Peanuts with Cilantro & Scallions

Full of “good fat” and lots of protein, peanuts are a frequently proferred snack in China and a great addition to a vegetarian Chinese meal. They frequently appear as a side dish at my in-laws house, sometimes dressed as in this recipe, and sometimes just fried and salted. This dish can be made spicy or you can leave out the chilies. I’ve used roasted nuts in place of the usual fried ones to cut down on the fat in the recipe.

ingredients:

  • 4 oz roasted unsalted peanuts (this works best with the “Spanish” type that has the red skins intact, but plain would work too)
  • 2 ea scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
  • 6 stems cilantro, chopped stems and leaves
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-2 ea small red chilies, minced or cut into rounds (optional)

dressing:

  • 2 T soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sugar, brown or raw cane is best
  • 1 tsp rice wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar is also okay here
  • 1 tsp sesame oil

method:

  1. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl.
  2. Combine all the dressing ingredients in a bowl
  3. 10-15 m before serving, add the dressing to the ingredients and mix gently.

do ahead:

This dish is best on the first day it’s made: although leftovers will refrigerate okay, the peanuts get a bit soggy. If you wanted to make this ahead, combine the garlic and chilies with the dressing ingredients up to a day in advance and refrigerate. The scallions and cilantro will lose a bit of their vibrant color, so don’t add those yet. 10-20 m before serving, prepare the scallions and cilantro, add to the peanuts and toss with the dressing.

Anyone live in/near Flushing?

This encouraging article front and center in the New York Times this morning, “Let the Meals Begin,” makes me smile – not only is it refreshing to see some positive coverage of China-related content in the American mainstream media (for its antithesis, check out “Before Guests Arrive, Beijing Hides Some Messes,” redeemed only by reader comments that remind the journalist to take a look at what other cities have done before hosting the Olympics), it’s also good to see that the old “pile of fried protein in cornstarch-thickened glop” is being phased out of Chinese food court stands. I particularly love the comment that “soy sauce is so American.”

If anyone lives in or near Flushing and would like to scope out some (or all!) of the mentioned eateries, I welcome you to leave me a comment on this post – happy to offer a guest blogger a place to post some reviews. Your review(s) would be listed under “yummy stuff” for future reference.

The same goes for anyone who has a restaurant review from their own haunts….

Chicken with Cucumbers

This is a fantastic summer dish that is a snap to put together if you have cooked chicken on hand: roasted, rotisserie, poached, braised, grilled, smoked – they’re all good for this. You can also simmer some chicken especially for it. Whatever piece or cooking method you use, I recommend you start with pastured chicken that has been sustainably raised – the freshness and flavor are astounding, and you may never buy another grocery store chicken in your life. For pastured chicken near you, check out Local Harvest.

ingredients:

  • cooked chicken – about 8 oz, any parts you prefer, cut into 1/2″ strips or pulled off the bone into large shreds
  • 3 Persian or Japanese cucumbers (1 English/seedless or 2 plain old cucumbers)
  • 1/2 tsp salt

dressing:

  • 3 T chicken broth (if you use canned/boxed, low sodium, lowfat is best, since it will be used cold or at room temperature)
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 T light soy sauce
  • 1/2 T sugar (brown or raw cane is best)
  • 1 T rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp sesame oil

method:

  1. Wash the cucumbers and peel if you prefer.
  2. Using the flat side of the knife blade, gently smack the cucumbers on the cutting board until they crack, then cut into 2″ sections. Toss with salt and let them drain over a bowl for 10 m.
  3. While the cucumbers drain, combine the dressing ingredients.
  4. Arrange cucumbers on serving plate, arrange chicken on top, and drizzle with the dressing.

do ahead:

This makes a great picnic dish: salt and drain the cucumbers, then chill separately from the prepared chicken. Combine the dressing ingredients up to 1 day in advance and chill. Arrange and dress at the picnic place just before serving.

Simmered Chicken

This is a terrific recipe for a basic cooked chicken – you can serve it warm in its sauce or use it cold for Chinese Chicken Salad (speaking of Con-fusion cuisine!) and as a base for some other cold dishes – see Chicken with Cucumbers – as well as a good picnic food. In China, most chicken dishes involve using bone-in chicken (more flavor!) which is hacked into chunks with a large cleaver, resulting in tasty bite-sized pieces that throw most foreigners for a loop: how do you eat around the tiny bone pieces – and some slivers! – and gracefully get rid of the bone when you’re done with the meat? In many places (NOT the white tablecloth kind) you’ll see customers gently spitting the bones onto the table or using chopsticks to place them discreetly on a plate or napkin. If you eat in the street shops, you’ll see folks just spit them on the ground. Have a large cleaver and wish to try this approach? Go for it, although you may work out some frustrations hacking away, your family probably won’t thank you for the cultural experience. We usually remove the chicken from the bone before cooking or, in this case, after cooking, when it can be cut further or pulled into shreds. I do recommend you leave the bones in while braising. I also hope you will try to find pastured chicken, after which you may never go back to a conventional grocery store chicken again! Try your local farmers’ market or visit Local Harvest for a farmer near you who sells these delicious, sustainably raised birds.

ingredients

  • 1 3.5-lb chicken, cut up (or you can use all breasts, thighs, etc. – should be bone in, but you can leave off the skin if you’re trying to cut down on fat)
  • 2 ea scallions, cut into 2″ lengths
  • 3 slices fresh ginger root
  • 5 stems cilantro (save the leaves for garnish – they’ll just muddy the liquid) or 1/2 tsp coriander seeds

simmering liquid

  • 2 T Shaoxing cooking wine
  • 1/4 c light soy sauce
  • 1/4 c dark soy sauce (or use all light if you prefer)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 T sugar, preferably brown or raw cane sugar
  • water or broth to cover

method:

