Last Friday, Ben and I arrived at our friends’ house to find a beautiful scene: a rice cooker sitting on the counter, a serving dish spilling with pickled bean sprouts, a plate towering with sheets of roasted seaweed, and a jar glistening with brilliant red pickled cabbage. All week we had been looking forward to Korean bbq, a meal we learned to love many years ago at Kim’s, a hole-in-the-wall in North Philadelphia.
At Kim’s we could always count on a few things: a blazing hot charcoal grill, replaced several times over the course of the evening; an array of banchan ranging from spicy pickled daikon to steamed egg custards to scallion pancakes; and a table surrounded by a crew — friends, family, coworkers, anyone willing to spend an evening charring whole cloves of garlic, slices of jalapeno, and platters of paper-thin beef.
More often than not, the gathering at Kim’s had been organized by Thien, the chef of Fork at the time, who found any excuse to cab north for Korean food, and who somehow managed to pack into his messenger bag both wine (for everyone) and glasses (for everyone) — as much as Thien loved his cheap eats, he pooh-poohed plastic cups. We always stayed at Kim’s for hours. We never left hungry, and upon exiting, we never felt more grateful for fresh air — Kim’s ventilation system (or lack there of) could use some work.
I have yet to hear of a tofu preparation touted for allowing tofu’s true flavor to shine, lauded for not overpowering tofu’s delicate nature. Subtlety is not the name of the game when it comes to dressing up tofu. Domination is more like it. It’s all about the sauce.
This principle holds true with the two tofu recipes I make with some regularity. In the first, a block of tofu that has gently simmered in water bathes in a scallion and garlic soy-based sauce; in the second, cubes of crispy sesame-coated tofu plunge into nuoc cham, a pungent spicy, sweet, and sour Vietnamese dipping sauce.
And this principle holds true as well for marinated tofu, a preparation I have only just discovered. I hadn’t really given marinated tofu a thought before last month, when I was on my soba noodle salad with peanut sauce binge, and a variation I had made with tofu left me unsatisfied. Even when tossed with that yummy peanut dressing, the cubes of tofu I had pan-fried tasted bland, and they were a pain to prepare to boot.
Suspecting that marinating might be the best preparation for tofu in these sorts of salad, I tried a few recipes, all of which I really liked. You see, what’s great about this treatment for tofu is that if you like the marinade, you’re going to like the tofu. There are no surprises. A tofu marinade won’t ever behave like cake batter, tasting delectable unbaked but inedible baked. The only trick is to use firm or extra-firm tofu and to drain the tofu for as long as possible — an hour at least — before marinating. The longer you marinate, too, the more flavorful the tofu. It’s completely straightforward.
My pantry is cluttered with odd ingredients, a reflection of impulse purchases made after seeing recipes for “ultimately authentic” dishes I feel I have to make immediately. As I often don’t make these dishes immediately, I end up collecting tubs of tamarind concentrate and palm sugar (purchased for pad thai) and shrimp paste (for satay sauce) and fermented black beans (for mapo tofu).
Often these ingredients sit untouched for months (years), or they get dipped into, stashed in the fridge, forgotten, and ultimately unnecessarily re-purchased when I see that next completely authentic recipe I have to make immediately. It’s a vicious cycle.
A few unseasonably hot days last week had me craving chilled soba noodles with dashi, a favorite summer meal I first tried at Morimoto, where they make it with green tea soba noodles — SO good. After scouring my pantry and finding myself making the usual note to self — purchase bonito flakes and kombu promptly — I paused. Certainly I could make something that could satisfy this same chilled soba craving without going down my usual pantry-cluttering path.
In the spirit of old-fashioned, unsubtle, crowd-pleasing recipes, I offer another oldie but goodie from The New New York Times Cookbook (Craig Claiborne, 1979), a recipe my mother pulled out for nearly every cocktail party she hosted and attended for at least two decades. The original recipe calls for wings, which people go gaga over, but the sauce and cooking method work just as well with drumsticks and thighs, if you’re looking for a super-easy dinner adored by children and adults alike.
