Szechuan Chicken with Cashew Nuts

This is one of my most favourite meals.

I adore food, so to try to extract a single favourite from the long list of food I love is a big ask. But if I had to, Szechuan Chicken with Cashew Nuts would definitely be right up there at the top of those favourites.

Since learning to eat more healthily, I’ve avoided making this much-loved dish. Firstly, because commercial hoisin sauce, so central to the flavour, is full of nasties. (I was horrified to see what I’d been feeding myself and the people I love when I actually looked at the list of ingredients. I challenge you to look at the ingredients on your own jar and not recoil in horror.) Then secondly, I avoided making it because I love rice. I mean, I love rice. And this dish just seems to require rice. Now, I can eat rice. But if I eat rice then that means less Szechuan Chicken I can eat, because at some point I’m just going to get fat eating the amounts of this stuff that I really want to eat. Such a quandary! One has to draw the line somewhere. Doesn’t one?

Or does one?

I missed my Szechuan Chicken! Once I’d figured out how to make my own hoisin sauce, that particular hurdle — the main hurdle — was behind me. As for rice, of course the usual grain-free rice substitute is cauliflower. Yes indeed, cauliflower. It’s a dish affectionately known as “cauli rice”, which is simply cauliflower that’s been grated or lightly buzzed in a food processor to a rice-like consistency. No, it doesn’t taste like rice. Not on its own, anyway. I mean, it’s cauliflower. However, like rice, cauliflower has no strong flavour of its own but adopts the flavours of the dishes with which it’s served, so really it’s no hardship to go without rice itself. If you serve it to your family or friends instead of rice, chances are they won’t even notice. Especially in a dimly lit room. ;-)

It also provides a way to soak up those sauces because, you know, waste not want not. (Mmmmm, the sauces!)

I’ve made a few other adjustments to make it more healthy overall, but I’m willing to bet those of you who have cooked up my old recipe won’t notice, because it’s still just plain YUM.

So let’s get cooking!

Szechuan Chicken with Cashew Nuts

[ingredients title=”Ingredients”]

  • 1 tbsp arrowroot or tapioca flour
  • 1 egg white, beaten lightly
  • 500 g chicken thigh fillet (or breast fillet, but thigh is tastier and juicier and more forgiving if you overcook it), cut into 1-2cm cubes
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 large handful raw, unsalted cashew nuts
  • 2 spring onions, sliced into 4cm pieces
  • 4 whole dried chillies, soaked in water for 10 minutes (and chopped, if a hotter result is desired)
  • 2.5 cm piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons home-made hoisin sauce (homemade hoisin sauce recipe here)
  • 2 teaspoons chilli bean paste (optional — I leave it out these days as we find the dish is hot enough without it)
  • 2 tablespoons shaoxing wine
  • a small drizzle of sesame oil
  • cauli rice, to serve (cauli rice recipe here)

[/ingredients][directions title=”Directions”]

  1. Coat chicken pieces in the arrowroot or tapioca flour, shaking off excess, then mix together with the egg white until evenly coated. Refrigerate while you prepare the other ingredients.
  2. Heat a wok to medium, add the coconut oil, and stir-fry the cashew nuts until golden all over. Careful not to get the wok and oil too hot or your nuts will burn. When they’re ready, remove from the wok with a slotted spoon into a bowl lined with a kitchen towel or paper towel, to absorb any excess oil.
  3. Reheat the oil in the wok over a high heat until it shimmers. Add half the chilled chicken and stir-fry until golden. Remove with a slotted spoon into a bowl lined with a kitchen towel or paper towel to absorb any excess oil. Repeat with the remaining chicken.
  4. Lower heat to medium and add chilli, spring onion and ginger and stir-fry until the ginger is fragrant and golden — about a minute.
  5. Add the hoisin sauce, chilli bean paste (if using) and shaoxing wine. Return the chicken to the wok, and reheat.
  6. Just before serving, drizzle over some sesame oil to season, and stir in.
  7. Serve with cauli rice.

[/directions]

Notes

  • You can make this saucier (hehe) if you wish, but please keep the proportions of the ingredients the same, i.e. double all of them in comparison to the meat, or triple all of them, not just one or two. Chinese cooking is all about the balance and harmony of flavours.

Bacon and Egg Salad

Salad arranged on a white plate

Eating is a funny thing. No, really, it is. It’s so natural and instinctive, and yet it’s amazing how much thought we do put into it. For example, when I sit down in front of a plate of food, I automatically and almost sub-consciously divvy it up in my mind so my “proportions” are right. I like to have a little bit of everything that’s on my plate in every mouthful. I mean, whoever created the meal put all the elements together because they go together, right? They’re meant to be consumed at the same time. Surely. So I assess how much of each item I need in each mouthful if I’m going to have enough mouthfuls of everything to go around.

Is this odd?

Likewise, when I am preparing meals I also like to make sure there’s enough of everything for each person to eat with every mouthful. In my mind, it’s about balance.

