Friday, January 11, 2013

Creative Craving Cures - Chinese Food

I love fried food.  There, I said it.  When I have a craving, I'm the type of person to gravitate towards french fries and onion rings as opposed to sweets.   So the other night when James said he wanted Chinese food, my willpower was about a strong as a puppy's when staring at a plate of bacon.  That being said, we started out the year resolving to avoid quite so many dinners out for the sake of convenience and didn't really want to cave five days in.  Aside from that, with training for a half marathon, pork low main and crab rangoon aren't exactly on the prescribed menu.  Solution: a home-cooked, satisfying plate of food that clocked in under 750 calories (with fried rice and scallion pancakes nonetheless).  Compared to your average Chinese buffet plate of 1500 calories plus, I'm calling my dinner a success.

We started with a sweet and spicy chicken stir-fry with red bell pepper slices, scallions, asparagus tips and a sweet chili Gochujang sauce.  Gochujang, a Korean red pepper paste, is one of my new obsessions.  Think of it as a thicker, slightly sweet, more complex version of Sriracha.  You should be able to find it any any Asian market or grocery store with a well stocked international section.  Combined with a bit of Thai sweet chili sauce, Shoyu (a fermented soy sauce), grated ginger, lime juice and black bean paste (another great Asian market find), you create a really delicious, well-balanced sauce that plays of notes of sweet, spicy, acidic, bitter and umami.  Be careful adding any additional salt to your stir-fry, as most Asian sauces have a salty component inherent to them.  The trick to keeping the dish lower in calories is to control how much fat your adding to the pan to sauté your meat and vegetables.  I cooked a pound of chicken, a whole bell pepper and about 6 stalks of asparagus in one tablespoon of sesame oil.  Yes, one tablespoon.  If you get your wok or skillet hot enough and coat the entire surface area, that really is all you ned to get a good sear on your chicken.

Next, I created a version of Szechwan cucumber salad, inspired by a dish had about five years ago at P.F. Chang's.  Peel and deseed an English cucumber and slice into bite sized segments.  In a small bowl, combine two tablespoons each of Shoyu, mirin (a sweet Japanese cooking wine) and rice wine vinegar.  Add a sprinkling of white and black sesame seeds and a bit of sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste, pour over your cucumbers and allow them to sit for about 20 minutes (while you prepare the rest of your dinner).  

Here's where I cheated a tiny bit.  I used a frozen scallion pancake rather than creating one from scratch.  If you live near an H-Mart, their house brand is a really great approximation to restaurant-style.    In a wide bottom skillet, heat one tablespoon of peanut oil, coat the entire surface of the pan and crisp up your pancake.  James and I spit one to help keep the calorie count down on our dinner and with everything else, it was more than enough.  I like to let the pancake defrost for about 5-7 minutes before cooking because it makes the dough a bit more pliable and allows you to get the whole surface crisped evenly.  

Using the leftover peanut oil from the scallion pancake and keeping the pan hot, add one cup of brown rice and 2 tablespoons of ponzu sauce.  Sauté the rice for about five minutes to crisp up the grains and serve under your stir-fry.  

To round out the meal, I made a quick green salad of bibb lettuce and romaine hearts topped with a carrot ginger vinaigrette.  I actually broke one of my cardinal rules and used a store bought salad dressing (the horror), but I do have to give a shout out to Wafu dressings and sauces.  At 35 calories per tablespoon with no preservatives or artificial sweeteners, I honestly can't complain.  It's a great approximation to the ginger dressing served in Japanese restaurants.  

There you have it - a satisfying, craving curing plate of food that clocks in around 750 calories and prevents the Chinese buffet bender.  

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