Ma Po Tofu

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Ma po tofu is ubiquitous on Chinese restaurant menus, but I never sampled the fiery, peppery dish until last year. It was mouth-numbingly hot, and it’s since become one of my favorite all-time dishes. As if to make up for lost time, I’ve spent the past few months eating ma po tofu constantly in restaurants and more recently, at home.

This homemade version of ma po tofu is just as delicious as what I’ve eaten from professional kitchens, and easy to cook. Ma po tofu is traditionally cooked with ground pork, but I substitute with chicken or turkey at home. The Sichuan peppercorns, however, are important to seek out as they’ll lend this dish that extra heat. It’s worth the pain (and slightly numb lips).

Ma po tofu

Ingredients:

3 dried shiitake mushrooms
6 ounces ground turkey
3 teaspoons soy sauce
4 teaspoons cornstarch
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons hot bean paste
1/4 teaspoon toasted Sichuan peppercorns, ground
1/4 cup chopped water chestnuts
3 green onions, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 14-ounce package soft tofu, drained and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1. Pour enough warm water over the mushrooms in bowl to cover them completely. Soak until softened, about 20 minutes. Drain, discard the stems, and coarsely chop the caps.

2. Marinate the turkey: stir the ground turkey, 2 teaspoons of soy sauce, and 2 teaspoons of cornstarch together until evenly mixed. Let stand for 10 minutes.

3. Prepare the sauce:: stir the water, remaining two teaspoons soy sauce, and sesame oil together in a small bowl.

4. Heat a wok over high heat until hot. Add the oil and swirl to coat the sides. Add the garlic and stir-fry until fragrant, about 20 seconds. Add the turkey, hot bean paste, and Sichuan peppercorns and stir-fry until the turkey is crumbly, about 3 minutes.

5. Pour the sauce into the work, then stir in the mushrooms, water chestnuts and green onions. Slide the tofu into the work and stir gently to coat the tofu with the sauce and heat through, about 2 minutes.

6. In a small bowl, dissolve the remaining 2 teaspoons cornstarch in 2 teaspoons water. Pour the dissolved cornstarch into the wok and cook gently, stirring, until the sauce boils and thickens, about 1 minute. Spoon the tofu and sauce onto a serving platter and serve hot, alongside cooked rice.

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.

Pommes Sautees au Lard

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To be fair, there was no lard used in the making of this dish. I used turkey bacon instead. Please don’t judge me; the end product was still a garlicy plate of fried potato goodness.

Adapted from Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook, this wintery dish is a snap to create and makes a great side. The original recipe uses slab bacon but if you’re cutting down on the fat, use a mixture of turkey bacon and butter, as I did.

Pommes sautees au lard

Ingredients:

4 slices turkey bacon, chopped into a 1/4-inch dice
2 tablespoons butter
2 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, cut in half, then chopped into 1/4-inch thick slices
1 garlic clove, minced
4 sprigs of flat parsley, chopped
salt and pepper

1. Heat a saute pan over medium heat and add the butter until melted. Add the bacon and cook until the fat is rendered and the meat is crispy, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2. Add the potatoes and cook for 15 minutes, stirring and tossing frequently. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes, then season with parsley, salt, and pepper. Serve warm.

Kashk-e Bademjaan (Iranian Eggplant Dip)

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Note: This entry also appeared at my friend Sherisa de Groot’s blog, L’élephant Rose. L’élephant Rose is a collection of jewelry designed by Sherisa, based in Amsterdam. It’s also the name of her blog about design, music, green living, food, and fashion.

It’s eggplant season! Eggplant is ubiquitous in Iranian cuisine, and luckily for me, it’s in season in the Bay Area right now. I’ve been buying pounds and pounds of it to cook kashk-e bademjaan. A favorite at Persian gatherings, this dip is garlicy, minty, and slightly piquant, thanks to kashk, a thick condiment similar to whey that’s used in Persian cooking. Served with naan or a similar flatbread, kashk-e bademjaan is the perfect way to make use of the eggplant bounty.

This recipe is adapted from two sources: my mom’s guidance over the phone as I hurriedly cooked this the first time for a dinner party, and Najmieh Batmanglij’s definitive English-language cookbook on Iranian cuisine: Food of Life. (Sidenote: Batmanglij’s son, Rostam, is a member of Vampire Weekend and Discovery. Guess what I listen to when I’m cooking from Najmieh’s cookbook?)

Kashk-e bademjaan

Ingredients:

2 medium eggplants
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup liquid whey (kashk)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

For the garnish:
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons dried mint
2 tablespoons liquid whey (kashk)
1/4 teaspoon ground saffron, dissolved in 1 tablespoon hot water

1. Peel eggplants and cut into 4 slices lengthwise. Place in a colander and sprinkle with 2 teaspoons salt to remove bitterness and excess moisture. Let stand for 30 minutes, then pat dry.

2. Brown the eggplants in a non-stick skillet with 1/4 cup of oil. Add onions and garlic and brown for an additional two minutes, adding another tablespoon of oil if needed. Add 1 cup of water, cover, and cook over medium heat for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and mash in a food processor. Add 1/2 cup of whey, salt, and pepper, and mix well.

3. Just before serving, saute minced garlic in remaining 2 tablespoons oil at low heat, until golden. Remove skillet from heat, add dried mint, and mix well.

4. Place the eggplant in a serving bowl and garnish with 2 tablespoons whey, the garlic and mint mixture, and a few drops of saffron water. Serve with flatbread and fresh herbs.

Tofu and Wakame Miso Soup

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There are countless variations of miso soup, and this is the one you’ll find most commonly on Japanese restaurant menus. It’s also among the easiest to make – the whole thing really only takes ten minutes. As simple as it is, though, make sure you have good fresh dashi stock on hand to really bring out the soup’s umami-laden flavor.

Tofu and Wakame Miso Soup

Ingredients:

1 inch piece konbu (dried kelp)
1 handful katsuo-bushi (dried bonito flakes)
1/2 cake silken tofu, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1 teaspoon dried wakame seaweed, reconstituted and roughly chopped
1 green onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons miso

1. To make the dashi, soak konbu in a pot, in 1/2 cup of of cold water for 30 minutes. Heat up slowly until bubbles form in water. Remove konbu just before the water boils. Add in 1 more cup of water to bring down the overall temperature. Throw in the handful of katsuo-bushi and bring to boil for just a moment. Take pot off heat, and let the katsuo-bushi sit for 1 more minute, then filter through a sieve.

2. Pour the dashi stock into a medium cooking pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add the tofu and wakame seaweed, and remove from the heat before coming to a boil. Add the miso gradually into the soup while softening with some stock and dissolving with the back of a spoon. Add the green onions and ladle into individual serving bowls.