Chinese for the Holidays – Kung Pao Turkey

There is a stereotype that all Jews eat Chinese food on Christmas Eve, well…. my family either ate Chinese at our favourite restaurant or we had Texas barbecued brisket from Ft. Worth, Texas’ famous Cousin’s Bar-B-Q , Greenberg’s smoked turkey from Tyler, Texas and the fixins: homemade mustard coleslaw, Mom’s baked beans, etc.  I can’t eat it anymore because it is not kosher, but Cousin’s make some of the best damn barbecued brisket I have ever had. One of these days I am going to try to make my own.

So, in keeping with the family tradition, I made a non-traditional Kung Pao Turkey by torchlight. No, it is not a family  tradition to cook by torchlight on Christmas Eve: the power went out right as I was finishing chopping the vegetables. Mr BT helped me finish the meal by holding a torch over the stove top. Luckily, I have a gas stove top, so I could continue cooking in the dark. The power didn’t come on until halfway through dinner, so we ate by candlelight. Awwwww, how romantic.

Mr BT and I wish you and yours a very happy holidays!

Kung Pao Turkey

Serving Size: 4

Kung Pao Turkey

For the Kung Pao Turkey

250 g (1/2 lb) skinless turkey breast, cut into cubes

100 g cashews or peanuts, toasted

2 whole red fresh chilies

3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1 inch piece of ginger, thinly sliced

3 green onions, chopped

1 cup bean sprouts

2 small courgettes, diced

1 small container white button (champignon) mushrooms, sliced

For the marinade:

1 tablespoon water

½ tablespoon Chinese rice wine or cooking wine

¼ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons cornstarch

For the sauce:

1 tablespoon light soy sauce

1 teaspoon dark soy sauce

2 tablespoon vinegar

1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or cooking wine

2 teaspoons sesame oil

Pinch of salt

2 teaspoons cornstarch

2 tablespoons cold water or chicken broth

Roast the cashews in a 160C (300F) oven for about 20 minutes or until golden brown. Set aside.

Mix the water, rice wine, salt and cornstarch in a medium size bowl, add the chicken and marinate for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix all the ingredients of the sauce together.

Heat oil in a wok or frying pan over high heat and stir fry the chicken until opaque and half cooked. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Stir fry the chillies, garlic and ginger for a few seconds and then add back the chicken and give it a good stir. Add the mushrooms and the courgettes and stir for a couple of minutes. Then add the sauce and the bean sprouts and stir until the sauce thickens. Finally, add the cashews and the green onions and stir until mixed through.

Serve immediately with a bowl of steamed rice.

Jiǎozi – Chinese Pot Stickers

For those of you who have followed me on this blog, you know that I have had many cooking mentors in my life: my mother, father, both grandmothers, Uncle Alfred, my second mom Alberta, and my third mom Ying. Ying is not just a cook, she is really a chef who understands the science of cooking, someone who knows if there isn’t enough leavening, if there is too much sugar or too much butter, and knows how to doctor something that was over or under seasoned. She just knows and can explain it. She was my baking science teacher and my Chinese cooking teacher. She and my Dad (z”l) taught me everything I know about Chinese cooking and I will be forever grateful.

I used to make Chinese food a lot, but I got so wrapped up in learning about other ethnic food when I moved to Israel, I put it on the back burner. Also there aren’t any good Chinese, Thai or Vietnamese restaurants here, so I don’t have much inspiration either. But lately, I have had a craving for Chinese food and so I decided to make one of my Dim Sum favorites, pot stickers. I love them steamed and fried, but decided to make pan-fried ones.

From Wikipedia:

Dim sum is usually linked with the older tradition from yum cha (tea tasting), which has its roots in travelers on the ancient Silk Road needing a place to rest. Thus teahouses were established along the roadside. Rural farmers, exhausted after working hard in the fields, would go to teahouses for a relaxing afternoon of tea. At first, it was considered inappropriate to combine tea with food, because people believed it would lead to excessive weight gain. People later discovered that tea can aid in digestion, so teahouse owners began adding various snacks.

