Thank You, Springfield MO
Z’s grandmother loves to send him packages, sometimes containing clothes or a knicknack she found at a store near her East Village apartment. But always, always, there will be nuts. I’m not talking “here’s a little bag of nuts”, these are at least two 3-5lb bags of cashews, almonds, and/or walnuts. There is no reason behind this, she is just a very sweet lady with an affinity for the nut bins at Whole Foods.
Last week came a package with a whole lotta cashews! So I thought, instead of snacking on them as usual, how can I actually use these in a recipe? I don’t often cook Chinese food (besides a quick week night stir fry) so cashew chicken would be perfect to try! And I could add another Chinese meal to my repertoire.
Enter my most interesting food discovery to date: cashew chicken is not from China. It is from Springfield, Missouri. *Insert gasps here*
Chef David Leong, who moved to the U.S from China in 1940, invented the dish in 1963 when, while cooking at a Chinese restaurant in Springfield, Missouri, his customers kept asking for fried chicken. So he gave them what they wanted: fried chicken topped with oyster sauce and cashews. And it was a hit! Mr. Leong became famed locally, went on to make a small fortune from the recipe, and still has a number of Chinese restaurants in Springfield. His dish is served in almost every Chinese restaurant around the country, with the fried chicken usually replaced by a sauteed version. But if you go to Springfield and order cashew chicken, good ole Southern fried chicken is what you are going to get. (Source 1, Source 2)
I cannot believe that one man invented a dish that has become representative of a country’s cuisine and it wasn’t originally cooked there! After this amazing discovery I was even hungrier, and as an ode to Mr. Leong I made my first ever Springfield-ian dish, Sophie style 🙂
1/2 lb chicken tenders
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 carrot, julienned
1/2 cup broccoli
1 red pepper, julienned
1/2 cup mushrooms, sliced
2 tablespoons soy sauce (or wheat free tamari)
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1/2 cup cashew nuts, halved
Brown rice, cooked
Sesame seeds, salt and pepper
Caramelize the onions and garlic in a frying pan over a low heat. While they are cooking, chop up the chicken tenders into 1 inch pieces.
Put the chicken and ginger in with the onions and cook until the chicken has no pink left.
Add the vegetables and saute until soft.
Add the cashews, soy sauce and sesame oil. Saute until mixed through.
Serve the mixture with brown rice, topped with sesame seeds, salt and pepper.
This ended up being a wonderful and simple meal for a weeknight. It is much like a normal stir fry, but the ginger and cashews added a sweetness that was very satisfying. I loved the toastiness of the sesame flavor. Its great to know there are ways to mix up an Asian dish that are simple, yet flavorful. One day I would love to make this with fried chicken, just to taste the way Mr. Leong created it years ago. Or maybe a trip to Springfield, MO is in order?
Have you ever discovered something new about a favorite meal?