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.

Pommes Sautees au Lard

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To be fair, there was no lard used in the making of this dish. I used turkey bacon instead. Please don’t judge me; the end product was still a garlicy plate of fried potato goodness.

Adapted from Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook, this wintery dish is a snap to create and makes a great side. The original recipe uses slab bacon but if you’re cutting down on the fat, use a mixture of turkey bacon and butter, as I did.

Pommes sautees au lard

Ingredients:

4 slices turkey bacon, chopped into a 1/4-inch dice
2 tablespoons butter
2 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, cut in half, then chopped into 1/4-inch thick slices
1 garlic clove, minced
4 sprigs of flat parsley, chopped
salt and pepper

1. Heat a saute pan over medium heat and add the butter until melted. Add the bacon and cook until the fat is rendered and the meat is crispy, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2. Add the potatoes and cook for 15 minutes, stirring and tossing frequently. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes, then season with parsley, salt, and pepper. Serve warm.

Kashk-e Bademjaan (Iranian Eggplant Dip)

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Note: This entry also appeared at my friend Sherisa de Groot’s blog, L’élephant Rose. L’élephant Rose is a collection of jewelry designed by Sherisa, based in Amsterdam. It’s also the name of her blog about design, music, green living, food, and fashion.

It’s eggplant season! Eggplant is ubiquitous in Iranian cuisine, and luckily for me, it’s in season in the Bay Area right now. I’ve been buying pounds and pounds of it to cook kashk-e bademjaan. A favorite at Persian gatherings, this dip is garlicy, minty, and slightly piquant, thanks to kashk, a thick condiment similar to whey that’s used in Persian cooking. Served with naan or a similar flatbread, kashk-e bademjaan is the perfect way to make use of the eggplant bounty.

This recipe is adapted from two sources: my mom’s guidance over the phone as I hurriedly cooked this the first time for a dinner party, and Najmieh Batmanglij’s definitive English-language cookbook on Iranian cuisine: Food of Life. (Sidenote: Batmanglij’s son, Rostam, is a member of Vampire Weekend and Discovery. Guess what I listen to when I’m cooking from Najmieh’s cookbook?)

Kashk-e bademjaan

Ingredients:

2 medium eggplants
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup liquid whey (kashk)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

For the garnish:
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons dried mint
2 tablespoons liquid whey (kashk)
1/4 teaspoon ground saffron, dissolved in 1 tablespoon hot water

1. Peel eggplants and cut into 4 slices lengthwise. Place in a colander and sprinkle with 2 teaspoons salt to remove bitterness and excess moisture. Let stand for 30 minutes, then pat dry.

2. Brown the eggplants in a non-stick skillet with 1/4 cup of oil. Add onions and garlic and brown for an additional two minutes, adding another tablespoon of oil if needed. Add 1 cup of water, cover, and cook over medium heat for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and mash in a food processor. Add 1/2 cup of whey, salt, and pepper, and mix well.

3. Just before serving, saute minced garlic in remaining 2 tablespoons oil at low heat, until golden. Remove skillet from heat, add dried mint, and mix well.

4. Place the eggplant in a serving bowl and garnish with 2 tablespoons whey, the garlic and mint mixture, and a few drops of saffron water. Serve with flatbread and fresh herbs.

Chicken Parmigiana

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Every once in a while, I stumble upon a recipe that’s so good I end up making it time and time again. Chicken parmigiana may not be the fanciest dish, it may not be the most revolutionary, but it’s one of my favorite things to cook — and it’s one of my most requested.

The beauty of this dish is in its versatility: veal, or even fried slices of eggplant can be substituted for the chicken, and it can be served by itself, or alongside pasta or focaccia bread. My favorite pairing is spaghettini that’s been tossed with toasted garlic, red pepper flakes, chopped parsley, and a bit of grated Parmesan cheese.

Chicken Parmigiana

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 cans (28 ounces each) peeled whole tomatoes, pureed in a food processor
1/2 teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sugar
salt and pepper
1/4 cup fresh basil, leaves torn
1/2 tablespoon dried oregano, crumbled
2 cups plain fresh breadcrumbs
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 pound chicken cutlets, pounded to an 1/8-inch thickness
1/4 cup vegetable oil, plus more if needed
1 1/4 cups coarsely grated mozzarella cheese

1. Prepare the marinara sauce: Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Cook onion and garlic until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, red-pepper flakes, 1 teaspoon salt, and some pepper. Simmer, covered, until thick, 25 minutes. Add sugar and vinegar, and simmer 2 more minutes. Stir in herbs and remove from heat. Set aside sauce.

2. Bread and fry the chicken: Combine breadcrumbs, half of the Parmesan cheese, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and some pepper. Put flour, eggs, and breadcrumb mixture in 3 separate dishes. Dredge chicken cutlets in flour, shaking off excess. Dip in egg, letting excess drip off. Dredge in breadcrumbs to coat.

3. Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, fry cutlets until golden, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined baking sheet.

4. Assemble the dish: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spread 3/4 cup marinara sauce in the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Arrange a single layer of cutlets on top. Top with 1 cup sauce, covering each piece. Sprinkle with mozzarella and remaining Parmesan cheese. Cover with foil. Bake until bubbling, about 10 minutes. Uncover; bake until cheese melts, about 2 minutes more.

Okonomiyaki

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The first time I tried okonomiyaki, I had just moved in with my new roommates for college, two of whom were from Japan: Sanae from Tokyo and Sanae from Osaka. Throughout the year, I was fortunate to learn to cook all kinds of regional dishes with them, many of which can be hard to find in restaurants.

Okonomiyaki was the first homestyle Japanese dish that they taught me, and to this day, it remains one of my favorites. Loosely translated as “as you like it,” okonomiyaki is a savory pancake consisting of varying filling ingredients but the flour, egg, cabbage, and dashi base remain consistent.

Okonomiyaki, part one

My version of okonomiyaki is pretty standard, albeit without the mountain yam that can be so hard to track down. When I was in Japan two years ago, I tried a delicious rendition in Kyoto that had a fried noodle base, as well as another version with melted cheese and dried anchovies, so the possibilities are endless. The ingredient list might be daunting, but it’s worth the search – and oh, don’t forget the giant octopus tentacle.

Okonomiyaki, part two

Ingredients:

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup dashi stock
1 egg
1 cup cabbage, shredded
2 green onions, thinly sliced
benishoga red pickled ginger, chopped (not to be confused with gari pickled ginger, which is commonly served alongside sushi)
3 inches cooked octopus, finely chopped
1 handful dried bonito flakes
1/2 teaspoon dried nori flakes
okonomi sauce (available in Japanese and well-stocked Asian grocers)
Japanese-style mayonnaise (I recommend Kewpie brand)
vegetable oil

1. Place the flour and dashi stock in a bowl, and mix well. Add the cabbage, onion, benishoga ginger, octopus, and egg to the bowl, and mix well.

2. Heat a nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat and add one tablespoon vegetable oil. Pour 1/3 cup of the batter mixture into the pan, and sprinkle a few dried bonito flakes on top. Cook for about 3 minutes.

3. Carefully flip the pancake over, and cook for about 4 minutes. Reverse again, and cook for another 4 minutes. Transfer the pancake to a serving plate.

4. Spread okonomi sauce and mayonnaise on top of the pancake, and sprinkle with dried nori and bonito flakes.

5. Repeat steps 2 to 4 until batter is finished.