Saturday, May 19, 2012

Recipe: Orange Cashew Shrimp

Crazy people don't sit around wondering if they're nuts. – Jake Gyllenhaal 

Shrimp and cashews in an orangey sauce (plus some other stuff...)
I always seem to learn something when I write these posts. Sometimes it is extremely eye-opening. This is especially true today. I’ve been schooled about cashews, and am happy to pass on what I have learned.

Weird, huh? Photo: Wikipedia CC
Cashews are a very common nut, but where do they come from? How they grow is very interesting.

The first part is pretty ordinary. Cashews, originally from South America, grow on a tree like many other nuts. The tree is an evergreen, growing up to about 30’ tall, with a short, sometimes twisty trunk. The flowers are produced in a panicle (or branching cluster) up to 10” long. 

But how the nut grows is anything but ordinary. It’s sort of a two-for-one. Take a look  at the picture at left from Wikipedia.

The fruit of the cashew tree is an accessory fruit (sometimes called a false fruit). What appears to be the fruit is a pear-shaped structure. This false fruit is called the cashew apple, also known as a "marañón." 

The yellow to red “fruit” is edible with a sweet smell and taste. Cashew apples are very juicy, but fragile, making them difficult to transport. In Latin America, a fruit drink is made from the cashew apple pulp. It is supposed to taste like mango, green pepper and citrus.

A cashew tree. Photo: terriem, Flickr ccl
The real fruit of the cashew tree is a kidney shaped “drupe” that grows at the end of the cashew apple. Cherries, peaches, apricots and plums also have fruit called drupes. They all fall under the category of "stone fruit." The cashew drupe forms first and then the cashew apple follows as it matures. Within the actual fruit is a single seed, which we call the cashew nut. 

Botanically, the cashew isn’t a nut at all, but a seed. The seed is surrounded by a double shell containing a resin related to urushiol which causes the rash associated with poison ivy. Roasting cashews destroys the toxin, but even that is dangerous as airborne it can cause severe irritation of the lungs. 

So there’s some information I certainly didn’t know. And all I wanted to do was to make and write about orange cashew shrimp. It’s amazing what you can learn when you start looking.

By the way – just so you know – this recipe is very tasty. It’s reminiscent of many better dishes offered by good Asian take-outs, but more healthy, one would hope (no MSG).

We saw some sad-looking orange chicken at stall in a local Mall food court the other evening. I'm glad I made this before then so I knew what good orange cashew looked and tasted like.

As with most Asian dishes, the most work is in the preparation. It takes very little time to put together.

Note for vegetarians: Tofu can be substituted if you wish. Just dust cubes of tofu with cornstarch and shallow-fry to make the exterior a little firm and crispy.

For all of you who read this and it said Orange Cashew "Chicken" I apologize. It started out to BE chicken, but I opted for shrimp instead and forgot to change the title. Feel free to substitute chicken chunks for the shrimp if you wish!

Don't overcook the shrimp before adding the sauce.
Just a couple minutes will do it.
Orange Cashew Shrimp
Prep: 15-20 min  |  Cook: 10 min  |  Serves 4
1 lb shrimp
1 lg green bell pepper, in chunks
1 bunch green onions, cut diagonally
1 cup cashews, salted and roasted
2 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
1 tbsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
salt to taste
for the sauce
juice of 1 navel orange
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp oyster sauce
3-4 tsp Sriracha hot sauce
1 tbsp cornstarch (mixed with 1 tbsp water)

Peel and clean the shrimp. Set aside in a bowl.

Combine all the sauce ingredients (except for the cornstarch) in another bowl. Mix together well. For “normal” sauce, use 3 tsp of hot sauce; for “good” sauce use 4. Then add the cornstarch mixed with the water. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a wok and then add the ginger and cashews. Sauté until the cashews start to brown slightly, about 3 minutes. 

Add the green pepper chunks, a little salt and the pepper. Cook for a further 3 minutes. Then add the shrimp.

Let the shrimp cook until they just begin to turn pink, about 2-3 minutes. Then add the sauce and green onions.

Toss well and let the sauce thicken and the shrimp finish cooking through, about a further 2 minutes. Taste for salt. Remember the soy is salty and the cashews were already salted, so you probably won’t have to add any.

Serve over hot, steamed jasmine rice.


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