Stop Ordering Takeout – Asian Cooking Made Easy

Asian food recipeHave you ever stopped to think about why so many Americans are obsessed with ordering Chinese food and pizza?  Aside from their desire for a quick meal, it may be that they don’t think they can make something comparable on their own.  It’s not that we don’t own our own woks and pizza pans, but there’s always something special about it when someone else does the cooking.  That said, one of the main concerns about take-out is some of the questionable ingredients and preservatives used in preparation.

Chinese food is known for including mono-sodium glutamate (MSG) and too much sodium.  People only need about 250 to 500 milligrams of sodium per day, yet one serving of fried rice has 710 mg. of sodium and 14 grams of fat.  Knowing some unpleasant facts about Asian food won’t keep you from craving it, but there is a way to enjoy your favorite Chinese dishes without compromising on your health.

Is it possible to make good Chinese food at home?

More than ever before, people are learning how to cook Asian food that tastes just like their favorite take-out place while choosing the ingredients wisely.  If you want to start cooking Chinese food on a regular basis, it may require a trip to an Asian supermarket to pick up some special oils, vegetables and sauces but the best way to get started is by learning a few basic recipes.

Stir fry sauces are the easiest recipes to try first, and they offer the perfect way to begin incorporating more vegetables into your diet.  However, if you’ve ever tried to reduce your sodium intake, you may have noticed just how salty the average take-out meal really is.  That’s why it is so much more satisfying to make a sauce of your own that replicates the restaurant’s recipe – only without all the added salt.  Surprisingly, these sauces are pretty easy to make at home and you can use whatever meat and veggies you like.  You may be surprised at how closely they resemble the sauces at American Chinese restaurants.

This basic cooking technique can be used for all three sauces:

1) Cook your meat first and remove it from the pan.

2) Then stir fry the veggies on the hot pan.

3) Mix all the sauce ingredients together in a cup or bowl.

4) Add a few of the hot veggies to the sauce mixture, just to pre-heat the cornstarch.

5) Dump all the sauce into the veggie pan and add the meat back in, bringing the entire mixture to a boil.

6) Simmer for a few minutes until the sauce is clear and thickened.

See below for the recipes for a basic Chinese white sauce, orange glaze and brown sauce –

Basic Chinese White Sauce

In a measuring cup, combine:

  • 2 Tbs. soy sauce,
  • 3/4 c. water
  • 1 Tbs. grated ginger
  • 1/2 Tsp. chopped garlic (1 small clove)
  • 1 Tbs. cornstarch

Follow the basic directions above.

Spicy Orange Glaze

In a measuring cup, combine:

  • 2 Tbs. soy sauce
  • 1/3 c. water
  • 1 Tsp. grated ginger
  • 1-2 Tsp. chopped garlic
  • 1 Tbs. cornstarch
  • 1 Tbs. orange juice concentrate
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

Follow the basic directions above.

Basic Chinese Brown Sauce

In a measuring cup, combine:

  • 2 Tbs. soy sauce
  • 3/4 c. water
  • 0.5 – 1 Tbs. grated ginger
  • 1 tsp. chopped garlic
  • 1 Tbs. cornstarch
  • 1 Tbs. molasses

Follow the basic directions above.

Remember the five basic ingredients of Chinese cooking

As someone who cooks Asian food at home all the time, I’m often asked which ingredients are essential to Chinese recipes.  In addition to the obvious accoutrements – like soy sauce and rice vinegar – I always recommend a good cooking oil, fresh ginger, garlic, scallions and salt.

Cooking oil - A variety of cooking oils can add fragrance to your dishes, and it keeps food from sticking to the wok. At high temperatures, oil can cook your dish quickly.  Choose your oils based on flavor preference.  Some of the more popular choices are soybean, peanut, walnut and sesame oil.

Ginger, Garlic and Scallions – There is an ancient Chinese belief that says, “Eat ginger, garlic, and scallion well daily, and the frequency of getting sick will decrease by half.  Chinese herbal medicine is an important part of the culture, and they consider ginger, garlic, and scallion to be indispensable, everyday ingredients.

Salt - In Asian culinary history, salt ranks number at the top of all the food flavors.  When tasting a dish before adding salt, the palate senses lack of flavor.  Just add a little salt and the taste immediately comes alive.

Let your cooking match your personal style

It seems a little backward to furnish your home with shoji screens, Ikebana vases and tatami mats – only to eat unhealthy food at the kitchen table.  Why not let your palate reflect the same aesthetics as your Zen décor?  Even for young professionals with a busy schedule, Chinese home cooking is a simple alternative to the American “meat and potatoes” diet.  It is inexpensive, healthy and delicious.  Before long you will be whipping up tasty dishes and aromatic soups using the freshest ingredients.

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