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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Chinese Chicken Salad with Ginger Sesame Dressing

I created this recipe for my fellow Shanghai Mamas. I'm re-posting the recipe and article I wrote for them here.

When I first arrived in China, cooking and feeding my family seemed like a big conundrum. What the heck was I supposed to make with only a two burner stove and a tiny toaster oven? Now over 2 ½ years later, cooking in China has become an exciting culinary challenge. Yes, there might be things that I miss here and there, but by in large it has been wonderful to reinvent my cooking style using a lot less packaged and processed foods. Learning to utilize all the fresh ingredients here has meant not only saving money, but feeding my family healthier meals.

 One thing I especially enjoy about China is the seasonality of the fruits and vegetables. Right now for example, the júzi or mandarin oranges are in the peak of season as evidenced by the truckloads of them on nearly every street corner. In Traditional Chinese Medicine the dried peel of the mandarin orange is supposed to aid in digestion, but I opt for using the juicy sweet inner sections of the fruit.

 While walking through my local wet market with my boys a few weeks ago I noticed that the place where we buy yóutiáo also sells fried wonton strips or yóu sàn zi in the afternoon. We bought some for a snack and my boys happily crunched on them for the rest of the shopping trip. I thought about them days later and how perfect they would be on a salad. That along with the plentiful mandarin oranges served as my inspiration to create this recipe. I also included sweet roasted almonds which add lovely color and additional crunch. If you haven’t tried the sweet roasted almonds this salad is the perfect excuse to go out and buy some. I promise you will be addicted! You can find them at any of your local nut shops, although the best ones I’ve ever had came from a Xinjiangese street peddler.

 The name of the recipe might be a misnomer as I’m not sure I know of any zhōngguórén who would actually try this salad. A fact that was further demonstrated to me as I had to buy the ingredients three different times because my darling ayi kept cooking the lettuce and peas! The ginger sesame dressing for this salad is tangy and sweet; almost a vinaigrette. This recipe takes some traditional Chinese flavors and ingredients that you might find in your average vegetable dish and gives them a light and fresh twist.

 Chinese Chicken Salad with Ginger Sesame Dressing

Ginger Sesame Dressing

2 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp rice vinegar
½ tsp salt
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp grated ginger
2 cloves crushed garlic
2 tsp sesame seeds

Combine all ingredients and mix until salt and sugar have dissolved.

Chinese Chicken Salad

2 chicken breasts
1 tbsp oil
Salt to taste
2 heads of green leaf lettuce
½ cup snow or sugar snap peas
¼ cup sweet roasted almonds, chopped
4-5 peeled, sectioned, mandarin oranges
wonton strips or yóu sàn zi (found in local markets, or at Carrefour near the baozi)

In a skillet on low/medium heat, heat 1 tbsp oil. When hot, add two chicken breasts. Pan fry for 5 minutes until slightly browned. Turn and pan fry on the other side until browned. The chicken will be done when the meat is no longer pink in the center. Cover and let the chicken breasts rest for 5 minutes. (When meat cooks the juices are pulled to the surface of the meat. Resting allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, resulting in your meat being juicier and less dry). After chicken has rested, chop up meat and sprinkle with salt. Shell and chop up the almonds. Wash and tear up lettuce. Wash the peas and remove the stems. Place lettuce, chopped chicken, peas, and almonds in a bowl and toss together. Add oranges and wonton strips and gently toss. Serve with Ginger Sesame Dressing.

*Alterations: if you have soy sensitivity, substitute ½ tsp salt for the soy sauce. If you want to make it vegetarian, just omit the chicken.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Homemade GingerAle

My little Colin was sick a few weeks ago with some kind of stomach bug and it was the perfect opportunity to try out a recipe I found for homemade gingerale. As the basic ingredients are all readilly avaliable and in my kitchen I thought it would be a fun experiment to try.
My 5 year old, Miles was particluarlly interested in the science aspects of this little project as I was explaining how the yeast ingests sugar and created gas bubbles the same way it does when you make bread.

1 clean empty 2 liter soda bottle (do not use a glass bottle- it will explode under pressure)
juice from 1/2 lemon
3 tbsp grated ginger
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp yeast
filtered water


 Using a funnel, pour sugar into the 2 liter bottle.
 Add yeast.
 Finely grate ginger.

 Add to the bottle
 Juice lemon half.
 Add juice to bottle.
 Add filtered or bottled water.
 Leave 2 inch headspace at the top of the bottle. Screw on cap
 Shake until well combined.
The bottle should have give when you squeeze it.

Leave out at room temperature for 24hrs.
After 24hrs the yeast has ingested enough sugar to create carbon dioxide bubbles. The bottle will now feel taunt when you try to squeeze it.

This was so easy and fun I can't wait to try and make homemade rootbeer with the rootbeer extract I brought back from the States. I would also love to try vanilla soda with vanilla extract. really this recipe would work for anykind of soda- just change the flavoring.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Chicken Tikka Masala

It may sound crazy but this is my go-to meal when I don't know what to make for dinner. I always try to keep the ingredients on hand so that when I am stumped on an idea for dinner I can fall back on this. It is both of my boys (ages 3 and 5) favorite meal and if I gave them the option they would eat it pretty much every day. I can always count on them eating at least two helpings.

Although this meal is delicious it isn't very heavy on vegetables so I like to cut up cucumber and carrot sticks and serve them on the side with homemade hummus.

One nice thing about this dish is that you can vary the amount of spiciness by adding or subtracting the amount of cayenne pepper and la jiao you use. For me the quantities listed are just perfect. Just a bit spicy without being so spicy the kids won't eat it. But I know for my husband, he would like it just a bit spicier.

I used to make homemade nan bread to serve with this until I discovered that there was a Indian flatbread in the freezer section of my local Carrefour. Now a days I just keep some of that in the freezer so I can whip this meal quickly.

2 chicken breasts cut into strips
1 cup plain yogurt (I just use two 100ml containers of plain yogurt)
1 tbsp (15ml). lemon juice
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tbsp minced ginger
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (depends on your spiciness preference- can add more, but I think its plenty spicy without being too hot for the kids)
1 t. paprika

2 T. butter
2 clove minced garlic
1 hot pepper (la jiao) diced
2 t. cumin
2 t. paprika
1 t. salt
8 oz tomato paste I just use one can of the Chinese tomato paste
1/2- 1 cup of extra water and a little sugar (1/2 tsp) to cut the acidity)
1 c. cream (or one 200- 250g container)
¼ c. chopped cilantro

In a small bowl add ginger and lemon juice.

Add spices and salt.
Add yogurt.
Dice up chicken (I prefer to cut it up into really small pieces for my little kids but you can go bigger if you would like.
Add chicken to marinade.
Set aside for 1 hr.
Next add butter to skillet or wok.
Add hot pepper,
and garlic and saute for 1 minute.
Add salt, cumin and paprika and fry for 1 more minute.

Add tomato paste.
Add one canful of water. Add sugar (not shown)
Stir until smooth.
Add cream.
Stir until smooth.
Add chicken mixture.

Cook for 10 minutes until chicken is thoroughly cooked and sauce has thickened slightly.  Stir occasionally so the bottom does not scorch.

Garnish with 1/4 cup of chopped cilantro(coriander).
Serve over rice with nan bread or chapti bread.
This is what the Indian flat bread I buy looks like.
Add oil to a saucepan and heat over medium heat.
Cook until golden on the first side and then flip.
Cook until the other side is done.

Cut into triangles and eat with the sauce and rice.