Braised Mushrooms and Tofu

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This is one of the first Chinese dishes I learned to make. I was still a kid and had just picked up Martin Yan’s Culinary Journey Through China, and though I didn’t really care for tofu at the time, I wanted to acquire a taste for it. This is the dish that did it.

Browning the tofu long enough to create a crispiness on the outside and spongy texture on the inside is key, so don’t rush this stage of the recipe. If you do it right, the browned tofu absorbs the savory, salty black bean sauce perfectly.

Braised tofu and mushrooms

Ingredients:

1 package extra firm tofu
2/3 cup chicken broth
2 teaspoons black bean garlic sauce
2 teaspoons oyster flavored sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 green onion, sliced
1/2 pound white or cremini mushrooms, halved
1/4 pound oyster mushrooms, halved
6 shiitake mushrooms, halved
1 teaspoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water

1. Cut tofu in half horizontally to make 2 pieces. Slice each of these halves into six rectangular pieces to make a total of 12 slices of tofu.

2. Combine the chicken broth, black bean garlic sauce, oyster flavored sauce, sugar and sesame oil in a bowl to make the sauce.

3. Place a wok over high heat until hot. Add 1 tablespoon oil, swirling to coat sides. Add the tofu and cook, turning once, until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Remove tofu and set aside.

4. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, swirling to coat sides. Add the mushrooms and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the sauce, reduce heat to low, and cover, then simmer until the mushrooms are tender, about 5 minutes. Add the cornstarch solution and cook, stirring, until sauce boils and thickens.

5. To serve, arrange the tofu in a circle around the edge of a serving plate. Place the mushroom mixture in the center and garnish with green onions.

Tomato, Basil, and Ricotta Crostini

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I know I posted a crostini recipe not even two weeks ago, but this one is too good to not share. The key to these extremely simple tomato crostini is in the quality of the tomatoes, so ideally, wait until tomatoes are in season to make these babies. Even better if you have access to a tomato vine or two.

Adapted from A Platter of Figs, I made this recipe countless times last summer when I had access to both fresh tomatoes and homegrown basil. Throw a dollop of creamy ricotta cheese on there too, and you’re in heaven.

Tomato, Basil and Ricotta Crostini

Ingredients:

1 large shallot, finely diced
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced, plus another peeled garlic clove
2 pounds tomatoes, diced
1 loaf Italian ciabatta
1/2 pound fresh ricotta
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
A handful of basil leaves

1. In a bowl, mix the shallots and vinegar with a little salt. Whisk in the olive oil. Add the garlic and the cherry tomatoes, season with salt and pepper, and toss gently. Leave to marinate for a few minutes.

2. Cut the ciabatta into 1/2-inch slices. Spread the slices on a baking sheet and toast on both sides under the broiler until golden. Rub the toasts very lightly with a peeled garlic clove.

3. Spread a tablespoon of fresh ricotta on each toast, them put them on a platter. Spoon the marinated tomatoes over the toasts. Sliver or tear the basil leaves and arrange over the crostini.

Chinese Chicken Salad

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I know, I know. Chinese chicken salad is about as unauthentic as an ethnic dish can get. Even though it’s been done time and time again, this version that I adapted from Martin Yan’s Chinatown Cooking has become one of my favorite recipes. It’s healthy, fresh and most importantly, delicious. I usually make a double batch and store the dressing separately so that I can have leftovers the next day. Don’t be deterred by the long ingredient list; it’s actually very straightforward to make.

Chinese Chicken Salad

Ingredients:

1 skinless chicken breast
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon five-spice powder
1/4 rice vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons plum or hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons soy sauce
3/4 teaspoon chili garlic sauce
1/2 teaspoon grated ginger
2 tablespoons vegetable oil plus more for deep-frying
2 heads romaine lettuce, thinly shredded
2 green onions, thinly sliced
8 wonton wrappers, cut into 1/4-inch wide strips
1 ounce dried bean thread noodles, broken into 2-inch long pieces
1/4 cup chopped roasted peanuts
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds.

1. Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Rub the chicken breasts with the salt and five-spice powder. Lay the chicken on a baking sheet and bake until cooked through, about 20 minutes. Cool the chicken on a rack until cool enough to touch, then shred the meat and set aside.

