Ma Po Tofu

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Ma po tofu is ubiquitous on Chinese restaurant menus, but I never sampled the fiery, peppery dish until last year. It was mouth-numbingly hot, and it’s since become one of my favorite all-time dishes. As if to make up for lost time, I’ve spent the past few months eating ma po tofu constantly in restaurants and more recently, at home.

This homemade version of ma po tofu is just as delicious as what I’ve eaten from professional kitchens, and easy to cook. Ma po tofu is traditionally cooked with ground pork, but I substitute with chicken or turkey at home. The Sichuan peppercorns, however, are important to seek out as they’ll lend this dish that extra heat. It’s worth the pain (and slightly numb lips).

Ma po tofu

Ingredients:

3 dried shiitake mushrooms
6 ounces ground turkey
3 teaspoons soy sauce
4 teaspoons cornstarch
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons hot bean paste
1/4 teaspoon toasted Sichuan peppercorns, ground
1/4 cup chopped water chestnuts
3 green onions, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 14-ounce package soft tofu, drained and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1. Pour enough warm water over the mushrooms in bowl to cover them completely. Soak until softened, about 20 minutes. Drain, discard the stems, and coarsely chop the caps.

2. Marinate the turkey: stir the ground turkey, 2 teaspoons of soy sauce, and 2 teaspoons of cornstarch together until evenly mixed. Let stand for 10 minutes.

3. Prepare the sauce:: stir the water, remaining two teaspoons soy sauce, and sesame oil together in a small bowl.

4. Heat a wok over high heat until hot. Add the oil and swirl to coat the sides. Add the garlic and stir-fry until fragrant, about 20 seconds. Add the turkey, hot bean paste, and Sichuan peppercorns and stir-fry until the turkey is crumbly, about 3 minutes.

5. Pour the sauce into the work, then stir in the mushrooms, water chestnuts and green onions. Slide the tofu into the work and stir gently to coat the tofu with the sauce and heat through, about 2 minutes.

6. In a small bowl, dissolve the remaining 2 teaspoons cornstarch in 2 teaspoons water. Pour the dissolved cornstarch into the wok and cook gently, stirring, until the sauce boils and thickens, about 1 minute. Spoon the tofu and sauce onto a serving platter and serve hot, alongside cooked rice.

Simmered Hijiki with Edamame

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I love seaweed in nearly any shape or form, and I’m always looking for recipes that go beyond the usual nori roll or wakame salad. This super-healthy hijiki salad is exactly what I’ve been looking for: fortifying, tasty, and just a little bit unique. Best of all, it’s easy to make and reheats well. Don’t be put off by hijiki’s appearance — it may look out of the ordinary, but it’s full of iron, calcium, and magnesium.

Simmered hijiki with edamame

Ingredients:

2 ounces dried hijiki seaweed
1/2 carrot
1 cake abura-age deep-fried tofu
1 1/2 cups frozen edamame in pods
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3/4 cup dashi stock
1 tablespoon sake
2 teaspoons sugar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Place the hijiki seaweed in a sieve, immerse in cold water, and wash while shaking the sieve. Transfer to a large bowl and soak in cold water to soften, about 20 minutes. Drain hijiki in the sieve and set aside.

2. Peel the carrot and julienne into 1 1/2-inch long matchsticks. Thinly cut abura-age tofu into 1 1/2-inch lengths. Boil the frozen edamame briefly, drain, and shell.

3. Heat the vegetable oil in a pot, add the carrot, hijiki, and abura-age and saute. Add the stock, sake, sugar, soy sauce, and salt, and simmer over medium heat. When the simmering liquid is almost completely gone, add the edamame and mix. Turn off the heat and arrange in a bowl. Serve at room temperature.

Sholeh Zard (Iranian Saffron Rice Pudding)

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Happy Norooz! Last week ushered in the two week-long Iranian new year, a time for celebration, time spent around loved ones, and sweets. Lots of sweets. Most Iranian sweets are too strong for my taste, but I can never say no to sholeh zard. Traditionally prepared as alms during religious festivals in Iran, this dish takes me back to my (Californian) childhood. Whenever a holiday rolled around, my mom and family friends would spend an afternoon making huge pots of the fragrant, rosewater-flecked rice pudding. They would garnish the finished dish with beautiful Persian calligraphy using cinnamon.

