How many times when you are watching tv do you see the ubiquitous Chinese takeout boxes? It seems whenever characters onscreen do takeout, it's Chinese. Kind of like every time you see a character with a grocery bag, there is a loaf of French bread sticking out. As if these food items are so recognizable, that no one can mistake what is going on. It strikes me as amusing.
There are several Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Vietnamese restaurants near where I live. We have our choice when we get in the mood for something delectably Asian. More often than not, though, when the family's taste buds are so inclined, they ask me to make something at home. Nothing beats homemade in their minds, and I so agree!
Orange Tofu with Coconut Lime Rice
2 t. arrowroot powder
1 t. orange zest
1/2 c. freshly squeezed orange juice
3 T. tamari
2 T. maple syrup
2 T. apple cider vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T. toasted sesame oil
1/8 t. salt
1 package extra firm tofu, frozen in package, boiled to thaw, pressed and drained and sliced into 1/2 thick squares
1/4 c. green onions, thinly sliced
1 T. sesame seeds
In a shallow baking dish, mix arrowroot powder with orange juice until powder is fully dissolved. Mix in orange zest, tamari, maple syrup, vinegar, garlic cloves, sesame oil and salt. Combine well. Add tofu and be sure to coat both sides. Cover and refrigerate and marinate at least an hour. Place in cold oven, bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes. Turn tofu over and bake again, uncovered for a few minutes more, until sauce is bubbling at the edges. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and green onions and serve with Coconut Lime Rice.
Coconut Lime Rice
1 c. rice (we like basmati)
13-1/2 oz. can light coconut milk
1/2 c. water
1-1/2 t. lime zest
2 T. freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 t. salt
Combine all ingredients except zest in a pot and bring to a boil. Stir, cover, reduce heat to low and cook 35-45 minutes. Stir in lime zest and serve.
Jennifer Lee, in her book, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles points out that there are “some 40,000 Chinese restaurants in the United States—more than the number of McDonald’s, Burger Kings and KFCs combined.” Americanized Chinese food includes variations of the original dishes from China or new creations from the United States. Take, for example, the fortune cookie. Its origins are often contested, but a general consensus concludes it was created in San Francisco.
Also, chop suey, a dish of chopped meats cooked with vegetables like cabbage, celery and bean sprouts cooked in a thick sauce, was allegedly created by Chinese immigrants who came to California to mine for gold and work on the Transcontinental Railroad. They used whatever ingredients were available and also created dishes modified to suit a non-Chinese population.
Take General Tso, for example. General Tso’s chicken is virtually unknown in China but there was a real 19th-century general named Tso in Hunan Province who was involved in the bloodiest civil war in human history but his “long march across China” did not explain how “his long march across America" came to pass.
The driving force behind Chinese cooking is the desire to adapt and incorporate indigenous ingredients and utilize Chinese cooking techniques. I see this here in Texas with Mexican food, using local ingredients with a Mexican flare. We call it Tex-Mex, and I have to admit, I favor it over more traditional Mexican food.
If you like Chinese food, experiment with some dishes, like this Orange Tofu dish and have fun with it. Buy some chopsticks (but be aware of the environmental impact and get some that aren't disposable), watch a Jackie Chan movie (no one can move quite like that man can!) and be sure to celebrate Chinese New Year.