I rarely (if ever) spend the money on take-out. Making it at home has many advantages – not only is it cheaper than that $10 bowl of rice an orange chicken you have a craving for, it’s also a great deal healthier to make these recipes at home. Asian take-out restaurants are notorious for loading their dishes with sodium in order to appeal to American pallets, which is a shame considering authentic Asian food is often full of bold flavors that do not require copious amounts butter and salt. However, if you’ve ever tried to look up how to make an Asian recipe from scratch, you’ll find that the recipes often contain numerous ingredients that aren’t readily available at your local grocery store.
In the past, I’ve gone to specialty Asian markets to acquire ingredients. If you have a store that sells these ingredients nearby, this can be a fun and rewarding culinary challenge. The problem is that going the strictly authentic route is expensive, requires the extra time and forethought of going to a specialty market, and then actually going about cooking these dishes is often an involved project – not something you can throw together in 30 minutes.
So where is the happy medium for those who want to make these recipes at home but don’t have the time or money? Here are some of my favorite ideas for recreating take-out favorites at home with ingredients you can get at your local grocery store. I certainly don’t make any claims about these being strictly equivalent to the experience of eating authentic Asian food, but if you’re looking for a healthier and easier alternative to take-out, look no further!
Chinese Hot & Sour Soup
Low sodium soy sauce
Tofu (or pork or chicken)
Shitake mushrooms, chopped
Dash of olive oil for sauteing
Scallions or cilantro leaves for garnish
Now, you’ll notice I did not include exact quantities of these ingredients. Before you start worrying if you’ll get it right, know that all of these ingredients can be altered depending on what flavor profiles you like. Start with one cup of chicken broth (per person), one tablespoon of the vinegar, and a half tablespoon of the soy sauce, and a few dashes of white pepper. Everything else from the mushrooms to the tofu is “to taste.” If you like it sour, add more vinegar, if you like it hotter, more pepper, broth-ier, more chicken stock.
If you are cooking with chicken or pork, you’ll need to cook that before you add any of the other ingredients. Saute any added meat with the onions until they are translucent. Add your cup of chicken broth and then throw in tofu and mushrooms. Simmer on medium heat for 3 minutes. Then add your soy sauce, pepper, and vinegar. Taste test your soup and add more ingredients as needed! The last step is to lightly beat your egg, drop it into the soup, and stir on low heat. Finally, garnish with cilantro or scallions.
Indian Butter Chicken
Chicken (substitute: tofu)
1/2 cup Tomato sauce
1 small clove Garlic, chopped
1/2 cup Cream (substitute: milk with 1/8 tsp. corn starch mixed in cold water to thicken)
Butter (substitute: olive oil)
Curry powder and/or cumin
The curry powder and cumin are meant to imitate the earthy flavor of the garam masala, turmeric etc. in traditional butter chicken, and store-bought tomato sauce that you put on pasta can serve for the tomato-base in the sauce. You can get fancy and make your tomato sauce a garlic-herb variety to spice things up. Saute your chicken, garlic, onions, and whatever veggies you wish to include in butter or olive oil until the meat is fully cooked.
Add 1/2 cup cream (this is for one person – double for two) and 1/2 cup tomato sauce. The curry powder and cumin are to-taste, but if you need solid measurements try 1/4 tsp of each. If you choose to use milk instead of cream, you can thicken your sauce by mixing 1/8 tsp. of corn starch with cold water and then slowly incorporating it into the sauce. Caution: too much corn starch will make it taste “blehhh” so use very sparingly – incorporate it in small increments.
Serve with rice!