Simmered Swiss Chard in Dashi

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I’ve seen recipes for simmered spinach in dashi in innumerable Japanese cookbooks before, but it wasn’t until recently that I considered using Swiss chard in place of spinach. The results were delicious and I’ve since discovered that any mild leafy green goes well with this simple dashi-based sauce.

Dashi is a type of stock used in loads of Japanese dishes and is generally made by soaking and heating kelp seaweed in water, often with the addition of small dried sardines and dried bonito flakes. The whole thing is then strained and used to make soups, broths, and simmering liquids.

Simmered Swiss Chard in Dashi

Ingredients:

1 pound Swiss chard, spinach, or other leafy greens
salt
3 tablespoons dashi stock
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 handful bonito flakes

1. In a medium pot, bring salted water to a boil. Cook the greens briefly until crisp-tender, then drain in a mesh strainer. Rinse with cold water to stop cooking. Lightly squeeze excess water and cut the greens into 2-inch segments.

2. Arrange in tight bunches in serving bowls. Combine dashi and soy sauce, pour over the greens, and garnish with the bonito flakes.

Deep-Fried Tofu with Mushroom Sauce

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I’ve been on a tofu kick lately, and I can’t think of a better way to cook it than with mushrooms. Both are rich in protein and lend this dish a rich, meaty flavor despite having no meat at all.

This Japanese rendition, adapted from Izakaya: The Japanese Pub Cookbook, is wonderful on its own or with steamed rice.

Deep-fried tofu with mushroom sauce

1 block firm tofu, about 1 pound
4 tablespoons grated daikon radish
2 teaspoons grated ginger
1 green onion, sliced
2 mild peppers, such as Anaheim, pierced and deep-fried (optional)
1 cup dashi stock
3 tablespoons mirin
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 cup mixed mushrooms such as shiitake, enoki or shimeji
1 teaspoon cornstarch, dissolved in 1 teaspoon water

1. Wrap the tofu in two layers of paper towels and place in a flat-bottomed dish with sides. Place a light weight such as another flat dish on top, and leave about 30 minutes to drain excess moisture. Wipe any moisture from the surface of the tofu and slice horizontally. Slice each half into eight rectangular pieces. Set aside.

2. In a large frying pan, heat the oil to medium-high and carefully slip the tofu pieces into the oil. Deep-fry until golden brown, 3-4 minutes.

3. In a medium saucepan, combine the dashi, soy sauce, mirin, and mushrooms and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and pour in the cornstarch slurry to thicken the sauce. Remove from heat as soon as it comes to a boil.

4. Place the fried tofu pieces in a serving dish, ladle the sauce over, and top with the grated daikon and ginger. Garnish with the fried peppers and green onion.

Agedashi Tofu

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Most of the time when I dine out for sushi, I order an appetizer of agedashi tofu to start things off. It’s a simple Japanese dish of deep-fried silken tofu, and I love the textural contrast of the crispy outside and the piping hot, creamy tofu on the inside. The whole thing is served in dashi broth and topped with shredded daikon radish and green onions. Despite being deep-fried, the tofu absorbs very little oil, so I don’t feel bad about eating it.

I recently learned to make this dish at home when I was gifted Izakaya: The Japanese Pub Cookbook by a friend. I have a few Japanese cookbooks, but this has quickly become my favorite. I’ve already cooked this rendition of agedashi tofu several times.

Agedashi Tofu

Ingredients:

1 block silken tofu, about one pound
Potato starch for coating the tofu
Vegetable oil for deep-frying
3/4 cup dashi stock
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons mirin
1/2 cup lightly-packed dried bonito flakes (katsuo-bushi)
1 green onion, thinly sliced
1-inch daikon radish, peeled and shredded
1/8 teaspoon Japanese-style ground red chili pepper (ichimi togarashi)

1. Mix the shredded daikon with the chili pepper and set aside.

2. Bring mirin, soy sauce, and dashi to a gentle boil and turn off heat. Add bonito flakes and leave for 10 seconds, then strain through a mesh strainer. Set sauce aside.

