When we lived in China we were introduced to a vegetable that was not commonly used in the U.S. pea tops (sometimes sold as “pea leaf”)—the tender ends of the pea shoots. Pea tops is not something you will find in Western supermarkets, you will only find them Asian markets—in season. Frequently, I would use these in a soup, but today wife Jan asked for them in a stir fry. Lately, there has been a bowl of Mandarin oranges on my counter and—as I was gathering ingredients for my stir fry—I decided, “Why not throw a couple into the mix?”
I gave a wide range for the amount of garlic in this recipe. When we lived in Chendu, Sichuan, we learned to use garlic the way the locals did—in massive quantities. When we first arrived I would get laughed at for carefully selecting a single bulb of garlic. The normal way for the people of Chengdu is to buy peeled garlic by the jin—1.1 pounds. By the time we left China I was doing the same—so use as much garlic as you please.
Karl’s Mandarin Chicken Pea Top Stir Fry
Stir fry sauce
2 Tbs. cup hoisin sauce
2 Tbs. soy sauce
2 Tbs. fresh ginger, shredded
1 Tbs. dark soy sauce
1 Tbs. crispy chili oil
1 Tbs. Better than Bouillon, Roasted Chicken Base, low sodium
½ Tbs. Shaoxing rice wine
1 tsp. sesame oil
4 drops monk fruit syrup or ½ tsp. sugar
2 Tbs. peanut oil, separate uses
½ lb. chicken thighs
1 Vidalia onion, thinly sliced pole to pole
6-12 cloves garlic, sliced
1 lb. pea tops
2 Mandarin oranges, peeled and segmented
¼ cup red bell pepper, diced
½ tsp. Sichuan pepper, ground
Steamed white or brown rice
1. Mix all of the sauce ingredients in a cup and set them aside.
Tip: You want your sauce mixed and ready to hand when it becomes time to add it to the stir fry.
Note: You may substitute ½ teaspoon of sugar for the monk fruit syrup, but regular sugar has a glycemic index of 58 vs. monk fruit’s index of 0.
2. Heat one tablespoon of the oil in a sauté pan and fry the chicken thighs until well browned on both sides.
3. Remove the thighs to a plate to cool.
Tip: When the chicken thighs are cool enough to handle, slice them into ¼ inch wide shreds.
4. Without cleaning the pan, fry the onions until translucent-5-7 minutes.
5. Pull the onions to the sides of the pan and sauté the garlic in the hole in the center until fragrant.
Note: This is a choice point. While I would normally try to cook everything in one pan, pea tops are a very watery and bulky vegetable. One pound of pea top makes a loose mass about the size of a soccer ball. At this point, I left my onions in my sauté pan and switched to a wok to cook the leafy vegetables. One reason is that after they are mostly cooked down there will be a lot of liquid in the bottom of the pan that would thin out your sauce too much. I spooned this out before adding the rest of my ingredients.
6. Heat the wok with the remaining tablespoon of oil and stir fry the pea tops until most of the leaves have wilted.
Tip: The massive ball of vegetables will cook down to about 2 cups of wilted greens.
7. After spooning out the excess liquid, add the chicken, onion/garlic mix, red bell peppers, and the stir fry sauce to the pea tops and toss to mix and coat the ingredients with the sauce.
8. Stir in the corn starch mixture to thicken the sauce and cook for one more minute.
9. Serve the stir fry over steamed rice and sprinkle some ground Sichuan pepper over the top.
Tip: Sichuan pepper should always be added at the end of cooking for the same reason that you add black pepper at that time. The volatile oils that make these spices what they are evaporated during cooking. While you may add these spices earlier—to get the base notes—you really want to add them at the end to get the brilliant high note that are provided by the volatile oils.