One of my most guilty pleasures is Chinese take-out. While others dream of chocolates and sweets, I sit at my desk thinking about lunch specials packed in those condensation gathering Styrofoam containers crammed with Sesame Chicken, sweet and sour dishes, and oodles of noodles. We all know that ordering takeout can be expensive, and not always the best option for those who seek to be more health conscious. And let’s face it, making most of those dishes at home is just too hard, right? Not so with Chinese Soul Food.
While Hsiao-Ching Chou’s debut cookbook isn’t a title that on the surface, delivers healthy versions of our Asian favorites, it does guide us to preparing these meals using fresh ingredients in the comfort of our own homes. Making these at home recipes ensures that we can control the quality and amounts of those not-so-good-for-us ingredients (MSG, anyone?). You might think that you will not be able to replicate General Tso’s Chicken such as that from your favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurant, but you would be wrong. Hsiao-Ching’s version is easy and delicious – perfect for those Friday night cravings or in my case – any time cravings. It’s crispy and fresh with no Styrofoam cases to muck up the environment.
When I first learned Hsiao-Ching was working on a cookbook, I was thrilled. Often, photos of friends attending one of her dumpling classes in Seattle would cause a streak of jealousy to run through my foodie veins. I, too, wanted to learn to pleat dumplings like a master. Now with her book, I can follow her step-by-step photos and make those lovely pillows of deliciousness. No more Pinterest fail boards or sarcastic “nailed it” posts for me!
Hsiao-Ching’s book focuses on recipes that the author makes for her own family, which are not overly complicated or pretentious. I’ve made many dishes including the General Tso’s mentioned above, all with wonderful results. When this cookbook was covered in the Eat Your Books Cookbook Club, people were excited about it. As photos of gorgeous dishes were shared, many more members said they had to have the title or that it was one of the best books they had cooked from in a while. The author does indeed provide a friendly guide, written as if she were sitting in our kitchens with us.
There are dozens of recipes here that are fresh and vibrant such as the Steamed Spare Ribs, Salt-and-Sichuan Pepper Shrimp, Simple Stir-Fried Greens and Wok-Seared Corn to name a few of the healthier choices. As for the General Tso’s and Fried Rice dish, try sauteing the protein without battering and utilize the author’s sauces to boost the flavor of these dishes with less guilt.
The Baby Bok Choy with Chicken recipe, pictured and shared below, was such a breeze to make, and so flavorful and satisfying by itself, that it didn’t require rice to make it a complete meal. It was even better the next day warmed up.
Check out Hsiao-Ching’s helpful how-to videos online for tips and tricks to making your Chinese cooking experience easier. If you are new to Chinese cooking, Hsiao-Ching’s Chinese Soul Food is the perfect starting place and Hsiao-Ching the perfect teacher.
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Baby Bok Choy with Chicken
Makes 4 Servings
When I taught this dish in a cooking class, the response was resoundingly positive. Students were surprised by how straightforward it was to prepare and by how much flavor just a few ingredients could yield. Until that point, I had thought such a simple stir-fry would be too boring for students to make. It was a reminder that what’s second nature to me isn’t necessarily so for my students. This recipe is a basic formula that you can apply to any number of proteins, vegetables, and aromatics. A note on bok choy: One head of baby bok choy can range in size from as small as three to four inches long and about one and a half inches in diameter to more than six inches long and three inches wide. If the heads are small, then I may trim and separate the leaves but not cut them. If the heads are large, then I will separate the leaves and slice them crosswise into half-inch-wide slices.
8 ounces chicken breast, about 1 cup
2 tablespoons soy sauce, divided
2 teaspoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
3 to 4 heads baby bok choy, trimmed and leaves separated
¼ cup water
1 large clove garlic, crushed
¼ teaspoon sesame oil
1. Cut the chicken breast lengthwise into two to three strips, about 1½ inches wide, or about the size of chicken tenders. Then slice each strip of chicken crosswise into slivers. The exact size of the slivers is not as important as keeping the pieces relatively uniform. In a small bowl, combine the chicken with 1 tablespoon of the soy sauce and mix well. Add the cornstarch and mix well again.
2. Preheat a wok over high heat until wisps of smoke rise from the surface. Add 2 tablespoons of the vegetable oil and heat until it shimmers. Add the chicken and, using a spatula, quickly spread it into a single layer in the bowl of the wok. After about 15 seconds, stir-fry the chicken for about 1 more minute, or until the chicken is nearly cooked through. Remove the wok from the heat, transfer the chicken into a small bowl, and set aside. Rinse the wok and dry with a towel.
3. Return the wok to the stove over high heat. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon vegetable oil and heat until it starts to shimmer.
4. Add the bok choy leaves and stir for about 1 minute. The leaves will begin to wilt and turn dark green. Add the chicken and stir-fry for a few seconds to combine. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon soy sauce and the water and garlic, and stir until all the bok choy leaves and chicken are just cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes. Add salt to taste.
5. Drizzle with sesame oil, and serve with steamed rice.
Recipe excerpted from Chinese Soul Food by permission of Sasquatch Books. ©2018 by Hsiao-Ching Chou. All rights reserved.