Dry-Fried Mongolian Beef

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I’m going to tell you a story about Mongolian beef: ever since I was ten years old, my family has been going to a Chinese restaurant in Sonoma County that makes the greatest Mongolian beef I’ve ever tasted. Scratch that, it’s one of the best dishes I’ve ever tasted. For over twenty years, it’s ranked among my top three favorite dishes of all time. Naturally, I’ve tried to guess the recipe for this Mongolian beef in an effort to replicate the results at home.

I’ve tried. And I’ve tried. And then I’ve tried at home. I’ve probably attempted fifteen different versions. I just can’t get it right. This version, adapted from an old Martin Yan recipe, is almost right. The original recipe employs lamb but beef works just as well. Curiously enough, this version includes leeks. Don’t omit them, as they’re key in building up a sweet onion flavor.

More than twenty years later, I still haven’t gotten that nostalgic dish 100% right, but until I do, this is the next best thing.

Mongolian lamb

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 pound boneless sirloin beef, thinly sliced across the grain
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
12 dried red chiles
2 small leeks, cleaned, sliced into 3-inch long pieces and sliced lengthwise into long, thin shreds
1/2 white onion, thinly sliced
3 green onions, cut into 2-inch pieces

1. To make the marinade, combine 2 tablespoons soy sauce, rice wine, and cornstarch in a bowl and mix well. Add the beef and stir to coat evenly. Let marinade for at least 20 minutes.

2. To make the sauce, combine the hoisin sauce, rice vinegar, and remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce in a bowl and mix well.

3. Place a wok over high heat until hot. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil, swirling to coat the sides. Add the beef and stir-fry until no longer pink, about 3 minutes. Remove the meat to a plate and set aside.

4. Return the wok to high heat and add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Add the garlic and chiles and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 10 seconds. Add the leeks and onion and stir-fry until the leeks are wilted, about 1 minute. Return the meat to a pan. Add the sauce and toss to coat. Transfer to a serving plate and serve warm.

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, ¼ 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.

Korean-Style Mixed Green Salad

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This isn’t a green salad, per se. This recipe came about one evening when I had an abundance of Persian cucumbers and not being quite sure what to do with them, I turned to Maangchi, my favorite Korean food blog. Gutjuli, or mixed green salad, is typically leafy, but I adapted it to be heavy on the cucumbers and light on the leaves. Either way, this dressing packs a punch and works well with nearly any fresh salad vegetable.

Korean mixed green salad

Ingredients:

2 cups mixed lettuce greens
3 Persian cucumbers
1 green onion
1/2 clove garlic
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon gochugaru (hot pepper flakes)
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds
1 tablespoon sesame oil

1. Slice cucumbers thinly and add to a large bowl along with the lettuce. Thinly slice the green onion and add it to the bowl.

2. Prepare the dressing by whisking together soy sauce, gochugaru, sugar, sesame seeds, and sesame oil. Mix the vegetables with the dressing and serve.

Ziti with Homemade Vodka Sauce

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Several years ago, Trader Joe’s carried a brand of vodka sauce that was just about the best thing I’ve ever tasted. It got me through many, many late-night university study sessions, and facilitated the consumption of way too much pasta over the course of my higher education.

This recipe is the grown-up version of that pasta. Vodka, cream, cheese, and tomatoes come together to form a decadent sauce that’s better than the one I used to buy. Best of all, it takes less time to cook this than it does to go to the grocery store.

Ziti with homemade vodka sauce

Ingredients:

6 slices pancetta, 1/8 inch thick
1/2 yellow onion, quartered
6 cups canned plum tomatoes, pureed
pinch of hot red pepper flakes
1/2 cup vodka
1 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper
1 pound ziti
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. In a food processor, finely mince pancetta and onion together. Transfer to a saute pan and cook over medium heat until golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes.

2. Add pureed tomatoes and red pepper flakes and simmer on low, partially covered, for 30 minutes. Add vodka and cook 10 more minutes. Slowly add heavy cream and bring back to a simmer.

3. In a large pot, bring salted water to a boil and cook ziti until al dente. Drain, reserving one cup cooking water. Add ziti to sauce and cook over high heat 2 to 3 minutes, adding a little water if needed. Adjust for salt and pepper and serve with Parmesan cheese.

Crab Rangoon

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I’m not even going to pretend like these have any semblance of authenticity to them. Say “crab rangoon” and all I can think of is a 1980s Chinese take-out menu in Anytown, USA. But crab rangoon are also delicious. Cheesy, seafoody, and deep-fried: what’s not to love?

I serve these with a sweet chili dipping sauce but a soy-vinegar sauce would also do well and cut through these crab puffs’ richness.

Crab Rangoon

Ingredients:

8 ounces cream cheese
2 tablespoons minced ginger
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/4 cup chopped green onions
8 ounces shelled crab
1 egg
About 40 square wonton wrappers
Vegetable oil for frying
Soy sauce mixed with rice vinegar and chili oil, and sweet chili sauce

1. Whirl cream cheese, ginger, garlic, and soy sauce together in a food processor until smooth. Transfer mixture to a medium bowl. Stir in green onions and crab.

2. Whisk together egg and 1 tablespoon water in a small dish. Lay wonton wrappers flat. Brush with egg wash, covering completely with a thin layer. Spoon a scant 1 tbsp. crab mixture onto center of each wonton. Pull up corners so all four meet in the center, pressing edges together to seal. Set on a rimmed baking sheet.

3. Fill a wide pot with 2 in. oil. Heat over medium heat to 350° on a deep-fry thermometer. Working in batches, fry rangoons, turning as needed, until golden brown, about 8 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer rangoons to a plate lined with paper towels. Let cool slightly before serving with dipping sauces.