Thai-Inspired Risotto

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When I make a dish that is inspired by a specific cuisine, like Indian, or Italian, it’s because I can. And you can, too. It’s just about being familiar with the specific ingredients of that cuisine. Then it’s just a matter of utilizing those ingredients to create your dish – no recipe required.

The same thing can be done with Thai food. I’m not saying I’m an expert. In fact, there are many ingredients I can’t get my hands on, which is sad, because I’ll never be able to taste them or cook with them. But there are two important ingredients in Thai cooking that are readily available. Those are curry pastes, and coconut milk.

Of course you can make your own curry pastes, and I’m one to usually do most everything from scratch in the kitchen. But because I can’t get certain fresh ingredients, like galangal and kaffir lime, there’s no way I could make a curry paste that comes close to the real thing. So I do rely on prepared curry pastes.

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My favorite brand in Mae Ploy. The green is mostly green chiles and lemongrass. The red, my favorite, is mostly red chiles and garlic. The yellow is mostly lemongrass and garlic. They are pastes and must be refrigerated.

Regarding the coconut milk, I’m not talking sweetened coconut milk for pina coladas! Just plain coconut milk in a can. Coconut milk in a carton will work but it’s thinner and has a milder flavor.

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Two other ingredients that come in handy when making Thai food are herbs, like mint, cilantro, and basil, as well as chile peppers. These can both be sprinkled on top of your Thai dish. But as long as you have coconut milk and a curry paste, you can make any dish Thai inspired.

So today I’m making a risotto using red curry paste and coconut milk, and topping it with grilled garlic-cilantro shrimp. It’s Thai, and it’s risotto!

Thai-Inspired Risotto with Grilled Garlic-Cilantro Shrimp

For the risotto:
3 tablespoons olive oil
2-3 shallots, diced
1″ piece ginger, diced
1 1/4 cup risotto rice, like arborio or carnaroli
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 can coconut milk, unsweetened
1 tablespoon red curry paste

For the shrimp:
1 pound good-sized shrimp, cleaned
1/3 cup olive oil
Juice of 2 limes
3 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
Cilantro, to taste

Rinse and dry the shrimp; set aside.

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Place the remaining ingredients in a small blender and blend until smooth. Pour the marinade over the shrimp and toss them gently.

When you’re ready to cook the shrimp, heat a stove-top grill or skillet over high heat. Add the shrimp to the hot skillet and cook for just a minute or so on both sides. The timing will be different based on the size of your shrimp.

After you’re done cooking all of the shrimp, cover them and set aside while you make the risotto.

Instead of plain olive oil for the risotto, I actually poured the rest of the green marinade into the skillet while it was still hot, and let the watery liquid boil off.

Then I poured it through a fine sieve into the risotto pot. That way the oil I use is much more flavorful, with the garlic and cilantro flavors! But olive oil or butter will both work.

Heat the oil in the risotto pot over medium heat. Add the shallots and ginger. Sauté for a few minutes.

Then add the rice and stir until all of the rice grains are coated with the oil.

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Begin adding the chicken broth, about 1/4 cup at a time, and stirring the rice well after each addition.

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Add the curry paste and stir in completely. You will love the smells!

Then I began adding the coconut milk, and treating it exactly like the broth. But you can change up the broth to coconut milk ratio to your liking.

The risotto will let you know when it’s at maximum absorption, because it just won’t absorb any more liquid. But trust me, if you let it sit, it will thicken. So be ready to serve the risotto at the end of the cooking time. That way it will be hot and creamy, and not thick and stiff.

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Serve the risotto in a pasta-type bowl, and top with the grilled shrimp.
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I sprinkled on some slices of fresh chile peppers; Thai chile peppers aren’t necessary, you just want something with a little heat. Even jalapenos would work. Chile peppers provide such lovely color, as well.

You can also top the dish with chopped cilantro, mint, and or basil.

If you’re interested in authentic Thai cuisine, check out Miranti’s blog at The High Heel Gourmet!