The unique culinary art of dim sum originated with the Cantonese in southern China, who over the centuries transformed yum cha from a relaxing respite to a loud and happy dining experience. In Hong Kong, and in most cities and towns in Guangdong province, many restaurants start serving dim sum as early as five in the morning. It is a tradition for the elderly to gather to eat dim sum after morning exercises. For many in southern China, yum cha is treated as a weekend family day. More traditional dim sum restaurants typically serve dim sum until mid-afternoon. However, in modern society it has become common place for restaurants to serve dim sum at dinner time, various dim sum items are even sold as take-out for students and office workers on the go.

While dim sum (literally meaning: touch the heart) was originally not a main meal, only a snack, and therefore only meant to touch the heart, it is now a staple of Chinese dining culture, especially in Hong Kong.

On a trip, many years ago, to Seattle, I went to a great cookery shop near the famous Pike Place Market that was then only know to locals and a few tourists, Sur La Table. It was and still is a cookery lover’s dream. I came home with three things that I still have: a funky bespoke hat, a 1987 edition of Paula Wolfert’s Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco and Huang Su-Huei’s Chinese Snacks, which is written in Chinese and English. Chinese Snacks contains recipes for many Dim Sum favourites like steamed buns, steamed dumplings, won tons, etc. It has step-by-step photos, but with that said, it really helps to have a Chinese grandmother to show you some of the tricks of folding and shaping the dumplings. If you don’t have access to one, there are YouTube videos that show you how to do it.

Chinese Pot Stickers

My folding technique is not perfect and the dough is not quite as thin as packaged gyoza skins, but I was rather proud of the way mine turned out.

Jiaozi – Chinese Pot Stickers

Yield: 50 dumplings

Jiaozi – Chinese Pot Stickers

For a vegetarian filling, use cabbage, bok choy, spinach, celery, carrot, etc.

500g (1lb) ground beef

6 tablespoons sesame oil

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger

4 - 6 garlic cloves, crushed in a garlic press or minced finely

500g cabbage, chopped finely

1 teaspoon salt

6 green onions (green part only) or garlic chives, chopped finely

Dipping sauce:

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon white rice vinegar

2 teaspoons chilli oil


3 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cups cold water

1/2 cup flour (for kneading)

or use Gyoza Skins

For the filling:

Mix the ground beef, the sesame oil, salt, pepper, grated ginger, and garlic together. Set aside.

Mix the chopped cabbage with 1 teaspoon of salt and set aside for 10 minutes. Squeeze out the excess water and add it and the green onion to the beef mixture. Mix the mixture until everything is well incorporated and place in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

For the dipping sauce:

Combine all the dipping sauce ingredients together in a small bowl.

For the skins:

Place the flour in a large bowl and add the water. Knead into a smooth dough and set aside for 10 minutes. Roll it into a long snake and cut it into 50 pieces and then roll each piece of dough into a 7.5 centimeter (3-inch) disk, making the outer edge thinner than the center. Dust them liberally with additional flour, and stack them (the flour will help keep them fresh and prevent them from sticking to each other).

To get perfectly circular wrappers, use a biscuit/scone cutter that is 7.5 - 9 centimeters (approximately 3- to 3.5-inches) in diameter, roll out your dough to a slightly larger size, and use the cutter to cut out a perfect circle.

Moisten the edges of the dough with water and place a teaspoonful of the filling in the center of the dough. Fold the circle in half and using the index finger and thumb, bring the sides together to pleat the front of the dumpling while keeping the back of the dumpling smooth. For an excellent tutorial of how to fold the dumplings, go here.

To cook:

Heat a frying pan on medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of canola or peanut oil. Arrange the dumplings, flat side down in the pan. Don't be afraid to put them close together. Turn the heat to low and fry the dumplings for one minute or until golden brown. Add 1/2 cup of water and cover. Cook for about 6 minutes over medium heat or until the water has evaporated. Flip the potstickers onto a plate and serve with the dipping sauce.

