Asian Inspiration, Dinner for a few or a crowd

By Jennifer Ruple and Mary Helen Darah

The Chinese New Year has come and gone, but the celebration of the Year of the Monkey lasts until January 28, 2017, when the Year of the Rooster begins. By the way, if you happen to have been born during a Year of the Monkey – 1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980 – you are characterized as intelligent, witty, playful and curious.
So grab some chopsticks, and maybe a spoon, and enjoy these three Asian-inspired dishes–an appetizer, soup and main dish that can be adapted to feed a few or a crowd.

Chicken Lettuce Wraps
Makes 10-12 appetizers
3 boneless chicken breast halves, diced
1 can water chestnuts, drained and chopped
8 ounces cremini or shiitake mushrooms, chopped
Vegetable oil
2 heads iceberg lettuce
Thinly sliced green onions or scallions for garnish
2 tablespoons corn starch
¼ cup water
¼ cup soy sauce
1 cup water
½ teaspoon ground ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
5 tablespoons packed
brown sugar
1-2 tablespoons honey
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In a large bowl, combine chicken, water chestnuts and mushrooms. In a small bowl, whisk together marinade ingredients. Pour 1/3 of the marinade over chicken mixture and combine. Allow to marinate 30 minutes. The remaining marinade will be used for a dipping sauce.
In a small saucepan, add remaining marinade and warm over medium-low heat. Combine corn starch and ¼ cup water until dissolved and stir into marinade.
In a wok or large frying pan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium high heat. Add chicken and stir fry for approximately 5 minutes, until browned and no longer pink (I cook my chicken in 2-3 batches to avoid overcrowding in the pan and steaming).
Spoon chicken mixture over lettuce leaves, garnish with green onions or scallions, and drizzle with extra sauce.
(Recipe by Jennifer Ruple)

Asian Vegetable Soup
2 tablespoons oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium carrots, thinly cut diagonally
2 stalks of bok choy or 1 cup of shredded cabbage
2 quarts chicken stock (homemade or bought)
8-10 ounces of pasta or Asian noodles – I cook my pasta separately to keep it al dente and then add it to the soup
1 ½ cups cooked chicken, shredded
Kosher salt and black pepper
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 teaspoon oyster-flavored sauce (optional)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger
½ cup tofu (optional)
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In a soup pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, carrots, bok choy/sliced cabbage. Sauté for about five to six minutes until vegetables are soft.
Pour in the stock, and bring the liquid to a boil. At this point you can add the pasta and simmer for about five minutes or prepare pasta separately and add it later. Add salt, pepper and any other ingredients, such as sliced mushrooms, and simmer for a few minutes.
Top off with chopped green onions for taste and to add visual flair.
(Recipe by Mary Helen Darah)

Pepper Steak
This dish is a no-fail crowd pleaser. The ingredients can be modified to serve more – I have prepared it for up to 40!

Serves 4-6
I pound flank steak cut into bite-sized pieces
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or pale dry sherry
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 medium green peppers (or colored peppers) seeded, and cut into ½ inch squares
4 slices peeled fresh ginger
¼ cup peanut oil or vegetable oil-flavorless
Rice or crunchy noodles for serving

Prepare ahead Cut flank steak lengthwise then crosswise. Mix together wine, soy sauce, cornstarch and sugar. Add the steak slices. Using a large spoon, coat the meat with the mixture. You can prepare the dish right away or marinate the steak for up to six hours.
In a skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Add the ginger and cook for 30 seconds before placing the meat in the skillet. Stir fry until the meat is no longer pink.
Discard the ginger pieces, and add the peppers back into the skillet. Cook for an additional two minutes and serve over rice or with crunchy noodles.
(Recipe by Mary Helen Darah)