3. In a heavy saucepan, heat 2 inches oil to medium-high heat.

4. Slice tofu horizontally into 2 pieces. If desired, slice each of these 2 pieces in half as well. Blot tofu dry and coat with potato starch. Fry the tofu until the surface is golden and crispy, about 5 minutes. Carefully transfer the tofu with a slotted spoon onto a paper-lined plate to drain excess oil.

5. Place tofu in a serving bowl and pour in the sauce. Garnish with the green onions and shredded daikon radish.

Chilled Vegetable and Bean Thread Noodle Stir-Fry

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Originally adapted from an old Martin Yan recipe for vegetarian rolls wrapped in Mandarin pancakes, this recipe has gone through several permutations over the years. The biggest change is that I added more noodles and got rid of the pancake/wrapper component.

This dish makes a healthy meal on its own and the vegetables can be replaced with whatever is season. Best of all, you can make it ahead of time since it can be served room temperature or chilled.

Beijing-style chilled vegetable stir-fry

Ingredients:

4 dried shiitake mushrooms
6 pieces dried cloud ear
8 ounces dried bean thread noodles
2 tablespoons cooking oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 cup thinly sliced cabbage
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 cups mung bean sprouts
2 eggs, lightly beaten with a dash of salt
2 tablespoons oyster flavored sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons sesame oil

1. Soak mushrooms and cloud ears in warm water to cover until softened, about 15 minutes; drain. Thinly slice mushrooms and cloud ears. Soak bean thread noodles in warm water to cover until softened, about 15 minutes; drain. Cut noodles into 8-inch lengths.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil on medium-high heat in a small frying pan. Pour in 1/3 of beaten eggs and swirl pan to cover entire bottom. Cook until egg is lightly browned on bottom and set on top, about 1 minute. Turn sheet over and cook 10 seconds; slide out of pan. Repeat to make 2 more egg sheets. When sheets are cool, cut in half, stack and slice crosswise into 1/8-inch shreds.

3. Place a wok over high heat until hot. Add remaining tablespoon cooking oil, swirling to coat sides. Add garlic and cook, stirring until fragrant, about 10 seconds. Add mushrooms, cloud ears, cabbage, and carrots; stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add bean thread noodles and broth; cook for 2 minutes.

3. Add mung bean sprouts, egg shreds, oyster flavored sauce, sugar, and sesame oil; cook until heated through. Remove to a serving bowl and serve room temperature or chilled.

Braised Mushrooms and Tofu

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This is one of the first Chinese dishes I learned to make. I was still a kid and had just picked up Martin Yan’s Culinary Journey Through China, and though I didn’t really care for tofu at the time, I wanted to acquire a taste for it. This is the dish that did it.

Browning the tofu long enough to create a crispiness on the outside and spongy texture on the inside is key, so don’t rush this stage of the recipe. If you do it right, the browned tofu absorbs the savory, salty black bean sauce perfectly.

Braised tofu and mushrooms

Ingredients:

1 package extra firm tofu
2/3 cup chicken broth
2 teaspoons black bean garlic sauce
2 teaspoons oyster flavored sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 green onion, sliced
1/2 pound white or cremini mushrooms, halved
1/4 pound oyster mushrooms, halved
6 shiitake mushrooms, halved
1 teaspoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water

1. Cut tofu in half horizontally to make 2 pieces. Slice each of these halves into six rectangular pieces to make a total of 12 slices of tofu.

2. Combine the chicken broth, black bean garlic sauce, oyster flavored sauce, sugar and sesame oil in a bowl to make the sauce.

3. Place a wok over high heat until hot. Add 1 tablespoon oil, swirling to coat sides. Add the tofu and cook, turning once, until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Remove tofu and set aside.

4. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, swirling to coat sides. Add the mushrooms and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the sauce, reduce heat to low, and cover, then simmer until the mushrooms are tender, about 5 minutes. Add the cornstarch solution and cook, stirring, until sauce boils and thickens.

5. To serve, arrange the tofu in a circle around the edge of a serving plate. Place the mushroom mixture in the center and garnish with green onions.