Nori-Crusted Sirloin with Shiitake Mushrooms

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I first made this dish several years ago, adapted from a recipe in the now defunct Gourmet Magazine. Since then, it’s become my most-requested meat entree, and even though it takes a some work to pull off, it’s worth it. Make sure to serve this with plenty of steamed rice to soak up the sauce.

Nori-crusted steak with shiitake mushrooms

Ingredients:

2 bunches green onions
1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded
salt and pepper
1 pound sirloin steak
2 square sheets of nori seaweed, torn into small pieces
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon mirin
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a small saucepan of boiling water, blanch the green onions for 2 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water. Set a rack on a baking sheet and arrange the shiitake mushroom caps on the rack, gill sides down. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

2. Season the steak with salt. In a food processor or spice grinder, coarsely grind the nori with the sesame seeds, red pepper and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Spread the nori mixture on a plate and dredge the steak in it.

3. In a medium skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil until shimmering. Add the steak and cook over high heat until the nori is toasted, about 4 minutes per side. Place the steak over the mushrooms and roast for about 15 minutes, until the meat is medium rare. Transfer the steak to a cutting board and let rest for 10 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, quarter the mushroom caps. In a small bowl, whisk the soy sauce with the mirin, lemon juice and the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil.

5. Slice the steak 1/4 inch thick and arrange it on plates with the shiitake mushrooms and scallions. Drizzle the soy mixture over the steak and serve.

Fresh Spring Rolls with Peanut Dipping Sauce

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I make these light and healthy spring rolls all the time, especially when the weather begins to warm up. (Or when it never cools down, as is this case with this year’s endless Bay Area summer.)

Even though I usually make them with shrimp, you can substitute with shredded chicken, fresh crab, or any kind of protein. The herbs are interchangeable too: I prefer a mix of romaine lettuce, mint, and basil, but anything goes. Sometimes I substitute shredded carrots with cucumbers or avocado instead. You get the picture.

Don’t make these too ahead of time, as I’ve learned the hard way that refrigerating fresh spring rolls results in a stale wrapper. Don’t worry, though. These are so good you won’t have any left over.

Shrimp spring rolls

Ingredients:

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 teaspoons chile-garlic sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar
24 medium shrimp (about 1 pound), peeled (or shredded chicken)
4 ounces dried bean thread (glass) noodles
16 round rice paper wrappers
1 carrot, peeled and shredded
1 bunch mint leaves, removed from stems
1 bunch basil leaves, removed froms tems
1 Persian cucumber, peeled and julienned
1 bunch romaine lettuce, ribs removed

1. To make the peanut sauce, whisk the first 8 ingredients together in a medium bowl; set aside.

2. To make the spring rolls, bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil over high heat. Add the shrimp and cook until pink and opaque, about 2 minutes. Drain in a colander and run under cold water until cool. Pat the shrimp dry with paper towels and place on a cutting board. Holding your knife parallel to the cutting board, halve each shrimp horizontally. Set aside.

3. Bring 3 cups of water to a boil and pour over bean thread noodles in a heat-proof bowl and cover for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.

4. Place a clean, damp kitchen towel on a work surface. Fill a medium frying pan or wide, shallow dish large enough to hold the rice paper wrappers with hot tap water. Working with 1 wrapper at a time, completely submerge the wrapper until it is soft and pliable, about 15 seconds. Remove the wrapper from the water and place it on the towel.
Working quickly, tear off a piece of lettuce that is roughly half the size of the wrapper and place in the center of the wrapper. Add 3 shrimp halves in a row, cut side up, just above the center of the wrapper, leaving about 1 inch of space on each side. Layer 1/4 cup of the noodles over the shrimp, followed by a spoon of carrot, a few mint leaves, and a few basil leaves. Place 2 of the cucumber sticks on either side of the noodle pile.

5. Fold the bottom and top halves of the rice paper wrapper over the filling. Holding the whole thing firmly in place, fold the sides of the wrapper in. Then, pressing firmly down to hold the folds in place, roll the entire wrapper horizontally up from the bottom to the top. Slice in half.

6. If not serving immediately, keep the summer rolls tightly covered with plastic wrap at room temperature for up to 2 hours. Serve with the peanut sauce for dipping.

Chocolate-Dipped Frozen Bananas

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It turns out I may be developing a sweet tooth after all. Cake and tarts and most pastries still do nothing for me, but these chocolatey frozen bananas are just right. Crunchy on the outside and creamy on the inside, they keep well for when a craving strikes. Plus, bananas are full of potassium, so these are kind of healthy, right?

Chocolate-dipped frozen bananas

Ingredients:

2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons canola oil
Assorted toppings for coating bananas (toffee bits, chopped Butterfinger candy bars, or chopped salted peanuts)
3 bananas, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices

1. Stir chocolate and oil in heavy small saucepan over low heat just until smooth. Let stand 15 minutes to cool.

2. Place each topping in separate shallow dish. Line baking sheet with foil. Arrange banana slices on foil. Using fingers, dip 1 banana slice in chocolate, coating completely. Shake off excess chocolate. Drop dipped banana in 1 topping. Using clean hand, sprinkle more topping over banana to coat; transfer to foil-lined sheet. Repeat with remaining bananas, chocolate, and toppings. Freeze until firm, about 3 hours, then serve.

Mast-o-Khiar (Persian Yogurt with Cucumber and Mint)

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Call it Greek tzatziki, Turkish cacik, or Indian raita, but to me, it’ll always be mast-o-khiar. It’s part of nearly every Iranian meal and couldn’t be easier to prepare. English translations will often call it a dip, and while it can be (raise your hand if you dipped your potato chips into mast-o-khiar while growing up), it’s really eaten as a side dish alongside a complete meal.

Mast-o-khiar can include variations like dried rose petals (how Persian, I know) or dried shallots (in which case it becomes mast-o-musir), but my favorite is this classic version, garnished with a light sprinkling of walnuts.

Mast-o-khiar

Ingredients:

2 cups Middle Eastern or Greek-style yogurt, plain
2 or 3 Persian cucumbers, finely chopped or grated
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons ground dried mint
2 tablespoons walnuts, chopped (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

1. Mix all of the ingredients in a bowl, reserving half a tablespoon of walnuts for garnish. Chill and serve cold.

Kotlet (Iranian Cutlet)

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Kotlet, or Persian minced meat and potato croquettes, are an ubiquitous picnic meal in Iranian households. Growing up, I’d look forward to these in warm lavash sandwiches for lunch and now that I’m older, I prepare them as an appetizer or light meal. Kotlet are easy to make and can be frozen for reheating later on.

Serve these with pickled vegetables and sliced tomatoes, or simply on their own. Lightly spiced and crispy on the outside, it’s nearly impossible to eat just one kotlet.

Kotlet

Ingredients:

2 potatoes, cooked, peeled, and grated
1 pound ground lamb, veal, or beef
1 onion, peeled and grated
2 eggs
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground saffron dissolved in 1 tablespoon hot water
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 cup vegetable oil, for frying
2 ripe tomatoes, sliced, for garnish
4 Persian pickled cucumbers, sliced, for garnish
Lavash bread

1. In a bowl, combine meat, onion, eggs, potato, salt, pepper, coriander, cumin, saffron water, and turmeric. Knead for 5 minutes to form a smooth mixture.

2. Using damp hands, shape the meat mixture into lumps the size of eggs. Flatten them into oval patties. Brown the patties on both side in hot oil over medium heat until browned on each side and cooked through. Add more oil if necessary.

3. Arrange the patties on a serving platter. Serve with tomatoes, pickles, and lavash bread.