Sichuan Boiled Dumplings in Chili Oil

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“Nothing worth having comes easy,” a wise person once said. I’m pretty sure they were talking about these dumplings.

Spicy, garlicy, and out-of-this-world delicious, these meat-filled dumplings are one of my favorite things to cook and eat. They’re also time consuming to make, but I promise you they’ll be worth it when you find yourself wondering if it’s okay to lick your plate. (Yes. Yes, it is.)

Sichuan boiled dumplings in chili oil


1 pound ground turkey or chicken
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1 dried shiitake mushroom, soaked until softened, minced
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon cornstarch
30 round dumpling wrappers
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon ground pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons Chinese black vinegar or balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons hot bean paste
1 tablespoon hot chile oil

1. For the filling, combine the turkey, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, 1/3 of the green onion, mushroom, 1 teaspoon of the sesame oil, and 1/3 cup water in a bowl. Mix well and freeze for half an hour to firm the mixture to make it easier to handle.

2. Dissolve the cornstarch in 3 tablespoons cold water in a small bowl to make a thin paste. Moisten the edges of a dumpling wrapper by dipping your finger into the paste and running it over the edge of the wrapper. Place about a teaspoon of the filling in the center of the wrapper. Bring the edges of the wrapper up to meet at the top of the filling and pinch them closed, squeezing the dough. Repeat with the remaining filling and wrappers.

3. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil over high heat. Add the dumplings and cook until the filling is cooked through and the dumplings are floating on top of the water, about 4 minutes.

4. While the dumplings are cooking, make the sauce: heat a wok over high heat. Add the remaining tablespoon of vegetable oil and heat until it shimmers. Add the remaining green onions, garlic, and black pepper. Stir-fry for 30 seconds. Transfer to a bowl and add the sugar, vinegar, hot bean paste, remaining tablespoon soy sauce, remaining teaspoon sesame oil, and hot chili oil. Mix well.

5. Drain the dumplings in a colander. Place the dumplings in a serving bowl and pour the sauce over. Serve warm.

Tofu Jelly

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Do you like aspic? Do you like gelatin? Do you enjoy smooth, gelatinous textures? Then you’ll love tofu jelly, my friends. And no, I’m not being sarcastic. I fiend for these textures, so when I made this chilled tofu concoction, I realized I’d hit the jackpot.

This savory and cooling dish is perfect as a snack or appetizer on a hot summer day and takes only about ten minutes to prepare. Even if you don’t crave jelly-like textures, give this a try. You might end up hooked, just like I did.

Tofu jelly


1/2 block silken tofu, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1/2 red bell pepper (fresh or jarred), finely chopped
1 2/3 cups dashi stock
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon mirin
1 envelope unflavored powdered gelatin (2 1/4 to 2 1/2 teaspoons)

1. Over medium heat, bring the dashi broth to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the soy sauce, sugar, and mirin to the broth and remove from heat.

2. Put three tablespoons water and the powdered gelatin into a heat-resistant cup until soft. Place the cup in a microwave oven and heat for 30 seconds to dissolve the gelatin.

3. Add the peppers and the dissolved gelatin to the broth mixture and mix well.

4. Divide the tofu between six individual serving cups and pour the gelatin-broth mixture over each cup to cover. Chill in a refrigerator for at least three hours to cool until solidified. Serve chilled.

Kung Pao Chicken

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Kung Pao chicken originated in China’s Sichuan province, and the original version bears little resemblance to the saucy, sugary version we find in so many Americanized Chinese restaurants. Like most families in the U.S., we grew up with the Chinese American classics of the 1980s and 1990s, but I never liked green bell peppers — an ubiquitous ingredient in the Americanized version of Kung Pao chicken. When I discovered that the original version was sans bell pepper and with a healthy dose of Sichuan peppercorns, I was hooked.

There is a time and place for Americanized Chinese cuisine. After all, it’s comfort food for so many. But when it comes to Kung Pao chicken, this is the spicy, flavorful, and peanut-flecked version that I crave.

Kung pao chicken


1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut in to 1/2 inch cubes
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons Chinese rice wine
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
10 small dried red chiles
2 1/2 inch piece ginger, cut into thin strips
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 cup roasted peanuts
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese black vinegar
1/2 teaspoon ground Sichuan peppercorns

1. Combine chicken with cornstarch and wine in a bowl. Cover, place in refrigerator, and leave to marinate for 1 hour.
2. Place 2 tablespoons oil and chiles in a wok and turn heat to low. Cook for about 3 minutes or until chiles begin to darken. Using a slotted spoon, remove chiles and drain on kitchen paper.
3. Leaving chili-infused oil in wok, turn heat up to high and stir-fry the chicken for about 6 minutes. Add ginger and reserved chiles and stir fry for 1 minute.
4. Add sugar and stir fry for 30 seconds. Add peanuts, soy sauce, and vinegar and stir fry for 1 minute. Add Sichuan pepper and remove from heat. Serve warm.

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.