Jambalaya Deep-Dish Pizza

For such a short month, February has a lot going on, holiday- and event-wise. There’s Super Bowl, which is traditionally the first Sunday of the month; Valentine’s Day, which is fixed on the 14th; and Mardi Gras, which floats on the lunar calendar in tandem with Ash Wednesday. It’s enough to make even the most adept party planner a little dizzy, and for the average person at home, it isn’t easy to celebrate all three (at least, not when you’re hosting others). I’ve wanted to do some kind of Mardi Gras dish for a while, and with Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day behind us, here’s what I’ve come up with for our small celebration—all the exciting flavors of jambalaya piled into a deep-dish pizza.

The only thing missing from this jambalaya-inspired pizza is the rice, and guess what? We didn’t miss it!

As with the other two February events, it is just the two of us celebrating, and that makes it less intimidating for me. Les and I both love Cajun and Creole flavors, and he brought home some authentic spice blends from a work-related trip to “N’awlins” a couple of years ago, so I already have the right accent. We have some fabulous jazzy blues music to help us get in the mood, and I’m sure we have some beads around here somewhere. Weeknights are always great for a casual meal, and pizza has become one of my “blank canvas” foods, begging for interesting flavor twists. I’m going deep dish on this one because you cannot skimp on Mardi Gras (which translates from French to “fat Tuesday”), and I’m not sure that our usual N.Y.-style crust can handle all this excitement. 

Most of the fillings are obviously traditional, from the zesty smoked andouille sausage, through the holy trinity aromatic vegetables and spices, and the plump and juicy Gulf shrimp. I omitted rice because we have quite enough carbs in my part-cornmeal deep dish pizza dough. Creole foods have tomato, so that’s an easy crossover ingredient for pizza. But what about cheese? I wracked my brain and could not think of a single regional dish that includes cheese, but on a deep-dish pie, the cheese on the bottom seems to shield the tender crust from wet filling ingredients, so I didn’t feel right skipping it.

In the end, I opted for the mildest firm cheese I could think of—one that would not clash with all these great Louisiana flavors. Monterey Jack is sturdy enough to line the pizza dough, but it melts well, and it kept my deep-dish dinner from singing the soggy-bottom blues.

Speaking of the blues, we can’t celebrate Mardi Gras without music, so go put on your favorite New Orleans jazz, or enjoy what I listened to while making this pizza:


Ingredients

1 prepared deep-dish pizza dough (recipe and instructions in my post for Chicago-style Deep-dish Pizza)

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (mine was infused with cayenne)

2 links smoked andouille sausage, sliced or chopped (I used Aidell’s)

1 boneless chicken thigh, cut into bite-sized bits

2 ribs celery, finely chopped

1/2 yellow onion, chopped

1/2 cup each red and green bell pepper, chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped

Cajun or Creole seasoning (as much as you can stand)

3 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves removed

1 1/2 cups canned diced tomatoes, divided (see instructions)

Handful of fresh okra, sliced (or about 3/4 cup frozen sliced okra)

2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

Splash of veggie or chicken broth (optional, for deglazing the skillet)

4 large gulf shrimp (about 1/4 pound), peeled and deveined)

4 oz. shredded or sliced Monterey jack cheese


Instructions

Let’s run through it together in pictures while you enjoy the Bluesiana Triangle, then keep scrolling for written instructions and a downloadable PDF for your recipe files.


  1. Place a large non-stick skillet over medium heat and swirl in olive oil. When oil is hot enough to shimmer, add cut up andouille sausage and toss until edges are crispy. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the sausage to a bowl and set aside.
  2. Add the chicken pieces to the remaining oil and toss them about until no longer pink. Transfer chicken to the bowl with the sausage.
  3. Add trinity plus garlic to the skillet and toss in the hot oil. Shake on Cajun or creole seasoning to suit your spicy preferences. Grind some black pepper into the pan and sauté vegetables until they are soft and translucent. Scatter the fresh thyme leaves over the vegetables.
  4. Add diced tomatoes, okra and red wine vinegar. Toss and cook until okra is heated through, about five minutes. Turn off heat and allow vegetables to rest a few minutes, then transfer to a bowl and set aside.
  5. If your skillet has any browned bits on the bottom, swirl in a splash of veggie broth and heat to a simmer. Cut the shrimp into bite-sized pieces and toss them into the simmering broth. Cook only long enough for the shrimp to be barely done, which may only be about two minutes. Transfer the shrimp to the bowl with sausage and chicken and set aside.

