Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Kung Pao Chicken

Named after a court official or "Kung Pao," Kung Pao Chicken is a spicy Szechuan dish made with diced chicken, peanuts and chili peppers. This recipe calls for deep-frying; for a lighter version, try Kung Pao Chicken Stir-fry.
* 2 boneless chicken breasts, about 6 ounces each
* Marinade:
* 1 tablespoon soy sauce
* 1 teaspoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
* 2 teaspoons cold water
* 2 teaspoons cornstarch
* Sauce:
* 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
* 2 teaspoons light soy sauce
* 1 tablespoon black or red rice vinegar, or red wine vinegar
* 1 tablespoon chicken broth or water
* 3 teaspoons granulated sugar
* 1/2 tsp salt
* a few drops sesame oil
* 1 tsp cornstarch
* Other:
* 6 to 8 small dried red chili peppers, or as desired
* 2 garlic cloves,
* 1/2 cup skinless, unsalted peanuts
* 3 - 4 cups oil for deep-frying and stir-frying

Cut the chicken into 1-inch cubes. Mix in the soy sauce, rice wine or sherry, water and cornstarch. Marinate the chicken for 30 minutes.

In a small bowl, mix together the sauce ingredients, whisking in the cornstarch last.

Remove the seeds from the chile peppers and chop. Peel and finely chop the garlic.

Heat the oil for deep-frying to between 360 and 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Carefully slide the chicken into the wok, and deep-fry for about 1 minute, until the cubes separate and turn white. Remove and drain on paper towels. Drain all but 2 tablespoons oil from the wok.

Add the chilies peppers and stir-fry until the skins starts to darken and blister. Add the garlic. Stir-fry until aromatic (about 30 seconds). Add the deep-fried chicken back into the pan. Stir-fry briefly, then push up to the sides of the wok and add add the sauce in the middle, stirring quickly to thicken. Stir in the peanuts. Mix everything together and serve hot.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Jamaica Flower Iced Tea Recipe

When I'm in need of a refreshing stunner of a drink on a hot afternoon, I turn to this Jamaica Flower Iced Tea recipe. It became one of my favorite things to drink on hot afternoons throughout my recent trip to Mexico.

One of the first things you notice as you start browsing local markets in places like Merida or Mexico City is that many of the stalls are punctuated with big, baskets overflowing with the dried maroon petals of the jamaica flower (also known as hibiscus). If nothing else on this trip, I learned how to properly pronounce jamaica - in reference to the flower, not the country. It is ha-MIKE-uh in Spanish. If store clerks are looking at you funny in the states when you ask for it, try asking for dried hibiscus. You can usually find it near the loose teas, or nestled in with bulk herbs and spices in natural food stores. I usually get mine at Rainbow Foods in San Francisco. For those of you who have more limited options in your communities you can always mail order it here or here.

Dried jamaica flowers create one of the most beautiful and delicious infusions you can imagine. In restaurants, people can't help but crane their necks as trays filled with icy tall glasses of Agua de Jamaica make their way towards lucky recipients. In the case of the jamaica flower, the flavor is as engaging as the visual. Well-chilled and served over ice, the jewel-like ruby red juice brims with the tangy sweetness of the dried petals and sugar - add a kiss of lime and you have the perfect late afternoon refresher.

Making this iced tea is easy, easy, easy. It is a must for your next BBQ or pool party - people are always delighted when they get to try anything made with jamaica flowers. Once you find a source for dried petals you are halfway there. Creating the actual tea doesn't take more than ten minutes of active cooking time, after that you are just waiting for the tea to cool.

I am sold on the taste alone, but it is also believed (in many cultures) that jamaica/hibiscus packs a bounty of healthful properties. It is rich in vitamin C, and has been widely used as an herbal method of controlling high blood pressure, tempering fevers, alleviating digestive problems, as well as improving circulatory disorders. So enjoy it on this front as well.

Other ideas: use the petals to infuse granitas, sherbets and sorbets. I've also used the petals to flavor margaritas. Popsicles! I also want to try making it into a jelly at some point.

Jamaica Flower Iced Tea Recipe
(Agua de Jamaica)

4 cups water
1/2 cup dried jamaica flowers
1/2 cup sugar (I used natural cane sugar this time around)
Another 3 cups of cold water
More sugar to taste
1 lime, thinly sliced

If you prefer, you can sweeten with any natural sweetener of your choice including honey in place of granulated sugar).

First off, pick out a pot that won't stain. Hibiscus has the potential to stain just about anything it comes in contact with including your countertop, cookware, wooden spoons, favorite jeans, etc. So keep this in mind.

Bring the 4 cups of water to a boil. Remove water from heat and add the dried flowers and sugar. Place a lid over the pot and steep for 10 minutes, stirring once or twice along the way to break down the sugar granules.

Pour the infusion through a strainer into a pitcher or jug (this is usually where something gets stained). You are going to want to add about 3 more cups of cold water to the pitcher. Taste and adjust based on your personal preference. You can add a bit more sugar if you think you need it, or more water if you feel like the jamaica is too overpowering. This is usually just about right for my taste. I don't like the sugar to overpower the refreshing natural tartness of the jamaica flower.

Cool completely and serve with plenty of ice in glasses garnished with a slice of lime.

Serves 8.