Pasta Chimayo

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There is a restaurant in Park City, Utah, called Chimayo. We’ve been going to it since it opened in 1996. Although I haven’t lived in Park City since I left for college, my mother still lives there, so we visit often. And I can’t think of a time when we didn’t dine at Chimayo.

Not only is the food exquisite at Chimayo, known for its “distinctive” Southwestern cuisine, it’s a dining experience that exhilarates all of the senses. From the furniture to the dishes, everything is unique. They have a website, if you’re interested, or plan on visiting Park City.

The restaurant remains highly rated even after all of these years, so it’s a real joy to dine there. Here we all are in 2012, with my older daughter and husband to my left, and my beautiful mother on my right. The guy on the very left of the photo is my husband.

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Unfortunately, there’s not much to see in the photo beyond the pewter water glasses, because we’d either not ordered yet, or had already finished dinner. But trust me, everything is topnotch at this restaurant, including waiters who are willing to take photos of your family.

I did fortunately have some other photos from this same dinner, starting with a Southwestern fondue on their menu called Queso Fundido, topped with roasted poblanos and chorizo, which was beautifully presented at the table.

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And my daughter’s entrée is a vertical stack of chipotle-glazed spare ribs. It was easier to eat than it looks!

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So why do I mention this restaurant, when most all of you will never get a chance to go? Simple. I created a pasta dish in their honor. They don’t know I did, but I did, calling it Pasta Chimayo.

I wrote in a post a while back that my husband and I absolutely love Mexican and Southwestern cuisines. Mexican food, for me, is something that I must have recipes for, because it is a very involved and complex cuisine that I fully respect. It’s way more complex than you’d think, actually, if your take on Mexican food is enchiladas and burritos. But Southwestern cuisine, I feel, is something that really can be made up. Because it’s a relatively new cuisine, with no rules.

I posted on inspired Southwestern cuisine a while back, and have been thinking of ways to help you change up recipes to make them Southwestern. As I mentioned, anything can be made Southwestern style, as long as you use the right ingredients. So case in point, I’m making a pasta recipe today, which one might expect to be Italian, but instead I’ve made it with a Southwestern twist. It’s an ancho-spiced pasta with black beans and spicy shrimp. I hope you like it!

Pasta Chimayo

Spicy Shrimp
1 pound of shrimp, shelled and cleaned
1/4 cup olive oil
4 cloves fresh garlic
2 teaspoons spicy paprika
1 teaspoon ground chipotle
1/2 teaspoon salt

Rinse the shrimp with cool water, and let them drip dry on paper towels.

Meanwhile, place the olive oil, garlic, paprika, chipotle powder and salt in a small blender jar and blend until smooth.

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In a medium bowl, toss the raw shrimp in the marinade.
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Cover and marinate the shrimp for 4-6 hours in the refrigerator. Overnight would be good as well. The only times I don’t marinate shrimp very long is when there’s an acid in the marinade, like citrus juice.

About one hour before the final preparations, remove the shrimp from the refrigerator and let them warm up slightly. Then place them in a colander to drain. Don’t rinse.

Pasta
1 – 12 ounce package corn pasta, or any spaghetti-type pasta you prefer
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small purple onion, finely chopped
8 ounces canned goat’s milk
2 tablespoons ancho chile paste, or to taste
1 – 15 ounce can black beans, well drained
Fresh cilantro

Prepare the pasta according to package directions. Cook just al dente, then drain. Set aside.

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Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat – large enough to hold the pasta. Add the onion and sauté it for 4-5 minutes. You want it soft because there won’t be any more cooking time.

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While it’s cooking, add the ancho chile paste to the goat’s milk and whisk together.

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I use this kind of goat’s milk in a can, because it’s the only kind I can get. If you don’t want to use goat’s milk, or can’t get it, simply use a cream substitute. But I’d recommend adding some crumbled goat cheese to the pasta!

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When the onion is ready, add the goat’s milk mixture and stir well.

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Add the cooked pasta to the pot and stir gently until all of the pasta strands are coated with the creamy mixture.

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Add the drained beans, and heat the pasta through.