While the chicken bakes for a fairly long time — an hour to an hour and 15 minutes — in the brief time it takes for your oven to preheat, your chicken can be prepped and smothered with the magic sauce, a mixture of honey, soy sauce, ketchup, garlic and oil, leaving you with an hour of freedom, perhaps to prepare a simple salad or side dish, perhaps to sit down with a good book and a nice cocktail. As with the honey-baked chicken legs, it’s hard not to play caveman while eating these drummies — a fork and knife just can’t get the job done. What can I say? This is not gourmet cooking, and it’s not gourmet eating — you might just want to break out the moist towelettes for this one.
When my paleo friends arrived at my doorstep carrying a Dean and Deluca bag, I suspected my fears about my non-paleo olives were for naught. And when they were as eager to open the bag as Ben and I, my suspicions were confirmed. With it still being pre-2013, we all had one last hurrah with the spoils, snacking on Vahlrona chocolate brownies and an assortment of cookies the size of frisbees for a good day and a half.
It was awesome, but when New Year’s Day arrived, I, as many of you can relate I am sure, was ready to detox. I made a grocery list. Wrote out some resolutions. Ate tofu. Watched Happy. Cried a lot. Wrote out a few more resolutions. Went to sleep, for the first time in a long time not feeling stuffed, early. And woke up, for the first time in a long time, feeling like a million bucks.
About this time of year every year, I go on a little tofu binge. I know, I know. I can hear you barking. There are lots of ways — moderation, namely — to eat healthy without taking extreme measures. But, and I’m not just saying this, I have two tofu recipes in my repertoire, one of which I’ve already shared with you and could genuinely eat nearly every day, both of which I would serve to company without apology. Read More
Many years ago, my grandmother coined a phrase the women in my family haven’t been able to let go. My grandmother, the women noticed, would describe certain dishes — certain dishes she really liked — as “light light.” If Gramma declared a meal “light light,” the women knew she approved.
Since noticing the pattern, my mother and aunt have strived to make everything they serve to their mother “light light.” Buttermilk panna cotta and orange and olive oil cake pass the “light-light” test with flying colors. Well, when I took a bite of these Asian lettuce wraps made with ginger-marinated chicken thighs topped with a simple slaw of carrots, cucumbers, celery and scallions, I instantly thought of my dear Gramma mou and, of course, of my mother and auntie who will be so pleased to add another “light light” recipe to their repertoire. I know Gramma will approve.
This recipe is fabulous! What’s more, it comes from a book that one of my very own friends wrote! Yeah, I know, I have famous friends. This past April, my friend Tara Mataraza published a book, Almost Meatless, with co-author Joy Manning. Tara and I met way back in Philadelphia while working at Fork, which recently received Three Bells from Craig Laban of the Philadelphia Inquirer … a huge deal. (Congrats Ellen and everyone at Fork!)
Anyway, when Tara invited me to participate in a virtual potluck on her blog, Crumbs on my Keyboard, I jumped. The hardest part about partaking in this event was picking the actual dish. So many of the dishes — crab pad Thai, steak salad with blue cheese dressing, and Thai coconut curry soup — I saw in the table of contents caught my eye. And if the recipe I’ve made here is any measure of goodness for what’s in the rest of the book, I am in for a real treat once my copy of Almost Meatless arrives.
I am most looking forward to making this recipe for company. It is simple to prepare, stunning to serve, and exceptionally satisfying to eat. Both the slaw and the meat are incredibly flavorful and the combination of the crunchy cool slaw with the tender hot meat is so yummy. Make it. You’ll be happy. I promise.
Asian Lettuce Wraps
Source: Almost Meatless by Tara Mataraza and Joy Manning (Ten Speed Press, 2009)
Reprinted with permission from Ten Speed Press and the authors.
For the marinade:
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced (about 1 tablespoon)
2 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
1/4 teaspoon dried chile flakes
1 scallion, green and white parts, sliced
8 to 12 ounces boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 4 thighs, or 2 thighs and 2 legs), cut into small cubes or strips
For the slaw:
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons orange juice
1/4 teaspoon dark (asian) sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 thick carrot (about 4 ounces), cut into 1/8-inch strips
1 cucumber, cut into 1/8-inch strips
2 stalks celery, sliced 1/4 inch thick diagonally
2 to 3 scallions, white and green parts, sliced on the diagonal
16 lettuce leaves (romaine, Boston, Bibb, or green or red leaf)
2 tablespoons roasted salted peanuts, coarsely chopped
1. Make the marinade. Combine the fish sauce, soy sauce, vinegar, orange juice, 2 tablespoons oil, the ginger, garlic, chile flakes, and scallion in a medium bowl. Add the chicken and stir to coat the meat. Cover the bowl and place in the refrigerator, letting the chicken marinate for at least 30 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, prepare the slaw. Whisk together the vinegar, orange juice, sesame oil, salt, and ginger in a large bowl. Toss the vinaigrette together with the carrot, cucumber, celery, and scallions. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.
