Gai lan, as regular readers probably already know, is one of my favorite vegetables. Often known in English as either Chinese broccoli or Chinese kale, this green has thick, crisp stems and fleshy leaves, and has a unique, sweet flavor that is only barely akin to the tastes of either of its American vegetable cognates. Don’t get me wrong, I love both broccoli and kale, which have been two of my favorite vegetables since childhood, but to me, gai lan is vastly superior to both in terms of both texture and taste.
And, what is even better, is that gai lan is a cold-weather vegetable, which means, it is in season now. And, as I have discovered while growing it on our deck, it gets sweeter after a good frost, just like my beloved kale.
So, I have been taking every chance I can to harvest my little stand of it from my deck garden, so I can add it to the weekly stir-fry.
Normally, I prefer to cook gai lan with beef, which is a classic Cantonese combination, but I have also found it to be delicious with tofu or pork. This time around, I made it with chicken, because Kat was having a growth spurt and has been craving protein, and chicken is her favorite meat. (I can always tell when she is growing–Kat will turn her nose up at fruits, rice, crackers and even cookies, and instead inhale eggs, cheese and meats of every kind.)
Besides, I had fresh chicken from Bridlewood Acres Farm, here in Athens, and their hens are delicious, free-range birds. Their eggs are the best, too, with deep golden yolks, rich with vitamins and flavor. I also had some really sweet organic carrots from Shade River Farm, so It was only natural that I chose to add them to the dish.
I do want to say one thing–I know that a lot of people object to eating locally during the winter, because they think that there are no vegetables to eat at that time, but I disagree. In late November, we still have plenty of different delicious vegetables in our Farmer’s Market. Beets, turnips, daikon, carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes, potatoes, pumpkins, a zillion different kinds of winter squashes, onions, garlic, leeks, dried beans, pole beans, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbages, bok choi, tatsoi, mizuna, kale, collards, mustard greens and a huge variety of salad greens are all over the market, and one grower who has greenhouses even has tomatoes and sweet bell peppers. No, it is nothing like the varied plethora of produce we have in the summer months, but there are still plenty of great foods that make for a varied, flavorful and healthy diet.
I do understand that we are lucky here in Athens to have a good climate where a lot of vegetables can be grown year-round, and we are blessed by a really strong, vibrant farm economy, but one of the great things about eating locally for me, has been learning new ways to cook seasonal vegetables, not only in the summer, but all year round, and I hope that my experiences might inspire others to try some new foods if they get the chance.
Anyway, this dish of chicken and gai lan with carrots is a really good, light but satisfying meal for a late autumn, early winter supper, and I am happy to report that everyone, including Kat, loved it.
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast or chicken thighs cut into thin 1″X1/2″ slices
1 tablespoon Shao Hsing wine or sherry
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons canola or peanut oil
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced onions
1 tablespoon fermented black soybeans
1 1/2″ cube fresh ginger, peeled and minced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon Shao Hsing wine or sherry
1 large carrot, peeled and thinly sliced into diagonal, oval-shaped slices (about 1/8″ thick)
1 pound gai lan, bottoms of stems trimmed and thick stems sliced thinly on the diagonal, thin stems and leaves cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 cup chicken broth or stock
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
Toss chicken meat with the first measures of wine or sherry and soy sauce. Sprinkle with cornstarch, then toss with your hands to coat the chicken pieces thoroughly.
Heat wok until a thin ribbon of smoke coils up from the hot metal. Add oil, and allow to heat for about another thirty seconds. Add onions, and cook, stirring, until they turn golden and translucent. Add soybeans and ginger, and keep stirring for thirty seconds. Add chicken, and spead out over the bottom of the wok in a single layer. Sprinkle the garlic on top of the chicken and allow the chicken to cook undisturbed for a minute or until the meat browns well on the side touching the wok. Start stirring and cook until most of the pink is gone. Add soy sauce and wine and cook, stirring for thirty more seconds.
Add carrots and thick stem slices of gai lan and cook, stirring until the chicken has no pink showing the vegetables are tender–about one minute. Add the broth or stock and the thin stem and leaf pieces of gai lan, and cook, stirring until the gail lan leaves wilt, and the sauce reduces to a nice, thick brown glaze–about another minute.
Remove from heat and drizzle with sesame oil and serve immediately with steamed rice.
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