Fuchsia Dunlop’s Land of Plenty

Kung Pao ChickenFuchsia Dunlop has done some pretty great travel and food pieces over the years, so when we got Land of Plenty we did a good deal of oohing and aahing over the pictures and recipes. But it wasn’t until this weekend that we actually cooked anything from it. We’ve finally gotten the range hood installed in our kitchen, so it’s only recently that we have enough ventilation to take full advantage of the big 18,000 BTU burners on the new stove. So, flat-bottomed wok pan in hand, we went to Sichuan.

We figured we’d try the Gong Bao – that is, Kung Pow – chicken and go for a slightly more authentic take on an often-disappointing westernized classic. And to go with it, we’d make a bunch of different veggie sides. We already had the sichuan peppercorn and tsien tsien peppers, and it didn’t take much more to get the ingredients together. We made a special trip to Super 88 in Malden to make sure we had both light and dark soy sauce. We’d already been over to Russo’s in Watertown and grabbed fresh water chestnuts, cauliflower, and chinese broccoli. (It was our first trip to Russo’s, and it was both wonderland and madhouse, exactly as we’d been promised and warned. We wound up with a pint of strawberries, too even though they didn’t go with our theme.)

Fresh water chestnuts were a revelation. I feel almost angry that I’m now going to realize what I’m missing when I eat the canned kind.

Everything turned out very well, and we were pleasantly surprised that the different vegetables we cooked, all from the same basic stir-fry recipe, came out so differently: The thin-sliced potatoes we deglazed with rice vinegar were tangy and gingery; the chinese broccoli played beautifully against the sichuan peppers, the cauliflower browned up well in the wok, and the Gong Bao chicken came out exactly right.

Plus, now that we have that fan, nobody choked when Mr. Bookdwarf started frying the chiles. We even took some (sideways, for some reason) video – and yes, that’s Mr. B dropping cauliflower on the floor, and then eating it.

If the rest of the recipes are as good as the ones we made last night, Fuchsia Dunlop is definitely going to be a frequent presence at our dinner table.

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