Chef Heather Hunsaker
www.foodonthetable.com

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January 12, 2012
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Celebrate the Chinese New Year with Asian Cooking

Chinese New Year is just weeks away and is the most important of traditional Chinese holidays. It is known as the "Spring Festival" and marks the end of the winter season. Celebrating other cultures' traditions is a great way to learn more about their beliefs, history, and of course food!

To learn more about some common ingredients found in Asian cooking, continue reading.

A Wok is commonly used to prepare Chinese foods. Due to its large size, high sloping sides, and ability to handle high temperatures, a wok is a great tool used to stir-fry, deep-fry, braise, roast, steam, and simmer. The kind of oil used to cook in a wok is crucial. Oil that may be heated to a high temperature without smoking is essential - peanut oil and corn oil both work well. Due to the intensity of the heat used for wok cooking, a gas range with instant heat control is most efficient.

Hoisin sauce is a popular condiment in Chinese cooking and is sometimes referred to as Chinese barbecue sauce. Hoisin sauce is a reddish-brown sauce that is salty, sweet, and spicy. Hoisin can easily be found in most grocery stores, but if unavailable, a mixture of equal parts molasses and ketchup can be substituted.

Sesame seeds are common in all Asian cuisines and typically used as a garnish. White sesame seeds have a strong nutty flavor, which is enhanced when toasted. Black sesame seeds are less flavorful and are used mainly for color.

Chinese Rice vinegar is typically milder and less acidic than regular vinegar. Three common types of rice vinegar include black, red and white. White rice vinegar is most common and is similar in flavor to regular vinegar. Red rice vinegar is sweet and tart in taste, while black rice vinegar is similar to balsamic vinegar. These vinegars are used in dipping sauces, soups and noodle dishes. If rice vinegar is unavailable dry sherry or white wine vinegar may be substituted.

This year Chinese New Year falls on Jan. 23 and and ushers in the year of the dragon. Kung Pao Style Noodles is a great way to celebrate and use several of the ingredients described above. This recipe comes together quickly, making it a great alternative to take-out.

Kung Pao Style Noodles

Prep Time: 15 minutes Cook Time: 15 minutes Serves 4-5

3 tablespoons canola oil

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 2-3), cubed

1 red bell pepper, cored and sliced thin

1/2 cup roasted unsalted peanuts

1 cup frozen peas and carrots

3 garlic cloves, finely minced

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

3 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

4 (3-ounce) package ramen noodles, discard seasoning packets

2 tablespoons hoisin sauce

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

1 tablespoon soy sauce

4 green onions, sliced thin (optional, for serving)

In a 12-inch nonstick skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the canola oil over medium to medium-high heat until it is hot and rippling. Season the chicken lightly with salt and pepper. Add the cubed chicken to the pan in a single layer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is browned and cooked through, 5-7 minutes. Remove the chicken to a medium bowl.

Add the last tablespoon of oil to the skillet and heat until hot and rippling. Add the red bell pepper, peanuts, peas and carrots; and cook until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the mixture into the bowl with the chicken, trying to leave as much oil as possible behind in the skillet.

Add the garlic, ginger, red pepper flakes and sesame seeds to the remaining oil in the skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, for about 30 seconds to 1 minutes. Stir in the chicken broth. Break the bricks of ramen into small chunks and add them to the skillet. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook, tossing the ramen constantly with tongs to separate, until ramen is just tender but there is still a bit of liquid in the pan, about 2-4 minutes.

Stir in the hoisin sauce, vinegar, and soy sauce and continue to simmer until the sauce is slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Stir in the chicken, vegetables and peanuts. Sprinkle with green onions before serving.

- Chef Heather Hunsaker graduated from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts. She currently serves as a writer and recipe developer for meal planning site www.foodonthetable.com.


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Jan 12, 2012 08:54PM Published Jan 12, 2012 08:53PM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.