Fish Cutlets

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The first time I tried fish cutlets I thought I’d accidentally set my mouth on fire. I hadn’t yet acclimated to Sri Lankan levels of spiciness (read: extremely spicy) and I was expecting cutlets similar to, you know, Iranian kotlet. The next thing I knew I was downing ice water in a futile attempt to revive my taste buds.

Fast forward a few years and I can pop these cutlets like no one’s business. They’re delicious, and lucky for you, dear reader, you can adjust the chile level according to your own preference. Fish cutlets are easy to make and are perfect as an appetizer. I like to serve them alongside Iranian yogurt with cucumbers and mint (mast-o-khiar) as a cooling dip.

Sri Lankan fish cutlets

Ingredients:

1 potato, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil plus additional for frying
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 inch piece ginger, minced
2 green chiles, chopped
1 sprig curry leaves
1 can tuna
1 teaspoon cayenne powder
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/2 tablespoon ground fennel
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
salt to taste
1 lime, juiced
1 egg, beaten
2 cups breadcrumbs

1. Boil potato in water until soft, about 10 minutes. Drain.

2. Heat two tablespoons oil in a pan. Saute onions until translucent. Add garlic, ginger, green chiles, and curry leaves and saute for 5 minutes, until lightly browned.

3. Add tuna, potatoes, cayenne pepper, coriander, cumin, fennel, turmeric, black pepper, and salt. Mash potato with the back of a wooden spoon while tossing ingredients in pan. Add lime juice, saute for 3 minutes, and set aside to cool.

4. Using your hands, form filling into 2 inch-size balls. Beat egg in a bowl and dip balls into mixture. Spread out breadcrumbs in a shallow bowl and coat cutlets with breadcrumbs.

5. Heat oil in a deep pan to 350 degrees. Oil should be deep enough to shallow fry the cutlets. Fry cutlets until golden brown, turning occasionally to evenly brown. Remove cutlets with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Serve warm or room temperature.

Chilled Mussels with Saffron Aioli

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I’ve been hanging on to the same precious tin of Iranian saffron since 2013. I bought it at Jean-Talon Market in Montreal, where sanctions aren’t as restrictive and food imports from Iran are attainable. I know we Iranians like to lay claim to nearly everything under the sun, but it’s true that our saffron is among the best in the world. I dipped into this precious stash for this easy, elegant mussel appetizer.

This recipe makes more aioli than you’ll need, but you can use the leftovers as a sandwich spread, or simply make an extra batch of mussels.

Chilled mussels with saffron aioli

2 1/2 pounds mussels
1 cup white wine
1/2 onion, chopped
1 generous pinch saffron threads
1 garlic clove, chopped
1/3 cup drained jarred roasted red pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Zest of 1/2 lemon
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

1. Scrub mussels, cleaning shells, and discard any mussels that aren’t tightly closed. In a large pot bring wine and onion to a boil over high heat. Add mussels; cook, covered, until they open, about 2 to 3 minutes. Uncover and let stand until cool enough to handle. Discard any closed mussels.

2. Separate mussels from shells Set each mussel on a reserved half-shell and place on a baking sheet. Cover and chill.

3. Grind saffron in a mortar and pestle and set aside.

4. In a blender, blend garlic, roasted pepper, saffron, cayenne, and lemon zest and juice until smooth. Add mayonnaise and blend. Scrape into a bowl.

5. Set mussels on a serving platter. Dollop aioli on each mussel and top with a parsley leaf.

Black Pepper Crab

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Dungeness crab is a Bay Area holiday tradition, and for my family, that means every year I make saucy, spicy, and deliciously messy Singaporean chili crab. Crab season should have begun a month ago in the Bay Area, but this year, our Dungeness crab are munching on neurotoxins and are off limits. If I were to be getting my hands on some crab, though, I’d be cooking this black pepper crab. It’s also Singaporean and has become my other go-to crab dish during Bay Area crab season. This one is deep-fried in the shell and it’s also saucy, spicy, and deliciously messy.

Honestly, I have a hard time choosing my favorite between the two. All I know is that both renditions elicit smiles on everyone’s face.

Black pepper crab

Ingredients:

1 Dungeness crab
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
cooking oil for deep-frying
cornstarch for dusting
1 tablespoon butter
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 slices ginger, each quarter sized, minced
2 red jalapeno chiles, seeded and minced
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 green onion, minced

1. In a pot of boiling water, parboil crab for 2 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. Remove and discard the gills and spongy parts under the shell. Twist off the claws and legs and crack them open with a mallet. Cut body into 4 pieces.

