Kung Pao Chicken

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Kung Pao chicken originated in China’s Sichuan province, and the original version bears little resemblance to the saucy, sugary version we find in so many Americanized Chinese restaurants. Like most families in the U.S., we grew up with the Chinese American classics of the 1980s and 1990s, but I never liked green bell peppers — an ubiquitous ingredient in the Americanized version of Kung Pao chicken. When I discovered that the original version was sans bell pepper and with a healthy dose of Sichuan peppercorns, I was hooked.

There is a time and place for Americanized Chinese cuisine. After all, it’s comfort food for so many. But when it comes to Kung Pao chicken, this is the spicy, flavorful, and peanut-flecked version that I crave.

Kung pao chicken

Ingredients:

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut in to 1/2 inch cubes
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons Chinese rice wine
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
10 small dried red chiles
2 1/2 inch piece ginger, cut into thin strips
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 cup roasted peanuts
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese black vinegar
1/2 teaspoon ground Sichuan peppercorns

1. Combine chicken with cornstarch and wine in a bowl. Cover, place in refrigerator, and leave to marinate for 1 hour.
2. Place 2 tablespoons oil and chiles in a wok and turn heat to low. Cook for about 3 minutes or until chiles begin to darken. Using a slotted spoon, remove chiles and drain on kitchen paper.
3. Leaving chili-infused oil in wok, turn heat up to high and stir-fry the chicken for about 6 minutes. Add ginger and reserved chiles and stir fry for 1 minute.
4. Add sugar and stir fry for 30 seconds. Add peanuts, soy sauce, and vinegar and stir fry for 1 minute. Add Sichuan pepper and remove from heat. Serve warm.

Sri Lankan Chicken Curry

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I find myself comparing Sri Lankan food to Iranian food all the time as I learn to cook the former. It’s so similar and yet entirely different. Chicken curry is typically associated with South Asian cuisine, but Iranians have khoresh-e kari, a Persian curry that is milder than its South Asian counterparts.

I wondered about the origins of that khoresh as I learned to cook this curry. How did curry make its way to Iran? How did it make its way to Sri Lanka? Where did curry originate? Wikipedia says curry was adopted and anglicised from the Tamil word kari meaning “sauce”, which is usually understood to mean vegetables and/or meat cooked with spices with or without a gravy. I’m fascinated by food, migration, and its intersections.

But back to this chicken curry. It’s easy to cook and reheats wonderfully. Served alongside rice and some pickled vegetables or yogurt, it makes a satiating meal.

Sri Lankan chicken curry

Ingredients:

3 pounds skinless bone-in chicken thighs
3 tablespoons roasted curry powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons oil
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, sliced
2-inch piece ginger, chopped
1 or 2 sprigs curry leaves
3-inch stalk lemongrass
3 cardamom pods
3 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup coconut milk
salt
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste

1. Place chicken in a bowl with curry powder, cayenne powder, and vinegar. Mix well and set aside for at least 2 hours and up to overnight in the refrigerator.

2. In a large pot, heat oil. Add onions, ginger, garlic, curry leaves, lemongrass, cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon. Saute until onions are golden brown.

3. Add chicken pieces, stirring occasionally until chicken is browned.

4. Add 1/2 cup water to the bowl that contained the chicken and mix to catch any remaining marinade and add to the pot. Lower heat to medium, cover, and cook for 20 minutes, being careful not to burn the chicken and adding a little more water if necessary.

5. Stir in coconut milk and salt to taste and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.

6. Stir in tomato paste and simmer for 2 minutes.

Glazed Chicken with Chiles

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I don’t know much about Shaanxi cuisine other than it’s strongly flavored with its emphasis on onions, garlic, vinegar, and chiles. The resemblance to Sichuan cuisine drew me to this old recipe adapted from my tattered copy of Martin Yan’s China, originally named “glazed Xian chicken.” The chicken is stir-fried and coated with a savory sauce and the whole thing comes together in about half an hour. I can’t attest to its authenticity, but I can attest to its deliciousness.

