Pan-fried Tofu with Spicy Seasoning

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I’m obsessed with banchan. You know, the beautiful and delicious array of side dishes that magically appear at Korean restaurants? One of my favorite banchans are these little bites of pan-fried tofu with a deceptively simple spicy sauce.

Golden brown on the outside and soft on the inside, these make for a super easy vegetarian appetizer. Best of all, they can be served room temperature.

Panfried tofu with spicy seasoning sauce

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon Korean hot pepper flakes (gochugaru)
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 pound medium or firm tofu
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon sesame seeds

1. Combine the soy sauce, green onions, sugar, gochugaru, sesame oil, and sesame seeds in a small bowl to make the sauce. Set aside.

2. Heat a large nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil. Add the tofu and pan-fry until the bottoms turn golden brown, about 8 minutes. Carefully flip the tofu with a spatula and drizzle the remaining tablespoon vegetable oil around the edges of the pan to spread evenly. Cook until the other side of the tofu is golden brown, about 6 to 8 minutes.

3. Transfer the tofu to a serving plate. Spoon the seasoning sauce on top and serve.

Hot and Sour Soup with Lemongrass

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I’ve amassed a lot of cookbooks over the years, but there’s one I return to time and time again. It’s my tattered, dog-eared copy of Martin Yan’s China. I grew up watching PBS’ roster of old school chefs, including Martin Yan. Naturally, the first cookbook I bought followed suit.

Hot and sour soup is one of the first things I learned to make from Yan’s cookbook. My version today bears little resemblance to the original recipe, but the nostalgia remains strong. It may not be authentic, but it has a piece of my heart forever.

Oh, also, this soup is delicious.

Hot and sour soup with lemongrass

Ingredients:

4 dried shiitake mushrooms
2 pieces dried wood ear mushrooms
1 package soft tofu
5 cups chicken broth
1 stalk lemongrass, bottom six inches only, crushed
2 slices ginger, crushed
1 small carrot, julienned
1/2 cup bamboo shoots, julienned
1/3 cup rice vinegar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce
2 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 1/4 cup water
1 egg, lightly beaten

1. Soak shiitake wood ear mushrooms in warm water until softened, about 15 minutes; drain. Thinly slice mushrooms. Cut tofu into 1/2-inch cubes.

2. Place broth in a large pot; bring to a boil. Add shiitake mushrooms, wood ear mushrooms, lemongrass, and ginger. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes. Discard lemongrass and ginger.

3. Add tofu, carrots, and bamboo shoots; cook for 2 minutes. Add vinegar, soy sauce, and chili garlic sauce; bring to a boil.

4. Add cornstarch solution and cook, stirring, until soup boils and very slightly thickens. Turn off heat. Add egg, stirring, until it forms long threads. Serve hot.

Sri Lankan Spiced Potatoes

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Crispy potatoes, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Actually, scratch that, let me just cook up a batch of these generously spiced potatoes, which are like potato hash on overdrive.

This classic Sri Lankan dish is spicy, oniony, flecked with umami-laden Maldive fish, and perfectly crisped at the edges. Letting the potatoes brown sufficiently is key to their success — there’s nothing like the combination of that crispy exterior and creamy interior. These potatoes reheat well, too. Not that there’ll be any left over.

Sri Lankan spiced potatoes

Ingredients:

2 large potatoes, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
2 sprigs curry leaves
3 dry red chiles, ground (1 to 2 teaspoons)
1 teaspoon Maldive fish
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
salt
1 tablespoon lime juice

1. Bring water to boil in a pot. Add potatoes and boil for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.

2. Heat oil in a pan. Saute onions and curry leaves until onions are translucent.

3. Add potatoes, chiles, Maldive fish, turmeric, and salt. Saute for several minutes, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are browned. Remove from heat and squeeze lime juice over before serving.

King Oyster Mushrooms with Broccoli

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And just like that, Thanksgiving is over. It’s time to atone for this year’s gluttony so I’m seeking out vegetables and greens in every meal this week. Mushrooms are in season and king oyster mushrooms in particular are my craving at the moment. King oyster mushrooms are readily available at Asian grocers and are worth seeking out for their meaty, velvety texture. Feel free to substitute with shiitake or even portobello mushrooms, if you prefer.

Tossed with crisp-tender broccoli, this side dish is autumn on a platter. Pumpkin spice flavored everything has nothing on this.

King oyster mushrooms and broccoli

Ingredients:

1/2 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon brown sugar
3 cups broccoli florets
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 quarter sized slices ginger, crushed
1 pound king oyster mushrooms, sliced
1 teaspoon cornstarch dissolved in 2 teaspoons water

1. Stir the chicken broth, water, oyster sauce, soy sauce, and brown sugar in a bowl to combine.

2. To prepare the broccoli, bring a medium pot filled with water to a boil over high heat. Add the broccoli and cook until bright green and tender-crisp, about 1 minute. Drain, rinse with cold water, and drain again.

3. Place a wok over high heat. Add the oil. Add the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 10 seconds. Add the mushrooms and stir-fry until they begin to slightly brown, about 3 minutes. Add the sauce and stir to coat. Cover and cook until the mushrooms are tender, about 7 minutes. Add the cornstarch mixture and cook, until the sauce boils and thickens slightly.

4. Arrange the broccoli in the center of a serving platter and arrange the mushrooms around it. Pour the sauce over the vegetables and serve.

Tofu Jelly

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Do you like aspic? Do you like gelatin? Do you enjoy smooth, gelatinous textures? Then you’ll love tofu jelly, my friends. And no, I’m not being sarcastic. I fiend for these textures, so when I made this chilled tofu concoction, I realized I’d hit the jackpot.

This savory and cooling dish is perfect as a snack or appetizer on a hot summer day and takes only about ten minutes to prepare. Even if you don’t crave jelly-like textures, give this a try. You might end up hooked, just like I did.

Tofu jelly

Ingredients:

1/2 block silken tofu, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1/2 red bell pepper (fresh or jarred), finely chopped
1 2/3 cups dashi stock
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon mirin
1 envelope unflavored powdered gelatin (2 1/4 to 2 1/2 teaspoons)

1. Over medium heat, bring the dashi broth to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the soy sauce, sugar, and mirin to the broth and remove from heat.

2. Put three tablespoons water and the powdered gelatin into a heat-resistant cup until soft. Place the cup in a microwave oven and heat for 30 seconds to dissolve the gelatin.

3. Add the peppers and the dissolved gelatin to the broth mixture and mix well.

4. Divide the tofu between six individual serving cups and pour the gelatin-broth mixture over each cup to cover. Chill in a refrigerator for at least three hours to cool until solidified. Serve chilled.