Sabbath at the Spectrum Café: Kung Pao, Then and Now


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The upside to living in Portland, Oregon, is the plethora of food options. The downside to living in Portland, Oregon, is also the plethora of food options. When I was about 10, my dad, Newcombe Wang (who originally came from Shanghai), took us to virtually every Chinese restaurant in the Portland-metro area in a quest for the best Chinese cuisine in town. For one year, our family dined in palaces and dives throughout the city. To this day, we maintain an exclusive list of Portland’s Chinese restaurants that met his approval.

My dad himself was a superb cook. His specialty: kung pao chicken. On one occasion, he was asked to prepare a native dish for church potluck. Of course, he wanted to go with his undisputed champion of all dishes but was reticent because – well, let’s face it – the vegetarian version just isn’t the same. After conferring with the family, he opted to prepare the original recipe.

The next Sabbath morning, we brought his masterpiece into the church fellowship hall. Immediately, everyone could sense that the dish had a different culinary aroma than the others. It was obvious. This wasn’t veggie meat. My dad instructed me to put the dish on the potluck service table, almost in a Pilate-like effort to wash his hands of the situation. After I placed the dish on the table, I wrote five notecards and conspicuously placed them around the enormous plate. They read: “Kung Pao Chicken – This Is Real Chicken!”

Within 15 minutes of the blessing, the kung pao chicken was gone. Consumed. Eaten. Devoured. My dad’s anxiety turned to relief after he received accolade after accolade from church members who enjoyed his potluck contribution. After potluck, with an empty dish in his hand, he proudly swaggered (as much as a short Chinese man can swagger) out of the fellowship hall.

My dad passed away in 2006. He never taught me how to make his famous recipe. Although I have tried, I cannot perfectly replicate it. I feel like the generations of ruthless luthiers that have strived in vain to craft violins as perfect as Antonio Stradivari did. In that spirit, I present here the healthy version: Newcombe Wang’s Kung Pao Tofu.

Andre Wang is an attorney in Portland, Oregon, and serves on the North Pacific Union Conference Executive Committee. He is an adjunct professor of business law and plays the violin. And still misses his dad’s cooking.

Image: The young Andre with his father, Newcombe.

This week’s recipe for Newcombe Wang’s Kung Pao Tofu comes from Andre Wang. Spicy food lovers will want to increase the amount of Sriracha hot sauce, Wang notes.

Newcombe Wang’s Kung Pao Tofu

Serves: 3-4

Prep time: 20 min.

Ingredients

3 tbsp + ¼ cup vegetable broth, divided

1 tbsp lime juice

2 tbsp soy sauce

3 tbsp sesame oil, divided

1 block (14 oz) extra-firm tofu, cut into bite-sized cubes

Cooking spray

1 onion, diced

1 red bell pepper, diced

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced

1 small bok choy, chopped

½ small purple cabbage, thinly sliced

½ cup snow peas

1 tbsp chopped parsley

1 tsp Sriracha hot sauce

Salt and pepper to taste

½ cup peanuts or cashews (optional)

Directions

1. Combine 3 tbsp vegetable broth, lime juice, soy sauce, 1 tbsp sesame oil and tofu in a small bowl. Marinate for at least 30 minutes. Mix occasionally to coat tofu well.

2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Use cooking spray to grease a baking sheet, or cover it with foil, then bake the tofu for 15 minutes, turning once. Set aside.

3. While the tofu is baking, in a large skillet (ideally, a wok) over medium-high heat, heat the remaining 2 tbsp sesame oil until fragrant. Sauté the onion, bell pepper, red pepper flakes and ginger for 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the bok choy and remaining ¼ cup vegetable broth. Cook for 3-5 more minutes. Add the cabbage and snow peas.

4. Reduce heat to low and add the tofu and remaining ingredients. Cook until combined and heated through.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/5704