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Happy belated Lunar New Year!

It’s been a bit of a quiet start into the Year of the Dragon for us.  Well, allow me to rephrase: it was a busy start into 2012 – school runs, work all-nighters, and a laundry list of to-do’s that continues to grow despite combined efforts.  Thus, our Lunar New Year celebration was a bit delayed and diluted.  On the night of the 23rd, hubby and KJ rang in the New Year with some brief but enthusiastic firecracker lighting and noise in front yard – probably much to the confusion of our Spanish neighbors.  We then dined on French style provencal chicken because, well… I was just too darn lazy.  This past Friday evening, we made plans for a Chinese dinner in Portals Nous, but immediately swayed towards the restaurant’s neighboring Italian joint after deeply inhaling the wafting aroma of oven baked pizza (carbs, mmmmmm).

Our cultural deficit and culinary over-indulgence called for some mediation.  Thus, last night a decision was made for a Chinese influenced, healthy and carb-free dinner – thereby relieving *some* of our guilt from the previous evening and ringing in the Year of the Dragon with an inspired meal.

Our recipe came from a fabulous book, given to us by my aunt and uncle, “Feeding the Dragon: A Culinary Travelogue Through China with Recipes” by travel bloggers Mary-Kate Tate and Nate Tate.  The book details the adventures of the brother and sister duo through beautiful photos, narratives, and recipes, during a 9700 mile trek through China’s countryside and cityscape with nothing more than their backpacks, a tarp, and a camera.  KJ browsed through and bookmarked recipes she found interesting;  she handed the book back to me littered with post-it notes on almost every single page.

Chinese Chicken Lettuce Wraps (adapted from “Chicken Lettuce Cups,” Feeding the Dragonby Mary-Kate Tate & Nate Tate)

Ingredients (serves 4):

  • 8-10 leaves of iceberg lettuce
  • 1 lb boneless chicken breasts, minced
  • 1 cup chopped mushrooms
  • 1 small/medium red onion, minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 head of ginger, finely minced
  • handful of fresh cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup raw cashews, coarsely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • sriracha hot sauce

sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of hoisin sauce or preserves
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon agave syrup or sugar
  • 1 teaspoon corn starch

The original recipe calls for a few ingredients that we were unable to find and either omitted or made a quick substitution.  We left out the water chestnuts, which would have added a nice extra element of crunch;  we substituted a kumquat preserve (homemade by KJ) for the hoisin sauce to retain a hint of sweet/sour.

Combine and mix ingredients for the sauce and set aside.  In a large wok, heat one tablespoon of the olive oil over high heat.  Stir fry garlic and ginger until fragrant (~1 minute).  Next, add mushrooms and onions; stir fry for ~5-6 minutes until onions soften and mushrooms begin to brown.  Remove the contents of the wok and set aside.

Heat the remaining oil over high heat and add the chicken; cook for 1-2 minutes until the meat is just browned.  Add the vegetable mixture back in, combine with the chicken, and pour in sauce.  Reduce heat to medium and cook the mixture, stirring constantly, for another few minutes until chicken is fully cooked and sauce is heated and thickened.

To plate, spoon the filling in equal amounts onto the lettuce leaves.  Top with a sprinkle of cilantro, chopped nuts, and a swirl of sriracha if extra heat is desired.

May your Year of the Dragon be filled with happiness, health, and prosperity!

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