Spicy Pickled Okra

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It’s dead in the middle of winter and there are no fresh okra at the market these days. Or so I thought. They’re around, albeit pricier than usual, and who knows where they came from, but I found them at the store last week and this recipe immediately came to mind. If you know me, you know I love pickles and I love okra too, so this condiment-slash-side dish is just perfect.

These are probably better pickled during the summer months, when okra are actually in season, but making these garlicy spears now is fine if you’re craving a taste of summer. Just make sure to use fresh, not frozen okra. They’re excellent alongside sandwiches or as a cocktail garnish. Oh, and straight out of the jar works too.

Spicy Pickled Okra

Ingredients:

1 1/2 pounds okra
4 garlic cloves
2 cups cider vinegar
1 3/4 cups water
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 1/2 tablespoons mustard seeds
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1. Divide okra and garlic evenly among 2 (2-pint) jars.

2. Combine vinegar and remaining ingredients in a saucepan; bring to a boil. Cook 1 minute or until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat; let stand 5 minutes. Carefully pour vinegar mixture into jars, leaving about 1/4 inch at top. Seal jars; refrigerate at least 3 days and up to 1 month before serving.

Kimchi Salad

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Please don’t judge me, but this is a shortcut salad, meaning that it utilizes pre-made ingredients. That’s how it was taught to me though, and I’ve found that there are no whole ingredients that produce the same flavor in the final product. I first tried this kimchi salad at a Guamanian party, and I was hooked. Spicy, salty, sour and a little bit sweet, this salad incorporates all of my favorite flavors.

A little research revealed that this salad first became popular in Guam in the 1990s, as Guam’s Japanese and Korean communities introduced little bottles of kimchi base into the local cuisine. This salad is really easy to make but it needs a few hours to sit and let the flavors develop. Make sure its covered tightly as it develops a strong aroma.

Kimchi Salad

Ingredients:

2 Japanese or Persian cucumbers, thinly sliced into 2-inch matchsticks
1 large mango, thinly sliced into 2-inch matchsticks
1 6-inch piece of daikon radish, thinly sliced into 2-inch matchsticks
1/2 jar of kimchi concentrated base (about 1/3 cup)
1/3 cup rice vinegar

1. Add all the ingredients to a large glass or ceramic bowl and mix well. Cover tightly and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.

Tofu Pad Thai

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I’ve struggled with homemade pad Thai. After trying to recreate it at home several times over the years, I sort of gave up and assumed I’d never be able to cook restaurant-style pad Thai at home.

That is, until I tried this recipe, adapted from the now-defunct Gourmet magazine. I didn’t have high hopes – after all, where was the shrimp? But despite the lack of meat, this rendition is full of flavor, texture, and best of all, it actually tastes like classic pad Thai.

Tamarind is essential to this dish so I don’t recommend substituting with similar flavors. And don’t be put off by the large volume of shallots – the first time I made this dish I only wished I’d fried up more crispy slices.

Tofu Pad Thai

Ingredients:

12 ounces dried flat rice noodles (1/4 inch wide)
3 tablespoons tamarind (from a pliable block)
1 cup boiling-hot water
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons chili garlic sauce
1 bunch green onions
4 shallots
1 16-ounce package firm tofu
1 cup vegetable oil
6 eggs
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 cups bean sprouts
1/2 cup roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped

1. Soak noodles in a large bowl of warm water until softened, 20 minutes. Drain in a colander and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, make sauce by soaking tamarind pulp in boiling-hot water in a small bowl, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Force mixture through a sieve into a bowl, discarding seeds and fibers. Add soy sauce, brown sugar, and chili garlic sauce, stirring until sugar has dissolved.

3. Cut green onions into 2-inch pieces. Cut shallots crosswise into very thin slices. Rinse tofu, then cut into 1-inch cubes and pat dry.

4. Heat oil in wok over medium heat until hot, then fry half of shallots over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until golden-brown, 8 to 12 minutes. Strain mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Reserve shallot oil and spread fried shallots on paper towels. (Shallots will crisp as they cool.) Wipe wok clean.

5. Reheat shallot oil in wok over high heat until hot. Fry tofu in 1 layer, gently turning occasionally, until golden, 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer tofu to paper towels using a slotted spoon. Pour off frying oil and reserve.

6. Lightly beat eggs with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Heat 2 tablespoons shallot oil in wok over high heat until it shimmers. Add eggs and swirl to coat side of wok, then cook, stirring gently with a spatula, until cooked through. Break into chunks with spatula and transfer to a plate.

7. Heat wok over high heat, pour in 4 tablespoons shallot oil, then swirl to coat side of wok. Stir-fry scallions, garlic, and remaining uncooked shallots until softened, about 1 minute.

8. Add noodles and stir-fry over medium heat for 3 minutes. Add tofu, bean sprouts, and 1 1/2 cups sauce and simmer, turning noodles over to absorb sauce evenly, until noodles are tender, about 3 minutes.

9. Stir in additional sauce if desired, then stir in eggs and transfer to a large shallow serving dish. Sprinkle pad Thai with peanuts and fried shallots and serve.

Sunomono Salad

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“Sunomono” translates loosely as “vinegared things” in Japanese, and over the years I’ve tried a number of recipes to recreate restaurant-style cucumber sunomono at home. After several renditions, I’ve finally come up with my favorite version, which includes the addition of radish sprouts (not pictured but adds a really nice layer of texture and subtle flavor).

I’ve been making this salad a lot lately as the weather is finally warming up in the Bay Area, and we’re enjoying our “summer” as fall approaches.

Sunomono Salad

Ingredients:

2 ounces dried wakame seaweed, soaked in cold water for 5 minutes
2 Japanese or Persian cucumbers, thinly sliced
1 bunch radish sprouts, cut in half
4 tablespoons rice vinegar
4 tablespoons dashi broth
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon mirin

1. Lightly squeeze excess water from the wakame and roughly cut into bite-size pieces.

2. Mix the rice vinegar, dashi, soy sauce, and mirin in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer to evaporate the alcohol and sharpness of the vinegar. Immediately remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

3. Arrange the wakame in a serving bowl and garnish with the cucumber and daikon sprouts. Pour dressing over and serve.

Greek Salad

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Greek salad is so basic that I almost decided not to write about it. There are enough variations on this classic salad though that it warrants a post, and this one is my version.

I like my salads acidic, so I’ve upped the lemon content, and thrown in a few extra pepperoncinis and capers for good measure. Although I question the Greek authenticity of this salad, it’s become one of my favorites.

Greek Salad

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice (preferably from Meyer lemons)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
salt and pepper
2 tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 cucumber, peeled, halved and cut into 1/2-inch dice
12 Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
6 pepperoncini, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons drained capers
1 cup crumbled feta cheese

1. In a large serving bowl, whisk the olive oil with the oregano and lemon juice; season with salt and pepper.

2. Add the tomatoes, red onion, cucumber, olives, pepperoncini, capers and feta and toss.