Within our memory, egg rolls were considered exotic and the wok had yet to replace the fondue pot in terms of household use. But that was before bok choy and ginger root became common staples in the grocery market and when most Americans believed that cayenne and paprika were as hot as hot got.
Indeed, the subject of spiciness itself has taken on importance as of late -- on the homefront, one need look no further than the nearest Cajun restaurant to see that Americans have come to appreciate things like blackened redfish and barbecued shrimp, which assault the tongue with their intensity.
Likewise, the established and growing number of good Thai restaurants, which undoubtedly serve some of the hottest food around, are an indication that we've come to welcome dishes flecked with chili peppers and ginger root.
In addition to being on the fiery side, Thai fare is aromatic and certainly appealing to cooks with little time on their hands -- using a wok, many dishes can be stir-fried in minutes.
Today's offering highlights an entree of chicken with ginger, the latter of which is believed by Thais to strengthen the blood and aid in digestion.
Sweet fried bananas provide balance to this meal, which can be prepared with merely a trip through the express lane and butter, salt and oil on hand at home.
Express Lane list: ginger root, chili peppers, garlic, chicken, soy sauce, bananas, brown sugar, limes GAI PAHT KING (Chicken Fried with Ginger) (2 servings)
1/4 pound ginger root
2 tablespoons oil (peanut oil preferred)
2 to 4 small fresh green chili peppers, seeded and coarsely shredded
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 1/2 cups sliced or shredded chicken meat
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
Peel ginger root and shred into matchstick-size pieces. Cover with cold salted water and let stand 10 minutes, then drain. Heat oil in a wok or skillet, add chili peppers and garlic and stir-fry until pungent. Add chicken and ginger and stir-fry 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Add remaining ingredients, stir well, cover and cook 30 seconds, or until chicken is done (white in color). Adapted from "Flavors of Southeast Asia" (101 Productions, 1979) KLUAY TORD (Thai Fried Bananas) (2 to 4 servings)
4 firm bananas
2 tablespoons butter
4 heaping tablespoons brown sugar
Juice of 2 limes
Peel bananas; slice lengthwise, then cross-cut slices in half (this quarters the bananas). Heat butter in a wok until it bubbles. Add bananas. Fry on both sides over medium heat until golden and soft. Sprinkle on brown sugar and stir over heat until sugar dissolves and thickens to a syrup. Immediately transfer to a shallow bowl, sprinkle with lime juice and serve. From "The Original Thai Cookbook" by Jennifer Brennan (Putnam, 1984)