Silken Tofu with Mushrooms

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It’s hot in the East Bay, so hot that I really don’t want to turn the stove on these days. I’m throwing caution to the wind and preparing a refreshingly chilled entree to combat the heat. Who says dinner has to be served warm? Live a little, y’all.

This Japanese dish is a protein-packed double whammy of tofu and mushrooms. Lately I use shimeji and enoki mushrooms but you can use whatever looks good in the market. It comes together in minutes and requires only five minutes of stove time, making it perfect for those wtf-BART-had-three-delays-on-the-commute-home type of evenings.

Silken tofu with enoki and shimeji mushrooms

1 block silken (soft) tofu, drained
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
10 ounces mushrooms, such as shimeji, enoki, shiitake, or maitake
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sake
2/3 cup dashi broth
1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon mirin
1 teaspoon cornstarch mixed with 2 teaspoons water
2 green onions, thinly sliced

1. Cut the tofu into quarters to make 4 large blocks and place on a serving platter.

2. Heat the oil in a skillet over high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes, or until fragrant. Sprinkle with salt and add the sake and deglaze the pan. Add the dashi broth, soy sauce, and mirin and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the cornstarch mixture to the pan and stir for about 1 minute or until thickened.

3. Pour the mushroom sauce evenly over the tofu and garnish with the green onions. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Bourbon Peach Shrub

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I think of shrubs as the cousin of sharab. It turns out there’s a reason why: today’s shrubs (vinegared syrup with spirits, water, or carbonated water) are a variant of sharab, which means “syrup” or “wine” in Persian, Hindi, and Arabic. Shrubs may be the base for the trendy cocktail of the moment, but its history is ancient.

Etymology aside, this peach and bourbon shrub is my favorite version to make. Peaches go with bourbon like waffles go with fried chicken, like palm trees with California, like Kamran with Hooman. You get the point.

Bourbon peach shrub

3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 pounds peaches
3 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
6 ounces bourbon
2 ounces lemon juice

1. Bring sugar and 3/4 cup water to a boil in a saucepan. Slice peaches into medium pieces. Reserve a few pieces for serving and add remaining to pan. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit 30 minutes. Strain syrup into a bowl; stir in vinegar. Cover and chill shrub.

2. Set out 4 ice-filled cocktail glasses. For each cocktail, shake 2 ounces shrub, 1 1/2 ounces bourbon, and half an ounce of lemon juice in an ice-filled cocktail shaker until frosty. Strain into glasses and top with reserved peaches.

Seeni Sambol (Sweet and Spicy Caramelized Onions)

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Seeni sambol is meant to be eaten as a condiment, but I love this sweet and spicy onion relish so much that I eat it straight out of the container. No shame.

Like its Southeast Asian cousin sambal, Sri Lankan sambols are part of a larger meal, alongside dishes like hoppers or rice. This is my favorite sambol. It’s easy to make but takes patience: lots of stirring and doting over a pan of slowly caramelizing onions, Maldive fish, chili powder, curry leaves, and sugar. Feel free to adjust the amount of pepper to your preference.

Seeni sambol


2 tablespoons oil
1 pound red onions, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 inch piece ginger, finely chopped
1 sprig curry leaves
4 cardamom pods
4 cloves
2 inch cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/3 cup Maldive fish
5 tablespoons tamarind pulp, softened in 1/2 cup hot water
1/4 cup coconut milk
juice of 1/2 lime
2 teaspoons sugar

1. Strain softened tamarind pulp in a sieve, discarding solids. Mix tamarind pulp into coconut milk and set aside.

2. Heat oil in pan. Fry onions, garlic, ginger, and curry leaves until onions are golden brown.

3. Add cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, salt, cayenne pepper, Maldive fish, tamarind-coconut mixture, and lime. Cook, uncovered, on low heat for about 40 minutes.

4. Add sugar and mix well. Remove from heat, cool, and store in a glass container in the refrigerator for up to a week. Serve at room temperature.

Tomatoes in Chili-Fennel Oil

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It’s tomato season! You know what that means. EAT ALL THE TOMATOES BEFORE THEY DISAPPEAR FOR THE NEXT TEN MONTHS. Time is of the essence, my friends, and this recipe is all about showcasing juicy, meaty tomatoes in all their bountiful glory.

Use the best tomatoes you can get your hands on for this simple recipe. The chili-fennel oil adds a smoky, anisey flavor to the dish and red wine vinegar rounds things out. This dish is summer on a platter.

Tomatoes in chile-fennel oil

1/3 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
2 pounds tomatoes, preferably heirloom, sliced 1/3 inch thick
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1. Cook oil, red pepper flakes, and fennel seeds in a saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally, until oil around spices is sizzling, about 5 minutes. Continue to cook until oil is infused with flavor and rusty-orange in color, about 10 minutes. Let cool.

2. Arrange tomatoes on a platter and drizzle with vinegar and chile-fennel oil. Sprinkle with salt.

Beef and Asparagus Stir-Fry with Noodle Pancake

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I’ve been making this dish since I was a teenager. I can’t even remember the source anymore, and over the years, it’s changed from the original recipe to something entirely anew. But it remains one of my favorite things to cook and eat. The Hong Kong-style crispy noodles soak up the spicy, savory sauce oh so wonderfully. The meat is tender. The vegetables are crisp. This dish, my friends, hits all the right notes.

It may take a while to cook, but the results are well worth it. The leftovers won’t last nearly as long as you think they will. Consider yourself warned.

Beef and asparagus stir-fry with noodle pancake

1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon garlic
1 teaspoon ginger
1 lb sirloin beef or flank steak, sliced thin
1/4 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 teaspoon chili-garlic sauce
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon sesame oil
8 ounces fresh thin Chinese egg noodles
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces

1. Marinade beef: stir rice wine, soy, 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch, garlic and ginger in a large bowl. Add beef to marinade.

2. In a separate bowl, mix chicken broth, oyster sauce, chili garlic sauce, remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch, pepper and sesame oil together. Set aside.

3. Cook noodles in large pot, according to directions. Drain, rinse under cold water, drain again.

4. Heat nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of oil and coat. Spread noodles evenly and cook, pressing lightly from time to time to form a cake, until bottom is golden brown, about 5 minutes. Turn cake over. Drizzle one tablespoon oil on bottom and cook other side, about 5 minutes. Transfer to plate.

5. Heat wok over high heat and add remaining tablespoon of oil. Add meat and stir fry until cooked through and no longer pink. Remove from wok. Add onion to wok and stir fry for two minutes. Add asparagus and cook for four minutes.

6. Return meat to wok, pour in sauce and bring to boil. Cook until slightly thickened, about two minutes. Spoon over noodle pancake and serve.