Chicken with Cashews for a Weary Traveller

I have been abroad with Mr BT for the past several weeks visiting our family and old friends. It was a bittersweet trip home because I had to deal with the grim reality of a parent with Alzheimer’s. It is hard to watch my father, still in the prime of his life, who taught me about the world, cooking, art, music, and computers, slip away. The good news is that he is happy every day and I can’t ask for anymore. We also went to visit my 92-year-old mother-in-law in London and went to the beautiful Bevis Marks synagogue, the oldest synagogue in Great Britain, for Shabbat and Purim services. This is the synagogue that some of my ancestors attended and I was able to pray by candlelight as they did so many years ago.

As soon as I organize my photos, I will report on a couple of restaurants we went to in Atlanta.

I am still getting over my jetlag and only feel like making dishes that are quick and made in one pan. I think the best dishes for one pan are Chinese stir-fry and Chicken with Cashews is one of my favorites. I like to make it spicy and gingery, so I usually add 2 teaspoons of ginger to the recipe. I substituted green peas in place of the green peppers adding them at the last minute so they would not be overcooked.

Chicken with Cashews

Serving Size: 4

2 whole boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1kg or 2lbs)

1 egg white

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1 teaspoon soy sauce

Pinch white pepper

1 large green pepper

1 medium onion

2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil

1 cup raw cashews

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon finely chopped ginger

1 tablespoon Hoisin sauce

2 teaspoons chili paste

1/4 cup chicken broth

2 tablespoons chopped green onion

For cornstarch mixture:

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 tablespoon cold water

1 tablespoon soy sauce

Cut chicken breasts into 2cm (3/4 inch) pieces. Mix the egg white, cornstarch, soy sauce, and white pepper in a medium bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Cut the bell pepper into 2cm (3/4 inch) pieces and cut the onion into eighths. Mix the cornstarch, water and soy sauce in a small bowl and set aside.

Heat the wok on high. Add 2 tablespoons of oil and tilt the wok to coat the sides with oil. Add the cashews and stir-fry for about 1 minute or until the cashews are light brown. Remove from wok and drain on a paper towel and sprinkle lightly with salt.

Add the chicken to the wok and stir-fry until the chicken turns white. Remove the chicken from the wok.

Add 2 more tablespoons of vegetable oil and tilt the wok to the coat the sides with oil. Add the onion and ginger; stir-fry until the ginger is light brown. Add the chicken, bell pepper, Hoisin sauce and chili paste; stir-fry 1 minute. Add the chicken broth and bring the mixture to a boil. Stir in the cornstarch mixture and cook until thickened. Sprinkle the mixture with the cashews and green onion and serve.

Hainanese Chicken and Rice

I had some minor surgery last week and have to eat more delicate food for the next couple of weeks, so no matza for me. This will be the first time since I was about two years old that I am not eating matza during Pesach. It is a bit strange not being able to eat matza and matza ball soup, but it is all in the name of good health.

I was searching for a simple and tasty recipe I could have with my current restrictions and I came across a recipe for Singapore’s national dish, Hainanese Chicken. I never managed to have any when I was in Singapore, mainly because I was only there for two days and only saw the inside of the hotel I was staying at. To visit Singapore without eating this dish is a mortal sin. They usually serve it with a hot fiery red pepper sauce, but I had to keep it mild.

This is a delicate, yet very fragrant dish. I highly recommend it. And as a reminder, we are a kitniyot eating family.

Hainanese Chicken and Rice

Serving Size: 4 to 6

Adapted from a recipe by Mark Bittman

For chicken:

1-1/2 to 2kg (3 to 4 pounds) whole chicken


3 tablespoons of grated garlic

1 big knob of ginger, grated finely

1/4 cup peanut oil or canola oil

2 cups white (jasmine) rice

2 tablespoons dark sesame oil

Ginger-Scallion sauce (recipe to follow)

Chopped fresh scallion or cilantro leaves for garnish

For garlic-scallion sauce:

1/4 cup minced (or grated) fresh ginger

1/2 cup chopped scallion

1 or 2 clove garlic, grated

1 1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup peanut oil or canola oil

For chicken:

Trim the chicken of excess fat and cut into 4 pieces. Place about 10cm (4 inches) of water in a large pot over high heat.

Sprinkle salt on both sides of the chicken pieces and rub them with half of the garlic and ginger mixture. When the water boils, place the chicken in the pot. The water should just cover the chicken; add more water if necessary.

