Kung Pao Brussel Sprouts and Tofu

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I loved the food in Azerbaijan (which is where I’ve been for the last month, hence no posts). Granted they had very few vegetarian options, but it was all so flavorful! We regularly had a smoky grilled eggplant spread on freshly baked seeded bread, lentil soup with lemon and piles of fresh herbs, and handfuls of greens cooked in between bread like a flaky quesadilla called qutab. Breakfasts were extravagant affairs, as the hotels we were put up in had unnecessarily but deliciously large buffets every morning, and I’ve never shaken my habit of needing to try everything that looks good. And I didn’t have the same extreme cravings I had in Guatemala, as we had a decent Chinese place around the corner, a drunken encounter with dang good nachos on Valentines’ night, and passable pizza places on every block. Let’s just say, I certainly never went to bed hungry, despite long days of physical theatre trainings and project planning.

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There was just one, tiny, moronic culinary detail that was met by questioning eyes — Hot Sauce. I just attempted asking for it twice — the first time I received a little bowl of sweet Thai chili sauce (not so good with scrambled eggs) and the second time, mustard. One pizza place we went to did have incredibly-spicy pickled peppers as garnish on the table, though. Spicy as a concept is known and (occasionally) appreciated! Just not in sauce form.

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I don’t claim to be a hot sauce fanatic, and in fact until very recently I wouldn’t consider myself a “spicy things” person. I could take the “low-medium” Indian curry level, but I didn’t appreciate it. Pure spice doesn’t add anything. (And I still hold to that — spice for spice’s sake is still just meh.) But when the spice has flavor and that flavor comes from real chilies or really good hot sauce, I am so game. For low-medium and beyond! I am proud to say I no longer find Cholula spicy (although it will always remain a devoted fan to my gateway drug). Our fridge and cabinets are overflowing with bottles purchased at our local store The Heatonist and from the annual hot sauce convention. We always have dried and fresh chiles around to add to any dish.

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This brussel sprout dish, however, was head-sweating, milk-gulping, obscenity-inducing spicy, especially when you got a surprise chunk of red pepper. If you want it less sweat-inducing, reduce the number of chilies, take out all the seeds, and maybe just cut them in half and then remove them at the end. Also, the Spicy Tofu I ordered at our friendly neighborhood Chinese restaurant in Azerbaijan didn’t hold a candle to this. But don’t let that scare you! The flavors are so much stronger than the My Mouth in on Fire feeling. Promise.

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one year ago: butternut tahini mash, mango mezcal margarita, and lemony fregola with artichokes and caramelized onions (I still dream about this…)

Kung Pao Brussel Sprouts and Tofu

Adapted from Bon Appetit
serves 2-3

about 4 cups brussel sprouts (more or less 1.25 pounds)
4 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
½ a 14-oz pkg. of extra-firm tofu
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
2 tablespoons sambal oelek (spicy chili paste)
⅓ cup soy sauce
2 ½ tablespoons sugar
6 dried serrano chiles, some seeds removed, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
s&p

Slice tofu in half so you have two thin rectangles. Place in between layers of paper towels, and cover with something heavy to get the excess moisture out. Leave like this for at least half an hour.

Preheat oven to 425F. To prep brussel sprouts, slice off ends and then cut in half. Toss with 3 tablespoons olive oil, sprinkle with s&p, and place on rimmed baking sheet. Roast until browned and softened, about 20 minutes, tossing once halfway.

Combine cornstarch with one tablespoon water. Stir to make a slurry. (This will help thicken our sauce later.) Set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil on medium-high. Add garlic and ginger and cook for two minutes, stirring frequently, until garlic has lightly browned. Add sambal oelek and cook for two more minutes, continuing to stir frequently. Add soy sauce, sugar, chiles, rice vinegar, and ½ cup water. Bring to a boil and then stir in cornstarch slurry. Simmer for about 5 minutes, or until sauce has thickened and reduced a bit. Set aside.

