Sichuan Dry-Fried Green Beans

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I used to hate green beans. Growing up, I inexplicably dreaded the loobia polo that most kids loved: an Iranian rice pilaf of green beans, browned lamb, tomatoes, and spices. It wasn’t until recently when I tried Sichuan-style dry-fried green beans that I’ve come around to loving the legume. It was the spicy, garlicy flavor that made me change my green bean-hating ways, and now, I can’t get enough.

Long beans are traditionally used in this recipe, but green beans work as well. Feel free to omit the ground chicken as well for a vegetarian version. Last but not least, make sure your beans are completely dry before frying them — this will ensure a blistered texture.

Sichuan dry-fried long beans

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 pound ground chicken
1/4 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons chili garlic sauce or chili bean sauce
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
1 cup vegetable oil
3/4 pound green beans or long beans, ends trimmed and cut into 3-inch lengths

1. Marinate the chicken: stir 1 tablespoon of the soy sauce and cornstarch together in a medium bowl until the cornstarch is dissolved. Mix the chicken in the marinade until incorporated. Let stand for 10 minutes.

2. Prepare the sauce: stir the chicken stock, soy sauce, sugar, garlic, chili garlic sauce, and sesame oil together in a small bowl until the sugar is dissolved.

3 Pour the oil into a 2-quart saucepan and heat over medium-high heat. Carefully slip the green beans into the oil and cook, stirring continuously, until they are wrinkled, about 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the beans to paper towels to drain. Reserve the oil.

4. Heat a wok over high heat until hot. Pour in 2 teaspoons of the reserved oil and swirl to coat the sides. Slide the chicken into the wok and stir-fry until the meat is crumbly and changes color, about 2 minutes. Add the green beans and sauce and stir until heated through, 1 to 2 minutes. Scoop the contents of the wok onto a serving plate and serve warm.

Chicken Parmigiana

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Every once in a while, I stumble upon a recipe that’s so good I end up making it time and time again. Chicken parmigiana may not be the fanciest dish, it may not be the most revolutionary, but it’s one of my favorite things to cook — and it’s one of my most requested.

The beauty of this dish is in its versatility: veal, or even fried slices of eggplant can be substituted for the chicken, and it can be served by itself, or alongside pasta or focaccia bread. My favorite pairing is spaghettini that’s been tossed with toasted garlic, red pepper flakes, chopped parsley, and a bit of grated Parmesan cheese.

Chicken Parmigiana

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 cans (28 ounces each) peeled whole tomatoes, pureed in a food processor
1/2 teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sugar
salt and pepper
1/4 cup fresh basil, leaves torn
1/2 tablespoon dried oregano, crumbled
2 cups plain fresh breadcrumbs
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 pound chicken cutlets, pounded to an 1/8-inch thickness
1/4 cup vegetable oil, plus more if needed
1 1/4 cups coarsely grated mozzarella cheese

1. Prepare the marinara sauce: Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Cook onion and garlic until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, red-pepper flakes, 1 teaspoon salt, and some pepper. Simmer, covered, until thick, 25 minutes. Add sugar and vinegar, and simmer 2 more minutes. Stir in herbs and remove from heat. Set aside sauce.

2. Bread and fry the chicken: Combine breadcrumbs, half of the Parmesan cheese, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and some pepper. Put flour, eggs, and breadcrumb mixture in 3 separate dishes. Dredge chicken cutlets in flour, shaking off excess. Dip in egg, letting excess drip off. Dredge in breadcrumbs to coat.

3. Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, fry cutlets until golden, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined baking sheet.

4. Assemble the dish: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spread 3/4 cup marinara sauce in the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Arrange a single layer of cutlets on top. Top with 1 cup sauce, covering each piece. Sprinkle with mozzarella and remaining Parmesan cheese. Cover with foil. Bake until bubbling, about 10 minutes. Uncover; bake until cheese melts, about 2 minutes more.

Okonomiyaki

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The first time I tried okonomiyaki, I had just moved in with my new roommates for college, two of whom were from Japan: Sanae from Tokyo and Sanae from Osaka. Throughout the year, I was fortunate to learn to cook all kinds of regional dishes with them, many of which can be hard to find in restaurants.

Okonomiyaki was the first homestyle Japanese dish that they taught me, and to this day, it remains one of my favorites. Loosely translated as “as you like it,” okonomiyaki is a savory pancake consisting of varying filling ingredients but the flour, egg, cabbage, and dashi base remain consistent.

Okonomiyaki, part one

My version of okonomiyaki is pretty standard, albeit without the mountain yam that can be so hard to track down. When I was in Japan two years ago, I tried a delicious rendition in Kyoto that had a fried noodle base, as well as another version with melted cheese and dried anchovies, so the possibilities are endless. The ingredient list might be daunting, but it’s worth the search – and oh, don’t forget the giant octopus tentacle.

Okonomiyaki, part two

Ingredients:

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup dashi stock
1 egg
1 cup cabbage, shredded
2 green onions, thinly sliced
benishoga red pickled ginger, chopped (not to be confused with gari pickled ginger, which is commonly served alongside sushi)
3 inches cooked octopus, finely chopped
1 handful dried bonito flakes
1/2 teaspoon dried nori flakes
okonomi sauce (available in Japanese and well-stocked Asian grocers)
Japanese-style mayonnaise (I recommend Kewpie brand)
vegetable oil

1. Place the flour and dashi stock in a bowl, and mix well. Add the cabbage, onion, benishoga ginger, octopus, and egg to the bowl, and mix well.

