Dry-Fried Mongolian Beef

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I’m going to tell you a story about Mongolian beef: ever since I was ten years old, my family has been going to a Chinese restaurant in Sonoma County that makes the greatest Mongolian beef I’ve ever tasted. Scratch that, it’s one of the best dishes I’ve ever tasted. For over twenty years, it’s ranked among my top three favorite dishes of all time. Naturally, I’ve tried to guess the recipe for this Mongolian beef in an effort to replicate the results at home.

I’ve tried. And I’ve tried. And then I’ve tried at home. I’ve probably attempted fifteen different versions. I just can’t get it right. This version, adapted from an old Martin Yan recipe, is almost right. The original recipe employs lamb but beef works just as well. Curiously enough, this version includes leeks. Don’t omit them, as they’re key in building up a sweet onion flavor.

More than twenty years later, I still haven’t gotten that nostalgic dish 100% right, but until I do, this is the next best thing.

Mongolian lamb

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 pound boneless sirloin beef, thinly sliced across the grain
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
12 dried red chiles
2 small leek, cleaned, sliced into 3-inch long pieces and sliced lengthwise into long, thin shreds
1/2 white onion, thinly sliced
3 green onions, cut into 2-inch pieces

1. To make the marinade, combine 2 tablespoons soy sauce, rice wine, and cornstarch in a bowl and mix well. Add the beef and stir to coat evenly. Let marinade for at least 20 minutes.

2. To make the sauce, combine the hoisin sauce, rice vinegar, and remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce in a bowl and mix well.

3. Place a wok over high heat until hot. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil, swirling to coat the sides. Add the beef and stir-fry until no longer pink, about 3 minutes. Remove the meat to a plate and set aside.

4. Return the wok to high heat and add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Add the garlic and chiles and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 10 seconds. Add the leeks and onion and stir-fry until the leeks are wilted, about 1 minute. Return the meat to a pan. Add the sauce and toss to coat. Transfer to a serving plate and serve warm.

Japchae

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Japchae was the first Korean dish I tasted when I first tried the cuisine years ago as a teenager. It became one of my favorites but I rarely order it at a restaurant anymore because I’ve learned to cook it at home.

This recipe is laborous but the results were restaurant quality and totally worth the payoff. Don’t substitute these sweet potato noodles — they’re worth seeking out for their chewy, slippery texture that soaks up all the flavor. Best of all, japchae reheats well and tastes just as good the next day.

Japchae

Ingredients:

1/2 pound beef sirloin, cut into thin strips
3 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in warm water to soften and cut into thin strips
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 egg
6 ounces spinach, washed and drained
6 ounces dangmyeon (sweet potato noodles)
3 green onions, sliced into 2 inch long pieces
1/2 onion (1 cup), thinly sliced
8 white mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 small carrot, cut into matchsticks
black pepper
salt
vegetable oil

Directions:

1. Put the beef and shiitake mushrooms into a bowl and mix with 1 clove of minced garlic, 1 teaspoon sugar, ΒΌ teaspoon ground black pepper, 2 teaspoons soy sauce, and 1 teaspoon of sesame oil with a wooden spoon or by hand. Cover and marinade in the fridge.

2. Crack the egg, add a pinch of salt, and whisk with a fork. Add 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil to a heated nonstick pan. Pour the egg into the pan and tilt around so the mixture spreads thinly. Let the egg cook on low heat for about 1 minute. Flip it over and let it sit on the pan for 1 more minute. Remove from heat, let the egg cool, and slice into thin strips.

3. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the spinach and blanch for 30 seconds, then drain and rinse under cold water to keep from cooking further. Squeeze to remove any excess water. Coarsely chop spinach and place in a large mixing bowl. Mix with 1 teaspoon soy sauce and 1 teaspoon sesame oil.

4. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and put the noodles into the boiling water and cook for 1 minute. Stir noodles with a wooden spoon to keep them from sticking together. Partially cover the pot and keep cooking for another 7 minutes until the noodles are soft and chewy. Strain and cut noodles in half with kitchen scissors.

5. Put the noodles in the large bowl with the spinach. Add 2 teaspoons sesame oil, 1 teaspoon soy sauce, and 1/2 teaspoon sugar. Mix well.

6. Heat a skillet over medium high heat. Add 2 teaspoons vegetable oil and add the onion, green onion, and a pinch of salt. Stir-fry about 2 minutes until the onion is translucent. Transfer to the bowl with noodles.

7. Heat the skillet again and add 2 teaspoons vegetable oil. Add the white mushrooms and a pinch of salt. Stir-fry for 2 minutes until softened and the mushrooms have released a little juice. Transfer to the bowl with noodles.

8. Heat the skillet and add 1 teaspoon vegetable oil. Add the carrot and stir-fry for 20 seconds. Transfer to the bowl with noodles.

9. Heat the skillet and add 2 teaspoons vegetable oil. Add the beef and shiitake mushroom mixture and stir fry for a few minutes until the beef is cooked through and the mushrooms are soft. Transfer to the bowl with noodles.

