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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Need for speed

Kung pao chicken in New York, July 19, 2022. This streamlined version is fast and efficient, sweet and spicy, tangy and delicious.

By Emily Weinstein

I thought this week I’d focus exclusively on dishes that you can make in less than 30 minutes — and, in one case, less than 15. These are the recipes I need most right now, in the craziness of high fall and its many commitments.

Easy kung pao chicken

Sweet, sour and a little spicy, this meal tastes like home — specifically the home of Pearl Han, a talented Taiwanese American cook who naturally streamlined dishes while raising three kids and managing a busy career. Her younger daughter, Grace Han, shared this recipe: “quick, easy and my mom’s favorite.” Dried chiles sizzle in oil first to impart heat to the whole dish, then chicken browns in a single layer — no high-heat stir-frying necessary — to create a tasty caramelized crust before the pieces are flipped together. Coated in a dead-simple kung pao sauce that delivers the dish’s signature salty tang, the chicken begs to be spooned over steamed rice. Serve with stir-fried vegetables as well for a complete meal.

Recipe from Pearl Han and Grace Han

Adapted by Genevieve Ko

Yield: 4 servings

Total time: 15 minutes


1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2-inch chunks

3 tablespoons soy sauce

2 teaspoons cornstarch

Salt and ground black or Sichuan pepper

1 1/2 tablespoons Chinkiang (black) vinegar or balsamic vinegar

2 teaspoons sugar

1/4 cup neutral oil, such as grapeseed

1/2 cup small dried red chiles (15 grams; see tip)


1. Mix the chicken, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 teaspoon cornstarch, and a big pinch of salt and pepper in a bowl until evenly coated. Let sit while you prepare the sauce.

2. Stir the vinegar, sugar, remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce and 1 teaspoon cornstarch in a small bowl.

3. Combine the oil and chiles in a wok or large nonstick skillet, and set over medium heat. When the chiles start to sizzle and brown, about 15 seconds, push them to one side of the pan. Add the chicken to the other side all at once and spread in a single, even layer. Cook, without moving the pieces, until the bottoms are dark golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. If the chiles start to blacken, put them on top of the chicken so that they don’t burn.

4. Using a large spatula, flip the chicken in portions. Cook just until the meat almost loses all of its pinkness, 1 to 2 minutes more. Stir the sauce and pour it into the pan. Stir until the sauce thickens and slicks the chicken evenly. Immediately transfer to a plate and serve hot.

TIPS: The small dried red chiles typically used in kung pao dishes are available in Chinese markets. Any small dried red chiles work, though they do range in heat. For a similar spice level, use chiles de árbol.

Sheet-pan shrimp with tomatoes, feta and oregano

Ready in 10 minutes, this vintage Mark Bittman recipe is a perfect weeknight recipe. It relies heavily on garlic, oregano and black pepper as a coating for the shrimp. Serve alongside a hearty salad or with a stack of flatbread for an easy meal. In his original piece, a roundup of shrimp recipes, he suggested wild shrimp from the Pacific or Gulf of Mexico, or fresh local shrimp from Maine or the Carolinas, if they’re available to you. All, he wrote, are “preferable from a sustainability perspective.”

By Mark Bittman

Yield: 4 servings

Total time: 10 minutes


1 garlic clove

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons olive oil

Black pepper

1 1/2 pounds peeled shrimp

Chopped tomatoes, for serving

Crumbled feta, for serving


1. Turn on the broiler, and position the oven rack close to the heat.

2. Mash garlic clove with salt until it forms a paste. Add chopped oregano, lemon juice, olive oil and lots of black pepper. Rub paste all over 1 1/2 pounds peeled shrimp.

3. Spread shrimp out on a pan and broil, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Served topped with chopped tomatoes and crumbled feta.

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