On the other hand, Hubby likes to eat each element on the plate separately. I’ll tell you a little secret that I am sure he has never guessed: this drives me a leeeeeeetle bit crazy, especially when I’m trying to introduce him to a new flavour but it’s not one even I would eat without a bit of dilution. I mean, there are lots of foods I am happy to eat as part of a meal but it doesn’t mean I like them enough to eat them alone. Still, that’s how Hubby has always done it, and that’s how he’ll always do it. Diff’rent strokes and I love him to bits despite this rather incomprehensible flaw. ;-)

This salad is a really easy one to throw together, using whatever proportions of salad veg work for you. There is no right or wrong so adjust ingredients just how you like them. The key to enjoyment is, like all meals, in using fresh, real food that you like to eat.

The most time-consuming aspect of putting the salad together from scratch is boiling the eggs (I mean, have you ever waited for water to boil? Bleugh!) but I do a batch about once a week and use them as required. (For perfect hard boiled eggs see How to cook a perfect hard-boiled egg.) And if you happen to have bacon for breakfast, throw on an extra slice with this salad in mind. And even if you don’t have mayonnaise handy, it’s super quick and easy to make yourself — and generally a lot healthier than anything you’ll find in the supermarket. I keep my home-made mayo in a tightly-sealed jar in the fridge and it lasts for weeks.

I like to keep this salad fairly basic in its ingredients, not wanting to complicate flavours too much so the bacon and egg are really the stars of the show, but by all means add whatever appeals to your own taste buds. For example, I’m not fond of raw tomato but like the contrasty splash of red the capsicum lends to the salad. You might really love tomato and prefer to halve some cherry tomatoes and scatter those over instead. If so, then use tomatoes.

Bacon and Egg Salad

Close-up of the salad

[ingredients title=”Ingredients”]

  • 1-2 cups lettuce, enough to cover your plate
  • 6-8 thin slices cucumber
  • 1 thin slice red onion, cut in half
  • 1 section red capsicum, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 rasher bacon
  • 1 hard boiled egg, preferably organic and free range (see How to cook a perfect hard-boiled egg)
  • 1-2 tbsp home-made mayonnaise
  • Parmesan cheese (optional), to taste. Use any other cheese of your choice if you don’t like Parmesan. Or leave it out altogether if you don’t eat cheese.
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste

[/ingredients][directions title=”Directions”]

  1. Heat a frying pan to high and cook the bacon until crispy and golden on both sides. Drain and set aside to cool.
  2. Spread the lettuce on a plate. Arrange the cucumber more or less evenly over the lettuce.
  3. Scatter the red onion and capsicum (or tomato) over the lettuce and cucumber.
  4. Roughly chop the cooked bacon and scatter over the salad.
  5. Peel the hard-boiled egg and cut in halves then quarters. Cut each quarter in half again, giving you 8 thin wedges. Arrange these over the salad.
  6. Shave some Parmesan cheese over the salad. I use a vegetable peeler. Use however much you like, depending on how much you like it. If using another hard cheese, cut into small cubes and scatter over the salad. Or just skip this step.
  7. Dollop on the mayonnaise. If it is quite thick, put just a little bit at a time on a teaspoon, dispersing little blobs as evenly as you can until you think you have enough.
  8. Grind some black pepper over the salad to your taste, then serve.

[/directions]

How to cook a perfect hard-boiled egg

A hard-boiled egg cut in two, yolks facing up, with a bowl in the background with two unpeeled eggs in it.

Did you grow up, as I did, believing that hard-boiled eggs had a rim of grey around the yolks? I mean, that’s just what happens when you hard-boil an egg. Right?

I didn’t become interested in food until relatively recently and it was a surprise to me to learn that eggs can be hard-boiled in such a way that there is no greyness, just bright yellow yolk against the egg white. It looks so much cleaner and more appetising, and I like the relatively gentle treatment given to the eggs with this method. No need to boil the poor thing to its death! (Not that we want it to be alive, exactly…)

As a bonus, it’s super easy (well, I mean, it’s boiling an egg, right? Not even I can manage to make that one complicated) and it’s not an exact science either, as a bit of extra time isn’t going to hurt.

Perfect Hard Boiled Eggs

Two halves of a hard-boiled egg, yolks facing upwards

[ingredients title=”Ingredients”]

  • eggs, at room temperature, at least a week old for easier peeling *

[/ingredients][directions title=”Directions”]

  1. Put the eggs in a single layer in a saucepan, not too close together, in case they knock against each other while they’re cooking, and crack. Add enough cold water to cover them, plus a bit more for good measure.
  2. Place the saucepan on the stove over high heat and bring to a boil. We want some good bubble action happening here.
  3. As soon as the water is bubbling nicely, turn off the heat and cover the saucepan. Calculate what the time will be in 12 minutes from now (or just set a timer) and find something else to do. Occasionally, glance at the time to see if it’s 12 minutes later — or more. More doesn’t seem to matter. Less could lead to an undercooked egg and we don’t want that, do we now?
  4. Choose a bowl that will easily take all the eggs you have just hard-boiled, and prepare it with cold, iced water. Drain the eggs and place them in the bowl of iced water to stop them from continuing to cook. I usually put the eggs in the fridge at this point (still in their iced water) and come back to them later when I am to use them.
  5. Peel, and serve in whatever way makes you happy. In fact, any way will make you happy because you will see there is no grey around the yolk and you will rejoice in their utter perfection.

