So there I was on this gorgeous Friday afternoon last week at the food magnet of an event: the NY food and wine festival. I was really looking forward to it and what made it even more appealing was that I would be hanging out with my very dear and generous friend and mentor ‘Suvir Saran’.
Suvir, who I know will cringe at reading this, is a humble ambassador of Indian food. He is a celebrity chef, restaurateur, and has taken on a pedagogic role of being a food ‘educator’. He goes beyond a comfort zone for most and teaches people about Indian cuisine in remote places all over the world where one would question the receptivity of such an education. Talking to him always shifts my paradigm on food and this time, it shifted to a place surpassing my usual spin of taste and texture to a place of awareness and responsibility.
We talked about peanuts. Could a conversation about peanuts ever amount to much? In the entertainment sense, it is synonymous with elephant circus stunts, in the financial sense, earning ‘peanuts’ is hardly exciting and in the food sense it is nothing more than an evil allergen.
For those of you that are allergic (including me), it isn’t an easy allergy to deal with. But for those of you that don’t, I am talking to you. There are all kinds of allergy causing food products which are higher up the list in terms of the number of sufferers, such as fish, shellfish, milk, eggs, tree nuts. Yet propaganda has spared them and people have not stopped buying these items or bringing them to school for bake sales. Peanuts are a great source of anti-oxidants and oleic acid (healthy fat found in olive oil) and there are so many varieties that go beyond the ‘laden with salt bar snacks’. Are you becoming present to what you are missing? For more information, I invite you to check out: http://www.nationalpeanutboard.org/
In addition to it’s nutritional value, the peanut also addresses the new shift in thinking of ‘keep it as local as possible’. As Suvir informed me ‘It is American, in the larger sense of that word. It is from the Americas and has existed as long as one can trace the histories of these two continents. It was so appreciated and loved that it traveled the world over. Better still, wherever it went, it also made the people of those areas think it was theirs forever and became popular without much fuss.
Of course peanut butter has given many kids their first taste of vegetables. Use it as you would hummus around kids and they will eat almost anything. A good first beginning.
Talk of eating local. But peanuts. They are farmed in the US. Peanut farmers work VERY hard and under very trying natural conditions. Too little or too much rain. Too cold or too hot days. And still, as they know how people love them and how good this modest nut is, they continue to farm. Buying American peanuts also ensures that you get the best quality. Of course you leave a lower carbon footprint and better still, you are buying fresher peanuts. They have not traveled in ships for months or languished in bad conditions at a port of call.
Do you read your labels? Reading labels can make all the difference. Firstly they tell us where something is from. American peanuts will be fresher, tastier and safer for consumption. Since our standards around hygiene are maintained quite differently from some other countries producing nuts and shipping them our way. A few cents more sometimes can safeguard you in ways a few dollars saved can only compromise your health and wellness if something tragic were to happen. Penny wise pound foolish! Secondly reading labels is a great exercise around understanding what it is you are putting into your mouth and through it into your body. You are what you eat! So take some time, make an intelligent decision.’
Now to the ‘put your money where your mouth is’ part, today’s recipe is: Kung Pao Chicken.
The peanuts are characteristic in this dish. The combination of the spicy and nutty flavors, the crunch of the nuts and scallions and the slightly sour taste from the rice vinegar and rice wine (mirin)makes you feel like you’re eating street food in Hongkong’s famous Graham Street. The only in authenticity of this dish is the absence of Szechuan peppercorns and the absence of deep frying at any stage of the cooking process.
½ cup of peanuts
5 whole red chilies
4 cloves of garlic (chunkily chopped)
2” piece of ginger (chunkily chopped)
6 Scallions chopped
2 tbsp honey
5 tbsp of chicken stock
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp vinegar
1 tbsp corn starch
1 tsp sesame oil
Salt to taste
Chicken & Chicken Marinade
1lb 1” diced pieces of chicken
3 tbsp soy sauce
1 ½ tbsp mirin
1 tbspn corn starch
¾ tbspn sesame oil
1. Combine all marinade ingredients and marinade chicken for 10 minutes
2. Heat the wok on high, add 2 tblsp of oil and the peanuts and keep stiring. As the peanuts become goldenbrown in color, remove immediately (approx 1 ½ minutes)
3. In the remaining oil, sauté the chicken on high heat and cook for approx 7 minutes
4. Remove chicken and set aside
5. Add 2 more tbsp of oil and throw in the chilies, continuously tossing until they turn a shade of burgundy
6. Add the chopped ginger and garlic and after 1 minute, add the white part of the chopped scallions.
7. In a separate bowl, combine: honey, chicken stock, soy sauce, vinegar, corn starch, sesame oil and salt to taste
8. Add this mixture to the pan and cook for 2 minutes
9. Add the chicken to the pan and just before serving, toss the scallion greens and peanuts
Serve with jasmine rice. If you like it really spicy, make a condiment of chopped green chilies soaked in rice wine vinegar.
Pearls of Wisdom
In this dish, you could easily burn or overcook the ingredients as everything cooks very quickly. To avoid this, prepare all your ingredients ensuring everything has been chopped ahead of time.
As for the peanuts, I prefer to roast my own, rather than to buy them pre-roasted. It infuses the oil with a rich roasted flavor.