It’s a well known fact that Jewish people have an affinity for Chinese food. In fact, Elena Kagan, our newest Supreme Court Justice, even made a joke about it during her Senate hearings (when asked what she did the prior Christmas — a reference to the Christmas Day bomb plot in New York City — she said that she probably did what other Jews do on Christmas: eat out at a Chinese restaurant).
Why this particular love affair between a people and a cuisine? People have speculated lots of reasons (for example, Chinese cuisine uses little or no dairy, making it easy to avoid mixing meat and milk products in violation of the kosher dietary laws).
But ultimately it’s about the food itself. Chinese food is so delicious and there’s such variety as well as an abundance of interesting flavors, it’s difficult not to like, whatever your ethnic background!
When it came to Chinese food, my family was no different from so many others as I was growing up. The official day to eat it with your family was Sunday. Starting with Wonton Soup and Egg Rolls, you also ordered two from Column A, two from Column B. Stuff like Chow Mein and Fried Rice. Moo Goo Gai Pan. Char Shu Ding. Cantonese specialties. Tom’s, the place we went to, was typical: maroon vinyl booths to fit a family of four.
This was before 1965, when immigration policy changed in the United States under LBJ. If you’re young you have no idea what a culinary (and demographic) revolution this caused. People from Szechuan, Hunan and other provinces of China came here and showed us Chinese food like we never had it before. We’d never known the likes of General’s Tzo’s Chicken and Kung Pao Gai Ding. We never heard of hoisin sauce.
A lifetime ago.
I still love the old and familiar foods of my childhood. A fresh, crispy egg roll. Lo Mein.
But we save that for the occasional takeout. At home, I cook the other dishes: stirfries, interesting noodle recipes; main dishes that use flavorful ingredients such as hot chili peppers, fresh ginger and sesame oil.
To commemorate the Chinese New Year of the Hare, which begins on February 3rd, may I offer you my favorite recipe for Chicken with Hoisin Sauce and Cashews? It’s quick, easy and really tasty.
Chicken with Hoisin Sauce and Cashew Nuts
4 skinless and boneless chicken breast halves
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or sherry
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon soy sauce
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup cut up water chestnuts
1 cup cut up fresh mushrooms
1/2 cup cut up green bell pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1/3 cup cashew nuts
Cut the chicken into bite size pieces into a bowl. Add the rice wine, cornstarch and soy sauce and mix the ingredients well to coat the chicken pieces evenly. Preheat a wok or stirfry pan over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and swirl the pan to coat the bottom and sides. Add the water chestnuts, mushrooms and bell pepper pieces and stirfry for about 2 minutes. Sprinkle with the salt, toss, dish out and set aside. Reheat the pan and add the remaining 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. Add the chicken and stirfry for 2-3 minutes or until all the pieces are white and there are no traces of pink. Add the hoisin sauce and mix it in thoroughly. Return the vegetables to the pan and toss the ingredients to distribute them evenly. Add the nuts and toss the ingredients. Dish out and serve. Makes 4 servings