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Remove the pot of pasta from the heat and set it aside. But toss the pasta occasionally to help it to absorb all of the goat’s milk.

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Place a grill on the stove over high heat. Add the shrimp. Don’t overcrowd them. And be diligent. They cook very fast.

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After less than a minute, turn them over quickly using tongs. They should be fully cooked after 30-45 seconds.

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Keep them warm while you give the pasta a turn in the goat’s milk, if there’s any remaining in the pot, and serve the pasta.

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Add the grilled shrimp and sprinkle the pasta with some cilantro leaves.

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You can always add some crushed red pepper if you like things really spicy. I kept mine as is, which allowed the ancho chile pepper, the paprika, and the chipotle pepper to create the Southwestern flavor profile.

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note: So many different ingredients could be used in this simple pasta, including red bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, and corn. And if you prefer, grilled chicken could be substituted for the shrimp.

Romesco Sauce

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My brain is old. At least, that’s my excuse. Or maybe my brain is just full of food-related trivia. Because occasionally I come across a culinary term or food name and I can’t, for the life of me, remember what the heck it is.

But Romesco is one of those I remember. But it’s only because of a trick, not because it’s more significant in any way.

You see, I can remember Ro-mesco, because it reminds me to think of Ro-asted red bell peppers. And that’s exactly what this sauce is. The base, at least, is roasted red bell peppers. It’s extremely easy to make. In fact, you can use jarred roasted red bell peppers instead of roasting your own.

But the taste? It’s to me, the best flavor ever of anything that doesn’t contain cheese. And that’s saying a lot. If you’ve never made Romesco sauce before, it’s high time you did. You will slather this beautiful red sauce on anything, including yourself, if you run out of breads and meats. It’s just heavenly.

Besides the red bell pepper flavor, the sauce includes almonds, garlic, paprika, and cayenne. It’s Spanish in origin. And similar to a pesto, it all comes together with some olive oil. Only a food processor or blender is needed to make this. In 5 minutes tops you will get the opportunity to smell and taste heaven. Promise.

Romesco Sauce
This recipe makes about 12 ounces

1 – 8 ounce jar of roasted red bell peppers
1/2 cup chopped almonds
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup tomato purée
1/3 cup coarsely chopped parsley
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons hot paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, depending on your taste
1/2 teaspoon salt

Drain the red bell peppers before you begin.

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Have all of the other ingredients ready to go.

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Place the drained red bell peppers in a jar of a food processor. Add the almonds, garlic, tomato purée, parsley, and red wine vinegar. Then add the hot paprika, cayenne pepper, and salt.

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Begin processing. The mixture will be very coarse at first.

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Continue processing, adding the olive oil a little at a time. It is also important to wipe down the sides of the jar with a spatula.

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After all of the oil has been added, process until the sauce is smooth. There will be some texture to it, but it will still be a smooth sauce.

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At this point, it is ready to use.

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I chose to make a Mediterranean-inspired lunch using the Romesco spread on a flatbread, and with grilled shrimp placed on top.

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I also added some buratta and fresh cilantro; I was out of goat cheese – shame on me.

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I bet you’re already thinking about all the ways you can use this sauce. It’s exquisite, isn’t it?!!

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Fortunately, Romesco sauces freezes well. Otherwise, plan to use it before a couple of weeks if you store it in the refrigerator.

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And thank you daughters for my cute labels!

Pho

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I’m positive that most all of you food lovers out there in the blogosphere have enjoyed pho, that quintessentially Vietnamese soup that’s equally messy and delicious. Especially those of you who live in larger cities, where there tend to be a delicious variety of ethnic restaurants.

Myself, I never indulged in pho until just recently, when my daughter took me to a well known Vietnamese restaurant that she and her husband frequent in Tulsa, Oklahoma. And I was thoroughly satisfied after my very long and patient wait.

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The soup is a flavorful broth with noodles, beef slices, and bean sprouts, although there are other versions, including a vegetarian pho, available at this restaurant as well. But then here comes the fun part. You get to add Sriracha, hoisin sauce, cilantro, basil, lime juice and sliced jalapenos.