2. In a small bowl, combine oyster sauce, soy sauce, and sugar.

3. In a wok, heat oil for shallow deep frying to 365 degrees. Dust crab pieces with cornstarch. Deep-fry crab until shells change color and cornstarch crust is slightly golden, about 3 minutes. Lift out crab and drain. Remove all but 1 tablespoon of oil from wok.

4. Add butter to oil in wok and place over medium heat. Add garlic, ginger, and chiles. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add pepper and oyster sauce mixture; mix well. Add crab and stir to coat. Simmer over low heat until crab is cooked, 6 to 7 minutes. (If crab was already cooked through when deep-fried, then crab needs to simmer for only 4 minutes.)

5. Arrange crab and sauce on a serving platter and garnish with green onion.

Linguine with Squid and Shellfish

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There is a little restaurant in an alleyway in Trastavere, Rome’s bohemian neighborhood near the Tiber River. My sister and I spent a week here a few years ago during a cold, frigid spell in December. The weather meant that the quintessential Roman markets filled with fresh produce were sparse. No tomatoes, no artichokes, no squash blossoms waiting to be turned into something delicious.

But oh, the pasta. December is just as fine a time for pasta as any other, and I had one of my favorite renditions in Trastavere. The name of the restaurant escapes me now, but the pasta hasn’t. Brimming with seafood and flecked with chilis, I’ve recreated this dish at home. This version calls for pickled hot cherry peppers, but if you can get your hands on some oil packed Calabrian chiles, all the better.

Linguine with squid and shellfish

Ingredients:

1/4 cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
salt
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/2 pound cleaned small squid, bodies cut into 1/4-inch rings
1 pound linguine pasta
2 pounds clams, scrubbed
2 pounds mussels, scrubbed
1/2 pound bay scallops
4 pickled hot cherry peppers, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon lemon juice

1. In a larger saucepan, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic and cook over low heat, stirring, until it just starts to brown, 2 minutes. Add 1 cup of the parsley, the crushed red pepper and a pinch of salt and cook until fragrant. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Stir in the squid, cover and braise over low heat, stirring, until tender, 30 minutes.

2. In a large saucepan of salted boiling water, cook the pasta until al dente; drain.

3. While the pasta cooks, add the clams, mussels and scallops to the squid. Cover and cook over high heat until the clams and mussels just start to open, 3 minutes. Uncover and cook until the clams and mussels open fully and the broth is slightly reduced, 4 minutes. Add the pasta, pickled peppers, lemon juice and the remaining 1/4 cup of parsley and cook over moderate heat, tossing, until the pasta is hot and coated in a light sauce, 3 minutes. Transfer the pasta to shallow bowls and serve warm.

Seafood and Garlic Chive Lo Mein

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I work near San Francisco’s Chinatown and every day is an uphill (literally and figuratively) battle to resist the delicious noodle dishes beckoning at every corner. My favorite are the bustling Hong Kong-style shops that line Chinatown’s alleyways, serving chewy egg noodles tossed with fresh vegetables and seafood.

This dish is an homage to those restaurants that I adore so much. It’s worth it to seek out garlic chives as they impart a uniquely herbaceous flavor, although a combination of regular chives and minced garlic can be substituted. I use scallops and squid here, but any shellfish will work just fine.

Seafood and garlic chive lo mein

Ingredients:

1 pound fresh thin Chinese egg noodles
3 teaspoons sesame oil
6 squid (about 4 ounces), cleaned
3/4 pound sea scallops, halved
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon oyster-flavored sauce
4 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1/2 pound yellow garlic chives, cut into 2-inch lengths
4 green onions, cut into 2-inch lengths

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add noodles and cook according to package directions. Drain, rinse with cold water, and drain again. Add 2 teaspoons sesame oil and toss to coat.

2. Cut off squid tentacles. Cut squid bodies in half lengthwise with a knife and score the inside diagonally in a cross-hatch pattern. Combine squid tentacles and bodies, scallops, cornstarch, and salt in a bowl. Stir to coat; let stand for 10 minutes. Combine chicken broth, soy sauce, oyster-flavored sauce, and remaining teaspoon sesame oil in another bowl to form sauce.

3. Soak dried mushrooms in warm water to cover until softened, about 20 minutes; drain. Discard stems and thinly slice caps.

4 Place a wok over medium-high heat until hot. Add vegetable oil, swirling to coat sides. Add mushrooms, ginger, garlic chives, and green onions; stir-fry for 3 minutes. Add scallops and squid; stir-fry for 3 minutes. Add sauce, stirring, until it boils and thickens. Toss in noodles, mix well, remove from heat, and serve.