  1. Combine the liquid ingredients except for the water or broth in a pot large enough to hold the chicken.
  2. Add the chicken pieces, scallions, ginger root, and cilantro. Add enough liquid to cover.
  3. Bring to a boil and immediately turn down to a bare simmer – boiling will make the chicken, especially the breasts, quite tough.
  4. Simmer 30 m, then check to see whether the thickest piece is cooked through – the juices should run clear when pierced with a knife. You may need to return it to a simmer for 5-15 more minutes.
  5. If serving warm, remove chicken to a plate and keep warm, reduce the sauce by 1/2 by boiling vigorously over medium-high heat; strain the sauce, pour over the chicken and serve.
  6. If serving cold, set the pot into a sink filled with enough ice and water to come up to the level of the sauce in the pot; cool to room temperature or lower before refrigerating the chicken in the sauce.

reduce, reuse, recycle!

If you don’t need the sauce for the recipe, save it – it makes great flavoring for noodle broth (MUCH healthier than those msg- and sodium-laden packets that come with instant noodles!) or as a flavoring for a quick soup. Freeze it in an ice cube tray, pop the cubes into a container, then dilute with water or broth for either of those uses.

Technique: Blanch & Shock

Sounds a bit too much like shock and awe, but this is a method used to precook items (usually vegetables, with the exception of starchy ones, like potatoes) that would not cook through in a quick stirfry, or for when you want to prepare something ahead and quickly finish the cooking later. It’s also a great way to set that bright green color for vegetables you want to serve not-quite-raw (broccoli, asparagus, green beans…).

Blanch – cook slightly (NOT until cooked through) in boiling water.

Shock – immediately plunge just-blanched vegetables into ice water: this halts the cooking process and sets the color. As soon as the vegetable is cold, drain and let dry, or you will end up with soggy veggies and a huge splattering if you are using them for stirfry.

Marinated Asparagus

Asparagus is available year-round at the conventional stores now, but it’s certainly best in spring and summer and bought from the local farmers’ market – avoid it in other seasons, when it’s likely to have traveled many miles, getting tough, using up fossil fuel, and losing a lot of nutrition along the way. (On this and many other food topics, I highly recommend Barbara Kingsolver’s wonderful essay about waiting for asparagus in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.) When you buy asparagus, regardless of size look for firm, unshrunken stems and tightly-closed tips. The best produce stands will store the bunches upright in a bit of water – take your cue from them, and when you get home, cut a bit off the bottom, stand the stalks upright in a glass with a 1/2″ of water in the bottom, and put it in the fridge. Better yet, cook it the day you buy it!

ingredients:

  • 1 lb fresh asparagus

dressing

  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 T light soy sauce
  • 1 T sesame oil
  • 1/4 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp rice wine vinegar

method:

  1. Snap off the ends of each asparagus stalk where it does so naturally.
  2. If the spears are thicker than a pencil, peel the bottom ends.
  3. Cut in 1.5″ lengths or roll-cut.
  4. Steam (or blanch) just until crisp-tender and bright green (if you get to olive green, it’s a bit too well-done), then then shock in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking and set the color, draining well when cold.
  5. While the asparagus cools, combine the dressing ingredients in a small bowl; set aside.
  6. 10-20 m before serving, combine the asparagus with the dressing, and serve.

do ahead:
Asparagus and dressing can be prepared up to 1 day in advance.
Do not combine until 10-20 m before serving, or the vegetable will turn an unattractive olive color.

Stirfried Chinese Spinach (Amaranth)

If your farmers’ market has one or more vendors of Asian vegetables, pay them a visit and just browse the offerings – you may discover a few varieties of greens that you’ve never tried before. One of them, called amaranth or calaloo, is often labeled Chinese Spinach. It has bright green stems and slightly darker green-edged leaves with a splash of pink in the middle. When it’s cooked, you end up with silky dark green leaves in a shockingly pink juice – my husband and I joke that if only our daughter were younger and still into pink, we could serve this up as princess spinach!

In Mandarin, it’s called hancai. It’s late in the season for it in Southern California just now, but I imagine in the rest of the country it still has a few weeks to go. The preparation of this vegetable, one of the simplest in Chinese cuisine, can be used to cook most tender leafy greens (spinach, etc.) The vegetable shrinks considerably, so if you’re only doing 2 dishes with rice, consider upping the quantity you use and cook it in 2 batches.

The flavor is cleaner than that of spinach, and as we say at our house, “It doesn’t leave sweaters on your teeth” like spinach does. My kids love this vegetable, and even the younger one (not a huge vegetable fan) will take multiple servings – here’s proof:

ingredients:

  • 12 oz amaranth (or other tender leafy green – but you won’t get the pink juice!)
  • 1 T oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1/4 tsp salt (or more to taste)

method

  1. Soak the amaranth in as many changes of cool water as it takes to end up with no grit on the bottom of the sink, then remove the stems almost up to the leaf – the stems are very tough for a stirfry. Shake the leaves gently to remove most of the water, but leave some drops clinging to them.
  2. Heat the wok, add the oil until it shimmers and “explode the garlic until fragrant” without letting it brown.
  3. Add the amaranth leaves and quickly stirfry until coated with oil. Be careful – the remaining water droplets will make this sizzle and pop a lot.
  4. Add the salt, 1/4 tsp at a time, and keep stirfrying until the leaves wilt, turn darker and release their glorious pink juice.