2. Make the dressing: Whisk the rice vinegar, honey, plum or hoisin sauce, sesame oil, mustard, soy sauce, chili garlic sauce, ginger and vegetable oil in a bowl until well blended. Set aside.

3. Pour enough vegetable oil into a wok to come to a depth of 1 inch. Heat over medium-high heat to 350F. Carefully slip a few of the wonton strips into the oil and fry until light golden brown, about 20 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining strips.

4. In the same wok, deep-fry the bean thread noodles in small batches, stirring them gently to separate the strands, until they puff and expand, about 10 seconds. Remove and drain on paper towels.

5. Place the lettuce in a large salad bowl and top with the green onions. Scatter the chicken on top, pour the dressing over the salad, and toss together. Scatter the wonton strips, fried bean thread noodles, chopped peanuts, and sesame seeds over the top.

Mozzarella-Chili and Fig-Prosciutto Crostini

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Crostini means “little toasts” in Italian, little slices of bread drizzled with olive oil and toasted in the oven until they become crispy. They’re the perfect little vessels for which to carry an infinite variation of delicious toppings, and my two favorite topping combinations are mozzarella-basil and fig-prosciutto.

The best thing about making crostini is that the rules are bendable and you can use your imagination to create whatever toppings suit your taste. Measurements aren’t as strict either and you can drizzle or sprinkle to your heart’s content. For me, the spicy mozzarella-basil crostini were a great contrast against the fig-prosciutto crostini, which I drizzled with balsamic vinegar for a sweet-sour kick.

Crostinis

Ingredients:

1 loaf ciabatta bread, sliced into 1/2-inch slices
1 clove garlic, peeled and sliced in half
6 ripe figs, each torn in half
12 slices prosciutto
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
salt and black pepper
3 medium-sized balls buffalo mozzarella, each torn into quarters
1 red chili, seeded and chopped
1 handful basil, julienned

1. Toast the slices of ciabatta in a heated oven for about ten minutes at 350 degrees. While the slices are still hot, rub them gently with the cut side of the garlic and drizzle with lightly drizzle with olive oil.

2. Set aside half of the crostini. With the first batch of crostini, place one or two fig halves on each crostini. Drape a piece of prosciutto over and under the figs on each of the crostini, and lightly drizzle with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Sprinkle with black pepper.

3. With the second half of the crostini, top slice with a piece of torn mozzarella. Sprinkle chopped chili over the mozzarella. Lightly season with salt and drizzle with olive oil. Top each of these crostini with the basil.

Zucchini ‘Pappardelle’ with Tomatoes and Feta

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Contrary to what the name suggests, this dish does not include any pasta. Instead, thin strips of zucchini are created with a mandoline and then lightly broiled to create translucent, pasta-like sheets. Mixed with tomatoes and feta cheese, result is a healthy melange of vegetables tossed in a light citric dressing. This recipe is adapted from an old issue of Food & Wine, one of my favorite food magazines.

If you don’t own a mandoline, a vegetable peeler will work well to create the thin slices of zucchini. Once out of the oven, handle the slices with care so that they don’t tear.

Zucchini 'Pappardelle' with Tomatoes and Feta

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
salt and pepper
4 1/2 pounds zucchini
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon chopped thyme
1/2 teaspoon chopped rosemary
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 tomatoes, chopped
6 ounces feta cheese, cut into small dice
3/4 cup pitted kalamata olives, chopped

1. Preheat the broiler. In a bowl, mix 2 tablespoons of the olive oil with the lemon juice, mustard, honey and lemon zest and season the dressing with salt and pepper.

2. Using a mandoline or vegetable peeler, slice the zucchini lengthwise into 1/8-inch-thick “pappardelle,” turning the zucchini and slicing on 4 sides only until the seeds in the central portion are reached.

3. In another bowl, combine the garlic with the thyme, rosemary, crushed red pepper and the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Spread the zucchini slices on a large rimmed baking sheet and brush them with the garlic and herb oil. Broil for about 3 minutes, or until the zucchini is browned on top.

4. Spread the tomatoes on another baking sheet and broil for about 1 minute, or until they are lightly browned on top.

5. Add the tomatoes, olives and feta to the zucchini and drizzle with the mustard dressing. Toss the vegetables well and transfer to plates or a platter.