10. Add 1 minced garlic clove, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, egg garnish, 1 tablespoon sesame seeds, and 2 teaspoons of sesame oil to the mixing bowl full of ingredients. Mix all together by hand, transfer to a large plate and serve.

Grilled Manchego and Jamon Sandwich

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It’s been just over a month since I came back from a vacation in Spain, and I thought I was all jamon’d out. I thought wrong.

There’s not much to this sandwich but the cornucopia of Spanish flavors here would have you thinking otherwise. Creamy manchego cheese, salty jamon, and a touch of sweet membrillo paste transform a few simple ingredients into something spectacular. Try this and see: your grilled cheese game just got one-upped.

Grilled manchego sandwich with quince paste

Ingredients:

2/3 cup grated Manchego cheese
4 thick slices of country bread
4 very thin slices of serrano ham or prosciutto (about 2 ounces)
2 ounces membrillo (quince paste), thinly sliced
1 1/2 tablespoons butter

1. Spread half of the cheese evenly over two slices of the bread. Top with the serrano, membrillo, and the remaining cheese. Top with the other two bread slices.

2. Heat one tablespoon of the butter in a skillet over medium-low heat. When hot, add the sandwiches and cook slowly until deep golden on one side, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining 1/2 tablespoon butter and flip the sandwiches over. Continue to cook until the other side is also golden and the cheese is melted, about 4 minutes longer.

3. Let the sandwiches rest for a minute before slicing and serve immediately.

Spicy Beef Chili

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Tomorrow marks the first day of fall, and while every cafe and restaurant has you convinced that pumpkin spice-flavored everything is the answer to all our problems, I’m leaning in a different direction. No disrespect to squash-flavored caffeine, but I’d rather go for a warm, comforting bowl of chili to herald the changing season.

This spicy beef chili is time consuming but oh so worth it. Bonus: the heated leftovers taste even better.

Spicy beef chili

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 pounds chuck steak, cut into 1/2-inch dice
salt and pepper
1 pound hot Italian sausages, casings removed and meat broken into small pieces
1 small white onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon paprika
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
One 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 cup water
One 15-ounce can pinto beans, drained
One 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained
One 15-ounce can kidney beans, drained
Shredded cheddar cheese, chopped green onions, and sour cream, for serving

1. In a large pot, heat the oil. Season the chuck with salt and pepper. Add half of the chuck and cook over moderately high heat until browned, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meat to a plate. Repeat with the remaining chuck. Add the sausage and cook until browned, breaking it up with a spoon, about 4 minutes. Add the sausage to the diced chuck.

2. Add the chopped onion to the casserole and cook over moderate heat until tender, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the chili powder, paprika, cumin and the chuck, sausage and any accumulated juices. Cook, stirring until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and their juices and the water. Cover and sim-mer over moderately low heat for 1 hour.

3. Stir in the beans and simmer uncovered until thickened, about 15 minutes. Season with salt. Serve the chili in deep bowls, passing the cheese, scallions, and sour cream on the side.

Hunan Lamb With Green Onions

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I’ve been trying to cook with lamb more often lately. I’ve always loved lamb Iranian-style, but there’s so much more out there. To paraphrase Aladdin, a whole new world (of lamb), if you will.

This spicy lamb stir-fry is adapted from the Shun Lee Cookbook and is just what I’ve been looking for. A word of caution, however: make sure your wok is super hot, otherwise you’ll end up with a mushy mess instead of nicely-seared meat.

Hunan-style lamb

Ingredients:

1 pound boneless leg of lamb, trimmed
1 egg
3 tablespoons cornstarch
vegetable oil
1/2 cup canned bamboo shoots, sliced
3 tablespoons rice wine
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 tablespoon hot bean paste
pinch of ground pepper
1 leek, white part only, trimmed and cut into thin 1 1/2-inch-long strips
5 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
4 green onions, trimmed and sliced diagonally into 1/2-inch pieces

1. Cut the lamb across the grain into 1/4-inch thick slices. Cut the slices into pieces about 2 inches long. Mix the lamb with the egg, 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch, and 1 tablespoon water in a medium bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

2. Heat a large wok over high heat. Add enough oil to come about 1 inch up the sides of the wok. Once hot, add the lamb carefully so the pieces don’t splash or stick to each other and gently stir-fry until they turn light brown, about 1 minute. Add the bamboo shoots and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Using a spatula, transfer the lamb and bamboo shoots to a plate. Discard all but 2 tablespoons of the oil from the wok.

3. To make the sauce, mix the rice wine, soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, hot bean paste, and white pepper in a small bowl and set it aside. Dissolve the remaining cornstarch in 2 tablespoons cold water in another small bowl and set it aside.

4. Return the wok with the oil to high heat. Add the leek and garlic and stir-fry until the garlic is fragrant, about 20 seconds. Return the lamb and bamboo shoots to the wok; then add the green onions and the rice wine mixture and stir-fry for 20 seconds. Add the cornstarch mixture and stir-fry until the lamb turns a dark brown and the sauce has evenly coated the meat and vegetables, about 30 seconds. Serve hot.