulated or demerara sugar

1 Tbsp agave, maple syrup (or honey if not vegan)

2 Tbsp cornstarch

2 T dry Sherry

2 T vegetable stock or water

2 generous teaspoons Gochujong or other hot sauce or to taste

Instructions

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1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (204 C) and begin drying your tofu. Drain, remove it from the package and place it on a plate that has sides and is large than the tofu block. Cover with a piece of parchment or waxed paper and weight the tofu with a heavy skillet or bricks. Leave this for about 30 minutes and then pour off the liquid.

2.  Once dry, chop into roughly 1- inch cubes or  1.25 x 1.25-inch squares.

3. Arrange tofu on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet to prevent sticking and bake for a total of 25 to 30 minutes, flipping once halfway through to ensure even cooking. This will dry out the tofu and help give it a more meat-like texture.

4. Once the tofu is golden brown and a bit tough and firm, remove from the oven set it out to dry a bit more while you prep your vegetables. Ideally, it would set out another 45 minutes or even longer. ( I actually made my tofu a couple of days ahead since my husband ended up working late and I didn’t make this the night I originally intended it for. I refrigerated the cooked tofu and took it out about 30 minutes before cooking it.)

5. If serving over rice, start the rice at this point.

6. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together all of the sauce ingredients – set aside. (I actually made the sauce a day ahead and it kept, covered on my counter until I was ready to use it. All I had to do was whisk it together when I was ready to cook.)

7. To a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat, add peanut oil and swirl to coat. Then add veggies and toss to coat. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring often. Cover the pan and cook on a low heat for about 3 minutes. When the vegetables have some color and have softened a bit, add the tofu and stir through. Then add the sauce down the inner side of the wok. It should bubble and thicken. This will only take a couple of minutes

8. I like my veggies pretty crunchy, but if  you like the softer, cook for another minute or two. When veggies are cooked to your preferred doneness, remove from heat. Serve as is or over rice, drizzle with sesame oil and garnish, if desired.

Coconut Rice With Moong Beans

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Ingredients

1 cup rice of choice (I used Basmati)

1/2 cup of dried moong beans (dal)

One 13.5 ounce (or 14 ounce) can of coconut milk

1.25 cups of water

1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

1 rounded teaspoon granulated or demerara sugar

Directions

  1. Rinse and drain your rice and moong beans in cool water.
  2. Bring all of the other ingredients to a boil in a medium pot with a tight-fitting lid. Add the drained rice and moong beans and return to a boil.
  3. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cover the pot tightly. Cook for about 15 minutes or until the liquid is all absorbed and the rice is tender.

 

Easy Ramen at Home

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Soup can be as delicate as a simple consomme or as hearty as a mushroom barley; it can be served hot or cold; it can be a first course or a complete meal. No matter how you serve it, soup is always comforting and almost every culture believes in the healing properties of a good soup. This ramen only requires that you have the right ingredients on hand. Some are shelf-stable and you can always have around and the rest you can pick up at most grocery stores. The meat is the only item that you might want to pick up ahead of time and can be on-hand in the freezer. There are no special techniques to learn and it is ready in under 30 minutes. You can play around with the ingredients, but this is my favorite version. It elevates packaged ramen to a dinner that is good enough to serve to family.

Lisa’s Weeknight Ramen

Yield: 3-4 servings

Ingredients

Two 3-ounce packages of chicken-flavored ramen noodles

1 quart of good chicken stock, preferably unsalted

1 Tablespoon yellow or red miso (optional, but keeps a long time in the fridge)

3/4 cup shredded carrot

2 or 3 baby bok choy, split lengthwise

2 large, hard-boiled eggs, peeled and split length-wise

8 ounces of a good mushroom, sliced (Shitake are always available, but try using clam, trumpet or oyster mushrooms if you can find them)

About 3.5 ounces stir-fry baby corn or the kernels from one large ear of fresh corn

5 to 6 scallions, thinly sliced

Either one smoked duck breast, thinly sliced or about 8 ounces of smoked pork belly, sliced (leave the fat on since it adds flavor!)

Asian Sesame Oil for drizzling

Kosher salt or low-sodium soy sauce to taste

Directions

  1. Prep all of your ingredients. In a 3.5 quart or larger heavy pot with a lid, place the ramen noodles, the seasoning powder, miso, if used, the meat and the chicken stock. If you prefer more liquid you can add either more stock or up to 2 cups of water. Adjust your salt accordingly. If using unsalted stock, season with about a teaspoon of salt or 2 teaspoons soy sauce. Bring to a boil and simmer for 3 minutes.
  2. Add your other ingredients, except for the sesame oil and scallions and simmer for about 5 to 10 minutes, warming everything through and blanching the bok choy. If the egg was just boiled, you can add it at the last minute. If it came out of the fridge then add it with the vegetables.
  3. When ready, place some of each ingredient in a bowl, drizzle with sesame oil and scatter scallions on the top. Enjoy – it’s that simple!

Sticky Asian Ribs

IMG_1641I admit it – I love ribs. I didn’t grow up in a Kosher home and although over the years, I have learned most of the laws for keeping Kashrut, it just is not essential to my Jewish identity. I respect those who do and I will leave it at that.