3. To prepare the lettuce, rinse and pat the leaves dry. Transfer to the refrigerator until ready to use. (If you choose romaine, use the leafy top part of the lettuce for the wrappers. You can tear off the stiffer bottom stem half, chop it up, and add it to the slaw for extra crunch if you like.)
4. Cook the chicken. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add the marinated chicken and marinade and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring often, until the chicken is firm to the touch and beginning to brown. Stir in the peanuts.
5. To assemble and serve, set out the slaw and chicken in bowls along with a platter of the lettuce. Wrap a scoop of slaw and chicken in each lettuce leaf. Have a napkin handy!
Waywaywaywaywaiiit. Stop. Seriously. I know what you’re doing. I can see you. I can’t. But I know what you’re doing. You’re turning your nose. The thought of tofu for dinner, you’re thinking, is unacceptable.
I was there once, too. But in the past few months, I have been experimenting with tofu, trying to truly grow to like it. So when I read Ruth Reichl’s description of this warm tofu with spicy dipping sauce — “a beautiful dish, which takes ten minutes, costs very little, and is so utterly delicious” — in this month’s Gourmet, I had to try it.
This is by far the easiest easiest easiest (my friends who hate to cook are you listening?) method of preparing tofu I have encountered. The recipe calls for simmering the tofu in water, making a sauce and pouring the sauce over the tofu. And it is delicious. Truly. I think you will be pleased.
PS: Though this rectangular plate is quite pretty, I think bowls are a more appropriate serving dish.
Making the sauce:
On the side? Way back in the day, I worked at a catering company in Philadelphia. At nearly every party I worked, ‘peking duck rolls’ served straight from a bamboo steamer were passed with a soy dipping sauce … everyone raved. Of course, I went to Chinatown immediately following the first party I worked to purchase one of these three-tiered bamboo steamers. I must admit, I have hardly used it since, but it is a great gadget to have on hand even so. It steamed my edamame tonight in under five minutes. If you have one, place it right into a wok filled with just enough water to reach below the first tier. Bring the water to a boil and then place edamame pods into one of the tiers. Cover and steam until done. Sprinkle with a nice sea salt according to taste.
What to drink. What to drink. My day started with soju and has ended with soju. Soju’s “neutral flavor,” according to Gourmet, makes it a great mixer and “a favored alcoholic beverage in Korea.” I can’t really tell you how it tastes, only that it tasted damn good in the bloody Mary I had this morning at The Ramos House Cafe and damn good in the beverage I am drinking now — a grapefruit soju cocktail. If you can’t find soju, any vodka will make a fine substitute.
To Make This Feast:
Step One: Pepare Cocktails
Grapefruit Soju Cocktails
Adapted from Gourmet
Makes 10 drinks (according to Gourmet), 5 drinks (according to Ali)
1 tablespoon superfine sugar
1 quart (4 cups) fresh-squeezed (or not) grapefruit juice
1 cup soju (sometimes called sochu), sake or vodka, chilled
Club soda or seltzer water chilled
1. Stir the sugar and 1/8 teaspoon salt into the juice and stir to dissolve. Stir in soju and add sugar to taste.
2. Pour into ice-filled glasses and top with a splash of club soda.
Gourmet’s note: Grapefruit mixture without soju can be made four hours ahead and chilled. Add soju to mixture just before serving.
Step Two: Prepare Tofu
Warm Tofu with Spicy Garlic Sauce
Adapted from Gourmet
Serves 8 (as part of a Korean Meal according to Gourmet), 2 (as a main dish according to Ali — This recipe yields enough sauce for two, but I would double the amount of tofu if serving this as a main dish for 2.)