At this point, if you’re working ahead, you can refrigerate all cooked ingredients, and then bring them to near-room temperature when you are ready to assemble the pizza.

Ready to bake:

  1. Preheat oven to 450° F, with rack in center of oven.
  2. Spread prepared dough into pan, with edges creeping up the side a bit.
  3. Layer ingredients in the following order: Monterey jack, most of the andouille sausage, chicken, vegetables, shrimp, remaining sausage, additional diced tomatoes. Sprinkle with Cajun seasoning.
  4. Bake 25 minutes, rotating pizza halfway through baking time. Rest pizza 5 minutes, then carefully lift and transfer pizza to a flat pizza pan or serving platter. Cut into wedges.

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Barbacoa

You have heard of the concept of a “bucket list,” tracking the experiences you want to have during your lifetime? Well, rather than making commitment to go skydiving or backpack through Europe (no thanks to either for me), I’ve narrowed down my bucket list to focus on foods. Cooking is a joyful adventure for me, but I am prone to become overwhelmed with too many new ideas in a way that, ironically, puts me in a cooking rut. What better way, I thought, to expand my culinary knowledge and have the satisfaction of accomplishment, than to put my wish list foods on a schedule? I wrote about this in October, when I finally tackled pierogi, the delicious potato and spinach-filled dumplings that were easier to make than I expected. Today, I’m making good on a promise from that post. I’ve moved barbacoa to the “done” column.

Despite having spent at least half of my growing-up years in southern Colorado, where I lived part-time with my mom, I had never heard of barbacoa until the Chipotle chain of restaurants popped up in my current city. Most of the “Mexican” food I knew was the standard Americanized fare, which is odd, given the demographics in Colorado. Who doesn’t love fajitas and burritos and such? But there are so many more interesting Mexican foods, and this is undeniably one of them. Barbacoa is beef, but it’s not the same as steak, as you might have in fajitas. It is rich and savory, tender and spicy, and super-versatile as a filling for a variety of casual dishes. And you know what I learned this week? It is ridiculously simple to make.

You need a good-size (preferably grass-fed) chuck roast, which is essentially the same thing you would use to make a pot roast. It’s full of marbling, which renders down into the most succulent texture in a slow cooker. Add a few spices or Mexican rub of some sort, onions and garlic, some hot peppers if you’d like, and just enough liquid with some smoky and acidic tones to tenderize and give balance to the meat. Put it in the slow cooker and wait for the magic.


For my husband, Les, and me, this mouthwatering magic could not come at a better time. The Super Bowl is just days away, and in a normal year, that would put our kitchen skills into preparation overdrive for the arrival of guests at our annual big game party. As strange as it was to have only the two of us at the table for Thanksgiving, it will be even weirder to not have a houseful for the Super Bowl. We are making the best of this pandemic reality the same way we did for Thanksgiving—by trying out a few new foods. Les will no doubt make his pimiento cheese and—spoiler alert—his amazing smoky guacamole. I may not be able to resist whipping up at least a half dozen deviled eggs and maybe a batch of hummus to snack on. But our main dish item for this year’s scaled-down celebration is this barbacoa. Delicious. Done.


