When you need dinner in a hurry, take-out Chinese food is a fast, convenient option. However, a couple of hours later, you may be excessively thirsty, bloated and then invariably…hungry again. With just a little planning, you can create healthy versions of your favorite take-out meals without all of the added fat, salt and preservatives.
The reason for the unpleasant side effects of some take out Chinese food is the addition of MSG or monosodium glutamate. Although approved by the FDA, MSG can cause the above listed symptoms as well as headache, nausea, chest pain and others.
However, MSG is not generally blamed for the phenomenon of being hungry just an hour or two after eating Chinese food. Instead, this is the result of eating a large amount of carbohydrates during the meal, usually in the form of white or fried rice. Sure they make you feel full at first, but then your blood sugar plummets, making you feel sluggish and eventually hungry.
On top of all that, besides the rice, most Chinese meals consist of meat and vegetables. While it may sound great, that type of meal will leave you feeling hungry again very soon.
By preparing your own “take-out” food at home, you control the amount of salt and fat that is in it, not to mention the omission of MSG.
Once the cooking begins, the process goes very quickly, but the devil is in the details…and the prep work. To make things easier, get everything chopped, sliced and diced ahead of time. This process is known by the French term mise en place and literally means “everything in place.”
This version of the classic dish is naturally lower in fat because the chicken is not breaded and deep-fried. It gets a very mild, spicy flavor from the addition of both crushed red pepper flakes and minced serrano chiles, which can be found at Reasor’s or just about any other grocery store.
Spicy Sweet and Sour Chicken
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil, divided
- 2 lbs. boneless chicken breasts, sliced and then cut into ½ inch pieces
- Salt and pepper
- 2 tablespoons minced ginger
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 small yellow onion, cut in half and then sliced into thin half-moons
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 serrano peppers, seeded and minced
- 2 red bell peppers, seeded and thinly sliced
- 1 green bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons chicken stock or broth
- 1 cup canned pineapple chunks, drained with 1 cup reserved juice
- 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup orange juice
- 1 can diced water chestnuts, drained
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1-2 tablespoons soy sauce, optional
- Hot cooked brown rice
In a large non-stick skillet, heat oil over medium high heat. Season chicken strips and add to pan. Brown chicken and remove to plate.
Add ginger and garlic to pan. Sauté for one minute or until fragrant. Add onion and red pepper flakes; sauté until onions are translucent. Add red and green peppers and sauté for another minute. Stir in pineapple chunks, reserved juice, brown sugar, vinegar, 1/4 cup chicken stock and ¼ cup orange juice and bring to a boil. Boil over medium high heat until sauce begins to reduce, about 3-4 minutes.
In a small bowl, combine remaining two tablespoons of chicken stock and cornstarch. Beat with a small whisk or a fork until smooth. Stir in cornstarch mixture and bring liquid to a simmer. Stir in chicken strips and soy sauce, if desired; cook for 5 minutes. Serve over brown rice.