I’ve since learned to make sholeh zard on my own, though my calligraphy skills are sorely lacking. This rich dessert is otherwise easy to make, but requires some attention. Just remember to check the pot frequently. You want your finished dish to have a thin pudding-like consistency, as it’ll thicken when it cools down.

Sholeh zard

Ingredients:

1 cup basmati rice
7 cups or more water
2 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup unsalted slivered almonds
1/2 teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in 2 tablespoons hot water
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 cup rosewater

Garnish:

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons slivered almonds
2 teaspoons slivered pistachios

1. Clean and wash the rice, changing the water several times. Drain.

2. Combine the rice with 4 cups of water in a large pot and bring to a boil, skimming the foam as it rises. Cover and simmer for 35 minutes over medium heat until the rice is soft.

3. Add 3 more cups of warm water and sugar, cook for 25 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the butter, almonds, saffron water, cardamom, and rosewater. Mix well. Cover and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes. Remove the cover and cook over low heat, uncovered, for another 20 minutes or until the mixture is cooked and has thickened to a pudding.

4. Spoon the pudding into individual serving dishes or a large bowl. Decorate with cinnamon, almonds, and pistachios. Serve the pudding cold or room temperature.

Sichuan Dry-Fried Green Beans

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I used to hate green beans. Growing up, I inexplicably dreaded the loobia polo that most kids loved: an Iranian rice pilaf of green beans, browned lamb, tomatoes, and spices. It wasn’t until recently when I tried Sichuan-style dry-fried green beans that I’ve come around to loving the legume. It was the spicy, garlicy flavor that made me change my green bean-hating ways, and now, I can’t get enough.

Long beans are traditionally used in this recipe, but green beans work as well. Feel free to omit the ground chicken as well for a vegetarian version. Last but not least, make sure your beans are completely dry before frying them — this will ensure a blistered texture.

Sichuan dry-fried long beans

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 pound ground chicken
1/4 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons chili garlic sauce or chili bean sauce
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
1 cup vegetable oil
3/4 pound green beans or long beans, ends trimmed and cut into 3-inch lengths

1. Marinate the chicken: stir 1 tablespoon of the soy sauce and cornstarch together in a medium bowl until the cornstarch is dissolved. Mix the chicken in the marinade until incorporated. Let stand for 10 minutes.

2. Prepare the sauce: stir the chicken stock, soy sauce, sugar, garlic, chili garlic sauce, and sesame oil together in a small bowl until the sugar is dissolved.

3 Pour the oil into a 2-quart saucepan and heat over medium-high heat. Carefully slip the green beans into the oil and cook, stirring continuously, until they are wrinkled, about 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the beans to paper towels to drain. Reserve the oil.

4. Heat a wok over high heat until hot. Pour in 2 teaspoons of the reserved oil and swirl to coat the sides. Slide the chicken into the wok and stir-fry until the meat is crumbly and changes color, about 2 minutes. Add the green beans and sauce and stir until heated through, 1 to 2 minutes. Scoop the contents of the wok onto a serving plate and serve warm.

Spaghetti Fritters with Garlic and Red Pepper

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Happy new year! I bet you’ve got some healthy, active resolutions lined up for 2012, right? Let me derail your plans for a minute. Don’t get me wrong, I’m just as much an advocate for mindful eating and exercise as the next Bay Arean, but moderation is key. When those tofu smoothies and kale chips become tiresome, I present to you: fried spaghetti.

Think of it more as an indulgent snack than a meal. Adapted from a Jamie Oliver recipe, these addictive fritters are best eaten fresh. They’re easy to make, too — perfect for that post-workout reward.

Spaghetti fritters with garlic and red pepper

Ingredients:

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 egg
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 dried red chili, crumbled
7 ounces spaghetti
salt and pepper
olive oil

1. Place all your ingredients, apart from the spaghetti and olive oil, into a bowl and mix. Meanwhile, add spaghetti to a pot of salted, boiling water and cook until al dente. Drain the pasta in a colander and rinse under cold water to cool it down. Once the pasta is cool, snip it with scissors into pieces roughly 4 inches long and add them to the bowl. Mix well.

2. Pour a few tablespoons oil into a pan and place over medium-high heat. Using a fork, add piles of the spaghetti mixture to the pan and fry until golden and crisp on both sides. Serve warm.