Ingredients


3-4 lb. beef chuck roast

Kosher salt and black pepper

2 Tbsp. smoky pepper BBQ rub* (see notes)

2 Tbsp. oil (olive, canola or avocado are all good here)

1 medium onion

5 cloves garlic

1/2 fresh poblano pepper*

1/2 red jalapeno*

1 small can mild chopped green chiles

2 Tbsp. Worcestershire

2 Tbsp. brown sugar

2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar

1 Tbsp. chipotle puree with adobo*

2 tsp. liquid smoke

Juice of 1 lime

About 1/2 cup water or beef broth

2 dried bay leaves


*Notes

An ideal smoky BBQ rub for this dish would include some type of smoked pepper (ancho or chipotle, for example), some garlic, onion and herbs. The main thing I recommend when choosing a pre-made rub is to pay attention to the sodium content. Ingredients are listed in order of their ratio, so if salt is listed early, the blend has a lot of it. Les and I recently ordered some fantastic blends from a company called Flatiron Pepper Company. I respect the fact that they do not include salt in their blends—it means I have more control of the sodium that goes into my dishes, and I’m also not paying a premium for a cheap ingredient. If you want to make your own rub, you might try my “Fire & Brimstone” seasoning, which is detailed in this week’s post for Tex-Mex Stuffed Sweet Potatoes.

We enjoy spicy foods at our house, and I used a couple of fresh peppers that we already had on hand. Poblanos have some mild heat, but primarily a smoky flavor. Red jalapeno is hotter. Use what you’re comfortable with, or leave them out altogether in favor of an extra onion. This is what’s great about cooking at home—you get exactly what you like. 😊

For the chipotle puree, we dump a can of chipotles with adobo directly into the food processor. The result is a thick, smoky sauce that has heat but also some fruitiness and a big dose of smoke. It keeps well in the fridge for several weeks and is a good addition to any type of Mexican dish or chili.


Instructions

As always, I’ll get you started with a visual walk-through of how I made it. You’ll find written instructions below, and keep scrolling for a downloadable PDF for your recipe files.


  1. Cut the chuck roast into equal, baseball-sized chunks. Sprinkle them all over with kosher salt and black pepper (unless your spice blend already has both).
  2. Combine the BBQ rub and oil in a large bowl. Toss the roast chunks in the oil until all sides are evenly covered. Cover the bowl and rest it at room temperature for at least 30 minutes, or up to an hour.
  3. Chop up the onion, garlic and any fresh peppers you are using, and set them aside, along with the canned green chiles.
  4. In a measuring cup, combine the remaining ingredients and whisk until blended.
  5. Heat a large pot or skillet over medium-high heat. Drizzle a small amount of oil into the pot and add the roast chunks, a few at a time to avoid crowding the pan. Remember that a quick drop in temperature will prevent good searing. Turn the pieces over when the bottom is browned, and continue this until all sides are browned. Our slow cooker has a browning feature, so I was able to do this directly. A cast-iron skillet would be perfect for this, if your slow cooker has a ceramic crock. Transfer the meat chunks to the slow cooker when they are browned all over.
  6. Scatter the onions, garlic, peppers and green chiles over the top of the meat.
  7. Pour the liquid ingredients into the cooker. If you used a separate skillet for browning, you may first want to swirl some of the liquid into it to deglaze and gather up all the tasty browned bits, so that you don’t miss any of that fabulous flavor.
  8. Tuck the bay leaves down into the liquid. Cover and cook on low setting for about 10 hours. We set this up at bedtime and woke up to the most amazing aromas.
  9. When the meat is nice and tender, remove it with tongs to a cutting board or glass baking dish and shred it. We found that undisturbed overnight cooking left the submerged bottom of the meat chunks tender, but the exposed parts were still firm. We simply turned the meat over and gave it another hour or so. To shred the meat, use two forks to pull it apart in opposite directions.
  10. Return the shredded meat to the flavorful liquid and keep it warm until ready to serve. If you plan to serve it later, refrigerate the meat and liquid together, and re-heat the amount for your recipe in a saucepan over low heat, or return it to the slow cooker if you plan to serve the whole amount.


Barbacoa is so good as a filling for street-style tacos, with fresh crunchy radishes and cilantro, plus a squeeze of lime. Or wrap it up in a larger flour tortilla with rice and peppers. Or serve it in a bowl with black beans, rice, lettuce, avocado and pico de gallo or salsa. If you’re like me, you probably won’t be able to resist having “just one more taste” straight from the slow cooker.

