Asian-inspired dishes are a type of food I've always found myself drawn to, despite the fact that I was not necessarily "raised Asian." I am yonsei (4th generation) and was born and raised in a small town in the central valley of California, so I consider myself extremely "Americanized," compared to others of similar ethnicity. I've never been to Japan, don't speak Japanese, don't really have any other Japanese friends, and don't practice Japanese religion. Luckily, the only thing I really do know that can be associated with my ethnicity is the fact that I know how to make (and eat!) Asian food. Especially when it comes to making certain types of Japanese foods (thanks, Mom!).
My mom is full-Japanese but also pretty Americanized, being born and raised in the central valley. However, the one thing that has remained true and has been passed down through our generations is our love for Asian food! My childhood days are filled with memories of the smell of Asian spices and aromas filling our kitchen. Sukiyaki, tsukemono, and teriyaki chicken are just a few of the things my mom made best. Her chinese chicken salad is also a frequently-requested recipe of hers, and her annual New Year tradition of sushi-making was always anticipated by close friends and family. Now, living much further away from my family, I either dream of enjoying my mother's dishes or have to resort to making the recipe myself, although it never tastes quite the same as when it has been prepared by my mom's hands. Regardless, I'm hopeful that I'll have the opportunity to share some of those "famous" recipes of my mom's in the future.
|From left: Mom, myself, and my sister, Sumiko, cooking together in the kitchen|
Although we made a lot of Asian-dishes ourselves, we also were never disappointed in getting Asian food elsewhere. Every once in a while, my family would enjoy take-out from our favorite Chinese food restaurant, Hong Kong Restaurant, in Manteca. Elaine, the sweet lady who owned the restaurant, always greeted us by name and was so generous and caring, asking how the family is doing, sometimes giving a gift, and wishing everyone well. Her chow mein and fried rice were very good and we were always happy to support her business. We also enjoyed Thai food, especially pad thai, or pad see-ew. My dad especially enjoyed ordering his favorite: coconut soup.
One dish we actually didn't eat growing up was lettuce cups. Although they are a pretty common Asian-appetizer, for some reason, this wasn't a regular in our household, but I sure wish it was. I didn't start eating lettuce cups until after I moved down to Southern California. My love for lettuce cups started after I visited a now favorite restaurant of mine, Zengo, in Santa Monica. The restaurant is a Latin-Asian fusion restaurant, with amazing food, location, and service. They have a thai shrimp lettuce wrap that includes chorizo, peanut, cilantro, and tamarind chutney. The chef-owner, Robert Sandoval, really has a skill for blending the two very different styles and creating amazing dishes. I highly recommend their bottomless brunch, which includes unlimited small plates and cocktails.
Although this Latin-Asian variety is one I am currently content with enjoying at the restaurant rather than trying to recreate at home, I was interested in finding a simpler lettuce cup recipe with the same basic flavors that I could enjoy at a moment's notice. Bon Appetit has recently become one of my more-trusted recipe sources, so I knew I could find a recipe there that would not disappoint. These Lettuce Cups with Stir-Fried Chicken were just what I was looking for--quick, simple, yet full of flavor. The combination of cool, crisp lettuce leaves compliment the savory, sweet qualities of the stir-fried chicken perfectly. It's also a great basic starting point for those who want to be more creative with the ingredients. I chose to follow the recipe for this first attempt, but who knows? I may definitely try it again to make my own Latin-Asian fusion variety, letting out my inner-creativity like the mastermind-chef, Robert Sandoval.
Lettuce Cups with Stir-Fried Chicken
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Yield: 8 appetizer servings
Recipe from Bon Appetit
16 large butter lettuce leaves
1/2 cup Asian sweet chili sauce
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, minced
2 scallions, minced
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp cornstarch
2 Tbsp peanut oil
3 medium shitake mushrooms (about 1 ounce), stemmed, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp minced peeled fresh ginger
1/4 cup unsalted, roasted cashews, chopped
Arrange lettuce leaves on a large platter. Pour chili sauce into a small bowl; place on platter with leaves. Mix chicken, scallions, soy sauce, and cornstarch in a medium bowl. Let marinate 10 minutes at room temperature, stirring occasionally.
Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet. Add mushrooms; stir-fry 15 seconds. Add garlic and ginger and stir-fry 10 seconds. Add chicken mixture and cook, stirring often, until golden brown and cooked through, about 3-4 minutes. Spoon chicken mixture into lettuce leaves, dividing equally. Garnish with cashews. Roll leaves around filling and dip into chili sauce.