Bring back to the boil, cover, reduce the heat to medium, and cook for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the chicken remain in the pot for 1 hour, covered. The meat should be opaque all the way through; if not, return to pot to a boil and cover again for another 5 - 10 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pot and set aside.

Put the oil in a separate pot over medium heat. When hot, add the remaining garlic and ginger, stirring occasionally, until the garlic and ginger are softened. Add the rice and stir, then add 4 cups of the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Simmer the rice on low for approximately 20 minutes. Taste and add salt, if necessary.

Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces (optional) and rub with sesame oil.

For garlic-scallion sauce:

Mix the ginger, scallion, garlic and salt together in a heatproof bowl. Put the oil in a small saucepan or skillet over high heat until smoking. Carefully pour the hot oil over the ginger scallion mixture (Note: it will sizzle a lot). Mix well and serve or refrigerate for up to 3 days.

Drizzle on some of the ginger-scallion sauce and serve over the rice. You can also serve the stock with some scallion in a small bowl on the side.

Some Like It Hot

My husband and I both love good Chinese food and since it is impossible to find good Chinese food in Israel, we have to wait until we go to London or the States. However, I did learn to make Chinese food from my grandparent’s Chinese cook, Ying. She is a master in the kitchen and was a great teacher. She really understands the science behind cooking, whether she is explaining how to cook various types of meats and poultry or baking. She also taught me a lot about the balance of flavours and how important that is in Chinese cooking. One flavour should not necessarily stand out more than the other; it should be a marriage of ingredients. I had so much fun learning from her. We even took a French pastry course together. She was raised in Vietnam, so she already knew quite a bit about French cooking, but she enjoyed the course, just the same.

My husband was away for his birthday and we celebrated it when he came back. I made him one of our favourites, Szechuan Chicken with Cashews. The heat from the chili paste and the crunch from the cashews make this dish. This dish is spicy, so if you can’t stand the heat, you might want to use one teaspoon of chili paste instead of two. If you like very spicy Thai or Indian food, like we do, you could add another half a teaspoon. I served this over Thai rice.

This recipe looks like it has a lot of steps, but it is very easy to make.

Szechuan Chicken with Cashews

Serving Size: 4

600g boneless, skinless, chicken thighs or breasts, cut into 2cm (3/4-inch) pieces

1 egg white

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1 teaspoon dark soy sauce

Pinch of black pepper

1 large yellow or red bell pepper

1 medium yellow onion

1 head of broccoli, separated into florets

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 tablespoon cold water

1 tablespoon light soy sauce

2 tablespoons peanut or canola oil

1 cup raw cashew nuts

1/4 teaspoon of salt

2 tablespoons peanut or canola oil

2 teaspoons finely chopped ginger root

1 tablespoon hoisin sauce

2 teaspoons chili paste

1/2 cup chicken broth

2 tablespoons chopped green onion

Mix the egg white, 1 teaspoon of cornstarch, 1 teaspoon of dark soy sauce and the black pepper in a medium bowl; stir in the chicken. Cover and place in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut the bell pepper into 2cm (3/4-inch) pieces. Cut the onion into 16 pieces and cut the broccoli in to small florets.

Combine the 1 tablespoon cornstarch, water and 1 tablespoon light soy sauce in a small bowl.

Heat the wok on high, and when it is very hot, add the 2 tablespoons of peanut oil; tilting the wok to coat the sides. Add the cashews and stir-fry them for about one minute or until lightly browned. Remove the cashews from the wok and drain them on a paper towel. Sprinkle them with salt.

Note: You can use roasted cashews, but obviously do not salt them and only add them at the last minute.

Add the chicken to the wok and stir-fry until the chicken turns a pale colour. Remove the chicken from the wok and set aside in a bowl or on a plate.

Add 2 tablespoons of peanut oil. Add the onion and ginger, and stir-fry until the ginger is light brown and the onion is translucent. Add the chicken, bell pepper, broccoli, hoisin sauce, cashews (if using roasted ones) and chili paste, and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the broth and heat until boiling. Stir in the cornstarch mixture and stir for about 1 minute until the sauce is thickened. Stir in the cashews (if using raw ones) and green onions.

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