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.

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.