1 (14- to 18-oz) package firm tofu Note: The original recipe calls for soft (not silken) tofu. I have now made this recipe with both soft and firm tofu, and I prefer the firm tofu — the soft was very hard to eat with chopsticks.
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
¼ cup chopped scallion
2 teaspoons sesame seeds, toasted and crushed with side of a heavy knife (I minced the seeds with some garlic and scallions, which helped keep the seeds from flying off the cutting board.)
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
1 teaspoon coarse Korean hot red-pepper flakes (crushed red pepper flakes)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1. Rinse tofu, then cover with cold water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then keep warm, covered, over very low heat.
2. Meanwhile, mince and mash garlic to a paste with a pinch of salt. Stir together with remaining ingredients.
3. Just before serving, carefully lift tofu from saucepan with a large spatula and drain on paper towels. Gently pat dry, then transfer to a small plate. Spoon some sauce over tofu and serve warm. Serve remaining sauce on the side.
Notes: Sauce can be made 1 day ahead and chilled. Bring to room temperature before using. Tofu can be kept warm up to 4 hours.
Last Step: Steam Edamame
Edamame in pods
Nice sea salt
1. Steam pods until done, about five minutes. Sprinkle with nice salt. Serve. Yum.
Sometimes all I want for dinner is a big bowl of steaming rice (or noodles) topped with stir-fried veggies, tofu, perhaps a little meat, and, maybe (always) a fried egg. And so, my friends, I ask you, what makes a good stir-fry?
Is it the farmers’ market veggies?
Is it the wok?
Is it the non-farmers’ market add-ins?
Is it how the veggies are chopped?
Is it the sauce?
Adapted from this 1995 Bon Appetiterecipe
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup Sherry
1 T. honey
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. orange zest
Whisk ingredients. Set aside until ready to cook.
Note: I often add some finely minced ginger as well. It adds a wonderful flavor.
Is it the rice? (This is brown basmati, but I would love to get my hands on some of that short-grained brown rice served at Chinese restaurants.)
Is it the Sriracha? Dousing the bowl with Sriracha is a must.
I wish I could give more detailed instructions/measurements, but this truly is a no-measure recipe.
1. Cook rice — whatever you like. Set aside. Prepare sauce (recipe above). Set aside.
2. Chop all of your ingredients. The stir-fry takes five minutes of cooking once all the veggies are prepared, so it’s best to have everything chopped ahead of time. This is what I used: onion, cabbage, baby bok choy, rapini, cilantro, snow peas, zucchini, scallions, tofu and peanuts. Be sure to wash the bok choy.
3. Heat wok with about one tablespoon of canola oil until smoking hot. (Alternatively, heat wok without oil, then add oil once hot — I’m not really sure what the difference is, but I think it depends on your pan.) Add tofu cubes and let brown until nice and crispy on one side, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove tofu from wok and set aside.
4. Add onions and zucchini to wok. Let cook until onions are slightly browned. Refrain from stirring — just let the vegetables brown. Add the cabbage, rapini, and bok choy and cook for another two minutes. Stir briefly. Add, the snow peas, scallions, cilantro and peanuts. Add about a ¼ cup (or less) of the sauce and let cook for about a minute. Add the tofu. Turn off the heat. Top rice with veggies and douse with Sriracha.
Most people go to Morimoto for sushi. For fatty tuna rolls and tuna belly sashimi, some aficionados will pay any price. Indeed, the sushi at this Stephen Starr, Iron Chef-run restaurant is arguably the best in the city.
I go to Morimoto, however, for something else. Morimoto’s cha-soba — chilled green tea soba noodles served with dashi-shoyu, a savory dipping sauce — cannot be found anywhere else in the city. Many sushi restaurants serve soba noodles, hot and cold, but few serve this green tea variety.
Cha-soba translates to tea-soba and describes the noodles, which are made with matcha (green tea powder) and buckwheat flour. Partly I enjoy the dish’s assembly — seaweed-green noodles nested on ice in a bamboo box arrive next to a bowl filled with the dashi-shoyu and a plate of sesame seeds, scallions and freshly grated wasabi — but mostly I love the chewy texture and distinct green tea flavor of the noodles.