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Smoky Guacamole

Terrie and I enjoy surprising each other with gifts that we know the other will appreciate and play to our sense of adventure in the kitchen. So it was a few Christmases back when I opened one of my gifts and unveiled the book Buenos Nachos! by Gina Hamadey. Terrie knew that I already enjoyed making different kinds of nachos and had come to recognize herself how enjoyable nachos could be as a dinner, and relatively healthy, too, if you plan for it. The book is, as the title indicates, a treasure trove of nacho recipes, many of which come from restaurants whose owners shared their secrets. The part of the book I’ve put most to use, though, is in the smaller section on accoutrements such as salsa, guacamole, queso and “refreshments.”

Specifically, I’ve latched onto “Smoky Guacamole” as a go-to offering at parties or pre-dinner snacks at our house. I was a latecomer to guacamole, I have to admit. I moved to Southern California after college and refused to get into the chill, SoCal swing of things and eat a disgusting-looking condiment with a questionable consistency. Instead, I simply expanded George Carlin’s skepticism about “blue foods” to include pasty green stuff. I don’t remember exactly when I gave in and tried guacamole, but I cannot imagine life without it now. The freshness of the lime and cilantro added to chunks of avocado and tomatoes was made for a nacho chip. Or, in the recent case in our household, as a side/add-on to homemade barbacoa tacos.



The reason I like this particular recipe—the very first one I tried from Buenos Nachos!—is the boost guacamole gets by simply adding in a couple of tablespoons (or more, as I like to do) of chipotles in adobo sauce. The smoky spice of the adobo sauce gives guac exactly the kind of “elevate your happy” that my better half talks about so often.

Coincidentally, smoky guacamole also serves as a fine topping or side for any of the nacho dinners I put together. Next up for me out of Buenos Nachos! will be liberating and enhancing a savory cheese sauce from one of the nacho recipes. But for now, I hope you enjoy this smoky guacamole as much as we do.


The usual guac suspects are all here, but the chipotles in adobo is the standout ingredient that puts the smoke in Smoky Guacamole.

Ingredients

3 avocados, halved and cubed

2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped

Juice of half a lime

1/2 medium red onion, chopped

2 Tbsp. or more pureed chipotles in adobo sauce* (see notes)

3 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro

Salt and pepper


*Notes

To make the chipotle puree, empty an entire 7 oz. can of chipotle peppers with adobo sauce into a food processor. Pulse several times until mixture is mostly smooth. Transfer mixture to a bowl and keep in the fridge for about two weeks. In this recipe, use as much adobo as your spice meter desires. Add some to your next batch of chili, or use it to kick up a homemade bbq sauce.


Instructions


  1. Put the diced avocado in a large bowl and add the lime juice. Toss lightly to prevent the avocado browning.
  2. Add in the tomatoes, onion and chipotle-adobo puree. Stir with a large spoon or mash with a fork; if you prefer a smoother guacamole, you can mash the avocados first, but fans of chunky texture can settle for just mixing up the ingredients.
  3. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Finally, add the cilantro and fold again.

Buenos nachos!

Heaven on a chip.

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Moroccan Chicken

During earlier years of Food Network, the contestants vying to become “the next Food Network star” were actually given a contract to host their own cooking show, usually slotted for Sunday mornings. That was before the network became its entirely competition-based format, where everything has to be done in 20 minutes and somebody always “wins.” I still watch, but I miss the days when more of the chefs (or cooks, in the case of ever-popular Rachael Ray) walked you through the steps of making a meal in what looked like a real home kitchen. They still have some weekend morning “how-to” shows, but the rest of the time, it’s either a big ol’ showdown, or a bunch of chefs talking in bold color about the food at places they visit (I’m looking at you, Guy Fieri). 😉

Speaking of bold color, I’ve been working on restoring some color to things around here in the tail end of a very gray January. The recipe I’m sharing today has been a favorite of mine since the third season of said “Food Network Star,” and I learned it by watching an episode of the show hosted by Amy Finley, the first woman to win the network’s competition.

Amy’s show, endearingly named “The Gourmet Next Door,” showcased elegantly simple French cooking methods, and Amy exuded confidence in the kitchen. I was disappointed, along with everyone at Food Network, when Amy decided not to return for a second season. During her six episodes of TV fame, she managed to get through to me with this simple and really flavorful recipe, which she said was inspired by the foods of French Morocco, on the northern coast of Africa. The bone-in chicken thighs are marinated in a spicy blend of chiles and seed spices—known in those parts as “harissa”—and surrounded by tender and colorful vegetables, plus dried fruit and fried almonds. If it sounds like a weird combination, trust me, you will change your mind after you taste it. It’s spicy and savory, yet sweet with fruit and wholly satisfying.

