Fried Eggplant with Spiced Cashews and Yogurt

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This recipe doesn’t seem like it should work, but it does, and brilliantly at that. Part Chinese, part Middle Eastern, buttery eggplant comes together with a kick of five-spice, vinegar, and yogurt. It’s a bit of work, but totally worth the super unique result. I cribbed the original recipe from Bon Appetit and adapted it to taste.

Fried eggplant with spiced cashews and yogurt

Ingredients:

2 pounds Japanese eggplant (about 3)
salt
1/2 cup cashews
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
vegetable oil for frying
1 1/2 cups rice flour
1 cup full-fat Middle Eastern or Greek yogurt
Chopped green onions, for serving

1. Slice eggplant crosswise into 3-inch thick pieces. Cut pieces lengthwise into quarters. Toss eggplant in a large colander and sprinkle with salt. Let sit at room temperature 2 hours.

2. Pulse cashews in a food processor until you have some bigger bits and some finely ground sandy bits. Toss in a small bowl with cayenne, five-spice powder, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.

3. Evenly scatter sugar into a small saucepan; cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally with a heatproof rubber spatula to help it melt evenly, until melted and light amber. While stirring, gradually add vinegar; the caramel will sputter, but keep stirring until it smooths back out. Let cool to thicken.

4. Pour in oil to come 1 inch up sides of a medium saucepan and heat over medium-high.

5. While oil is heating, drain eggplants and pat dry. Dredge in rice flour in a large bowl, shaking off excess.

6 .Working in batches, fry eggplants, turning occasionally and adjusting heat as needed to maintain temperature, until cooked through and lightly golden, about 3 minutes per batch. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

7. Spread some yogurt on a serving platter and place eggplants over the top. Drizzle with black vinegar caramel, spiced cashews, and green onions.

Velvety Peppers with Vinegar and Sesame Oil

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This side dish is so simple and yet it’s a revelation. You’ve had Italian-style marinated red bell peppers, right? Well, think of these as the Chinese version. Adapted from Fuchsia Dunlop’s Land of Plenty, these peppers are velvety, piquant, and earthy at the same time. They keep well and dress up any meal. I love the texture on these.

Peppers with vinegar and sesame oil

Ingredients:

2 red bell peppers
2 teaspoons sugar
3 teaspoons rice vinegar
salt
2 teaspoons sesame oil

1. Cut the peppers in half and remove the seeds and stems. Steam them for a few minutes until cooked. Set peppers aside to cool.

2. In the meantime, dissolve the sugar in the vinegar in a small bowl. Add salt to taste.

3. Peel the skins from the peppers, then cut the eppers into strips and place in a serving bowl. Pour the vinegar mixture over the peppers and mix. Then add the sesame oil and mix again. Serve room temperature or cold.

Egg Flower Soup with Lemongrass and Mushrooms

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This isn’t a traditional egg flower soup recipe by any means. But I love egg flower soup in any permutation and have been making this easy version for years — decades, even! Lemongrass, tomato and nori seaweed are unexpected ingredients here, but trust me, it works. Sometimes, the sum is greater than the parts.

Egg flower soup with lemongrass and mushrooms

Ingredients:

4 cups chicken stock
2 stalks lemongrass, bottom 8 inches, lightly crushed
3 fresh shiitake mushrooms, caps thinly sliced
1 ounce enoki mushrooms, trimmed and separated
1/3 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/2 cup thinly sliced bamboo shoots
1 sheet nori, shredded
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 package soft tofu, cut into 2-inch-long x 1-inch long strips
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons cornstarch, dissolved in 3 tablespoons water
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon sesame oil

1. Bring the chicken stock and lemongrass to a boil in a large saucepan. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes.

2. Stir in the mushrooms, peas, bamboo shoots, salt, and pepper and bring to a boil. Add the tofu, tomatoes, and nori, stirring gently so the tofu does not break apart. Pour in the dissolved cornstarch and cook, stirring gently, until the soup returns to a boil and is slightly thickened.

3. Slowly pour in the beaten egg, stirring slowly but constantly to create “egg flowers.” Drizzle in the sesame oil and serve.

Korean Seaweed Salad

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Confession time: I’m eagerly awaiting the day that seaweed goes trendy in American food circles. Greek yogurt had its day. So has turmeric. It’s seaweed’s turn, y’all. I’m glad nori has gone mainstream. Now let’s make it happen for wakame, for mokuzu, for hijiki.

This easy to prepare and super healthy Korean salad makes good use of wakame, or miyeok as it’s known in Korean. It’s perfect alongside a meal of grilled meat and rice, or by itself, really.

Korean seaweed salad

Ingredients:

1 cup dried wakame (miyeok) seaweed, soaked in cold water for 20 minutes
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 tablespoon honey
1 garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons sesame seeds

1. Bring a saucepan of water to a boil. Blanch the drained soaked seaweed in the boiling water for 30 seconds. Drain in a colander and rinse with cold water. Drain again and set aside.

2. Combine the soy sauce, vinegar, honey, and garlic in a serving bowl and add the seaweed and mix well. Sprinkle with sesame seeds before serving and serve cold or at room temperature.

Artichoke and Spinach Filo Rolls

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This is the story of how misreading a recipe can lead to glorious results. Almost twenty years ago when I just learning how to cook, I mistook a recipe’s instructions to use puff pastry for filo dough. Frozen artichoke hearts became marinated artichokes. Shallots became onions. You get the picture. By the time all was said and done, this appetizer was the result. I had a totally different recipe on my hands. And you know what? It was delicious.

This recipe is endlessly adaptable but the spinach and the artichokes have stayed the same over the years. Oh, and nutty, melty Gruyere is key. It’s an impressive appetizer that’s easier to make than it looks. In this case, just make sure to read the recipe.

Artichoke and spinach filo rolls

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon butter
1/3 cup onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 bunch spinach, blanched, squeezed dry, and chopped
1 cup drained marinated artichoke hearts
1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
1 package puff pastry sheets, thawed
1 egg

1. Heat oven to 400F degrees. In a small skillet over medium heat, melt butter. Add onion and garlic and cook until tender, abut 4 minutes. Remove from pan and combine in a bowl with spinach and artichokes. Set aside to cool. Stir in Gruyere and Parmesan cheeses and season with salt and pepper to taste.

2. Unfold half of the puff pastry sheets (about 15 layers) in one stack on a flat surface. Top with vegetable-cheese mixture, leaving half-inch border. In a small bowl, combine egg and 1 tablespoon water. Starting at one end lengthwise, roll up pastry, jelly roll-style. Cut into 1-inch slices.

3. Lay slices flat 1 inch apart on baking sheets. Brush with egg mixture. Bake 15 minutes or until golden. Serve warm.