Lost Recipes from Save Me the Plums, 2

April 3, 2019

This is from the chapter called Garlic, which begins on page 18 of Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir


With great relief I saw the waiter approaching our table. He was bearing a large antipasto platter, but as he set it down Si eyed the dish suspiciously. His nose twitched. “Is there garlic in there?” he demanded.

“Yes, sir!” The waiter said it with pride.

“I can’t eat garlic.” Si waved an imperious hand. “Take it away.”

The waiter looked agitated. “Sir”—he drew himself up—“does that mean the kitchen must avoid garlic in everything?”

Si gazed serenely up at him. “I told you,” he said sweetly, “I cannot eat garlic.”

The waiter remained rooted, not quite knowing what to do. I studied Si. When he’d suggested Da Silvano I’d been charmed; I’d recently reviewed the restaurant, saying how much I liked it, and it had seemed like an extremely gracious gesture. But now it struck me that an Italian restaurant was a strange choice for a man who shunned garlic. How would the chef manage? Would he even try? Si waved at the plate again and the waiter reluctantly picked up the rejected offering. I watched him hesitate outside the kitchen door, shoulders hunched in despair. He was, I knew, steeling himself for the chef’s wrath.

In 1998, unlike today, restaurants did not routinely ask if you had allergies they should know about, and most were oblivious to such requests. Now I turned to Si and asked, “Don’t you worry that the kitchen will try to sneak some garlic into your food?”

Si regarded me as if I’d said something stupid. “No,” he said at last.


I went home, of course, and cooked something for our family that filled the house with the wonderful scent of garlic. Now, every time I cook this, I think of Si.

Spicy Chicken with Peanuts

2 large boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1- inch pieces


2 teaspoons of cornstarch

5 teaspoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon rice wine

Sesame oil

Mix marinade ingredients. Add a splash of water.  Add chicken thighs and allow to marinate for half an hour.

While the chicken is marinating, prepare all the other ingredients.

3 scallions

2 cloves garlic

1 inch knob fresh ginger

4 tablespoons chicken stock

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons rice wine

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

¾ teaspoon sesame oil.

2 teaspoons corn starch.

1 tablespoon chili paste

10 fresh shiitakes, sliced

Handful baby spinach leaves

Handful peanuts

Grapeseed or peanut oil.


Mince the white parts of the scallions, smash the garlic cloves and mince the ginger.  Set in a bowl together.

Mix chicken stock, soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, Worcestershire sauce and sesame oil and whisk in the 2 teaspoons of cornstarch. Set aside.

Measure out the chili paste (add more if you like really hot food). Measure out the peanuts and the spinach.

Get a wok very hot, add a couple tablespoons of oil, allow it to get hot and toss in the shiitakes, stirring just until they wilt. Remove to a plate.

Add more oil to the wok, let it get hot, add the marinated chicken pieces and stir fry for a couple of minutes just until the meat changes color.  Remove and add to the plate with the shiitakes.

Add a bit more oil to the pot, let it get hot, and add the scallion-garlic-ginger mixture along with the chili paste. Stir until the fragrance is floating over the pan, then add the spinach and the chicken and mushrooms, along with the broth mixture.  Bring to a boil and cook until the sauce begins to thicken.

Toss in the peanuts, stir well, turn out onto a platter.

Serve to two people, over rice.


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