2. Heat a nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat and add one tablespoon vegetable oil. Pour 1/3 cup of the batter mixture into the pan, and sprinkle a few dried bonito flakes on top. Cook for about 3 minutes.

3. Carefully flip the pancake over, and cook for about 4 minutes. Reverse again, and cook for another 4 minutes. Transfer the pancake to a serving plate.

4. Spread okonomi sauce and mayonnaise on top of the pancake, and sprinkle with dried nori and bonito flakes.

5. Repeat steps 2 to 4 until batter is finished.

Crab and Tobiko Summer Rolls

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It’s only February, but I’ve had summer on my mind, and all the fresh dishes that go with it. The aptly-named summer rolls are one of my favorite things to eat in the warmer weather and with spring only a few weeks away, I’m making these early this year.

These seafood summer rolls pack a bunch with a chili-garlic spiked aioli and the crunchy, vinagared vegetables balance out the mayonnaise perfectly. If you take the time to prep your mise en place ahead of time here, putting these rolls together is a snap.

Crab and tobiko spring rolls

Ingredients:
1 (3-inch-long) piece daikon radish, peeled and julienned
1 carrot, peeled and julienned
3 tablespoons lime juice
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
1 Persian cucumber, halved and julienned
1 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon chili-garlic sauce
1 ounce tobiko roe
3 teaspoons soy sauce
10 round rice-paper wrappers
1 pound crabmeat, picked over and coarsely flaked
1 green onion, thinly sliced diagonally

1. Combine one tablespoon of lime juice and soy sauce in a small bowl and set aside. In a separate bowl, toss carrot, daikon, and cucumber with vinegar, sesame oil, 2 tablespoons of the lime juice, and salt to taste.

2. In another bowl, mix chili-garlic sauce with mayonnaise and half of the tobiko and set aside.

3. Stir together the remaining lime juice and soy sauce in a small bowl.

4. Soak 1 rice paper wrappers in a baking dish of warm water until pliable, about 5 seconds. Put 1 soaked wrapper on a dry cutting board. Put one tablespoon of crabmeat across lower third of wrapper (nearest you), leaving a 2-inch border at bottom. Spread with 1/2 tablespoon mayonnaise-tobiko mixture and top with a few pieces of the carrot mixture and sliced scallion. Fold bottom of wrapper over filling and roll up tightly. Repeat with remaining filling ingredients and rice paper wrappers.

5. Cut each roll into 2 pieces. Arrange on a platter, standing them up, and top each with a dollop of tobiko. Drizzle lime-soy sauce around rolls.

Tofu Pad Thai

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I’ve struggled with homemade pad Thai. After trying to recreate it at home several times over the years, I sort of gave up and assumed I’d never be able to cook restaurant-style pad Thai at home.

That is, until I tried this recipe, adapted from the now-defunct Gourmet magazine. I didn’t have high hopes – after all, where was the shrimp? But despite the lack of meat, this rendition is full of flavor, texture, and best of all, it actually tastes like classic pad Thai.

Tamarind is essential to this dish so I don’t recommend substituting with similar flavors. And don’t be put off by the large volume of shallots – the first time I made this dish I only wished I’d fried up more crispy slices.

Tofu Pad Thai

Ingredients:

12 ounces dried flat rice noodles (1/4 inch wide)
3 tablespoons tamarind (from a pliable block)
1 cup boiling-hot water
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons chili garlic sauce
1 bunch green onions
4 shallots
1 16-ounce package firm tofu
1 cup vegetable oil
6 eggs
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 cups bean sprouts
1/2 cup roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped

1. Soak noodles in a large bowl of warm water until softened, 20 minutes. Drain in a colander and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, make sauce by soaking tamarind pulp in boiling-hot water in a small bowl, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Force mixture through a sieve into a bowl, discarding seeds and fibers. Add soy sauce, brown sugar, and chili garlic sauce, stirring until sugar has dissolved.

3. Cut green onions into 2-inch pieces. Cut shallots crosswise into very thin slices. Rinse tofu, then cut into 1-inch cubes and pat dry.

4. Heat oil in wok over medium heat until hot, then fry half of shallots over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until golden-brown, 8 to 12 minutes. Strain mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Reserve shallot oil and spread fried shallots on paper towels. (Shallots will crisp as they cool.) Wipe wok clean.

5. Reheat shallot oil in wok over high heat until hot. Fry tofu in 1 layer, gently turning occasionally, until golden, 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer tofu to paper towels using a slotted spoon. Pour off frying oil and reserve.

6. Lightly beat eggs with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Heat 2 tablespoons shallot oil in wok over high heat until it shimmers. Add eggs and swirl to coat side of wok, then cook, stirring gently with a spatula, until cooked through. Break into chunks with spatula and transfer to a plate.

7. Heat wok over high heat, pour in 4 tablespoons shallot oil, then swirl to coat side of wok. Stir-fry scallions, garlic, and remaining uncooked shallots until softened, about 1 minute.

8. Add noodles and stir-fry over medium heat for 3 minutes. Add tofu, bean sprouts, and 1 1/2 cups sauce and simmer, turning noodles over to absorb sauce evenly, until noodles are tender, about 3 minutes.

9. Stir in additional sauce if desired, then stir in eggs and transfer to a large shallow serving dish. Sprinkle pad Thai with peanuts and fried shallots and serve.