Chinese takeout is a staple in our home, as it is in many homes around the country. The downside to this admission, of course, is that the delights found in those little white takeout boxes are not the healthiest treats on the block.
What if you could make the same dishes at home, though, give it a healthy kick, and keep it tasting divine?
That’s exactly what South Slope chef and writer Diana Kuan has accomplished with The Chinese Takeout Cookbook: Quick and Easy Dishes to Prepare at Home. We asked Diana about her culinary history, and to give us a peek inside her new cookbook.
SSN: Tell us about your background as a chef.
DK: I went to the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) in Manhattan for their culinary diploma program. After I graduated, I did catering and freelance food writing for a while, then moved to Beijing to continue freelancing from abroad and teaching. While I was there, I started the blog Appetite for China and was lucky enough to get a job at a cooking school teaching Chinese and Southeast Asian cooking classes to expats and travelers. Since I’ve been back in New York, I’ve continued teaching at ICE, Whole Foods, West Elm Market, Brooklyn Brainery, and a few other venues.
Describe your new book, The Chinese Takeout Cookbook.
It has 80+ recipes for making your favorite Chinese restaurant dishes at home, using good all-natural ingredients and easy techniques. Other Chinese cookbooks focus on basics or specialty regional cuisines in China, but mine focuses on food that resulted from cultural assimilation in the U.S. There are also fun sidebars on the culture of American Chinese food, like Jim Henson creating a life-size puppet for La Choy commercials that became a prototype for Big Bird. I like to think of it as a celebration of Chinese food in America.
What made you decide to focus on Chinese takeout?
When I first started Appetite for China I was initially posting a lot on street foods and regional dishes that I was discovering for the first time. The more I blogged, the more emails I got from readers back home asking about takeout dishes they grew up eating, such as General Tso’s chicken, fried wontons. etc. And I found myself a little nostalgic for those dishes too and starting posting recipes. Flash forward to 2010 – I was back in New York and read The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, on the history of Chinese food in America. I found myself wishing there were recipes alongside all the good writing in the book, and realized there was no cookbook on the market that focused on American Chinese food. So I decided to write one myself.
Are these recipes healthier than what you would find at your local takeaway spot?
Yes, definitely. I don’t use MSG or food coloring and very little cornstarch. The dishes are also much less oily. Think of the dishes as tastier but healthier versions of your favorite takeout foods.
I’m not sure why, but the idea of cooking Chinese food terrifies me to my very core. Do you need serious cooking chops to be able to pull these recipes off?
Not at all! The only small hurdle is just gathering a few essential ingredients from either Chinatown or even a Western supermarket. For most stir-fries, you basically chop up the ingredients, mix together the sauces, and follow some basic steps of when to add ingredients to the wok or pan. I’ve had friends who were completely new to Chinese cooking do a 5-course meal from the cookbook and they thought it was surprisingly easy.
Do you have a favorite South Slope spot for Chinese food…or do you always make your own?
Good options for Chinese food in Park Slope are lacking, unfortunately. I actually just make it at home or get a group of friends together and head down to Sunset Park if I want someone else to make Chinese food for me!
Image via Diana Kuan