Agedashi Tofu

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Most of the time when I dine out for sushi, I order an appetizer of agedashi tofu to start things off. It’s a simple Japanese dish of deep-fried silken tofu, and I love the textural contrast of the crispy outside and the piping hot, creamy tofu on the inside. The whole thing is served in dashi broth and topped with shredded daikon radish and green onions. Despite being deep-fried, the tofu absorbs very little oil, so I don’t feel bad about eating it.

I recently learned to make this dish at home when I was gifted Izakaya: The Japanese Pub Cookbook by a friend. I have a few Japanese cookbooks, but this has quickly become my favorite. I’ve already cooked this rendition of agedashi tofu several times.

Agedashi Tofu

Ingredients:

1 block silken tofu, about one pound
Potato starch for coating the tofu
Vegetable oil for deep-frying
3/4 cup dashi stock
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons mirin
1/2 cup lightly-packed dried bonito flakes (katsuo-bushi)
1 green onion, thinly sliced
1-inch daikon radish, peeled and shredded
1/8 teaspoon Japanese-style ground red chili pepper (ichimi togarashi)

1. Mix the shredded daikon with the chili pepper and set aside.

2. Bring mirin, soy sauce, and dashi to a gentle boil and turn off heat. Add bonito flakes and leave for 10 seconds, then strain through a mesh strainer. Set sauce aside.

3. In a heavy saucepan, heat 2 inches oil to medium-high heat.

4. Slice tofu horizontally into 2 pieces. If desired, slice each of these 2 pieces in half as well. Blot tofu dry and coat with potato starch. Fry the tofu until the surface is golden and crispy, about 5 minutes. Carefully transfer the tofu with a slotted spoon onto a paper-lined plate to drain excess oil.

5. Place tofu in a serving bowl and pour in the sauce. Garnish with the green onions and shredded daikon radish.

Chilled Vegetable and Bean Thread Noodle Stir-Fry

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Originally adapted from an old Martin Yan recipe for vegetarian rolls wrapped in Mandarin pancakes, this recipe has gone through several permutations over the years. The biggest change is that I added more noodles and got rid of the pancake/wrapper component.

This dish makes a healthy meal on its own and the vegetables can be replaced with whatever is season. Best of all, you can make it ahead of time since it can be served room temperature or chilled.

Beijing-style chilled vegetable stir-fry

Ingredients:

4 dried shiitake mushrooms
6 pieces dried cloud ear
8 ounces dried bean thread noodles
2 tablespoons cooking oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 cup thinly sliced cabbage
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 cups mung bean sprouts
2 eggs, lightly beaten with a dash of salt
2 tablespoons oyster flavored sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons sesame oil

1. Soak mushrooms and cloud ears in warm water to cover until softened, about 15 minutes; drain. Thinly slice mushrooms and cloud ears. Soak bean thread noodles in warm water to cover until softened, about 15 minutes; drain. Cut noodles into 8-inch lengths.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil on medium-high heat in a small frying pan. Pour in 1/3 of beaten eggs and swirl pan to cover entire bottom. Cook until egg is lightly browned on bottom and set on top, about 1 minute. Turn sheet over and cook 10 seconds; slide out of pan. Repeat to make 2 more egg sheets. When sheets are cool, cut in half, stack and slice crosswise into 1/8-inch shreds.

3. Place a wok over high heat until hot. Add remaining tablespoon cooking oil, swirling to coat sides. Add garlic and cook, stirring until fragrant, about 10 seconds. Add mushrooms, cloud ears, cabbage, and carrots; stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add bean thread noodles and broth; cook for 2 minutes.

3. Add mung bean sprouts, egg shreds, oyster flavored sauce, sugar, and sesame oil; cook until heated through. Remove to a serving bowl and serve room temperature or chilled.

Dungeness Crab Cakes

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Crab cakes may be a Maryland tradition but I can’t think of a better way to enjoy them than with San Francisco Dungeness crabmeat. I’ve been making this recipe for more than ten years now – they make a perfect appetizer and are just as good in a sandwich.

I usually serve these without any sort of sauce, since the crab cakes themselves are flavored with Parmesan cheese, garlic and herbs. I know cheese usually doesn’t pair well with seafood, but there’s an exception to every rule, right?

Crab cakes

Ingredients:

3/4 pound cooked crabmeat (shelled from one Dungeness crab)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons minced parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup dry bread crumbs
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1 egg, beaten
1/4 half and half or heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons olive oil

1. Break crabmeat into flakes. Place in a bowl, add cheese, parsley, oregano, garlic, crumbs, onions, egg, and cream. Mix lightly.

2. Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Mound two tablespoons of the crab mixture with a spoon, spreading to make a 3-inch cake. Place in pan and repeat until pan is filled. cook patties until lightly browned on bottoms, about 3 minutes. Turn and cook until other side is lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Remove from pan and arrange on serving plate. Repeat until all crab cakes are cooked, adding more oil as needed. Serve warm.

Gyoza

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Gyoza, or Japanese potstickers, differ from their Chinese counterparts in that they have a thinner wrapper. They have a richer garlic flavor too, and are usually served with a soy-based rice vinegar and chili sauce. Sometimes I make a double batch as I’m wrapping the gyoza and stick the extras in the freezer – they make for a quick, delicious meal later on, and they’re much healthier than the store-bought frozen version.

Gyoza

Ingredients:

2 cups finely chopped cabbage
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound ground chicken or turkey
1/2 cup chopped water chestnuts
4 green onions, minced
3 tablespoons sake
1 tablespoon oyster-flavored sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons minced ginger
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 package potsticker wrappers
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup chicken broth

1. In a bowl, toss cabbage with salt; let stand for 10 minutes. Drain and press cabbage to extract excess moisture. Add ground chicken, water chestnuts, 3 minced green onions, sake, oyster-flavored sauce, 1 tablespoon ginger, garlic, and cornstarch; mix well.

2. In another bowl, combine rice vinegar, soy sauce, chili garlic sauce, sesame oil, remaining minced green onion, and remaining 1/2 tablespoon of minced ginger to create dipping sauce. Set aside.

3. To shape each potsticker, place a teaspoon of filling in center of one wrapper. Brush edges with water; fold wrapper over filling to form a half-moon. Press and pleat edges to seal. Set filled potsticker down firmly, seam side up, so that it will sit flat.

4. Place a large nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat until hot. Add 1 tablespoon oil, swirling to coat sides. Add half of potstickers, seam side up, and cook until bottoms are golden brown, about 4 minutes. Add 1/2 cup broth, reduce heat to low, cover, and cook until dumplings are tender and liquid has evaporated, about 10 minutes.

5. With a spatula, remove potstickers from pan and place them on a serving platter. Repeat to cook remaining potstickers. Serve warm with dipping sauce.

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.