Earlier this summer, I traveled from Alaska to the country of Haiti and back. While there, I could often be found helping prepare food. I learned to make a fresh goat from start to finish the way the locals do from a formidable Haitian matriarch named Mama Elyse.
You could also find me behind the camera capturing the people and the moments, digging up my college French in an attempt to speak Creole, spending time with the children or painting walls (and myself in the process).
We traveled on several planes, a large box truck, in the bed of a tiny pickup crammed full of people and supplies, on a handmade sailboat that very closely resembled a pirate ship and on the back of a motorcycle with two other people and no helmets on a treacherous, rocky, steep thing that could only sometimes be called a road.
The mangoes were ripe and the rice and beans were daily. There was a chicken nesting in the outhouse, donkeys and goats on the road, and cockroaches and tarantulas scurrying around.
The rooster crowed, the generator hummed, the donkey brayed, the nails were driven into the roof, the jump rope slapped the ground. The weather was hot and humid, the water was the bluest blue and the warmest warm, and the people were absolutely beautiful -- hardworking, curious, resourceful and full of hope, laughter and music.
There's not meant to be an easy segue here -- from my experience in Haiti to returning to life in Alaska as a food writer. There's no way to go to a remote place where the people have little food and no clean water and not have it make you pause before talking about recipes.
And that's exactly as it should be. So, mindfully and simply, I offer you this lemon chicken with asparagus. It tastes amazing, especially when eaten with gratitude and an awareness of how vast this world is and what a privilege it is to sit down at the table and enjoy a satisfying meal together, wherever we may be.
Lemon chicken with asparagus
Yields 4 servings
1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/4 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch, plus 2 teaspoons water
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
1. Pat the chicken dry and season it lightly with salt and pepper.
2. In a small dish, stir together the water, soy sauce, lemon juice and sugar. In another small dish, stir together the cornstarch and 2 teaspoons of water. Set aside.
3. Heat a wok or large, nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the canola oil and sesame oil. Cook the garlic and ginger in the oil until fragrant, about a minute. Add the asparagus, season lightly with salt and cook until tender-crisp, 3-4 minutes. Remove the asparagus from the pan and return the pan to the heat. Add the chicken and stir fry until the chicken is cooked through, adding more oil to the pan if needed. Pour the soy sauce/lemon mixture over the chicken and bring to a boil. Stir in the cornstarch and water and stir until thickened. Return the asparagus to the pan and toss everything to coat. Serve the lemon chicken with asparagus over steamed rice and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve hot.
Maya Evoy lives in Nikiski and blogs about food at alaskafromscratch.com. Have a food question or recipe request? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and your inquiry may appear in a future column.