For many years I lived in the heart of NYC, where anything you can imagine was delivered straight to my door: food, groceries, laundry, cupcakes, wine, even prescription medicine. That came in really handy when I had the flu and could order Gatorade, a bagel and some chicken soup from the deli downstairs. You become friendly with your regular delivery folk, in an awkward, overly-familiar kind of way. When the laundry comes back, you try to meet their eyes, smile and thank them at the door while hoping they weren’t the ones folding your clean underwear earlier that day.
In Manhattan, almost all restaurants deliver, and you’ll find a folder crammed full of countless menus in every NYC kitchen. When I didn’t feel like cooking, I reveled in my ability to order takeout from anywhere at anytime. I explored the world’s cuisines from the comfort of my own couch — sushi, Indian, Thai, Italian, Mexican, Hawaiian, Greek. Now that I’m back in the suburban South, my options are limited to pizza. Or pizza. Needless to say, I don’t have food delivered anymore.
That’s okay, since I discovered how to make some of my favorite Chinese food at home. I give you sweet & sour chicken with coconut rice and sesame noodles. I won’t claim either to be authentic, but they’ll do for me.
The chicken in the sweet & sour chicken recipe is sautéed, not deep-fried, which only makes it a little healthier. And the pineapple sweetness alongside coconut sticky rice is nearly like a piña colada on a plate. Perfect harmony.
Sesame noodles might be one of my favorite dishes ever, and you can also use the peanut sauce as a satay dip for chicken or vegetable rolls or on other meats. This is a good recipe to make use of your food processor or blender — just dump it all in and give it a whir. I serve the noodles warm, but you could chill them and add some chopped cucumber for a more authentic cold sesame noodle experience.
Sweet & Sour Chicken with Coconut Rice
1 tablespoon butter
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until soft, about 2 minutes. Add the rice and stir it to coat all of the grains with the butter. Add the coconut milk, water, salt and pepper and bring it to a boil. Stir it once, cover the pot with a tight lid, reduce the heat to medium-low and let it cook about 16 minutes.
Remove the pot from the heat and let the rice sit, covered, for another 5 minutes. Then fluff the rice with a fork and stir in the green onions. Let it sit another 5 minutes, then serve.
Sweet & Sour Chicken:
2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium high heat and add the chicken chunks. Season them with salt and pepper to taste and brown on all sides. Remove the chicken to a plate.
Add the onions and peppers (and chile, if desired) and saute for about 1 minute. In a small bowl, mix the cornstarch into the water until it’s dissolved and set it aside. To the skillet add the pineapple chunks, pineapple juice, brown sugar, vinegar and chicken stock. Bring it to a simmer and let it start to reduce, about 2 minutes. Add the cornstarch mixture and stir well. Bring it back to a simmer, add the chicken and cook for another five minutes.
Sesame Peanut Noodles
1 package (1 lb) whole wheat spaghetti or 1/2 lb soba noodles, cooked
1/4 cup sesame oil
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
Cook the pasta/noodles according to the package directions. If it’s ready before the sauce is finished, drain then rinse under cool water and toss with 3 tablespoons of sesame oil so they don’t stick together.
For the sauce, add the 1/4 cup sesame oil to a small saucepan. With the back of a knife, crush the ginger and garlic. Add the ginger, garlic and chile to the oil and warm over medium heat until fragrant and soft, about 2-3 minutes. Pour the mixture into the bowl of a food processor or blender. Add the brown sugar, peanut butter, vinegar, soy sauce, water, chili sauce and remaining 2 tablespoons of sesame oil. Puree the mixture until very smooth.
For hot noodles, pour the sauce over the noodles, add sesame seeds and green onions and toss to combine.
For cold noodles, chill the sauce until cold, then toss with the noodles, sesame seeds and green onions.