Dining out has certainly changed during the pandemic.
At first, it seemed difficult to find a restaurant up and running, then slowly things began reopening. Open yes, but definitely not the same. While understanding the necessary safety precautions of proper social distancing and the importance of servers wearing masks, part of the experience has become lost for me.
In the early months – when you did not want to be the one seen running in and out of places on Main Street for fear of judgment – cooking at home became serious quickly. Many of us had more time at home, with elaborate cooking and baking projects on the agenda that before we only dreamt about.
While beautiful homemade bread was baked, Asian dumplings wrapped, homemade pasta pressed, and meatballs from around the globe rolled, all of the sudden things changed, and cooking fatigue set in big time. As someone who enjoys free time spent in the kitchen, I was not prepared for this feeling, but it was real.
This led to me think about missing takeout food. I believe one of the easiest habits to form in the kitchen is ruts: It is normal to find recipes we love and therefore repeat them. Our lives are very busy, probably too busy, and the busier we are, the smaller the range of recipes becomes.
Time off gave me the opportunity to explore takeout right in my home kitchen. What I found with many ethnic varieties was that by achieving one main element of traditional flavor – such as a sauce, marinade, or dressing – many dishes could therefore be adapted.
If you think about the Asian takeout menu in your kitchen drawer, there are endless items with most of them containing the same flavors. So now, a basic Asian sauce with classic flavors (soy, ginger, garlic, sriracha…) is able to evolve into lo mein, fried rice, or your favorite Chinese chicken dish over rice.
Think of the doors that are now open, and a bonus? You will have dinner on the table before the delivery driver is able to ring your doorbell. In addition to ease, you may now adapt saltiness, spiciness, sweetness and so on to meet your preferences. Fabulous homemade hummus and tzatziki sauce will transform grilled meat into an instant Greek dish.
Skip the pizza takeout and have a family pizza night at home with homemade dough. Remember, takeout is fun, so make it fun at home, too. Are you missing your beach trip this summer? Coconut shrimp enjoyed in your kitchen will have your feeling tropical in no time.
Cooking ethnic food does not have to be hard or intimidating. Often the ingredients are basic, and I think you will be surprised what you already have on hand. By simply adding chopsticks, fortune cookies, decorative plates or napkins, candles or anything varying from your normal ‘tablescape,’ you will add to the atmosphere.
I challenge you to step away from your comfortable recipes, and try a takeout dish you love at home. I think you will be pleasantly surprised with the outcome, and with luck you will have started a new tradition.
Stay safe. Happy cooking. Peace.
Orange Ginger Honey Teriyaki Chicken
(beef or shrimp are great, too)
Ingredients (Note: Makes enough sauce for 1 lb. or chicken and 4 cups of vegetables):
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 1/2 tablespoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons sriracha (or less for milder taste)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1-2 teaspoons corn starch (depending on how thick you want the sauce)
Slice the chicken breasts into strips season with salt, chili flakes, ground ginger and sesame seeds. Sauté in a skillet over medium heat with 2 teaspoons oil until golden. Then add any combo of sliced veggies, minced garlic, and fresh grated ginger to the chicken and cook until they are just starting to become tender.
Pour in enough sauce to coat everything, increase heat and allow to thicken adding more as needed. This will only take a few minutes. Stir in greens if using (I love kale, mustard greens, or spinach with this recipe) and fresh herbs (any of these work: basil, cilantro, mint). Serve over jasmine rice or noodles.
Gyro Chicken Marinade (for roughly 1 1/2 lb chicken)
4 tablespoons olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon sumac
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro
Marinate chicken for a minimum of 2 hours or up to 8. Cook however you like — grilled, sautéed, pressure-cooked, roasted, slow cooked, it will all be delicious.
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 cup grated cucumber
1/4 cup fresh mint (or combo of mint and dill)
Juice of 1 lemon
1 garlic clove grated
1 teaspoon honey
Salt and pepper
Grate the cucumber and generously salt, allow to sit for a few minutes to draw excess moisture out, then squeeze all the liquid out that you can. Combine cucumber with remaining ingredients, taste and season with salt and pepper according to preference.
Tropical Coconut Shrimp with Mango Sauce
For the shrimp:
1 lb peeled and deveined shrimp
1/2 cup sweetened coconut
1/3 panko breadcrumbs
2 eggs beaten
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
Salt and pepper
Oil for frying
For the sauce:
1 serrano (or jalapeño)
Juice of 1 lime
Heat 1/3 cup oil over medium to medium high heat in a heavy skillet. Season cleaned shrimp with paprika and salt and pepper.
Make a simple breading station with two bowls: one with the egg, the other with the coconut and panko seasoned with salt. Dip shrimp in egg then into coconut mixture (really pack the coating on the shrimp). Fry in batches; they cook quick about 3-4 minutes per shrimp. When out of the oil sprinkle with flaky salt, and a squeeze of lime juice.
Blend mango, pepper, lime juice and salt until smooth. If your mango isn’t the sweetest, add honey to your likeness.
Sara Jeran is a culinary enthusiast, gardener, beekeeper and Buckhannon native. Follow her on Instagram at @sarajstirs.