Ah June. With the lengthening days comes a sea of graduations. Colleges have already sent their graduates out into the world in search of jobs and first apartments and the last day for many high schools is inching ever closer. I’ve been to two graduation ceremonies already and was reminded of just how prominently food figures into the festivities, both at the events themselves and at the barbeques and potlucks that follow. Let’s face it; sharing a meal in the shade of a big tree with a group of people you like is pretty darn great, even if the graduation preceding it was long and hot.
The salutatorian’s speech at my daughter’s high school graduation described his high school years through food – his classes, teachers, friends and experiences were all compared to various fruits, vegetables and the meals he’d had while attending Proctor. It was so refreshing to hear about apple pie instead of another cliched story about following your dreams. Originally from Vietnam, food figured prominently in his life at home and when he was lonely or was struggling while in the US at boarding school, it was food and friends that kept him grounded and got him through the rough patches.
So, if you or your friends’ children are putting “Xs” on the calendar in preparation for that last day of school, it’s likely you’ll be going to or hosting a graduation party in the weeks ahead. Here’s what I’m planning to make for our gathering in large part because the dishes are favorites of MY graduate and her friends.
- 1 ½ pounds boneless chicken breasts
- 1 + pounds of asparagus (other substitutions include: green beans, kale, chard, broccoli and snow peas)
- 1 red pepper
- 1 bunch of scallions
- ½ cup chopped cashews (or peanuts)
- 12 – 14 oz fresh pasta
- 1 bunch of cilantro
- peanut sauce (see separate recipe)
- Red Pepper
- Soy Sauce
- Seasoned Rice Vinegar
- Prepare peanut sauce (see separate recipe)
- Rinse and pat dry the chicken breasts and remove skin. Cut into narrow slices approximately 1 – 2 inches in length.
- Make a marinade for your chicken by combining 3 Tbsp soy sauce; 2 Tbsp rice vinegar; 1 large garlic clove, minced; and 1 Tbsp oil. Marinate for several hours in the refrigerator. (If you’re like me and didn’t plan ahead, just grill or pan sear your chicken without marinating first. Trust me, the result will still be delicious!)
- Cook marinated chicken either on your grill, in your oven or even on your stove top in a hot frying pan. If cooking in your oven, place chicken in a roasting pan and broil for about 10 minutes at 450 degrees, turning occasionally, and then an additional 5 minutes at 500 degrees or until nicely browned/seared.
- Meanwhile, cook pasta using cooking instructions on package. Drain and rinse and then toss with a tbsp of oil. Return to pot and let sit, covered.
- Remove tough ends from asparagus. Wash and chop asparagus (or other green vegetable) into bite-sized pieces. Steam until just tender and bright green (approximately 5 minutes). If you want to retain that bright green appearance, plunge cooked vegetable into a bowl of ice water and then drain after a few minutes.
- Cut thin strips of red peppers approximately 2 inches long. Remove root ends and top third of scallions and then slice thinly, at an angle.
- Wash and chop cilantro. Coarsely chop peanuts.
- Toss pasta with approximately ¾ cup of peanut sauce (or more if you prefer). Add vegetables and chicken and lightly toss again. Arrange in a large decorative bowl. Garnish with cilantro and peanuts.
Easy Peanut Sauce
- 3 cloves of minced or pressed garlic
- 1 inch of ginger root, grated
- 1 tsp hot pepper flakes
- ½ cup soy sauce
- ½ cup rice vinegar
- ½ onion, diced
- 3 Tbsp tahini
- ½ cup peanut butter
- 3 Tbsp sesame oil
- 1 Tbsp of honey
- In a blender or food processor, combine the ingredients and blend until smooth. Excess sauce can be stored in a jar and kept refrigerated for several weeks.