I know, I know. It's been a while since I've posted a new recipe. Between running Plate & Pencil, teaching, and putting on Tangra Spring, I've been a little short on time, to put it mildly. Sadly, things like creating new recipes can sometimes go on the back burner.
Also, this winter sure was long, wasn't it? I think the lack of sunshine, the frigid April that felt like March, and rainy May that felt like April made most of us feel a little less than inspired in the kitchen. Sometimes all I wanted was soup, spaghetti, pizza, soup, spaghetti, pizza, rinse, repeat. Anything that could be made or purchased in 10 minutes or less.
(Okay, there were also many days of making dumplings en mass, to store up for the week ahead.)
Luckily, creating new recipes for Tangra Spring, the Indian-Chinese vegetarian dinner series I created with Chitra from ABCD's of Cooking, brought the fun back into cooking again. We had yet another great night cooking for our guests, aided by some fantastic local produce from Good Eggs, like radishes, ramps, and bok choy microgreens.
And these sweet potatoes.
We over-ordered the number of sweet potatoes needed for our signature dish (sweet potato and coconut dumplings with South Indian spices). So I've had these babies sitting on my kitchen counter for at least a couple of weeks. Today I decided to use them in a vegetarian kung pao dish.
Now, many people think that in Chinese cooking, in order to have a vegetarian main course, you need to use tofu, tempeh, seitan, or another protein substitute. So many Chinese restaurants do, so it seems like an easy default. But sometimes it's nice to get a little creative with your ingredients and find other vegetables that work well in the wok.
I've already posted about Kung Pao Brussels Sprouts, my favorite vegetarian kung pao dish to do in the winter. Today I wanted to try my method with these really nice leftover local sweet potatoes from Rogowski Farm.
The sauce ingredients are altered slightly from my Kung Pao Chicken recipe to compensate for the lack of marinade ingredients. And I also added some nice homemade chili oil for extra smokiness, though you can also use a good quality store-bought brand.
Oh yes, you also may have noticed in the photos of the finished dish that there are cashews instead of peanuts. In China, for fancier occasions restaurants would use cashews instead of peanuts, usually in more upscale spots or for large banquet dinners. As for me, this was what I happened to have in my cupboards. So fancy lunch it was! You can go either way.
Chinese cooking is just so darn versatile.
Kung Pao Sweet Potatoes
- 1 pound sweet potatoes, washed and peeled
- 2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
- 8 to 10 dried red chilis
- 5 scallions, white and green parts separated and thinly sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon minced or grated ginger
- ¼ cup unsalted dry-roasted peanuts or cashews
- 1 tablespoon Chinese black vinegar, or substitute good-quality balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons hoisin sauce
- 2 teaspoons chili oil, homemade or store-bought
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground Sichuan pepper
- Cut the sweet potatoes into bite-sized pieces about 1/2-inch around.
- Prepare the sauce: In another bowl, combine the vinegar, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, sesame oil, chili oil, sugar, and Sichuan pepper. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and set aside.
- You may need to turn on your stove’s exhaust fan, because stir-frying dried chilis on high heat can get a little smoky. Heat a wok or large skillet over high heat until a bead of water sizzles and evaporates on contact. Add 1 tablespoon of the peanut oil and swirl to coat the base. Add the chilis and stir-fry for about 30 seconds, until the chilis have just begun to blacken and the oil is slightly fragrant. Add the sweet potatoes and stir-fry for 5 to 6 minutes, continuously stirring, until the outsides are golden brown.
- By now the sweet potatoes should be golden brown on the outside, and the pan a little dry. Create a well in the middle of the pan and pour in the remaining 1 tablespoon of peanut oil. Add the scallion whites, garlic, and ginger, and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Pour in the sauce and mix to coat the other ingredients. Allow the mixture to simmer for 1 to 2 minutes to thicken. Stir in the peanuts or cashews and cook for another 1 minute. Transfer to a serving plate, sprinkle the scallion greens on top, and serve.