For now, the tagine will remain purely decorative. I’ll be on the lookout for a real one that I can actually put in the oven.

Traditionally, a Moroccan dish such as this would be prepared in a clayware vessel called a tagine, which looks like the red pot above. The shape of the tagine keeps moisture inside for perfectly tender roasts and stews. I’ve had this tagine on display for several years, but have only recently considered cooking in it, at the urging of my husband, Les. However, after much discussion with my aunt, who spent decades as a clay potter, we concluded that the finish on this one probably makes it purely decorative and unsuitable for cooking. No worries, I’ve prepared the dish today as I always have, in a simple cast-iron skillet.

This dish is pretty and delicious, as spicy as you want it to be, easy to make and a welcome flavor change-up from the usual weeknight chicken dinner. I hope you like it!

Colorful veggies, dried fruit and nuts make this a satisfying, healthful meal.

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 Tbsp. neutral oil, such as canola

2 tsp. harissa blend spices* (see notes)

4 large bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs

1 small sweet onion, chopped into large pieces

1 small zucchini, cut into uniform chunks

1 small yellow squash, cut into uniform chunks

Handful of fresh baby tomatoes, whole

Small handful each dried plums (prunes) and apricots

1/2 cup low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth

1 tsp. neutral oil, such as canola

1/4 cup whole, raw almonds, unsalted

Cooked couscous for serving


*Notes

Traditionally, harissa is presented as a paste made from fresh whole chiles, and it really tips the scale on Scoville heat units. My dry blend of harissa spices allows for some flexibility in the heat department and includes red chile, garlic, black pepper, cayenne, and what I call the “three C spices,” which are caraway, coriander and cumin. The seeds should be slightly toasted and then ground into a rough powder before blending with the other ingredients. If you prefer, substitute a ready-made harissa blend, or use the harissa paste seasoning available at Trader Joe’s (brace yourself, it’s hot). My harissa dry spice blend recipe is listed at the end of this post.

You will need an oven safe skillet with a tight-fitting lid for this recipe. Alternatively, you could make it in an electric skillet with a lid. Or a tagine, if yours is safe to cook in. 🙂


Instructions

Let’s walk through it together in pictures first. You’ll find written instructions below, and keep scrolling for a downloadable PDF version for your recipe files.


  1. Combine the oil and spice blend in a large, deep bowl that is large enough to hold the chicken thighs for marinating. Season the chicken pieces on both sides with kosher salt. Add them to the spice marinade and turn several times to coat evenly. Cover and refrigerate at least two hours.
  2. Preheat oven to 350° F, with oven rack in the center.
  3. Heat a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat. When skillet is warm (but not hot), add chicken pieces, skin side-down. Do not move or turn the pieces for about 10 minutes, until the fat is rendered and skin is golden and crispy. Cook the second side about 5 minutes, until browned. Remove pieces to a plate and keep warm.
  4. Add the chopped onions, then zucchini and squash to the remaining oil in the skillet, tossing briefly to coat and lightly sauté them. Salt to taste. Remove skillet from heat.
  5. Arrange the baby tomatoes among the skillet vegetables, then tuck in the dried fruit pieces evenly throughout the skillet. Place the chicken thighs on top of the mixture.
  6. Swirl broth in the bowl that held the chicken pieces, to grab all the flavors lingering there. Pour the broth down the sides of the skillet, so that it flows underneath to the vegetables.
  7. Cover the skillet and transfer to the preheated oven. Bake for 45-60 minutes, until vegetables and fruit are soft and chicken pieces are tender. Prep the couscous near the end of the cooking time.
  8. Heat teaspoon of oil in a small skillet until it’s quite hot and shimmery. Add raw almonds and toss them about for about two minutes. They will pop and sputter a bit, so be careful. When they are toasty and fragrant, use a slotted spoon to remove them.
  9. Serve the vegetables and chicken over cooked couscous, and spoon the fried almonds over the top.
We’ll keep the tagine in the background, just for effect. 😉

