ma po tofu

ma po tofu

We had been doing so well on our self-imposed mission to eat tofu once a week. Not that I really think soy is particularly beneficial (the jury still seems to be out on that one), but we do eat a fair amount of meat, and I try to work in other sources of protein when convenient. Besides, tofu is cheap. We recently discovered silken tofu in boxes that keeps on the shelf for several weeks, so now we can stock up and have it ready to hand. Lately, though, we’ve slacked off on our tofu consumption.

tofu soak

After a few weeks of somewhat disorganized menu planning, I remembered that there was a box of silken tofu in the cupboard getting past its sell-by date, and a recipe for Ma Po Tofu in our Sichuan cookbook┬áthat hadn’t yet been tried, so that’s what we had for dinner one night after work. It was incredibly quick and easy, so I suspect we’ll have it again before too long.

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scallion-chive breads

chives

The chives in my garden aren’t quite in bloom yet, but they’ve become tall and lush and have been begging to be made into Chinese scallion-chive flatbreads. I felt it was only fair to oblige.

scallion chive bread

These breads are so delicious, I can’t begin to tell you. Sometimes you can get them in Chinese restaurants, but I’ve never had one to compare with homemade, fresh out of the pan. They are addictive: crunchy on the outside, soft, salty and fragrant on the inside.

scallion chive breads Continue reading

sichuan dry-fried beef

stirfry

Posts have been a bit irregular of late, I’m afraid, due to a houseful of head colds. More time has been spent on the couch under a layer of cats than on the computer. However, here’s a recipe that I happen to have ready to go: a stirfry of beef and celery from a Sichuanese cookbook which will really knock your socks off. Chile-bean paste is a very delightful thing. Good for the sinuses.

celery strips
ginger and scallion strips Continue reading

an oddly soothing stirfry

menu planning

While doing some serious browsing through our cookbook collection one day, we found a recipe in the latest Alford/Duguid book, Beyond the Great Wall, that sounded both easy and exciting. It was a simple pork stirfry, seasoned with shallot and ginger, but with the addition of a good handful of pickled mustard greens. It just so happens that I recently bought a jar of these on spec, so I was very excited to try this.

stirfry mise en place Continue reading

spicy pork buns

baked bao

We made our periodic pilgrimage to Uwajimaya last weekend, partly to shop for tacky Christmas presents but mostly to restock our supply of noodles, tea and chile-garlic sauce. We went to Samurai Noodle for lunch (the new Extra Pork Fat option is astonishing), then spent the next two hours battling our way through all the other people milling around trying to figure out which small red jar might hold the correct form of soybean paste or pickled turnip, or stampeding through the narrow aisles between the Hello Kitty stickers and the Daruma keychains.

chile bean paste

The funny thing is, we came home with all this new stuff, all jazzed up about doing some new Chinese dishes or something Indonesian, and the dinner we ended up making didn’t use any of it. How silly. We were going to make a side of stirfried ong choy (water spinach), which we haven’t found anywhere else,┬ábut it started to compost itself before we could cook it (drat). We had to have plain spinach instead. And for dinner I made bao, one of my favorite things to eat in the world, with a new filling out of Fuchsia Dunlop’s Land of Plenty, which turned out to be the easiest bun filling I’ve ever made and used ingredients we already had around. Go figure. But never fear, we’ll get around to the soybean paste and pickled mustard greens later this week. Stay tuned!

steamed bao

Concerning bao: I love pretty much any kind of bread or dumpling with a savory filling, and bao are even more wonderful made fresh at home than they are off a street vendor’s cart. Continue reading

a Peaceful lunch

Vancouver

We managed to slip out of town for a day last weekend, and spent a happy afternoon in Vancouver, B.C. It’s strange that we can live so close to Canada, but make it up there so seldom. Every time we go, we tell ourselves “We should do this more often!”

This time we took advantage of the opportunity to get some good Chinese food. Skagit Valley is a pretty good place for many kinds of food, but good Indian or Chinese restaurants are just not happening. Vancouver, on the other hand, has amazing Asian food of all possible kinds. I wanted to find a place with good noodles, and according to the Chowhound boards, Peaceful is one of the top spots.

Peaceful Restaurant

When we walked in, it was still early in the day, and the place was mostly empty. We quickly emptied our first pot of hot, weak tea and enjoyed being in out of the rain while we studied the rather huge menu. Everything looked fabulous, which made things difficult. We finally settled on an order of the Peaceful beef rolls, a plate of cumin lamb noodles and some Szechuan stir-fried string beans, then settled in and watched the restaurant fill up. Continue reading

sea bean stir fry

sea beans

In one of those instances of weird synchronicity, we ate sea beans for the first time last Friday, and on Saturday we saw them for sale at our local farmer’s market. Of course we bought some. Then we went home and attempted to find a recipe for them in our vast array of cookbooks – not as easy as I thought. Turns out this stuff, a marsh plant, goes by a lot of different names: glasswort, sea asparagus, samphire, salicornia, pousse-pied…and most of my books don’t talk about it at all. Many people pickle it, but the Zuni Cafe cookbook has a nice recipe for fish with a topping of sea beans sauteed in butter and sprinkled with vinegar – I might try that if we get more.

sea bean stir fry

What we did with it was make a stirfry. It seemed logical – the sea beans are small, crisp and salty, and cook up quickly, and I thought the flavor would work well contrasted with meat and vegetables. We combined them with pork marinated in black bean sauce, some sliced mushrooms, ginger and shallot, and ate it with plenty of brown rice. It was excellent – a touch salty, but the rice balanced it out. Green tea would have been a nice match, too.

I have no idea how long the season is for these, but I would definitely buy them again. Anyone know any good recipes for sea beans besides pickles?

sea bean stir fry

tofu is delicious food

tofu
tofu

We don’t have tofu at home real often – I usually get my fix ordering it deep-fried in Thai restaurants – but when we do, one of my favorite ways to eat it is with broccoli and peanut sauce. I remember we made a sort-of version of this back in college, when I lived in a vegan interest house on the edge of campus. One day we discovered we had left our shipment of tofu out on the porch…in Minnesota. In January. In case you haven’t done this yourself, let me tell you that frozen tofu takes on a really interesting texture, kind of like a hardened sponge. It’s not entirely unpleasant, and actually it was such a nice change from the usual that we all got very enthusiastic about it for a while. Anyway, we would cut it into cubes and toss it up with broccoli and peanut butter and rice, and it was good and more filling than a lot of the things we cooked in that house (I often had to eat a peanut butter sandwich after dinner just to get through the night).

soba
soba with tofu and broccoli

My current version is, I hope, a little more carefully put together. We only recently discovered how good buckwheat soba is in this dish, but I like it a lot – the creamy sauce and tofu against the earthy bite of the noodles is great. Brown rice works well, too. Continue reading

glazed gingery ribs

star anise, ginger, scallions, chile flakes

I have no idea where this recipe came from. I think it was a library book, maybe something general like “Asian Cooking” by somebody-or-other. I don’t think the original recipe called for star anise or chile pepper – I think J thought that up himself. But, you know, we just have no record of it. The recipe is written in our little home recipe binder and has been there for years, and every time we make it we’re impressed anew with how easy and delicious it is.

It’s a great dish to make for company because it’s so hands-off: you combine the ingredients with water and let it simmer, then boil off the liquid. Stir occasionally and cook some rice and veg to go with it. That’s it! The only downside is being able to start it early enough, since it takes a long time to boil down – not really a weeknight meal unless someone in your house gets off work well before 5.

cutting pork ribs Continue reading