[/directions]

Notes

  • * Use as many (or few) eggs as you want. I use local Mungalli Creek biodynamic, organic, free range eggs. They are mixed sizes but probably average about 60g each. If you’re using larger eggs, add a couple of minutes to the cooking time. If your eggs are smaller, it doesn’t really matter.

Mrs Jang’s Home-Style Fried Eggs

Two fried eggs in a bowl

A different slant on fried eggs for breakfast.

Breakfasts can be boring.

This is often because time — and patience — is short. That’s fine until you get so bored with bacon and egg you can’t face it for one more day. (Please don’t ask me how I know this.) Even before I changed to a more healthy lifestyle, I would still alternate between cold cereals, grain-based porridge, and variously-prepared eggs on toast. Once I learned the error of my ways, bacon and egg became a staple. (I do confess, it still tends to be so!)

There is absolutely no reason at all to have any particular kind of food at breakfast and not at other times of the day, or vice versa. Nevertheless, egg remains a quick and easy breakfast choice that is high protein and helps keep us feeling full until our next meal. This Chinese dish from Kylie Kwong is a spicy and delicious alternative to more standard, Western options. I’ve lightly adapted it in the interests of better health, but it’s essentially the same. Kylie is a chef who has always been about fresh, seasonal real food so her dishes always shine.

Kylie writes: “Where Westerners have fried eggs and bacon, Chinese people have fried eggs with chilli, oyster sauce and spring onions.”

A word about fats

If you are freaking at the amount of fat in this recipe, fear not! Aside from the fact that coconut oil is almost a super-food it is so good for you (some might argue it is a super-food) it can be difficult to let go of the old and unproven “science” that said eating fat makes you fat, or that heart disease is caused by eating saturated fat. But this is simply not true. In fact, the body needs fats to to maintain good health. (Though definitely avoid any fats that have been partially hydrogenated, producing trans fats, which are definitely bad for you — think margarine.) Fats also serve the purpose of making us feel fuller for longer, and has been found to cause people to eat less.

This meal is a high-protein, fast and filling start to your day, so just relax and enjoy it.

Mrs Jang’s Home-Style Fried Eggs

Close-up view of the soft egg yolks.

[ingredients title=”Ingredients”]

  • 1/2 cup virgin cold-pressed coconut oil
  • 2 organic, free range eggs
  • 2 tsp oyster sauce (keep an eye on the ingredients list and avoid brands with sugar and wheat and corn starch if at all possible)
  • small pinch ground white peppr
  • 1 spring onion, finely sliced
  • 1 red birds-eye chilli, finely sliced
  • small pinch ground white pepper

[/ingredients][directions title=”Directions”]

  1. Heat the oil in a hot wok until the surface seems to shimmer slightly.
  2. Crack the eggs into a small bowl, then pour into the hot oil. After a minute or so, reduce heat to allow the bottom of the eggs to become firm and crisp; the yolks should still be runny at this point.
  3. Carefully slide a fish slice under the eggs, lift out of wok onto a kitchen towel, and pour off the oil in the wok. (I keep a heat-proof dish handy for this.)
  4. Return the eggs to the wok and place back over the heat for another 1-2 minutes to crisp further. Use your own judgment here: weigh up the crispiness of the fried egg against the desired runniness of the yolk.
  5. Gently remove the eggs from the wok and drain off any excess oil before easing onto a plate.
  6. Drizzle the eggs with a little oyster sauce, top with spring onions and chillies, and season with pepper.

[/directions]

Restart

The word "Restart" typed on paper in an old-fashioned typewriter.

I’ve been finding that nothing stays the same, not least the food I eat. I’ve spent much of my life struggling with my weight and had trouble finding a healthy diet and lifestyle that works for me. The typical low-calorie semi-starvation diet did not work for me! I found myself hungry all the time and totally obsessed with food. It was not until I started to understand some of the biochemistry associated with what we eat that I realised I didn’t need to do that — indeed, shouldn’t for my own health.

One thing leads to another and now I’m eating a diet that is nutrient-dense and filling, and as free from processed foods as I can manage. I am so much healthier these days and niggling health problems that I accepted as part of “ageing” have disappeared. Oh, and I also lost 20kg while eating really well and without even feeling hungry.

Win!

As most of the recipes that were previously on OzFoodie are what I now consider to be unhealthy, I can’t in good conscience leave them online. I decided it’s time for a re-launch with a refreshed look and a refreshed food philosophy. So here we are again, and I hope you are able to get a lot from this new iteration of the blog, that was missing from the old.

Photo credit: © Bruder | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images