It would be so fun to have a pho party some time, just set up a bar of fun pho ingredients. But the only negative is how messy it is to eat. So maybe I won’t do it. Scratch that idea.

However, I did want to make pho at home from scratch, since I can’t go to any restaurant where I live and order it. I based my recipe that I’m posting here on one I found online from Food and Wine.

Pho Broth

Beef short ribs* and pork neck bones, about 6 pounds total
Oil
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
4″ piece fresh ginger, coarsely chopped
6 cloves
4 allspice
2 cinnamon sticks
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
2 bay leaves
Rock sugar – I used a few brown sugar cubes

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First place all of the meat and bones in a large pot. Add water to cover by at least 1″.

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Bring the meat and bones to a boil.

Meanwhile, add a little oil to a skillet, and sauté the onion and ginger until there’s a little color on them.
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Place the cloves, allspice, cinnamon, fennel seeds and bay leaves in a muslin bag, or a piece of tied up cheesecloth and set aside.

After the meat and bones have reached a boil, pour the water off. You may have to wait until things cool down a bit so you don’t get a meat and bone facial over your sink. They will look like this.

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Then cover the meat and bones with water again, add the onion and ginger, the bag of spices, and the sugar cubes.

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Bring the pot to a boil again, then cover and simmer for at least 2 1/2 hours. Let cool.

Place a colander over a large bowl and pour the whole thing into the colander. Place the bowl of broth in the refrigerator overnight.

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You will be left with a lot of bones.

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Remove any good meat from the beef short ribs, place the meat in a sealable plastic bag, and refrigerate overnight.

The next thing to do is make a spicy oil to add to the pho:

Heat 1/4 cup of plain, tasteless oil in a small pan on the stove over low heat. Add 4 cloves of chopped garlic, 2 tablespoons of crushed red pepper flakes, a tablespoon of sesame seeds, and a pinch of salt. Just let the ingredients “warm” in the oil for about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, and store the pan in the refrigerator.

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The next day, remove the fat from the broth, and then pour it back into a pot to heat on the stove. Taste the broth and add salt if you think it needs it.

Get the spicy sesame oil out of the refrigerator and strain it into a small bowl. Save the goodies to throw into a stir fry.

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Meanwhile, get out your other ingredients:

Limes
Cilantro
Bean sprouts
Cooked noodles
Sriracha
Hoisin sauce
Meat from short ribs
Jalapeno slices

To serve the pho, start by ladling the hot broth into a large bowl. Add some noodles and bean sprouts. Add some beef, and then sprinkle on the jalapenos, cilantro, and basil. Squeeze some lime into the pho as well. And then season everything by adding Sriracha and hoisin sauce, to taste. But you’re not done. Then add some of the spicy sesame oil on the top.

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Pho is typically eaten with a porcelain spoon in combination with chop sticks, but I don’t own one of those spoons.

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verdict: I’m glad I made this once. This pho was really remarkable. The broth was fabulous and flavorful. But I think the spicy sesame oil was the biggest hit of all. Making pho from scratch isn’t much work – it’s just time consuming. And then I found this:

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* The recipe called for oxtails, which I can’t get here.

Grits with Shrimp and Sausage

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Years ago I tagged along on a business trip my husband took to Charleston, South Carolina. I ordered shrimp and grits at our first dinner there. I’d previously not been a huge cornmeal fan.

Well, thank you Charleston. I’m a huge fan now. The secret is butter, cream and cheese. Which, of course, can make anything better.

So I’m making some grits today that will be served with shrimp and Andouille sausage for a Creole flair.

Similar to making risotto, you don’t have to use this recipe to a T. You can use butter and cream in your grits, you can use butter and cheese, or use all three! It just depends how you want your grits to turn out.

Get creative with grits. I didn’t include cheese in this recipe but think about the options – smoked mozzarella, feta, cheddar, Boursin, you name it. It all works.

