Saturday, August 22, 2009

Moo Shu Jujitsu

No, this isn’t about the martial arts but rather improvising in the kitchen (though feel free to do a butterfly kick if the need arises). If you’re like me, you often find yourself looking to make something tasty in the kitchen but find that you’re missing at least one ingredient for every recipe you own. Instead of being frustrated by such a thing, I often improvise.

Recently, I made a variation on a Weight Watchers moo shu chicken recipe. I didn’t have cabbage or any sort of wrapper like a tortilla, but I did have some other key recipe ingredients such as chicken, carrots, fresh ginger, garlic, onions, hoisin sauce, and mushrooms, and some tasty non-recipe ingredients such as red bell pepper and zucchini. So, I turned this recipe into a stir fry. Along with the pepper and zucchini, I added other non-recipe ingredients such as soy sauce, to give it more of a stir fry feel, and water chestnuts, to provide some crunch. Rice on the side is always a great accompaniment to stir fry.

The end result was great tasting, and it was made without a lot of fuss beyond slicing. I’ll contend that just about anything tasty can be made when you have fresh ginger and red bell peppers, particularly anything you might want to label as stir fry. Hoisin sauce provides spice at a modest level that, if you’re a spice wimp like me, is just the right level of enjoyment.

I know some people find improvising easy and others are stymied unless they have an exact recipe and all of the required ingredients. But I say give it a shot. You might hear a lot about “knowing” your ingredients—what they add to a dish, what other ingredients they go well with. It’s a good thing, though not essential. The best place to start improvising, I think, is with a stir fry. It’s the kind of dish that lends itself to adding different things, substituting for others, and not compromising taste.

And if you decide to do that butterfly kick in the kitchen, make sure the stove is off.

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