MSG Free General Tso’s-ish Chicken and Veggies

Happy Tuesday! Yes, I said it. Tuesday is a fairly random day to celebrate; I know. However, I am ridiculously comfy in my bed right now sipping a single glass of wine, and I am superbly relaxed. It is fair to say I would probably celebrate any day in my current state, but today was, in fact, especially delightful. Today, Stevie got to hang out with her baby bff while mommy got to hang out with her bff at the same time. There were tea parties, Sesame Street dance parties, toy cell phones, and lots of Mexican food from a restaurant that is a Pittsburgh staple. A very exciting day for Stevie, to say the least. Being that I did not have to cook dinner tonight, that makes it an exciting day for myself as well. Although I took the night off from cooking, I do have a recipe to share with you of which I made for dinner last night. From the title of this post, I am guessing you have realized I am about to share with you a General Tso’s recipe. What can I say; sometimes I get a craving for that delicious Chinese food that in reality isn’t really Chinese at all but more so American than anything.

Being that I have always been a little skeptical of chicken from restaurants, there was really only an extremely brief period of time in my life that I enjoyed eating General Tso’s from Chinese takeout places. I believe it was actually at a Chinese buffet in high school that I first tried General Tso’s and found out what all the craze was about. However, my craze was fairly short-lived. Basically, once I started closely examining my food I could no longer order General Tso’s from these Chinese restaurants. Why did the chicken always look so oddly colored? Why did some pieces have such an odd texture? Ew, I am having flashbacks as we speak of biting into a piece of chicken that was just straight chewy gristle. STOP! DON’T GO! I promise my recipe will be nothing like that of crappy Chinese restaurants. I do hope you trust me enough to realize that. The most puzzling part about eating that disturbing chicken was that I would always want more General Tso’s. How could that be? The chicken grossed me out immensely, but once I started eating it I would find myself hunting around, hoping to find a piece of chicken that was somewhat edible in my eyes. What sense did that make? If I only knew then what I knew now, it would have all made sense. No, of course I did not sincerely like the mystery meat dish, but the MSG in the dish distorted my taste buds and had an effect on my brain that made me believe it was the best thing I had ever tasted. Just so there is not any confusion, MSG stands for monosodium glutamate. Simply stated, it is a flavor enhancer added to an endless amount of our food that changes the way your taste buds perceive food. If you would like to read more about the science behind MSG to understand how it works, you can find that information here. Basically, it can make horrible food taste amazing.

Once I discovered the facts regarding MSG sometime in college, it felt like my whole childhood was a lie. Okay, that is a little over zealous, but hear me out. I started thinking about the foods that once I started eating, I could not stop until I had to mentally yell at myself, “Step away from the food!” Foods that I always just thought were deliciously addictive because they were junk food and that was the point of junk food. French onion dip and chips? MSG. Doritos? MSG. HOT FRIES? MSG. I mean, I used to eat 5 bags of hot fries when pulling all-nighters in college like it was no big deal. Literally, I cleaned out our dorm’s vending machine of hot fries on a regular basis. It started to get to the point that when I was snacking on things and found myself unable to put them down, I would check the label. Sure enough, MSG was an ingredient every time. One specific occasion that comes to mind is a night of camping for one of my best friend’s bachelorette parties. There happened to be an enormous container of party mix. You know the type of party mix I’m talking about. The kind that has all the good stuff: the generic Doritos, cheese doodles, cheese crackers, pretzels, who the hell knows, maybe even some peanuts. For the entire evening, I was munching on that stuff and finally put it down when it was time to go pass out. Except, I didn’t pass out. I laid in bed thinking about that party mix, and I legitimately could not stop thinking about it. Yes, I did what you are thinking. I got out of bed and ate more party mix. No, it had nothing to do with the drinks I had that night. Well, I guess that could have played a small part in why I started eating the party mix in the first place. Either way, something hit me while I was stuffing my face, and I thought to check the label. Sure enough, there was damn MSG in that party mix. I threw the rest away immediately. After that, it started to become clear to me that most junk food had MSG in it which was the only reason they seemed so tasty. However, it is not just in the junk food that most people eat for snacks. It is in almost all processed foods. If you think about it, it does make sense. Processed foods need MSG to taste amazing because they are made from horrendous ingredients. It doesn’t stop there though. Many restaurants actually use MSG as well. Why not use an ingredient that gives people a false sense of taste and causes them to believe your food tastes amazing when you know it is shit? It is for this reason amongst many others that I have discussed in previous posts that I stay away from chain restaurants, and I never buy any type of processed food for my family as well. Of course, I also always check labels to see if MSG is listed which is an entirely different battle in itself. The difficulty of figuring out if MSG is an ingredient is a result of the public catching on to the use of MSG; food companies began to find sneaky names for MSG to use in their ingredient lists so people did not recognize it and in turn thought it was not in the food. SNEAKY BASTARDS! Be on the lookout! Here are some of the most common names for MSG from the list:

  • Glutamic Acid (E 620)2
  • Glutamate (E 620)
  • Monosodium Glutamate (E 621)
  • Monopotassium Glutamate (E 622)
  • Calcium Glutamate (E 623)
  • Monoammonium Glutamate (E 624)
  • Magnesium Glutamate (E 625)
  • Natrium Glutamate
  • Yeast Extract
  • Anything hydrolyzed
  • Any hydrolyzed protein
  • Calcium Caseinate
  • Sodium Caseinate
  • Yeast Food
  • Yeast Nutrient
  • Autolyzed Yeast
  • Gelatin
  • Textured Protein
  • Soy Protein Isolate
  • Whey Protein Isolate
  • Anything :protein
  • Vetsin
  • Ajinomoto

**Even if it says “natural flavor” as an ingredient, that usually means some form of MSG. Sad, but true.

When I have brought up my aversion towards MSG, some people have said comments along the lines of, “What’s the big deal? It’s just a flavor enhancer. It’s not like it’s harmful or anything.” This type of response always seems to alarm me simply because I cannot quite grasp how anyone could defend chemicals in their food. If you are okay with the fact that your food may actually taste like horse shit, but a chemical is causing misleading information to be sent to your brain that tells it otherwise, more power to you! You must really be a carefree kind of person and for that I salute you. However, I prefer my food to taste delicious because it is actually delicious! When I cannot stop eating something nowadays, I want it to be because of the scrumptious, fresh ingredients and the outstanding preparation not because a chemical is telling my brain it tastes good.  Not to get all technical, but there have been numerous studies done that show some harmful effects of being overly exposed to high levels of glutamate which you can read about here (Autism) and find an entire list of negative side effects here.

Just as I did at one time, you may be beginning to wonder how in the world you can avoid MSG if it is used so widely. I promise the answer is really easy. All you have to do is try your hardest to only eat whole foods. Try to make as many meals from scratch as you can, and if you have to absolutely buy foods other than whole foods, take some time to look at the label. Check for any of the ingredients listed above, and an even more simple tactic is checking the number of ingredients. If a food has roughly over 10 or so ingredients and some are words you cannot even pronounce, find another option. Most likely, one of the ingredients you cannot pronounce is MSG in some form. Also, the next time you find yourself addicted to a food, unable to walk away from it, check the ingredients. Hey, maybe you just lucked out and found yourself some naturally delicious food. (Or maybe it is full of sugar, but that is for another post.) So, just check those labels and don’t let the sneaky names fool you!

There is one meal that I can promise you does not contain any MSG, and it just happens to be this recipe I am about to share with you. Once I could no longer eat General Tso’s from restaurants, I decided I wanted to try to make my own. In college, I used a pre-made sauce and doctored it up with some of my own ingredient additions to get it to taste like the classic dish. It was one of my favorite dinners during college and even for a couple of years after. However, I soon realized that the sauce I was using had MSG in it. I searched and searched, but realized it was nearly impossible to find a bottled Chinese sauce that does not contain some form of MSG. Therefore, I was determined to make my own using whole foods only, and it is from that determination that this recipe was born. It took much trial and error, much tweaking, but I finally found the perfect balance of ingredients to make chemical-free General Tso’s. Most importantly, it tastes amazing solely because it is amazing. That’s it. An added bonus is that the chicken is not breaded nor fried, so it is much healthier in that regard too! I also prefer to add a ton of veggies – another healthy bonus. As a disclaimer, I must mention that this will not taste exactly like your typical General Tso’s that you are accustomed to eating, and that is for one reason and one reason only. Can you guess? No MSG! Therefore, go into this recipe with an open-mind. Just think of it as a stir-fry with a sweet and spicy sauce. I promise you, you will enjoy it. You may even find yourself going back for seconds or thirds simply because it is that damn good. Let’s get started!

General Tso’s-ish Chicken and Veggies

Servings: 6

1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 can crushed pineapple with juice
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
I pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
1 red pepper, cubed
1 zucchini, sliced
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced
10 ounces broccoli, cut into small florets
8 ounces snow peas
1 1/2 cups tomato sauce
tablespoons low sodium soy sauce (or regular, if you prefer)
tablespoons rice vinegar
tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Dash of cayenne pepper, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste

4-5 green onions, sliced

1. Place 1 tablespoon olive oil into a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook for 4-5 minutes, until browned and cooked throughout. Remove from skillet and set aside.

2. Place another tablespoon olive oil into the same skillet over high heat. Add garlic, onions, and crushed red pepper, cook for 1-2 minutes. Add pineapple and all other vegetables. Cook 5-6 minutes or until tender.

3. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the tomato sauce, soy sauce, rice vinegar, honey, and cayenne pepper. Cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring frequently.

4. Serve over brown rice. Top with sliced green onions.

That is all there is to it. I mean, look at those ridiculously short steps! I literally just read over the directions at least 5 times because I could not believe how short they looked, but I really didn’t forget anything. This recipe is just that simple! Like many of my recipes, I used whatever vegetables I had lying around in my kitchen today. Often times, I will use asparagus and carrots in this recipe as well. Whatever vegetables you prefer or have on hand, just toss them in the skillet and go with it. As always, let me know if you try it out. I would love to hear some feedback from you guys. Also, start checking some labels. I would love to hear your reactions to how often you find some form of MSG as an ingredient. But more so, enjoy this meal! Happy eating!

Peace, Love, and Honest Food,

Sasha

 

 

 

 

 

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