Creamy Grits with Shrimp and Sausage

1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cup milk
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
Pinch of salt
1 cups grits, I use a medium grind
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons bacon grease or oil
14 ounces Andouille sausage, sliced
1 pound shrimp, shelled, cleaned, rinsed, dried
Salt
Black pepper
Grated Parmesan for serving, optional
Cayenne pepper flakes, optional

Add the water, milk, butter and the salt to a dutch oven over medium heat until the butter melts.

Add the grits and cook them, whisking constantly, for about 5 minutes.

Depending on what cornmeal you’re using (there’s everything from corn flour to a coarse grind) you can follow the recipe on the package, then there’s no guesswork.

If you think the grits are too thick, add some water, cream, broth – whatever you want to thin it slightly using a whisk. When you’re sure it’s done, and quits thickening, add the white pepper, paprika, and thyme. Cover the pot and set the grits aside.

Put a large skillet over high heat and add the bacon grease or oil. I had cooked some bacon, so I left the grease in the pan just for this purpose. Add the sausage slices and brown them on both sides. When they’re all browned, scoop them up with a slotted spoon and place them in a large bowl. But keep the skillet on the stove with the oil.

Salt and pepper all of the shrimp. Add the shrimp, in batches, and cook them in the same grease until they are opaque. This only takes a minute. Place the cooked shrimp in the bowl with the sausage, and continue with the remaining shrimp.

When it is time to serve, have your grits, shrimp, and sausage all warm. Place some of the grits in a pasta bowl. Then top with the shrimp and sausage.

I always like to offer cayenne pepper flakes, just because I like things spicy, but that’s optional. You could even serve Tabasco or another hot sauce.

Chopped green onions are also good.

Because I didn’t include cheese in the grits, I thought I’d serve some Parmesan as an optional topping.

Parmesan takes it over the top, but other cheeses could be used as well.

Sweet Chili Shrimp

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A while back I came across a cookbook called The Chinese Takeout Cookbook. When I first saw the title, my snobbiness took over and I refused to look into it further.

But then I came across the cookbook again, and it got me thinking about the whole idea of Chinese takeout. I don’t do takeout of any kind of food, but if I did, it would be Chinese. I love all of the vegetables and the bean sprouts and the noodles, especially! And who doesn’t love egg rolls!!! Plus, you get it in those adorable little boxes with the handles.

In the U.S., really all we know about Chinese food, at least in my experience, is from little hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurants that serve Americanized versions of Chinese food. You know, the breaded, deep-fried everything served with gloppy sauces that all seem to taste the same. (I even had an MSG reaction at one of these restaurants.)

But the thing is, a lot of this food is really good, especially if you know what to order. And until you go to a real Chinatown and have dim sum, like Chinese steamed buns, or happen to have a mother who cooks authentic Chinese, it’s all you know as an American. Just like we all used to think that Italian food was really all about lasagna and spaghetti.

So I decided to buy this cookbook after all, and I’m glad I did. It’s been fun looking over recipes like Kung Pao Chicken, Dan Dan Noodles, Chop Suey, and Egg Foo Young. Remember all of those?!!!

But the first one I decided to make out of the cookbook was Sweet Chili Shrimp because I’d just purchased a pound of beautiful shrimp.

So here is the exact recipe from this cookbook – no MSG required.

Sweet Chili Shrimp

1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Sauce:
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey*
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons chili sauce

1 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 shallot, finely chopped

In a large bowl, toss the shrimp with the cornstarch, salt, and pepper.

Prepare the sauce: In a small bowl, stir together the soy sauce, honey, cider vinegar, and chili sauce. Set aside.

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Heat a wok or large skillet over high heat until a bead of water sizzles and evaporates on contact. Add the peanut oil and swirl to coat the bottom. Add the garlic, ginger, and shallot and stir-fry until fragrant, 30 to 40 seconds. Toss in the shrimp and stir-fry about 2 minutes, until pink.

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Pour in the sauce and stir to coat the shrimp well.

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Transfer to a plate and serve.

* I used less honey just because I didn’t want these too sweet.

note: These would also make a fabulous hors d’oeuvre!

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The author of this cookbook is Diana Kuan. She is a food writer and cooking instructor who has taught Chinese cooking in Beijing and New York.