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Harissa Dry Spice Blend

1 Tbsp. crushed red pepper flakes (more or less to your heat preference)

1 Tbsp. granulated dried garlic

1 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper (adds bite with minimal heat)

1 1/2 tsp. whole coriander seed, toasted and ground

1 tsp. cumin seed, toasted and ground

1 tsp. caraway seed, toasted and ground

2 or 3 shakes ground cayenne pepper (adjust to your heat preference)


“Copycat” Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Ever since I started browsing recipes on Pinterest, I’ve noticed something that bothers me—the prominence of so-called “copycat” recipes. For some reason, everyone seems to be obsessed with the idea of bringing home the dishes they’ve enjoyed in a restaurant. And with great frequency, the restaurant they copy is a chain.

How did we get here? I remember a time when restaurants made claims like “as good as Mom used to make,” or “from a three-generations-old recipe.” Does this mean I’m old? When did we make this shift from holding restaurants to standard of homemade foods we remember from childhood—to seeking a fettucine alfredo that’s “just like the Cheesecake Factory?”

Most of the time, chain restaurant menus strike me as calorie- and sodium-laden oversized portions, often indistinguishable in terms of cuisine style. For example, it wouldn’t seem so strange to find a salad on a chain menu with blackened chicken (Cajun), a soy-based dressing (Asian), topped with roasted corn (Tex-Mex) and dried cranberries (um, what?). These are the kind of things that keep me up at night. What is a salad such as that even trying to be?

So when I asked a friend a couple of years ago for her preference for a girls’ lunch date, I admit that I cringed at her response—“How about P.F. Chang’s?”

A chain? Ugh. It’s my own fault, but my friend’s workplace isn’t near to many independent spots, so I agreed, and as luck would have it, I’m glad I went. Not because the food was exceptional (it was fine), but because I (finally) became inspired to delve into cooking the mouthwatering world of Asian food. For years, I loved the flavors but felt intimidated by this particular cuisine, with all of its complex special sauces and high-temperature cooking techniques. So how did a single meal at an Asian chain restaurant open my culinary mind?

Two words. Lettuce wraps.

Spicy, fresh and crunchy. Why did I wait so long to discover these?

I loved the idea of the lettuce wraps—crunchy fresh lettuce wrapped up around a small mound of spicy sauced chicken with flash-fried rice noodles on the side. It seemed fresh and healthy, and the server was happy to bring me a side of their “ring of fire” sauce, which is pretty much the hottest thing you’d ever imagine ingesting. Man, that stuff was good. But later in the day, after my fourth glass of water, I remembered why I steer clear of the chains. My food was really, really salty. After a quick online lookup, I discovered that my lunch, considered an appetizer on the Chang’s menu, had 1,820 mg of sodium. In one appetizer.

That sent me off in search of a better way. I went to the market and discovered that nearly every Asian sauce is available in a reduced sodium version, so those were the ones I brought home (after inspecting the label ingredients for any other deal breakers, of course). I tasted each one, experimented with flavor combinations and figured out some other ways to add texture and flavor. And today, I present my very own copycat recipe—for chicken lettuce wraps. My version is decidedly lower in sodium, swaps out boring iceberg leaves in favor of crunchy romaine, with addition of sweet red bell pepper (did you know they are higher in vitamin C than oranges?), and nutty brown rice rather than bland, deep-fried rice noodles.

So maybe this is the reason for all the copycats on Pinterest. Perhaps other amateur chefs have the same idea—to enjoy the flavor they’ve had in other places, but with more control over the ingredients, the fat and the sodium. It also has occurred to me that because I grew up in a small community with no chain restaurants at all, I do not have any history of food memories tied to them, as others probably do. In the end, I learned something and found a new favorite to make at home.

These wraps are delicious, the heat is adjustable (either way) to taste, and my husband and I enjoy them so much, that lettuce wraps are now in our regular menu rotation. All because of lunch at a chain restaurant. If you’ve been nervous to try an Asian recipe at home, allow me to introduce you to a few of the key ingredients:

You can mix and match these in so many ways.

