In terms of food that is quick and easy, there is not much that I love more than Asian cuisine. Ordering huge buckets of Chinese take-out and sitting like a hungry vegetable in front of the television is truly an enjoyable experience. Some people have fond memories of their families ordering Chinese and hanging out together with a meal at home. My family always lived too far away for take-out, but I do have fond memories of heading to Chinese buffets and stacking our plates high with crab legs, General Tso’s chicken, and fried rice. One of the first take-out meals my partner and I tried here in Buffalo was from Gin Gin Restaurant, as you all may remember, and what a selection! We actually took the menu and highlighted the many things we want to try next: chicken stomach (which I love), moo shu and egg foo young, and squid included. But, we all know that feeling in the pit of your stomach when you’ve stuffed yourself silly with Chinese food – and while the menus say things like “No MSG” and “No animal fat,” we can assume that the quantities and recipes we delve into are not the kind of thing one should be eating on a daily basis. What to do when you love Asian cuisine?
Make it yourself! Many recipes are not as hard as they look, and a few standard pantry items are used in a lot of dishes:
- soy sauce
- oyster sauce
- chicken stock
- sesame oil
- peanut oil
- rice wine vinegar
It’s a short, but fairly standard list. With these things on hand, your dishes will take shape quite quickly. Once you’ve cooked a few dishes, you’ll easily get a hand for a balance of some of these ingredients. Pantry items that I also make sure I have on hand when cooking Asian-inspired dishes:
- peanut butter and/or peanuts (they just taste so good!)
- hot pot sauce – it is very spicy and you can use just a little bit to get a nice kick of spice
- jarred bamboo shoots in chili oil, which add a bit of complexity and a spiciness that hits you after you’ve swallowed
- brown sugar adds a little sweet to sauces that need it
- sesame seeds – I have some wasabi sesame seeds that I love for their extra little kick
I don’t pretend to be an expert, but these are the items I’ve noticed appear in almost every dish I’ve cooked so far. My partner and I recently decided to attempt wontons with some pantry items, leftover ground turkey from our refrigerator, and two AWESOME short cut items that we got in the grocery store: bagged cole slaw mix and wonton wrappers in the veggie section of Wegmans. This recipe is not exactly perfected yet – they came out in a sticky mess when I dumped them in a bowl – so I suggest removing them one by one and placing them individually on a plate, as well as cooking fewer than all 30 at once like I did….These wontons are sweet, spicy, and are reminiscent of egg rolls because of the cabbage and carrot addition from the slaw mix. The flavor really does explode in your mouth – and you’ll hardly be able to eat just a few.
approx. 1/2 lb. ground turkey
approx. 1/2 lb. cole slaw mix
30 wonton wrappers
water in shallow dish
heaping tsp. minced garlic
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. vinegar
1-2 tbsp. diced candied ginger (I always prefer the candied because it is a bit sweeter. Plus you get chunks)
1-2 tsp. hot pot sauce
1 tbsp. sesame seeds
-Place sesame oil in large skillet on medium heat and saute garlic and ginger for two minutes. Add the soy sauce, vinegar, hot pot sauce, and sesame seeds and mix together quickly.
-Add ground turkey and coat in the mixture, cooking until almost browned. Tip: Make sure that you break the turkey up into small bits. Left alone, the ground turkey will end up making small burgers! These will not fit in your wonton wrappers.
-Add the cole slaw mix, coat and mix with the mix and turkey, and cover the skillet with a lid so the veggies steam a bit. Cook for about 3-5 minutes, or until the turkey is fully browned.
-Remove mix from the pan and place in a glass bowl to cool. Tip: immediately move the mix to the refrigerator for a quicker cooling time – you don’t want to burn your fingers.
-Now it’s time to wrap! Place a wonton wrapper with one of the four corners toward you. Place a heaping teaspoon of mixture in the middle of the wonton wrapper. Dip your fingers quickly in the water dish and get the edges of the wrapper wet – get them just wet, not soaking wet!
-Fold the bottom corner up, keeping the mix in with your fingers if it starts to slip out. Line up the edges to make your little triangle-shaped pocket. Fold in the two side corners, adding a bit of water and overlapping the ends a bit. Now you have a wonton!
-Repeat, well, 30 times (this will take a while, but maintain your patience). Boil a large pot of water and place five wontons in at a time. Boil for about 3 minutes, or until they float. Remove individually with a slotted spoon and place on a large plate.
-Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve with soy sauce!
I had leftover wonton mix leftover, so I put it in a pot of chicken stock with some broccoli and ate it like soup! Maybe tonight I’ll throw together some stir fry with chicken or tofu, stir fry veggies, my bamboo shoots in oil, peanuts, and some of my spices and pantry ingredients. I still have so many wonton wrappers left that I may just cut them into strips and fry them – fried noodles!
What are your favorite Asian or Asian-inspired dishes to eat and make?