Last night I made kung pao chicken from a Fine Cooking recipe. I liked it–it was just the kind of cornstarch-packed Sino-American glop I require from time to time, but better and cheaper than our local takeout options. (Probably next I’ll try the kung pao recipe from Fuchsia Dunlop’s Land of Plenty, for a less saucy and gloopy version. I like it both ways.)
For the most part, I’ve given in to Iris’s antipathy toward spicy foods. Sometimes I serve something with a spicy salsa on the side, but many of my favorites are spicy throughout. Kung pao chicken is like that: trying to fake it with dried chile flakes or hot oil at the end feels like cheating. Even if I might never tell the difference in a blind test, I imagine the hot stuff never quite permeates the dish the way it should.
So I cheated. While the sauce was thickening up, I spooned out a portion into a bowl for Iris, then added a whole minced jalapeño to the rest for me and Laurie. I felt a bit like I was compromising my principles, specifically that when adults and children sit down together, they should eat the same stuff. But then I was like, wait a minute, it’s not like I’m serving Iris chicken nuggets while we eat kung pao, and me eating spicy food is an important principle too.
Iris was suspicious. “That’s not the spicy one?” she asked, indicating the small bowl. I think she was trying to trip us up and make us admit that, okay, they’re both spicy. But she enjoyed the kung pao, almost as much as the rice. I’ll probably play spicy/nonspicy again when the dish provides an easy branch point, but I am not making mild enchiladas.