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.

Braised Bamboo Shoots and Mushrooms

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Mushrooms and bamboo shoots are both common ingredients in Sichuanese cooking, which is known primarily for its fiery, bold flavors. This healthy vegetable dish is much more mellow than the spicy Sichuan dishes you may be accustomed to seeing on Chinese restaurant menus, but it’s just as satisfying.

This has become one of my favorite side dishes to make when I’m cooking a Chinese meal, since it’s easy to prepare and I’m a big fan of mushrooms. It reheats well too so it’s especially ideal for making ahead of time.

Braised Bamboo Shoots and Mushrooms

Ingredients:

12 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 15-ounce can bamboo shoots (preferably tips), drained and rinsed
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons oyster-flavored sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 pound white button mushrooms
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 slices ginger, crushed
1/4 pound snow peas, trimmed
1 teaspoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water

1. Soak shiitake mushrooms in warm water to cover until softened, about 15 minutes; drain. Slice caps in half. Slice bamboo shoots lengthwise. Combine chicken broth, water, oyster-flavored sauce, soy sauce, chili garlic sauce, and brown sugar in a bowl; set aside.

2. Place a large saucepan over high heat until hot. Add oil, swirling to coat sides. Add garlic and ginger; cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Add shiitake mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and button mushrooms; stir-fry for 1 minute. Add sauce and bring to a boil.

3. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes. Add snow peas and cook until crisp-tender, about 1 minute. Add cornstarch solution and cook, stirring until sauce boils and thickens, about 1 minute.

Simmered Swiss Chard in Dashi

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I’ve seen recipes for simmered spinach in dashi in innumerable Japanese cookbooks before, but it wasn’t until recently that I considered using Swiss chard in place of spinach. The results were delicious and I’ve since discovered that any mild leafy green goes well with this simple dashi-based sauce.

Dashi is a type of stock used in loads of Japanese dishes and is generally made by soaking and heating kelp seaweed in water, often with the addition of small dried sardines and dried bonito flakes. The whole thing is then strained and used to make soups, broths, and simmering liquids.

Simmered Swiss Chard in Dashi

Ingredients:

1 pound Swiss chard, spinach, or other leafy greens
salt
3 tablespoons dashi stock
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 handful bonito flakes

1. In a medium pot, bring salted water to a boil. Cook the greens briefly until crisp-tender, then drain in a mesh strainer. Rinse with cold water to stop cooking. Lightly squeeze excess water and cut the greens into 2-inch segments.

2. Arrange in tight bunches in serving bowls. Combine dashi and soy sauce, pour over the greens, and garnish with the bonito flakes.

Deep-Fried Tofu with Mushroom Sauce

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I’ve been on a tofu kick lately, and I can’t think of a better way to cook it than with mushrooms. Both are rich in protein and lend this dish a rich, meaty flavor despite having no meat at all.

This Japanese rendition, adapted from Izakaya: The Japanese Pub Cookbook, is wonderful on its own or with steamed rice.

Deep-fried tofu with mushroom sauce

1 block firm tofu, about 1 pound
4 tablespoons grated daikon radish
2 teaspoons grated ginger
1 green onion, sliced
2 mild peppers, such as Anaheim, pierced and deep-fried (optional)
1 cup dashi stock
3 tablespoons mirin
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 cup mixed mushrooms such as shiitake, enoki or shimeji
1 teaspoon cornstarch, dissolved in 1 teaspoon water

1. Wrap the tofu in two layers of paper towels and place in a flat-bottomed dish with sides. Place a light weight such as another flat dish on top, and leave about 30 minutes to drain excess moisture. Wipe any moisture from the surface of the tofu and slice horizontally. Slice each half into eight rectangular pieces. Set aside.

2. In a large frying pan, heat the oil to medium-high and carefully slip the tofu pieces into the oil. Deep-fry until golden brown, 3-4 minutes.

3. In a medium saucepan, combine the dashi, soy sauce, mirin, and mushrooms and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and pour in the cornstarch slurry to thicken the sauce. Remove from heat as soon as it comes to a boil.

4. Place the fried tofu pieces in a serving dish, ladle the sauce over, and top with the grated daikon and ginger. Garnish with the fried peppers and green onion.