easy and quick cashew chicken stir fry and a trip to china town

Cashew Chicken Stir Fry
Photo for "Less is More" Photography Exercise 
When we were kids, on Sunday after breakfast mom's kitchen was closed, and that was one day in the week she usually didn't cook. Sundays meant church, grocery shopping or trips to the zoo or the park, all of us watching the Mahabharata or Tipu Sultan on Door Darshan ( ah! those days before cable!) and the highlight being when dad would take us to our favourite neighbourhood eat out. Most often these were small hole in the wall kinds of places which I have learnt have some of the best food! Annapurna for crispy Dosas, the Shawarma stand at a nearby park, Moti Mahal for their yum butter chicken or to Golden Dragon, our neighbourhood Chinese restaurant where the food was in no way authentic to China but modified and spiced up to suit local tastes which is why I will only call it Asian inspired or Indo-Chinese.

Now that we live in the San Francisco Bay Area,  I have the opportunity to taste and discover many kinds of cuisines and sample unusual dishes and ingredients - from fresh tofu straight from the bamboo molds to funky fermented things. But even today when I crave Chinese food what I usually mean is the familiar, Indo-Chinese dishes like sweet and sour pork,  chilly chicken, gobi manchurian etc. that I grew up eating.

So when I recently wandered around the colourful and bustling San Francisco China Town where I guess I will taste the most authentic versions of Chinese Cuisine without actually taking a flight to China, I found the food ( apart from the dim sums which I LOVE) to be bland to my taste buds accustomed to the heavy dose of garlic and ginger and assaulted with spices. Although I am beginning to appreciate more subtleties and nuances in flavour, more often I like my flavours really bold!

China Town SF

Visiting China Town:
Walk! It's impossible to find parking here. Plus it's great to wander around and soak in the ambiance and especially interesting to visit during parades and festivals- though ofcourse would be much more crowded then.
My little one loved the stone lions outside the Chinese Benevolent Association building.
For knick knacks and props : The Far East Flea Market 
and The Wok Shop for cast iron woks and other kitchen utensils
Keep an eye out for street art by the UK artist Banksy 

I love going to China Town to pick up unusual ingredients and inexpensive little props for the blog. It's good to carry cash as some stores don't take cards.
It's also great fun to walk through the busy market and see weird things like dried sea urchin that I someday hope to find a way to use in my cooking! There are also lots of familiar things too, like this dried shrimp that made my Mallu mouth water.

Market- China Town

China Town has very unique bakeries with impossibly fluffy sponge cakes and filled steamed cakes, and these cute shaped breads, that I spotted while I was traipsing down the busy markets, camera in one hand and my delicious bubble tea in the other. That was a good day!

Market- China Town

When I got back home I was craving some of the kind of spicy Asian inspired stir frys that for me ( An Indian in the US)  is quintessential Chinese food. I am very curious to hear suggestions for authentic and unique Chinese food I should try next time in China Town.

I usually make stir frys in my cast iron skillet to give the chicken a nice sear and a better alternative to deep frying. Garlic powder gives it that restaurant type taste, though I often add a lot of fresh garlic as well, being a household of garlic lovers! I toss in what ever vegetables I have on hand- broccoli, mushroom, peas, even a bag of frozen mixed veggies. That day it was bell peppers and onions and a handful of cashews for crunch!  It may not be authentic, but it sure tastes good!

Cashew Chicken Stir Fry

Easy Cashew Chicken Stir fry
Recipe heavily modified from one here

2 large boneless skinless chicken breasts or chicken thigh fillets ( I prefer thighs- plus they are cheaper)

For coating the chicken:
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons soy sauce ( Soy sauce is very salty so don't add any additional salt)
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder ( optional)

For the stirfry:
1/4 cup cashews
3-4 cloves of garlic thinly sliced ( optional)
1 small yellow or white onion cut into cubes
3-4 thai green chillies slit in the middle (optional -adjust heat level or omit)
2 cups chopped vegetables ( I just used bell peppers, you can add mushroom, broccoli, peas, carrot slices, spring onion etc. can also use frozen mixed veggies)

