From My Wok to Yours - Taking the Mystery Out of Everyday Dining and Meals!!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Wok Carefully


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Yesterday I was chatting with Michelle, a fellow San Antonio resident, and reader, about my inability to reach out to San Antonio readers about the importance of switching to healthy cuisine, Chinese or otherwise, and the marked resistance that I am facing in being able to get people to understand the risk factors associated with the fast food craze here.  She responded by saying that  “(San Antonio) isn't really into healthy eating. and there is a major fast food problem here that goes way beyond the corner store and deep into the culture. (P)eople tend to think that fast food is cheap and easy so they would rather eat that than something healthy. Health food is too expensive here... I imagine that is (because) there isn't enough demand for it, unfortunately.”
Sadly, Michelle could not  be more correct.  In polling some of the people whom I interact with on a regular basis, their primary concern in sticking to a “healthy” diet is the lack of taste, blandness, or return to a hungry state after eating that comes with such a transition. 
Fortunately, there are many alternatives to eating the way most of us do without sacrificing flavor.  The primary recommendation that everyone needs to take into account is adjusting the portion size over eliminating flavor.  While there are more elements to consider than just portion size, that simple start, with a routine of exercise and continued healthy eating will definitely get everyone on the right track. 
Most mass produced Chinese food, especially here in South Texas, while tasty, can sadly be a diet killer.  The best way to make the right choices?
  1. Start by learning the lingo.  Any steamed offering is going to be the best, as well as poached (Jum,) broiled (Chu,)  roasted (Kow,) barbecued (Shu,) lightly stir fried, or braised.  Any menu choice that serves the protein fried, breaded or coated in flour is to be avoided.  Crispy? Avoid asking for or ordering that option because anything served crispy will be deep-fried.  Sorry, folks, this includes egg rolls, spare ribs, you name it. 
  2. Use the right tool.  Amusingly enough, this is one element that many people overlook, and the first question that comes to mind is “How will chopsticks versus a fork help?”  The response?  You are simply going to get less oil per bite with chopsticks than you will with a fork.
  3. Select your Sauce.  The best sauce is one that utilizes hot mustard, hoisin or oyster sauce as the primary ingredient.  While the last 2 options are higher in sugar, a sauce that is a thick gravy or heavily sugar based, such as sweet and sour and General Tsao’s is going to be loaded with corn syrup.  Quantity will also be the second element to selecting a sauce.  If ordering from a pre-made menu, order “half sauce.”  This key pointer will cut the sauce and calories from what you would normally get in the dish.
  4. Water it down.  When at a restaurant that allows you to create your own dish or sauce, use sauce choices like garlic water, lemon water, or even sake water for your primary, or to dilute the more healthy choice of teriyaki or peanut sauce down.  This way, you will not be losing out on all the flavor.  Usually, even ratios of garlic water and teriyaki sauce (as an example) will provide the best result.
  5. Become an Herbivore.  Order your meal cooked in vegetable stock and you will reduce the calorie count and fat by half.  Your food will also be moist and tender, as opposed to the normal crunch that you may be used to.  Steamed vegetables, or even lightly stir fried bean sprouts,  bok choy and broccoli, to name a few, will give you a bountiful source of fiber, vitamins and minerals.
  6. Drop the Noodle.  Fried noodles can pack up to 1000 calories per serving due to the refined flours and the simple yet unavoidable fact that noodles soak up a lot of oil.  Stick to rice and your fat total will drop considerably.
  7. White on Rice.  Stay away from fried rice, as it is undeniably the worst starch option available.  Brown rice is one of the best choices, as you will get 3.5 grams of fiber per cup.  While there is a great deal of stigma surrounding white rice due to its high glycemic properties, it is not htat bad.  Calorie for calorie, it is about the same as brown rice.  The only trade-off is the drop in fiber and vitamins.
  8. Clear the Soup.  The best soup strategy is to order a cup of broth based soup, such as won ton soup prior to the meal.  This will take the edge off of your appetite.  Eliminate the fried noodles and your are better off.
  9. Fill it Right.  Substituting a meat protein with a high protein tofu, or soy product or even vegetables will cut the calorie count substantially. 
While authentic Chinese food is very healthy, the Americanized version strays from the healthy focus of vegetables and rice, tofu and smaller portions by deep-frying the protein and bringing the meats to the limelight.  There are also, invariably, more beef and pork options to choose from at your regular Panda Express than you would see in the authentic Chinese restaurant.  I have even seen bacon and fries somehow incorporated into menus at local Chinese food restaurants. 
If you are able to follow the basic steps that I have outlined above, then you should be able to continue to enjoy a guilt-free meal that continues to be fast, fresh and healthy.  Try out any of the menu options that you like, substituting the protein with tofu, or simply try reducing the amount of sauce, or increasing the ratio of vegetables.  You are the boss, especially at home, and even at a dine-in Chinese restaurnat.  Continue to make these smart food choices and even your home-cooked meal will taste better than the real thing while giving you the results you want from healthy dining.

Until then, Good Eating, Friends...

Potstickers With Pork and Cabbage
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
·                        1 package gyoza or wonton wrappers
·                        Filling:
·                        1 egg, lightly beaten
·                        1/4 teaspoon salt
·                        1 cup ground chicken (not lean)
·                        4 ounces shrimp meat, finely chopped
·                        6 shelled and deveined prawns, finely chopped
·                        5 water chestnuts, fresh or canned, finely chopped
·                        4 tablespoons shredded carrot
·                        1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
·                        2 tablespoons minced green/spring onion
·                        1 tablespoon minced ginger
·                        1 tablespoon soy sauce
·                        1 teaspoon sesame oil
·                        Freshly ground black or white pepper, to taste
Lightly beat the egg with the salt. Place the pork in a bowl, add the shrimp, prawns, water chestnuts, carrot, cilantro, green onion, ginger, egg, soy sauce, sesame oil and pepper.

Place a small bowl of water on the work area. Lay out one of the gyoza wrappers in front of you.  Dip your finger in the water and moisten the edges of the wrapper.

Place a heaping teaspoon of filling in the middle of the wrapper.

Fold the gyoza wrapper over the filling and pinch the edges to seal it shut. (You may want to use a cornstarch/water mixture to make this easier).

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet or wok.  When oil is ready, carefully add the dumplings and cook on high heat until golden brown (about 1 minute).

Without turning the dumplings over, add 1/2 cup of water and cover.  Cook for about 1 minute to cook the raw filling and then uncover and continue cooking until most of the liquid is absobred.

Serve the potstickers with the burnt side on top, with potsticker dipping sauce or soy sauce mixed with minced ginger for dipping.

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