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.

Nori-Crusted Sirloin with Shiitake Mushrooms

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I first made this dish several years ago, adapted from a recipe in the now defunct Gourmet Magazine. Since then, it’s become my most-requested meat entree, and even though it takes a some work to pull off, it’s worth it. Make sure to serve this with plenty of steamed rice to soak up the sauce.

Nori-crusted steak with shiitake mushrooms

Ingredients:

2 bunches green onions
1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded
salt and pepper
1 pound sirloin steak
2 square sheets of nori seaweed, torn into small pieces
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon mirin
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a small saucepan of boiling water, blanch the green onions for 2 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water. Set a rack on a baking sheet and arrange the shiitake mushroom caps on the rack, gill sides down. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

2. Season the steak with salt. In a food processor or spice grinder, coarsely grind the nori with the sesame seeds, red pepper and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Spread the nori mixture on a plate and dredge the steak in it.

3. In a medium skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil until shimmering. Add the steak and cook over high heat until the nori is toasted, about 4 minutes per side. Place the steak over the mushrooms and roast for about 15 minutes, until the meat is medium rare. Transfer the steak to a cutting board and let rest for 10 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, quarter the mushroom caps. In a small bowl, whisk the soy sauce with the mirin, lemon juice and the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil.

5. Slice the steak 1/4 inch thick and arrange it on plates with the shiitake mushrooms and scallions. Drizzle the soy mixture over the steak and serve.

Kotlet (Iranian Cutlet)

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Kotlet, or Persian minced meat and potato croquettes, are an ubiquitous picnic meal in Iranian households. Growing up, I’d look forward to these in warm lavash sandwiches for lunch and now that I’m older, I prepare them as an appetizer or light meal. Kotlet are easy to make and can be frozen for reheating later on.

Serve these with pickled vegetables and sliced tomatoes, or simply on their own. Lightly spiced and crispy on the outside, it’s nearly impossible to eat just one kotlet.

Kotlet

Ingredients:

2 potatoes, cooked, peeled, and grated
1 pound ground lamb, veal, or beef
1 onion, peeled and grated
2 eggs
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in 1 tablespoon hot water
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 cup vegetable oil, for frying
2 ripe tomatoes, sliced, for garnish
4 Persian pickled cucumbers, sliced, for garnish
Lavash bread

1. In a bowl, combine meat, onion, eggs, potato, salt, pepper, coriander, cumin, saffron water, and turmeric. Knead for 5 minutes to form a smooth mixture.

2. Using damp hands, shape the meat mixture into lumps the size of eggs. Flatten them into oval patties. Brown the patties on both side in hot oil over medium heat until browned on each side and cooked through. Add more oil if necessary.

3. Arrange the patties on a serving platter. Serve with tomatoes, pickles, and lavash bread.

Murtabak

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The origins of murtabak are unclear. My weathered cookbook tells me its a Singaporean and Malaysian street food, brought to Southeast Asia by the Indian community. Wikipedia, on the other hand, says its a Yemeni and Saudi dish, but that it arrived in the Persian Gulf by way of Kerala. Can anyone shed light? Drop me a line.

This recipe for murtabak is adapted from an old Sanjeev Kapoor recipe and a Martin Yan one, and since I’ve never eaten murtabak from a hawker, I can’t attest to its authenticity. It’s a bit time-consuming to prepare, but its well worth the effort. These dough-encased pockets of oniony, spicy meat are a treat, albeit a rich one at that.

Murtabak

Ingredients:

3 1/2 cups of flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter, cut into chunks
1 1/4 cups warm milk
7 tablespoons cooking oil
6 cloves garlic
4 slices ginger
1 onion, sliced
1/4 cup water
2 teaspoons chili garlic sauce
3/4 pound ground turkey
2 tablespoons curry powder
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 egg, lightly beaten

1. To make dough, place flour and salt in a bowl. With your hands, rub butter into flour until particles are about the size of peas. Gradually add milk and 3 tablespoons cooking oil, mixing well. Knead until a smooth dough forms, about 10 minutes. Divide dough into 10 pieces. Roll each piece onto a ball, cover and let rest for 1 hour.

2. Place garlic, ginger, onion, water, and chili garlic sauce in a blender and process until smooth.

3. Place a wok over medium-low heat until hot. Add 2 tablespoons oil. Add spice paste and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 6 to 8 minutes.

4. Raise heat to medium-high. Add meat, curry powder, sugar, and soy sauce; cook until meat is browned and crumbly, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in egg.

5. To make each piece of bread, roll a ball of dough into a circle 8 to 9 inches in diameter. Spread 2 tablespoons filling in center of circle, leaving 2 inches of dough around edge. Fold top and bottom edges over filling, overlapping in center b 1/2 inch; repeat with left and right edges. Brush top with melted butter.

4. Place a frying pan over medium heat until hot. Add remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, swirling to coat sides. Pan-fry bread, a few pieces at a time, until golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes on each side. Repeat for remaining pieces.