What is in hoisin sauce?

Hoisin sauce is a sweet, sticky sauce, made from fermented soy beans and garlic, and flavored with aromatic spices such as fennel, cinnamon and star anise. It is very common in Chinese and Thai dishes, sometimes used as a cooking ingredient but also sometimes as a dipping sauce. Think of it as an Eastern-world barbecue sauce. It’s delicious!

What is tamari?

Tamari is a wheat-free alternative to traditional soy sauce. The organic, low-sodium versions are often significantly lower than the low-sodium soy sauces, but the flavor is nearly identical. Because it’s wheat-free, it’s suitable for gluten-free diets—but for this recipe, be sure to check every other ingredient label for hidden sources of gluten if this is a concern.

What is sriracha?

Sriracha is an Asian-style condiment, made from aged hot peppers, vinegar, salt and a bit of sugar. It adds plenty of heat to this recipe but is balanced with the tang of the vinegar. Adjust this one to suit your taste but consider using at least 1 teaspoon to get the chili flavor that makes this dish special.

What’s different about chili-garlic sauce?

Chili-garlic sauce is similar in flavor to sriracha, but it’s a chunkier sauce that adds texture and a lot of savory heat, with underlying notes of garlic and not a lot of salt. If you love spicy food, double it (as I often do); if you aren’t into as much heat, use half or skip it altogether.

Anybody besides me getting hungry?


Ingredients

1 lb. lean ground chicken* (see notes for vegan option)

1 medium onion, chopped

1 small red bell pepper, chopped

3 cloves fresh garlic, minced

1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced

1/2 can sliced water chestnuts, drained and diced small*

Sauce

4 Tbsp. hoisin sauce (low sodium)

2 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar (not the “seasoned” variety, which has extra salt)

2 Tbsp. low sodium soy sauce (or tamari, which is even lower)

1 Tbsp. sriracha sauce

1 Tbsp. chili-garlic sauce

For serving

2 tsp. toasted sesame oil*

Fresh romaine heart, trimmed and prepped*

Hot cooked brown jasmine rice

3 scallions (green onions), trimmed and thinly sliced

Sesame seeds (optional), sprinkled on for serving


*Notes

Want to make this vegan? Swap the chicken for firm, cubed tofu (patted very dry) and a handful of cashews. Delicious!

In case you’re wondering, it’s not accidental that salt is not listed in the ingredients. Part of the goal with this recipe is reduction of the high sodium in the original dish. The sauces have enough to cover it.

Most supermarkets sell water chestnuts in their Asian section, and sometimes they are available in a diced form, but the pieces are almost as large as sugar cubes. I prefer the slices, because it’s easier to cut the slices into a smaller dice.

A little bit of toasted sesame oil goes a long way, so don’t be tempted to use more of this. Additionally, you don’t want to cook in this pungent oil because its low smoke point will cause it to scorch.

To prep the romaine heart, trim the stem end and rinse the individual leaves under cold running water. Drain them of excess water, then wrap them up in paper towels and place the bundle in the fridge until it’s time to serve. The chilly air will keep them crisp, and the towels will absorb lingering moisture.


Instructions

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add canola oil, then brown the ground chicken together with the garlic and fresh ginger. Add the chopped yellow onions and red bell pepper and sauté until the vegetables are soft. Add the chopped water chestnuts and heat through.

In a measuring cup with a pour spout, combine the hoisin sauce, soy or tamari, sriracha, chili-garlic sauce and rice wine vinegar. Whisk to combine.

Adjust the heat level up or down, simply by changing the amounts of sriracha and chili-garlic sauce.

Pour the sauce combination over the chicken and stir to coat evenly. Just before serving, drizzle in the toasted sesame oil and stir to combine.

Yes, they’re as fresh and yummy as they look.

For serving

You could probably pre-fill the lettuce leaves with the chicken mixture for serving, but we enjoy the DIY aspect of serving it at the table. Arrange the lettuce leaves on a plate, with the brown rice in one bowl and the meat mixture in another, sprinkled with sliced scallions and sesame seeds.

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What restaurant recipes have you copied (or wanted to)? Leave me a comment, and maybe we can tackle it together!