The apartment we moved to about eight years ago has a lovely large terrace and my husband and I were sure that once we could have a grill we would since we both adore BBQ and grilled meat and veggies. Somehow though each year has passed without our buying one. I have since found ways to make lovely grilled vegetables and meats in a grill pan on my gas stove. So I wondered if I could also make good ribs in the oven. These are wonderful! They don’t have the smoky BBQ flavor of a Texas or Kansas City rib, but they are tender, delicious and REALLY, REALLY satisfying. I call these Asian ribs, but truthfully they are only Asian-inspired. The sauce is also wonderful on chicken so if you don’t eat pork, you can still enjoy the great taste. I used some left-over sauce with a whole chicken and it cooked up incredibly tender and juicy.

The first time I made these I used what are known as St. Louis Ribs. They are flatter and fattier than BabyBack Ribs, which are more curved and usually more expensive. Either one will work in this recipe; the only difference will be in the cooking time. Since Baby Backs are leaner (and what I am using this time around) the cooking time will be about 45 minutes to an hour less than for the St. Louis Ribs. My husband and I decided that while the Babay Back Ribs were meatier than the St. Louis Ribs, there wassoemthing aboutthe extra fat that added flavor and tenderness. It’s personal preference – they both are delicious.

Sticky Asian Ribs

Yield: 2-4 portions depending on the number of sides (I really love the ribs, so for us this is 2 portions!) with extra sauce

Ingredients

One 3 to 3.5 pound rack St. Louis or Baby Back style pork ribs

4 cups of dark brown sugar

3/4 cup of Sake or Vodka

1/4 cup of soy sauce (I always use reduced sodium)

1/4 cup Hoisin sauce

1 Tablespoon Kosher salt

1 Tablespoon minced fresh garlic

1 rounded teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder

1 rounded teaspoon ground ginger

4 to 5 star anise

2 Tablespoons Oyster sauce

3/4 teaspoons red pepper flakes OR ground cayenne

1/2 cup orange or blood orange jam/marmalade, with pieces of peel (You could also use apricot jam or Damson Plum preserve imstead.)

1 Tablespoon toasted sesame seeds for garnish (optional)

Directions

  1. Cut your rack in half or quarters, depending on how many people you are serving
  2. In a large bowl, mix all of the ingredients for the sauce. It will be a little grainy in texture which is just fine. Separate off about 1/2 to 1/3 of the sauce to save for later. Divide that amount as well to keep some for eating with the ribs or for another use. I kept mine in the fridge in a glass jar for up to a week.
  3. In one or two large heavy-duty plastic bags with a good seal, place your ribs. Pour in one half of the sauce and smoosh around until the ribs are well covered. Seal the bag(s) carefully, place inside an additional bag and refrigerate overnight (or even for 2 nights).
  4. When you are ready to cook the ribs, preheat your oven to 300 degrees F. and line a baking sheet with 2-inch sides with heavy-duty aluminum foil. Place the ribs on the pan.
  5. Cook for 3 to 3.5 hours if using St. Louis ribs and for 2 to 2.5 hours if using Baby Back ribs, basting every 30 minutes with some of the reserved marinade. Do not use leftover marinade from the bag where the ribs were after the first 30 minutes. You don’t want to use sauce from the raw meat on the cooked meat.
  6. Once the ribs look done (you will know when you see them, trust me), turn the oven temperature to broil. Turn the ribs over, basting the bottom well and broil for about 4 to 5 minutes. Turn over again and baste one last time. Broil for an additional 4 to 5 minutes. IMG_1637Enjoy! You likely don’t need it, but if you want additional sauce, you have it.

NOTE: I used extra sauce to marinate some chicken breasts that I will cook tomorrow or Wednesday.

Braised Curried Chicken with Star Anise

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Week-nights it can be difficult to motivate me to cook for just the two of us – especially when I never know exactly when my husband will be home from work. This comforting recipe from The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook by Gloria Bley Miller is a wonderful choice. The recipe doesn’t require a million ingredients, is not expensive and can be made ahead and reheated. This cookbook dates from before ethnic cooking was so widely popular and is a wonderful Chinese cookbook primer. It’s recipes are very flexible and surely everyone can find things they would enjoy. I have adapted this recipe, but the inspiration is definitely from GB Miller. If you are feeling particularly stressed for time, buy pre-chopped garlic and ginger root. My chicken will be served with some fresh, bright green sugar snap peas that I have quickly stir-fried with a little salt, garlic and sugar and a splash of sesame oil before dishing out.

Braised Curried Chicken with Star Anise

Yield: 4-6 servings

Ingredients

6 chicken drumsticks, skin removed

4 chicken thighs, skin removed and cut in half

2 medium onions, chopped

1 Tablespoon finely chopped garlic

1 Tablespoon, finely grated or chopped fresh ginger root

4 Tablespoons vegetable oil, divided (I used Canola oil)

1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour

2 Tablespoons curry powder (If you want it spicy, use “hot” curry powder)

1 Tablespoon granulated sugar

2 Tablespoons soy sauce

2 cups chicken stock (I always try to use unsalted stock)

1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

4 cloves of star anise

1 pound potatoes, peeled and cut into large dice (I used red baby bliss but Yukon Gold would also be good)

Directions

  1. Heat 2 Tablespoons of the oil in a Dutch oven and stir-fry the onions until they soften. Then add the garlic and stiry-fry for a bout 3 more minutes.
  2. Add the additional 2 Tablespoons of oil, ginger, flour and curry powder and stir through to blend well over a low heat.
  3. Turn the heat up to medium-high and add the chicken. Stir through, turning the chicken to coat.
  4. Add the sugar, soy sauce, salt and star anise. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 30 minutes. Then add the potatoes and cook for about 30 more minutes or until the potatoes are tender and the chicken is cooked through
  5. If making ahead, about 35 minutes before serving, gently bring the dish to a simmer and warm through.