For the sauce: ( Omit if you prefer it as a dry preparation)
1 cup chicken stock ( or 1 cup water and 1 cube chicken bouillon or even just 1 cup water. For a sweet and sour taste, substitute with orange juice, apple juice or prune juice )
1 tablespoon cornflour diluted in 1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon soy sauce

Cut chicken into small bite sized pieces or strips and mix it well with soy sauce, garlic powder and the cornstarch to coat it.
( For stir frys like this if the pieces are too big they will take longer to cook and won't crisp well, so try and cut them into thin strips or thin flat pieces- I cut them up right in the bowl with kitchen shears)
Refrigerate the coated chicken while you prep the veggies (For atleast 15 mins)
In a large, preferably cast iron skillet  or wok, heat 2 tablespoons of oil and  when it is really hot and starting to smoke, add the chicken
Wait till well browned on one side then flip over, brown on the other, then keep stirring till the chicken is well cooked, slightly crunchy/crisp on the outside and no longer pink inside
Remove the chicken from the skillet and keep on a kitchen towel and try not to pop too many into your mouth :)
In the same skillet, roast the cashews stirring on medium heat till lightly browned and add to the chicken.
Now heat another tablespoon of oil and stir fry the garlic and onion then the green chillies and other vegetables until cooked but still crisp to bite.

You can stop here if you just want a dry preparation, but I like to make some gravy or sauce to go with rice:
To the stir fried vegetables, add the chicken stock or water, the additional 1 tablespoon of soy sauce and 1 tablespoon of corn flour diluted in 1/4 cup water so that it is not lumpy
Heat everything until it starts to bubble then keep stirring so that it thickens and a sauce or gravy is formed.
Add the chicken at the last minute just before serving, so that it stays crispy
Add some green chilli vinegar sauce or sprinkle some chilli flakes for some zing and serve hot with rice or noodles.

Photography Exercise:
The first photograph was taken for Aparna's Less is more food photography exercise featuring a minimalistic theme with the use of only one or two props.
Props: I used a Chinese inspired rice bowl for the chicken stirfry
The background is a walnut wood lazy-susan
Camera: The photo was taken using my Canon T3i DSLR camera and kit lens. It was taken in manual mode
Editing: I also applied the hdr filter from picasa (for extra sharpness but this also gave a grainy effect.) and a vignette filter for the dark edges 


  1. Wish we had a china town, when we were in london we went to the china town there and the food we had was just so good.
    In my mom's place it was opposite sunday mean lesuire and special dishes .
    Chicken looks so good.

    1. Thanks Finla :) You have very beautiful places all around you too! Love seeing your pictures!

  2. Makes me hungry,super tempting and irresistible stir fry..U know am living in chinatown.Beautiful clicks.

  3. I have to make a trip to China Town! I always prefer easy and wuick dishes and this sounds lovely specially with cashew :) Lovely photo sweetie!

    1. Me too! esp now a days it is only simple and quick stuff!

  4. Chinese and Japanese thrift stores are such a boon for some really nice looking cheap buys. I love those stores too!

    Your stir fried chicken makes me soo hungry! lovely pictures :)

  5. Yummy yum chicken stir fry,similar to dragon chicken:-)

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  7. Lovely post Rose. Pics are beautiful too. Did the lil one have a good time?

  8. The photos you took are stunning !

  9. Love your food/ingredient photos! I absolutely love going to a real Asian grocery store, wandering up and down the aisles, and seeing (and smelling and touching) all of the wonderful ingredients. I always walk out with a few bagsful of interesting ingredients, not sure how I will use them. But I always find a way!

  10. i like the effects in the first pic..and chicken and cashew is just ones of those amazing combos..and if ts chinese, even better :)

  11. That's a really good fit for this month's theme. Thanks for joining us.
    I was going to ask if the grain was intentional when I saw your notes. :)
    The vignetting is a nice touch.

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  16. Oh I love Chinatown too ! You have a great space! First time here. Following you. Were u by any chance living in sai baba colony in Coimbatore? Moti mahal n Annapurna made me think so ! Am also in bay area! How nice to meet a neighbour !

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