Xian-style chicken

Ingredients:

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1/3 cup chicken broth
3 tablespoons rice wine
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 small dried red chiles
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 ribs celery, thinly sliced diagonally
1 small zucchini, thinly sliced (optional)
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 teaspoon water
1/3 cup toasted walnut halves

1. Cut chicken into 3/4 inch pieces. Place in a bowl and add oyster sauce; stir to coat. Let stand for 10 minutes. Combine sauce ingredients in a bowl; set aside.

2. Place a wok over high heat until hot. Add oil, swirling to coat sides. Add chiles and garlic; cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 10 seconds. Add chicken and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add celery, zucchini, and onion; stir-fry for 1 minute. Add sauce and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 3 minutes. Add cornstarch solution and cook, stirring, until sauce boils and thickens. Add walnuts and toss to coat.

Chicken Chow Fun

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I’m trying to cut down on pasta lately, but I’d like to think that this dish doesn’t count because it uses rice noodles as opposed to flour-based noodles. Rice doesn’t count, right? At least that’s what the Iranian in me says.

Carb delirium aside, this chicken chow fun dish is a much healthier (and delicious!) version of the restaurant classic. The meat is lean, the oil is minimal, and the vegetables are plentiful.

Chicken chow fun

Ingredients:

1 pound fresh or dried flat rice noodles, about 1/2 inch wide
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon Chinese rice wine
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 pound boneless, skinless chicken, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 yellow onion, thinly sliced
3 green onions, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 cup bean sprouts
1/4 cup roasted peanuts

1. If using dried rice noodles, pour enough warm water over them in a large bowl to cover completely. Let soak until softened, about 30 minutes. Drain thoroughly. If using fresh rice noodles, run under warm water and separate strands.

2. Marinate the chicken: Stir 1 tablespoon of the soy sauce, rice wine, garlic, cornstarch, and pepper together in a bowl until the cornstarch is dissolved. Toss the chicken gently in the marinade until coated. Let stand for 20 minutes.

3. Prepare the seasonings: stir the remaining soy sauce, chili garlic sauce, and sugar together in a bowl until the sugar is dissolved.

4. Heat a wok over high heat until hot. Add oil and swirl to coat the sides. Add the noodles and stir-fry until the noodles are lightly browned along the edges, about 2 minutes. Place the noodles onto a plate and set aside.

5. Add the chicken to the wok and stir-fry until no longer pink, about 3 minutes. Add both onions and the ginger and stir-fry until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Slide the noodles into the wok, scatter the bean sprouts over them, and pour in the seasonings. Toss until the mixture is heated through and the chicken is coated evenly with the seasonings, about 4 minutes.

6. Stir in the peanuts, place the contents of the wok onto a serving plate, and serve.

Gochujang Chicken Wings

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Gochujang is a a Korean fermented chili paste, which gives these chicken wings a uniquely spicy flavor that I can’t get enough of. It forms the backbone of the sauce, which is pretty simple to put together. Gochuchang (not to be confused with gochugaru, or Korean chili flakes) is both pungent and hot, sweet and salty all at the same time. It’s delicious. I’ve been experimenting with Korean flavors at home, and these spicy-sweet and sticky chicken wings have become one of my favorites.

Korean-style chicken wings

Ingredients:

6 pounds chicken wings, tips discarded and wings split
1/4 cup canola oil
salt and pepper
1/3 cup gochujang (Korean chile paste)
2 tablespoons gochugaru (Korean chile powder)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon water
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons minced ginger
1 teaspoon minced garlic
Sesame seeds and sliced green onions, for garnish

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with foil and coat with nonstick cooking spray. In a large bowl, toss the wings with the canola oil and season with salt and pepper. Transfer the wings, skin side up, to the prepared baking sheets and roast them for about 45 minutes, until they are cooked through and crisp.

2. Meanwhile, in another large bowl, whisk all of the remaining ingredients except the garnish with a pinch of freshly ground pepper.

3. Add the crispy wings to the chile sauce, toss to coat and garnish with the sesame seeds and scallions. Serve hot.