Hot on the heels of yesterday’s Sichuan challenger #1 post, yesterday Ted S. sent me his meal from the Land of Plenty cookbook. It’s very exciting to me to see these results. It can be quite intimidating to source these ingredients and prepare these dishes when you are new to it; I have first hand experience with that. But once you make the first trip to your Buford Highway grocer and familiarize yourself, then get comfortable with your wok, the preparation, and the speed at which you must cook, you’ve got some nice experience that will be in your cooking skill set for future meals, Sichuan or not.
Congratulations to Ted and Sarah – they both did a great job. Their meals looked very tasty, and their pictures and write-ups were detailed and thoughtfully done. I hope others will follow their lead. Go trek around some of the best parts of Atlanta, get yourself in the kitchen, and fire up something new!
Being a Chinese food cooking novice, I was really excited to have the opportunity to participate in the Land of Plenty Challenge. Given that my heat tolerance is a lot higher than Alison’s (my wife), I elected to go with dishes that were described as on the milder side. For dinner tonight, we had the Dry-Fried Chicken (gan bian ji) accompanied by Stir-Fried Mixed Vegetables (si zhong shu cai). Like the first participant, I did all my prep work in advance so as to be able to cook more quickly.
First up, I cut the veggies for the stir fry. Here are all of the ingredients: snow peas, lotus root, cucumber, tomato, and julienned ginger.
After getting these in order, I put together the components for the chicken dish. This next shot shows all of the ingredients lined up, which include: cubed chicken, sliced celery and scallions, dark soy sauce, chili bean paste, Shaoxing rice wine, sesame oil, dried chiles, and whole Sichuan peppercorns.
Here is a close up of the peppers, as well as the liquid ingredients:
Time to cook. The chicken takes longer, so I started with it. First, ¼ cup of peanut oil into the wok and stir-fry until the chicken was brown and most of the liquid had cooked off.
Next step was to add the chiles and peppercorns, stir-fry until fragrant, and then add the paste. The paste imparted a great red orange color to the chicken, which deepened considerably as it cooked.
Next, I added the wine and dark soy, and cooked over medium heat until the sauce thickened and nearly cooked off (about 10 minutes) at which point the celery and scallions went in for a couple of minutes, until crisp-tender.
Towards the last few minutes of cooking the chicken, I made the vegetable stir-fry in a separate pan. First, I heated the peanut oil until smoking, then quick-fried the snow peas. I then pulled these out of the pan, added the ginger until fragrant, and then the lotus root. Next came the cucumber, and then the tomatoes with the snow peas added back to warm through. Very simply seasoned, the dish called only for some salt in addition to the ginger.
Finally, it was time for plating, and, of course, eating! I served the chicken over some steamed basmati rice, and the vegetables on a separate plate.
Of the two, we definitely preferred the chicken. It was very flavorful. The sauce was complex, with a nice numbing feeling from the peppercorns, and a slow, mild heat. Actually, I thought the heat was a bit too tame, and I would add more chiles next time. The textures were similarly complex, with the celery added a nice crunch to off-set the soft chicken. Of note, the recipe suggested adding salt to taste, but I found that the combination of the soy and chili paste provided ample saltiness. The vegetables were a bit disappointing. I found the lotus to be starchy and a bit bland, perhaps because I couldn’t find fresh and had to settle for pre-sliced and refrigerated. I think jicama would actually work better in this dish, imparting a bit more sweetness. While the dish was designed to be simple and refreshing, I thought it was a bit too tame in the flavor department.
Overall, the dinner was a success, and I am looking forward to trying more dishes from Land of Plenty. I really enjoy dabbling in new cuisines, especially when the results are as tasty as the chicken dish.
I was able to find the vast majority of the ingredients at the DeKalb Farmer’s Market and at the near-by First Oriental Market on Ponce. The only thing I couldn’t find there was the lotus, which I located at the Buford Highway Farmer’s Market. This was my first trip there since the re-model, and I wish I had had the time to explore it in greater detail. By far the most interesting and varied collection of international foods I have seen in Atlanta. It also has a terrific produce section, including a surprisingly large amount of organics. I will definitely have to pay it another visit soon.
Thanks to Jimmy for putting this contest together, and for helping me expand my culinary horizons!