Chilled soba made with traditional buckwheat noodles:
Chef Masaharu Morimoto suggests, as communicated through his attentive servers, tasting the dashi, seasoning it with wasabi, dipping the noodles into the sauce and eating directly from the bowl. A combination of kombu (dried kelp seaweed) and bonito shavings (dried, flaked mackerel) steeped in mirin, soy sauce and water make the dashi, a flavorful and aromatic stock. Dipping the noodles, as opposed to dressing them, in a chilled broth spiked with fresh wasabi — a treat for any sushi lover — ensures a perfect ratio of sauce to noodle.
Ordered on its own, this dish, costing $12 a serving — although not the best deal for noodles in the city — makes a perfect summer lunch and when paired with sushi or grilled fish or steak, a side dish worth sharing at dinner. Cha-soba for me, like a toro-stuffed maki roll for most Morimoto patrons, induces a bliss matched by no other noodle-serving restaurant in the city.
And before I went green, I used to enjoy — adore — Morimoto’s kobe beef carpaccio: thin slices of delectable, tender meat, rubbed with ginger and garlic and seared with a hot sesame-olive oil mix. Now, however, I don’t know how I feel about kobe beef. Is it grass fed? I really don’t know enough about the treatment of kobe beef cows, but I do know that the grass-fed beef from Livengood Farm in Lancaster is delicious. All who enjoyed the grass-fed hamburgers for the Fourth of July can attest. This marinade for flank steak (grass-fed, purchased from Livengood’s at the South and Passyunk Farmers’ Market this past Tuesday) can also be used for skirt or hanger steak.
Like Morimoto’s carpaccio, this steak recipe has tons of ginger and garlic. The sugar in the marinade helps the meat char nicely on the grill and the soy sauce balances the sweetness. The Asian flavors in this Korean-style flank steak makes it a perfect entrée to serve with the chilled soba.
Grass-fed cows at the Livengood Family Farm in Lancaster, PA:
Korean-Style Flank Steak Serves 4
¼ C. sugar ¼ C. + 2 T. soy sauce 1 T. + 1 tsp. mirin 6 large cloves garlic, minced 6 scallions, white part only, minced 1-inch knob fresh ginger, finely chopped 1 T. + 1 tsp. sesame oil 1½ lbs. flank steak oil for greasing kosher salt to taste
Whisk together the sugar, soy, mirin, garlic, scallions, ginger and sesame oil until smooth. Transfer to a resealable plastic storage container or a Ziploc bag. Place the meat and let marinate for 3 to 4 hours or overnight.
Preheat the grill to high. Remove steak from marinade and discard. If meat has marinated overnight, season it very lightly with salt or not at all . If meat has marinated for just a few hours, season lightly with salt. Grease the grill grates with oil.
For flank steak about 1-inch thick, grill four minutes on one side. Flip, grill three minutes on the other side for medium rare. Remove from heat and let rest 10 minutes before slicing across the grain.
Chilled Soba Noodles with Dashi-Shoyu Adapted from Sally Schneider, A New Way To Cook, (Artisan, 2001) Serves 6
½ oz. kombu (kelp seaweed) 2½ C. water ½ oz. dried bonito shavings ½ C. mirin ½ C. soy sauce or tamari 12 oz. soba noodles or green tea soba noodles wasabi powder 1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced sesame seeds 1 sheet nori, cut into thin strips
Place the kombu and the water in a small saucepan. Bring to a gentle simmer. After one minute, remove the kombu and discard. Remove the pan from the heat, add the bonito shavings and do not stir. When the bonito has sunk to the bottom, after a minute or two, strain the broth through a fine strainer, pressing on the bonito shavings with a spatula to extract all the liquid, then discard.
In a small saucepan, bring the mirin to a boil. Add the kombu broth and the soy sauce and simmer for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat, allow to cool, then refrigerate until chilled.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the noodles and cook until al dente, about 4 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water or plunge into an ice bath. Drain and set aside.
When ready to serve, mix wasabi powder with water to make a paste and set aside. Place all of the garnishes — scallions, sessame seeds, nori and wasabi — in separate bowls. Divide the noodles among six plates. Pour the dashi-shoyu into 6 small bowls large enough to handle a serving of chosptick-filled noodles dipped inside, (much larger than what is pictured.) Give each diner a bowl of noodles and sauce and let them garnish their noodles as they please.