Lahmajoun (Armenian and Turkish Meat Flatbreads)

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Turn on the news these days and all you’ll hear of Turkey and the neighboring region are stories of violence and chaos. But I know a very different Turkey, one bursting at the seams with friendly faces, proud and cosmopolitan Istanbulus, and most memorably, delicious scents wafting from what seemed like every storefront.

Nearly nine years ago, I visited Istanbul. The city is dotted with vendors selling fried fish sandwiches, molasses-dipped and sesame-crusted bread, stuffed mussels, and of course, lahmajoun. Lahmajoun is like pizza’s long-lost Middle Eastern cousin. Oven-baked flatbread is topped with meat, tomatoes, and an array of spices to create a dish beloved in Armenian and Turkish communities around the world.

Traditionally, the flatbread is handmade, but this version substitutes pita bread for an easy-to-make weeknight version. The results are just as delicious. I love to serve this with pickled vegetables and thick yogurt dusted with Iranian-style dried mint. One bite and I’m transported back to Istanbul’s Spice Bazaar in Eminonu. I yearn to visit Istanbul again, and until then, I have lahmajoun.

Lahmajoun

Ingredients:

4 pita breads
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 yellow onion, grated
1/2 red bell pepper, minced
2 teaspoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons chopped pistachios
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon allspice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Arrange the pita breads on a foil–lined baking sheet.

2. In a large bowl, combine the ground beef, onion, bell pepper, tomato paste, pistachios, parsley, cumin, oregano, allspice, garlic and salt. Spread the meat mixture on the pitas in an even layer. Bake for about 8 minutes, until the meat is browned in spots and cooked through. Serve warm.

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.

Chicken and Cashew Dumplings

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Nuts? In a dumpling? With meat? It may sound unconventional, but this combination works wonderfully. I’m always on the hunt for new types of dumplings and this one adds a wonderful crunch and depth of flavor to the chicken filling. Cooked in the style of gyoza, their dumpling skins become crispy and wonderfully chewy as they cook.

These are a little time consuming to make, but you can make a batch ahead of time and freeze them for later, for when you’re ready to cook them. These hearty dumplings go perfectly with a simple dipping sauce of vinegar, ginger, and soy sauce.

Chicken and cashew dumplings

Ingredients:

3/4 pound ground chicken
3 dried shiitake mushrooms
1/2 cup chopped water chestnuts
1/2 cup sliced green onions
1/2 cup chopped salted cashews
1 1/2 tablespoons minced ginger
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 teaspoons Chinese rice wine
1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 egg, lighly whisked
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 package round dumpling wrappers
3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1. In a bowl, cover the mushrooms with hot water and let stand for 15 minutes. Drain and finely chop.

2. In another bowl, combine the chicken with the mushrooms, water chestnuts, green onions, cashews, ginger, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, rice wine, chili garlic sauce, sesame oil, egg, and cornstarch. Mix well.

3. Lay a dumpling wrapper flat. Using your finger, brush the outer edge with water. Spoon 1 teaspoon of filling in the center. Fold the wrapper over the filling to form a half-moon and fold pleats, pressing with your fingers to adhere until you have a sealed and pleated half-moon. Repeat with the rest of the wrappers and filling.

4. Pour vegetable oil into a large nonstick skillet to cover the bottom. Arrange the dumplings in the skillet with the non-pleated side down. Cook over medium heat until golden on the bottom, about 3 minutes.

5. Pour in enough water to cover the bottom of the dumplings, about 1/3 cup. Cover and cook until most of the water is absorbed and the filling is cooked through, about 10 minutes. Uncover and cook until all of the water has evaporated and the dumplings are crispy on the bottom, about 2 minutes longer. Transfer to a serving plate and serve warm.

Dry Fried Glass Noodles with Chiles

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I’ve been on a spicy kick lately. Does it have chiles? Copious amounts of chiles? Yes? Will my tongue tingle and will my mouth go numb? Sign me up then.

This Sichuan-influenced dish of glass noodles quickly dry-fried with spices and ground meat is fiery thanks to a healthy dose of chili bean paste and dried chiles. It’s a flexible recipe, so feel free to leave out the meat for a vegetarian version or add vegetables galore to up the health factor. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that this dish is spicy. Pass the water, please.

Dry fried glass noodles

Ingredients:

6 ounces dried bean thread noodles
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
3 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons cornstarch
6 ounces ground turkey or chicken
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon minced ginger
1 tablespoon chili bean paste (tobanjan)
5 dried red chiles
1 green onion, sliced
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil

1. Pour enough warm water over the noodles in a large bowl to cover completely. Soak until softened, about 15 minutes. Drain and cut the noodles in half.

2. Combine the rice vinegar, 2 teaspoons of the soy sauce, and cornstarch in a bowl and mix well. Add the meat and stir to coat evenly. Let stand for 10 minutes.

3. Place a wok over high heat until hot. Add the oil, then add the garlic, ginger, chili bean paste, and dried chiles and stir-fry for about 30 seconds. Add the meat and stir-fry until it is lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Add the remaining teaspoon of soy sauce, noodles and cook, stir-frying until well-mixed, about 3 minutes. Stir in the green onion and sesame oil. Transfer to a serving plate and serve.