Kongnamul (Bean Sprout Banchan)

I can’t get enough banchans or jjigaes or kimchis to save my life. Seriously, I’ve been known to stress eat kimchi straight out of the jar. No kimchi? No problem. I’ll go straight for the leftover banchans laying around in the fridge. It doesn’t help that many of my favorite banchans, or Korean side dishes, are so easy to prepare. This bean sprout banchan is one of the most common. I actually prefer them after they’ve marinated in their seasoning for a few hours.

Kongnamul (bean sprout banchan)

Ingredients:

1 pound soybean sprouts
salt
1 garlic clove, minced
1 green onion, chopped
1 teaspoon gochugaru (Korean hot pepper flakes, optional)
1 teaspoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 teaspoons sesame seeds

1. Put the soybean sprouts in a bowl and cover with water. Gently clean and pick out any dead beans. Drain.

2. Transfer the bean sprouts to a large saucepan. Add 1 cup water and 1 teaspoon salt, cover, and cook over medium-high heat for 10 to 12 minutes, until the beans are cooked. Drain and set aside in a bowl to cool slightly. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and the rest of the ingredients to the bean sprouts and mix gently with your hands. Transfer to a serving plate and serve.

Glazed Chicken with Chiles

I don’t know much about Shaanxi cuisine other than it’s strongly flavored with its emphasis on onions, garlic, vinegar, and chiles. The resemblance to Sichuan cuisine drew me to this old recipe adapted from my tattered copy of Martin Yan’s China, originally named “glazed Xian chicken.” The chicken is stir-fried and coated with a savory sauce and the whole thing comes together in about half an hour. I can’t attest to its authenticity, but I can attest to its deliciousness.

Xian-style chicken

Ingredients:

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1/3 cup chicken broth
3 tablespoons rice wine
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 small dried red chiles
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 ribs celery, thinly sliced diagonally
1 small zucchini, thinly sliced (optional)
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 teaspoon water
1/3 cup toasted walnut halves

1. Cut chicken into 3/4 inch pieces. Place in a bowl and add oyster sauce; stir to coat. Let stand for 10 minutes. Combine sauce ingredients in a bowl; set aside.

2. Place a wok over high heat until hot. Add oil, swirling to coat sides. Add chiles and garlic; cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 10 seconds. Add chicken and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add celery, zucchini, and onion; stir-fry for 1 minute. Add sauce and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 3 minutes. Add cornstarch solution and cook, stirring, until sauce boils and thickens. Add walnuts and toss to coat.

Chilled Mussels with Saffron Aioli

I’ve been hanging on to the same precious tin of Iranian saffron since 2013. I bought it at Jean-Talon Market in Montreal, where sanctions aren’t as restrictive and food imports from Iran are attainable. I know we Iranians like to lay claim to nearly everything under the sun, but it’s true that our saffron is among the best in the world. I dipped into this precious stash for this easy, elegant mussel appetizer.

This recipe makes more aioli than you’ll need, but you can use the leftovers as a sandwich spread, or simply make an extra batch of mussels.

Chilled mussels with saffron aioli

2 1/2 pounds mussels
1 cup white wine
1/2 onion, chopped
1 generous pinch saffron threads
1 garlic clove, chopped
1/3 cup drained jarred roasted red pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Zest of 1/2 lemon
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

1. Scrub mussels, cleaning shells, and discard any mussels that aren’t tightly closed. In a large pot bring wine and onion to a boil over high heat. Add mussels; cook, covered, until they open, about 2 to 3 minutes. Uncover and let stand until cool enough to handle. Discard any closed mussels.

2. Separate mussels from shells Set each mussel on a reserved half-shell and place on a baking sheet. Cover and chill.

3. Grind saffron in a mortar and pestle and set aside.

4. In a blender, blend garlic, roasted pepper, saffron, cayenne, and lemon zest and juice until smooth. Add mayonnaise and blend. Scrape into a bowl.

5. Set mussels on a serving platter. Dollop aioli on each mussel and top with a parsley leaf.

Spicy Chickpeas (Kadala)

One of my favorite things about Sri Lankan cuisine is that it features many ingredients common to Iranian food, but the preparation and seasonings are entirely different. Chickpeas are popular in Iranian cuisine, but in this Sri Lankan dish, they’re stir-fried with plenty of chiles and spices.

Kadala, or chickpeas, are are easy to make and full of protein. The only thing the Iranian and Sri Lankan version have in common are the gratuitous use of turmeric, onion, and garlic but either way, they’re delicious.

Kadala (spicy chickpeas)

Ingredients:

2 cups cooked chickpeas or 1 14-ounce can chickpeas, washed and drained
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 red onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
5 red chiles, chopped
1 sprig curry leaves
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
salt

1. Heat oil in pan. Add onions, garlic, curry leaves, and chiles and fry until onions are golden brown. Add mustard seeds and fry until they begin to pop, about 1 minute.

2. Add chickpeas, turmeric, and salt. Stir-fry on high for 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Sri Lankan Roasted Curry Powder

I’ll never buy bottled curry powder again.

Spices for Sri Lankan roasted curry powder

Sri Lankan cuisine is under the radar in the U.S. and it’s a shame. I’ve been lucky to taste so many Sri Lankan dishes with Nishan’s family and these days, I’m learning to cook it myself. It’s fiery, vibrant, and the flavors are an amalgamation of Sri Lanka’s history. The rice and curry spreads vary with Tamil dishes, Sinhalese dishes, Muslim dishes, Dutch and British-influenced dishes, and rice and coconut factor into nearly every meal. I could go on forever, but Serious Eats has already written a terrific primer on the cuisine.

The base to many of the curries I’ve been cooking is this roasted curry powder. In practice, it’s usually supplemented with large doses of chili powder and fresh chiles. This curry powder should keep indefinitely in the fridge, but I wouldn’t know. A batch rarely lasts long in our household.

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon uncooked basmati rice
4 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
1 piece cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
5 cardamom pods, shelled
5 cloves
2 springs curry leaves

1. Toast each ingredient on a saucepan separately over medium heat, stirring often, until fragrant and lightly browned. Remove from heat, cool, and grind in a coffee grinder. Store in a glass jar in the refrigerator.