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.

Sunomono Salad

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“Sunomono” translates loosely as “vinegared things” in Japanese, and over the years I’ve tried a number of recipes to recreate restaurant-style cucumber sunomono at home. After several renditions, I’ve finally come up with my favorite version, which includes the addition of radish sprouts (not pictured but adds a really nice layer of texture and subtle flavor).

I’ve been making this salad a lot lately as the weather is finally warming up in the Bay Area, and we’re enjoying our “summer” as fall approaches.

Sunomono Salad

Ingredients:

2 ounces dried wakame seaweed, soaked in cold water for 5 minutes
2 Japanese or Persian cucumbers, thinly sliced
1 bunch radish sprouts, cut in half
4 tablespoons rice vinegar
4 tablespoons dashi broth
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon mirin

1. Lightly squeeze excess water from the wakame and roughly cut into bite-size pieces.

2. Mix the rice vinegar, dashi, soy sauce, and mirin in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer to evaporate the alcohol and sharpness of the vinegar. Immediately remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

3. Arrange the wakame in a serving bowl and garnish with the cucumber and daikon sprouts. Pour dressing over and serve.

Greek Salad

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Greek salad is so basic that I almost decided not to write about it. There are enough variations on this classic salad though that it warrants a post, and this one is my version.

I like my salads acidic, so I’ve upped the lemon content, and thrown in a few extra pepperoncinis and capers for good measure. Although I question the Greek authenticity of this salad, it’s become one of my favorites.

Greek Salad

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice (preferably from Meyer lemons)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
salt and pepper
2 tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 cucumber, peeled, halved and cut into 1/2-inch dice
12 Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
6 pepperoncini, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons drained capers
1 cup crumbled feta cheese

1. In a large serving bowl, whisk the olive oil with the oregano and lemon juice; season with salt and pepper.

2. Add the tomatoes, red onion, cucumber, olives, pepperoncini, capers and feta and toss.

Chawan Mushi

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I didn’t grow up eating chawan mushi, but it feels like comfort food. An egg-based custard dish, it’s simply flavored with soy sauce, mirin, and dashi and mixed with a few ingredients before being set to steam. It’s usually eaten as an appetizer in Japanese cuisine but I like to eat it as a snack too.

Chawan mushi literally translates as “tea cup steam” or “steamed in a tea bowl,” and I use a set of ceramic antique teacups to cook these in. Alternatively, you can use small ceramic ramekins. It can be eaten hot or cold; I prefer it warm.

Chawan Mushi

Ingredients:

3 cups cold water
1 8-by 4-inch piece kombu (dried kelp)
1 package katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes), about 1/2 cup
3 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons mirin
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 small fresh shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
6 medium shrimp, peeled
1 green onion, thinly sliced

1. Bring cold water and kombu to a boil in a saucepan, then remove from heat and discard kombu. Sprinkle katsuobushi over liquid and let stand 3 minutes. Pour through a sieve and strain into a bowl.

2. Whisk together eggs in a bowl, then whisk in mirin, soy sauce, salt, and 1 1/2 cups dashi.

3. Divide sliced mushrooms, shrimp and green onions among ramekins. Divide egg mixture among ramekins and cover each ramekin with a piece of foil.

4. Arrange ramekins on rack of a steamer and add enough water to steamer to measure 1 1/2 inches. Cover steamer and bring to boil over high heat. Steam 2 minutes, reduce heat to medium and continue to steam until custards are just set, about 10 minutes more. Serve in ramekins.

Classic Hot Wings

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I know, I know. Hot wings are overdone. They’re on every party menu and come in a million variations. But these are baked! And taste like they’re fried! I guess you could call these healthy hot wings, except that they’re doused in their fair share of butter. Still, they’re tried and true, and I’ve been getting requests to make them for nearly every casual gathering lately.

Hot Wings

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 pounds chicken wings
3 tablespoons red hot sauce, preferably Frank’s Red Hot
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1. Preheat the oven to 500°. Line a large baking sheet with foil and spray with vegetable oil. In a bowl, mix the flour with the salt. Add the chicken and toss to coat. Spread the chicken on the baking sheet in a single layer.

2. Roast the chicken for 45 minutes, turning once at the halfway point, until browned and crispy. In a bowl, whisk the hot sauce with the butter. Add the chicken wings and toss. Serve warm.