Remove tofu from paper towels cut into cubes about 1 cm by 1 cm. Coat with salt and pepper. Heat a large saute pan to medium–high heat and add 2 teaspoons olive oil. Add tofu cubes and don’t stir; let cook until crispy. Flip to another side of the cube and cook without stirring until crispy. Continue until cubes are crunchy on all sides. This should take about 10 minutes total. Resist the urge to stir!

Combine sprouts, tofu, and sauce in a bowl and mix to distribute evenly. I didn’t use quite all the sauce, since it was very thick and really spicy! Use your judgement. Top individual portions with chopped peanuts and serve with brown rice.

 

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Sweet&Spicy Chinese-ish Eggplant and Cubanelle Peppers

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My love affair with all food Asian goes far and deep. The night I graduated from high school we went to Minado, an enormous and yet high-quality all-you-can-eat sushi and seafood buffet that’s always packed to the gills (ha). I have brought three boyfriends there, who have all had to gain the stamp of Minado Success before being fully accepted into the family.  My parents bonded over late-night dinners in college at Moon Villa in Boston’s Chinatown. We ate it MINIMUM once a week growing up, and had a lovely relationship with Vanilla, the hostess at our favorite local joint. We are part of the ranks of Jews who consume their beloved sesame chicken and wonton soup on Christmas, albeit in a tiny town in the White Mountains, apres-ski. Heck, my Dad even had Chinese food at his Bar Mitzvah. It runs deep in the veins.

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What I’ve discovered about New York Chinese food is that when it’s good, it’s very good. And when it’s bad, it’s AWFUL. In the suburbs, all Chinese food is fine. It’s not authentic, but you don’t expect it to be. It’s tasty and reliable versions of the same sort of food, usually for cheap, and always plentiful. Here, it’s a different story. You can either go to Chinatown and go to a specific regional restaurant and get fantastic food, or you can go to the take-out joint on the corner and have belly aches all night. Where is the suburban happy medium?! Why do literally all Brooklyn Chinese restaurants suffer from the everything-tastes-like-oil-and-uses-the-same-gloopy-sauce syndrome? It’s so disappointing, time after time. Thank goodness we have Thai, Japanese, Korean (and Turkish, Italian, Israeli, etc) aplenty to fill the void, and Chinatown is just one quick train stop away. On all other nights, there’s bastardized homemade “Chinese-ish” food.

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This pepper and eggplant dish is a freaking delicious version of above mentioned bastardized Chinese. It’s probably not something you’d ever get served in Chinatown but if I ate it at your house I’d be ecstatic. It’s salty and sweet and spicy and oily (but not too much) and crunchy and easy, too! Don’t you dare skimp on the fried garlic&peanut topping, or you’ll have serious regrets. Serve with brown rice and never suffer through gloopy mushrooms over overcooked and oil-shimmering lo mein again. Amen.

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one year ago: spicy micheladas for drowning your autumn-relates woes and kabocha toasts with caramelized onion-maple jam to celebrate them

Sweet&Spicy Chinese-ish Eggplant and Cubanelle Peppers

adapted from taste with the eyes 

2-4 T canola oil
1 small eggplant, cut into small cubes
2 cubanelle peppers (I had them around from the CSA but feel free to use a handful of shishitos or plain old green bell pepper), cut into thin strips
salt
1.5 T soy sauce
1 T rice vinegar
1 heaping t toasted sesame oil
1 scant T sugar
1 t cornstarch
1 t red pepper flakes
4 cloves garlic, sliced as thin as possible
¼ c peanuts, roughly chopped

Heat two medium-sized pans. Add a tablespoon of oil to each. Add pepper strips to one and eggplant cubes to the other. Cook peppers on medium-high heat for 7 minutes, stirring frequently, until blistered and softened. Sprinkle with salt when done and set aside. Cook eggplant on medium heat for 9-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened and starting to brown. Add more oil to eggplants if necessary, as they like to suck it all in immediately.

