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Thank You, Springfield MO

March 11, 2010

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 🙂

Cashew Chicken

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?

7 Comments leave one →
  1. March 11, 2010 9:18 pm

    I think a lot of “chinese” dishes originated in north america by chinese chefs catering to their american customers. It doesn’t really surprise me all that much.

    For cashews I wanted to try this recipe for cashe “ice cream” but never had enough cashews lying around (I usually eat them too fast). Maybe you might want to try it:

  2. March 11, 2010 11:23 pm

    Haha I can’t believe that! I love that info though! I always appreciate finding out the origins of dishes I make. We’re so similar like that! And out love of experimenting with recipes!
    This dish looks great- I have a strong love of cashews. Probably my favorite nut on its own. Daniel would love it if I made this, he’s a huge fan of all Asian cuisine!
    Great job!

  3. March 11, 2010 11:50 pm

    Wow, you’re so lucky! I’m a HUGE nut fan, particularly the ones from WF bulk bins….but they’re so expensive so I can’t bear to spend much money on them.
    kay, that’s a lie. But seriously, 2-3 lbs of nuts will be gone within a week! This dish is spectacular, but if those nuts were in my room…they would not make it to this dish!

  4. March 12, 2010 11:26 am

    I am a really big fan of cashews so I might try this without the chicken (I don’t eat beef or chicken). I love Asian food…who would have thought this originated in Springfield, MO?

  5. March 12, 2010 1:00 pm

    I will gladly take some cashews off your hands! I’ve been trying out the raw-nut-balls I see all over the place, and I wanted to do a cashew version. So I bought some. And made a batch of balls. And then the other night I wanted to try another kind – and the cashews were gone! Ben thought they were for snacking. Silly boy. I used a combo of peanuts and almonds and they were tasty but I really wanted to experiment more with cashews!

  6. March 12, 2010 1:22 pm

    I can go through so many cashews at once! How sweet of her to send them along. 🙂 The recipe looks yummy. Happy Friday!


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