If there's one thing that makes me blow my budget or my great intentions on a workday, it's when a coworker tucks her head around the corner and whispers a word: Chinese.
I'm a sucker for great Chinese food. I love the flavors, the vegetables, the soups. Just about everything.
And it's ever better when you get the real thing.
Now, I'm not talking about the Great China Buffet by any means. And I'm not talking about take-out. I'm talking about real, authentic Chinese food -- not the breaded, heavy on the meat, Americanized kind.
And, given that we're ringing in the new year in a few days, it's time to rethink our celebrations. Sure, you can get take out, but then you're doomed to use those annoying little waxed boxes with the funny handles that may or may not survive the ride home - but will land in a landfill for ages to come.
Instead, we're having a quick lesson in how to make authentic Chinese dishes from home. It's surprisingly easy, and it's a fun activity for a few friends over for dinner or an afternoon with the family.
One of the easiest - and laziest dishes - I know of to make is what we've come to call "Chicken in a Pot." Taken from an old Chinese cookbook I'd acquired after it was ruined in our flood-damaged apartment, this is a simple dish that doesn't require a lot of time.
Chicken in a Pot
Take a 3.5-4 pound chicken and rub with a tablespoon of salt. Put it in a large pot (we use a stockpot), cover with water and bring to a boil.Add fresh ginger (the original recipe calls for 6 slices but you can adjust) and 6 whole green onions. Cover tightly, reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave covered tightly for one hour.Remove the chicken and cut into bite-sized pieces. Serve with dipping sauce. (See below) The liquid can be used as a start for making stock.
To make the dipping sauce:
Mix 4 tablespoons green onions, 2 tsp. ginger and 2 tsp. salt. Heat a wok until it's hot, and add 2 tablespoons peanut oil. When it's hot, add the green onion mix and mix well. Remove from heat.
Basic White Rice
I'm not sure how white rice became "the" staple for Chinese food, but so many people struggle with it.
Here's the thing: You don't need a rice cooker. After burning through a rice cooker a year for a decade, my husband learned how to make rice without one and has never gone back.
2 cups water
1 cup long grain white rice
Boil water over high heat. Add the rice and stir. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for 20 minutes. Turn off heat and keep covered. Let rest for 5 minutes. Remove cover and fluff with a fork. Serve immediately or keep warm.
And if it's sticky? You're fine! Sticky rice is OK!
Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons peanut oil in a wok until it is hot and slightly smoking. Toss in 1 tsp. salt, 2 tablespoons chopped garlic and 1 tsp. ginger and stirfry for 1 minute.
Add 1 pound sliced mushrooms and stirfry 2 minutes. Pour in 2 tsp. sherry, 2 tsp. soy sauce and 1 tsp. sugar. Stir-fry for 5 minutes. Add 2 tsp. sesame oil just before serving.
Looking for other recipes to try? Here are some tried-and-true ones that our family enjoys:
Chinese Chicken Soup
Vegetable Low Mein
Originally published at the Green Phone Booth, February 2010