Meanwhile, make your sauce by combining soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, sugar, cornstarch, and red pepper flakes in a small bowl and mixing. Set aside.

When eggplant is done, pour in the sauce. Cook for two minutes on medium high heat until it smells amazing. Add peppers and cook for about five minutes on lowish heat to let all flavors come together.

While that cooks, heat a small pan to medium high heat. Add 2 t canola oil. Add garlic slices and saute, stirring frequently, until garlic is nutty and golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. Drain on paper towels and coat with salt.

Top individual portions of eggplant and peppers with fried garlic and chopped peanuts. Serve with brown rice. Repeat until you wonder where the food has gone…

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Mustard Greens with Oyster Sauce and Garlic Oil

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Three years ago I returned from Israel on the Fourth of July. I was flying down the East Coast just as it became dark. My return to the US was celebrated with hundreds of different fireworks displays out the window, dotting the horizon as we hurried from Toronto towards JFK. Every suburb along the route outshined its neighbors with their colorful luminescent displays. After a month of touristy activities and solitary explorations (and amazing hummus), I was elated to be above this spectacular opening of America’s arms, witnessing this celebration of her might.

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Then last year I experienced my first “ribBQ”–a rib and meat-filled event of Texan proportions. Very celebratory, very America, very memorable. (More on that, plus very un-Texas tacos, here.)

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This year, as July 4th loomed closer and no plans to escape the city materialized, we decided to embrace the opportunity to make our own event. A grill grate and coolers and folding chairs were purchased, and now you can officially invite me to a suburban soccer game because I own One of Those Chairs That Folds Into Its Own Bag. So does Daniel. They were $8 (yay Home Depot!).

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We dressed in red, white, and blue and ate delicious food with lovely people in our inviting backyard. We made elotes, grilled veggies, and burgers aplenty, gorged on salads and grilled peeps (yes you read that right–it was time for the Easter candy to go), and giggled over a drunken bout of Cards Against Humanity. Although not condensable to a single moment or story, it was a total success! Memories made.

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and oh! These greens? Definitely didn’t make an appearance at our joyous Americana evening. The recipe’s simplicity and promise of “just like dim sum!” were enough to give it a go the next day, after all the dishes were washed, the yard was cleaned, and a nap was had. I super recommend it: easy, filling, light, and delicious. Mustard greens, til we meet again (probably in tomorrow’s CSA basket…)!

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one year ago: Roasted Beets and their Greens with Mint YogurtSimple Rhubarb Cake, and epic Tofu Banh Mi Sandwiches 

Mustard Greens with Oyster Sauce & Garlic Oil

from Rasa Malaysia 

1 bunch mustard greens, rinsed well and roughly chopped, big stems removed
2 drops canola oil

Garlic Oil:
3 small cloves garlic, finely minced
1 T oil (olive, canola, whatever)

Sauce:
2 t oil
1.5 T oyster sauce
1.5 T water
½-¾ t sugar
2-3 dashes white pepper

Set a large pot of water to boil. When it’s boiling, add the two drops of canola oil. Add mustard greens and cook for 30 seconds to a minute, or until the structure starts to breakdown and both leaves and stems are soft. As soon as this happens, use a slotted spoon or spider to transfer greens into a colander. Rinse with cool water. Dry well, either with towels or a salad spinner.

For Garlic Oil: Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Add oil. When shimmering, add garlic and cook until oil is fragrant and garlic is browned. This happens very quickly! Could be as short as 10 seconds, depending on how finely you mince the garlic. Pour oil and fried garlic bits into a small bowl and set aside.

For Sauce: Return empty garlic oil pan to medium heat and add oil. Add next 4 ingredients, being very careful. Pan may sizzle! Cook together for about 15 seconds, until ingredients are cohesive and viscous.

Arrange greens on a serving platter. Top with sauce and garlic oil. Delicious served with brown rice.