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.

Chinese Chicken Salad

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I know, I know. Chinese chicken salad is about as unauthentic as an ethnic dish can get. Even though it’s been done time and time again, this version that I adapted from Martin Yan’s Chinatown Cooking has become one of my favorite recipes. It’s healthy, fresh and most importantly, delicious. I usually make a double batch and store the dressing separately so that I can have leftovers the next day. Don’t be deterred by the long ingredient list; it’s actually very straightforward to make.

Chinese Chicken Salad

Ingredients:

1 skinless chicken breast
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon five-spice powder
1/4 rice vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons plum or hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons soy sauce
3/4 teaspoon chili garlic sauce
1/2 teaspoon grated ginger
2 tablespoons vegetable oil plus more for deep-frying
2 heads romaine lettuce, thinly shredded
2 green onions, thinly sliced
8 wonton wrappers, cut into 1/4-inch wide strips
1 ounce dried bean thread noodles, broken into 2-inch long pieces
1/4 cup chopped roasted peanuts
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds.

1. Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Rub the chicken breasts with the salt and five-spice powder. Lay the chicken on a baking sheet and bake until cooked through, about 20 minutes. Cool the chicken on a rack until cool enough to touch, then shred the meat and set aside.

2. Make the dressing: Whisk the rice vinegar, honey, plum or hoisin sauce, sesame oil, mustard, soy sauce, chili garlic sauce, ginger and vegetable oil in a bowl until well blended. Set aside.

3. Pour enough vegetable oil into a wok to come to a depth of 1 inch. Heat over medium-high heat to 350F. Carefully slip a few of the wonton strips into the oil and fry until light golden brown, about 20 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining strips.

4. In the same wok, deep-fry the bean thread noodles in small batches, stirring them gently to separate the strands, until they puff and expand, about 10 seconds. Remove and drain on paper towels.

5. Place the lettuce in a large salad bowl and top with the green onions. Scatter the chicken on top, pour the dressing over the salad, and toss together. Scatter the wonton strips, fried bean thread noodles, chopped peanuts, and sesame seeds over the top.

Tunisian Fried Tuna Pastries with Egg

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I can’t attest to the authenticity of these savory pastries, which are called brik in Tunisia, briouat in Morocco and burak in Algeria. I doubt that egg roll wrappers are used to make these in North Africa, but they work perfectly well in this version, encasing a spicy filling of tuna and runny egg yolk. The trick is to make sure you fry the pastries just long enough – too little and the egg white will be undercooked, too long and the egg yolk will harden.

Tunisian fried tuna pastries with egg

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon oil, plus more for deep frying
1/2 onion, chopped
12 ounces canned tuna, drained and flaked
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 tablespoon lemon juice
salt and black pepper
pinch of cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and chopped
8 sheets egg roll wrappers
8 eggs

1. In a medium pan, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Saute the onion until soft, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer onions to a large bowl. Mix in the tuna, parsley, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste, cayenne pepper and capers.

2. Place equal parts of tuna filling on each egg roll wrapper, spoon a depression into the filling, and break an egg into each depression. Carefully fold the top and bottom of the wrapper over the filling, then fold over right and left sides.

3. In a frying pan, heat two inches of oil to medium-high heat. Deep-fry the pastries in batches until crisp and golden, about 3 minutes for each side. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain. Serve warm.

Spaghettini with Fried Eggplant and Capers

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If I had to choose, eggplant may very well be my favorite vegetable. When undercooked, it tastes terrible, but when cooked properly it becomes sublime, buttery perfection. I’m no stranger to eggplant and pasta dishes, so when Food and Wine ran a Sardinian-inspired version, I had to try it. I adapted the original version to my own tastes, using less oil, substuting the Pecorino for Parmesan, using brined capers in place of salted ones, and omitting the homemade croutons altogether.

This version might just replace my standard southern Italian-style pasta and eggplant recipe, which includes tomatoes and ricotta salata. That’s the thing with eggplant dishes – you can never have enough.

Spaghetti with eggplant and capers

Ingredients:
1/4 cup brined capers
1 lb spaghettini
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 eggplant, peeled and cut into 1-inch dice
Salt and pepper
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Large pinch of crushed red pepper
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Place the eggplant in a colander and sprinkle with salt an let stand for 15 minutes. Lightly pat with a paper towel to absorb excess moisture. In a bowl, rinse the capers and squeeze dry. Meanwhile, in a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the spaghettini until just al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 3/4 cup of the cooking water.

2. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1/4 cup of the oil until shimmering. Add the eggplant, season with salt and pepper and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 8 minutes. Add the sliced garlic and crushed red pepper and cook until the garlic is softened, about 2 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, in a small pan, heat the remaining 1/4 cup of oil until shimmering. Add the capers and fry over high heat, shaking the pan slightly, until the capers are golden and puffed, 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the capers to a paper towel–lined plate.

4. Add the pasta to the eggplant. Add the Parmesan and the reserved cooking water and simmer, tossing, just until the water is nearly absorbed, about 2 minutes. Serve the pasta in bowls, sprinkled with the fried capers.

Pappardelle with Mascarpone-Porcini Sauce

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I’ve been cooking with dried porcini mushrooms a lot lately. I used them liberally in two Thanksgiving dishes: baked pasta shells with cheese, porcini, pancetta and radicchio; and porcini-potato gratin.

But we’ll get to those later. One of my favorite uses of this super-flavorful mushroom is in a pasta sauce, made even richer with the addition of creamy mascarpone cheese. Stirring in a classic tomato sauce at the end helps balance things out with a bit of acidity, making for a wholly satsifying dish.

Pappardelle with mascarpone-porcini sauce

Ingredients:

2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 cans whole plum tomoates (preferably San Marzano)
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 handful basil, coarsely chopped
3 ounces dried porcini mushrooms
3 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
1 package pappardelle pasta
Salt and pepper to taste

1. In medium pot, gently saute the garlic with one tablespoon olive oil, and then add the chilli, oregano and tomatoes. Mix gently, taking care to not break up the tomatoes (this makes the sauce slightly bitter).

2. Bring to a boil and simmer gently for an hour. Add the vinegar, then stir and break up the tomatoes in the sauce with the back of a stirring spoon. Add basil, season well to taste, and add one tablespoon olive oil. Cover and set aside.

3. Place the dried porcini mushrooms in a small bowl and add 1 cup boiling water for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the remaining olive oil and garlic in a medium pan and saute over low heat for 5 minutes. 

4. Pick out the soaked porcini, reserving the porcini broth, and add porcini to the pan. Saute for 5 minutes. Pour in half a cup of the reserved porcini broth and discard the remainder. Simmer the mushroom mixture until the liquid is absorbed and then add the tomato sauce. Add the mascarpone and season to taste.

5. Meanwhile, cook the papardelle in salted wated until al dente and drain. Add pasta to sauce and toss. Serve warm.