Beyond a shadow of a doubt, I now realize just how spoiled we were for those 30-plus years we lived in Boston, with affordable, authentic, and seemingly endless international food options around every corner, every ethnic culture represented culinarily, from Afghani to Ethiopian to Tibetan, thanks to the hundreds of world-class universities within city limits. It just isn’t possible to find truly good Indian or Chinese takeout in Austin (at least that I’ve yet to discover), and even if there were, there’s always that absolute, panic-attack-inducing, nagging fear that what I’m eating might send me into massive abdominal pain for days from accidental gluten.
So for the past few months, Ginger and I have been slowly but surely teaching ourselves how to cook Asian food from scratch, including all my favorite (soy-based) sauces. Not only has it been an endlessly delicious adventure, but we’ve saved hundreds, maybe thousands, in takeout and delivery fees — which I’m especially focused on right now after hearing this story about the couple who spends $11,000 a year on Seamless web. I haven’t checked our Mint account to be sure, though I’m pretty certain we’re nowhere close to that frivolous, but it still feels silly to spend a ton of money on takeout if you know how to cook even at a basic level.
I’m coming to the point here: Whether you or someone you love has food allergies, you just want to control the quality of ingredients in the things that you’re eating, or you want to shave some serious cheddar off your monthly food bills, today I’m sharing six of my favorite, crave-worthy copycat Asian takeout recipes, starting with the sauces necessary to make them happen on the gluten-free tip (by substituting gluten-free soy sauce or tamari for the original).
Did you know hoisin sauce is pretty much in everything? Me neither. So I learned to make it from scratch out of necessity, since I couldn’t find bottled gluten-free hoisin sauce anywhere, and man is it delicious. And super easy to make. Master this sauce and a whole world of copycat Chinese takeout dishes opens up to you! I’m not a big fan of Gwyneth Paltrow as a supposed food expert, but I will thank her endlessly for this recipe for Lee’s Hoisin Sauce from her cookbook, It’s All Good.
KUNG PAO SAUCE
Only second to General Tao’s Chicken, kung pao anything was my my go-to order from Chinese takeout menus. There’s something about that karate kick of chili spice that always beat me down from ever ordering anything else. And now that I know how to make the sauce at home, I quite possibly might put that shit on everything. Like, it’s “I would take a bath in it” addictive. Plus, I can control the amount of sambal (chili paste) and garlic in each batch, making it something that Ginger and I can now share. Win, win, win. When I was looking for a recipe, I knew my man Ming Tsai, Boston’s master of Asian cuisine, wouldn’t steer me wrong. And I was absolutely right.
It might be a mall restaurant chain, but you show me anyone who has eaten the lettuce wraps at PF Chang’s and didn’t enjoy them and I will show you a liar. The blog Damn Delicious lives up to expectations with this dead-on copycat recipe, using the scratch-made hoisin sauce above. We make this chicken and add it to steamed basmati or jasmine rice to make it a meal. Several times a month. It always hits the spot.
KUNG PAO CHICKPEAS
One of the best parts of Chinese takeout is the comfort of deep-fried chicken coated in sticky, spicy sauce, making it a completely addictive vice when done well. But the best part of this vegan recipe from SheKnows is that you get that same umami flavor without the calories or the (always pricey) meat, making it an affordable, eco-friendly and crowd-pleasing alternative — especially cheap if you use dried chickpeas and soak them overnight. The kung pao sauce above makes it gluten free, and you’ll have plenty leftover for chicken or steak or shrimp another meal. (It’s so good, I lick the pot.) While it’s best when it’s fresh off the stove, the kung pao chickpeas are nearly as good reheated as leftovers — I think you could even puree the leftovers into an amazing hummus, but I have yet to try it. Stay tuned.
HONEY GARLIC CHICKEN
For the time-strapped and dish-cleaning averse, this copycat Chinese chicken recipe from Just a Taste is for you. All you have to do is load everything into the crock pot, set it and forget it, and you have enough for a crowd in no time. I couldn’t find bone-in chicken breasts, so we used chicken thighs, and Ginger loved it. I thought it was a little too rich/gamey for my preference, though still absolutely delicious, so next time I’m going to hunt down the bone-in breasts or buy a whole chicken we can take apart. For a party, the best part is that it truly does come out looking exactly like the professionally styled photos, so you can really wow your friends and family with your menu mastery and Pinterest prowess.
BEEF WITH SNOW PEAS
Last, but certainly not least, this recipe from The Pioneer Woman was the very first Asian copycat recipe I tried to recreate from a food blog after we moved to Austin — and is still my go-to fix when I’m feeling anemic or low on iron (ahem, around the time to pay the monthly bills, feel me girls?) Ginger and I try to cut back on red meat overall, both to lessen our grocery bills and our carbon footprint, and we only buy organic grass-fed beef when we do so this recipe can very nearly be as expensive as takeout when you make it at home. But it also falls heavily in the “do you really know what’s in your food?” quality control bucket, so we think it’s worth it. I like more heat, too, so I use a double dose of sambal in place of the crushed red pepper flakes, but to each their own, which is half the fun of scratch-making these recipes and sauces at home!
What’s your favorite Asian dish to make at home? Love to hear from you — feel free to leave links to recipes and posts below! ~Melissa
PS: If you’re going to be making a lot of Asian recipes at home, you should really try regrowing your scallions. It’ll save you beaucoup bucks. I generally get 2-3 regrowth cycles out of each bundle of scallions before they start to lose their flavor. Keep them on the windowsill so they get plenty of phyto-enhancing sunlight, and replace half the water in the jar every few days (when it starts to look murky) for the best results.