Monday, January 30, 2017

Porkless Dandan Mian

Dandan noodles are Schezuanese street noodles that are rich, spicy, and filling. Definitely my latest culinary obsession! The name comes from the stick called a dan dan that vendors walk down the street with carried over the shoulder. From the end of the stick hangs a pair of baskets: one with the noodles and the other with the sauce.  Though there's no stick involved here, there's enough big, amazing, rich Schezuan flavor here to make you think that you've magically been transported to Chengdu if you take a bite and close your eyes. I'm especially proud of the tofu/mushroom pork substitute in this recipe that will literally fool any carnivore you serve this dish to. If anybody bitches to you that they think tofu is gross, feed them this dish and tell them to shut the hell up!

Normally served fiery hot, my recipe is a bit more tame, but you can dial up the heat with chili flakes when you serve it (like I do!). Anything in the ingredient list that you don't already have in the pantry can be acquired at any Asian grocer and most ingredients will even be at a standard supermarket.

Prep time: 3 cocktails

8 ounces dry noodles

Tofu/mushroom "pork":
1 package extra firm tofu
2 TBSP soy sauce
2 TBSP fish sauce
2 TBSP brown sugar
1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 TBSP Sambal Oelek (NOT Siracha--Sambal Oelek is much better!)
2 1/2 TBSP Chinese black vinegar (Chinkiang vinegar) - available at any Asian grocer
6 TBSP hong you (Szechuan chili oil), recipe here, divided
~12 shiitake or crimini mushrooms, washed
3 scallions, chopped
8 cloves garlic
1 TBSP ginger, grated

1/3 cup peanut butter
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock, store-bought or homemade
2 TBSP mirin cooking wine
1-2 TBSP oyster sauce
1-2 TBSP soy sauce
1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil


2 tsp Schezuan peppercorns
Bean sprouts or steamed bok choi (optional)
Red chili flakes or the red chilies from the bottom of your Hong You (Szechuan chili oil)
3 scallions, chopped

Drain and rinse the block of tofu. Wrap it in a dish towel and place a weighted plate on top to press out excess moisture, at least 30 minutes. This step is critical if you want the right "pork" consistency for your tofu.

As tofu is getting pressed, make the broth by combining all the broth ingredients except the sesame oil in food processor and process until combined. Transfer to a pan on the stovetop, add toasted sesame oil, and keep warm it up to serving temperature and maintain at that temperature until you're ready to serve.

Prep the noodles according to their directions, rinse and set aside.

Place a small, dry frying pan on the stovetop and heat on medium heat. Add the Schezuan peppercorns and toast until they darken a little bit and become s bit smoky and fragrant. Transfer to a spice grinder and process into a powder. Set aside.

Now make the tofu/mushroom pork:
In a small bowl, whisk together soy sauce, fish sauce, brown sugar, toasted sesame oil, and Sambal Oelek. Set aside. After the tofu has been pressed for at least 30 minutes, crumble it up by hand into fairly small crumbles. Place a large frying pan over medium-high heat and add 3 TBSP hong you. Once the oil shimmers, add the crumbled tofu. Continue to stir and break up the tofu with a metal spatula until it is lightly browned and a bit crisped--but not totally fried! Remove from heat and transfer tofu to a plate. Now, take a food processor and pulse the mushrooms until the pieces are no larger than about 1/4" -- about 8 good pulses. Put the frying pan from the tofu right back on that medium-high burner and add the other 3 TBSP hong you. Then add the mushrooms. Saute until they turn a deeper brown, shrink down to about half of their original volume, and break down into a semi-paste. Then add the 3 TBSP scallions, garlic, and ginger. Saute another 1-2 minutes. Now incorporate the soy and fish sauce combination you made at the beginning of this step, as well as the tofu that you've set aside. Stir just until everything has been incorporated and remove from heat.

Now dish up by laying a bed of noodles in the bottom of the bowl. Add bean sprouts, tofu/mushroom pork, and ladle broth over the top. Garnish with a pinch of Schezuan peppercorn powder and as much red chili flakes or the red chilies from the bottom of your hong you as you can handle!! EAT! 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Gete's perfect tikil gomen recipe

When I first moved to Ethiopia, I lived with a host family for about 3 months. That's where my host mom, Gete, taught me to make tikil gomen. It was so odd to her that any man wanted to learn how to cook that she was actually nervous to have me around when she prepared injeera or firfir. But eventually we got to be great kitchen pals and I had a blast as her sous chef who could speak only about 8 words of Amharic. Anyhow, this is exactly how she makes her tikil gomen, which is just mild, sautéed cabbage (tikil gomen literally is just 'cabbage' in Amharic). It's a nice, lighter and milder option to serve with the more flavorful wots (stews) for a meal. It can be served hot or cold.

Gete's backyard kitchen. It's humble, but it gets the job done.

Inside the kitchen/pantry (you can just see the edge of the wood stove on the left). This is where I learned how to make the best dishes Ethiopia has to offer from the one and only Gete!

My host fam!

Prep time: 1 cocktail

4 TBSP oil
1 onion, chopped
4 carrots, sliced on the diagonal into 1/2-inch ovals
1/2 head cabbage, core removed and sliced into 3/4-1 inch strips
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp tumeric
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalepeno, chopped

In a large pan that has a lid, heat the oil on medium. When hot, add onions and cover. Let the onions cook for 5 minutes, removing the lid once to stir.

Add carrots, and keep the pot covered for 5 more minutes, opening it once again halfway through to stir.

Add cabbage and keep covered another 5 minutes, opening once again halfway through to stir.

Add salt, ginger, tumeric, garlic, and jalepeno. Cover it all up again and cook until cabbage has softened fully and the moisture in the bottom of the pan has all cooked off, about 15-20 minutes, removing the lid only about every 3 minutes or so to stir. Viola! Gete's tikil gomen is ready!


A perfect condiment that goes great with grilled vegetables, on sandwiches, or as a side with just about any type of fish, meat, or egg dish.

Prep time: 1/4 cocktail

1 cup finely minced Italian parsley
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 TBSP water
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp salt
Red chili flakes to taste

Combine all in a small bowl and allow flavors to mingle at least a half hour before serving.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Arugula pesto... Because I'm a cheap bastard

So last weekend, some friends came to visit. We were going to make a big arugula salad, but alas, we had too much food so we never got around to assembling the salad. So a sad bag of arugula languished in the back of the refrigerator for several days until I finally pulled it out last night. I was going to toss it since I'm actually not a lover of salads that are heavy on arugula. But that shit is expensive. So rather than toss it, I decided to try to do something with it. Because I'm afrugula.

Yep. That was a whole paragraph of buildup for a joke that your overly cheesy uncle Ray would be ashamed to tell. But rest assured, the pesto is much better than the humor around here.

Prep time: 1/4 cocktail

2 cups packed fresh arugula
1/2 cup grated fresh Parmesan (no canned or pre-shredded shit)
1/2 cup raw, unsalted walnuts
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1 clove garlic, minced
Pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in food processor puree until smooth. Serve on top of pasta with your own terrible jokes. Excess pesto freezes well.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Achiote Recado Tacos... As good as Stanley Tucci eating kumquats while listening to the Pixies.

I have to admit I've never thought much about annatto, other than I got a pretty photo of it (above) on a spice plantation in Zanzibar a few years ago. Like the Omaha music scene or American soccer, while it's probably great, annatto isn't something any of us spend much time thinking about. Underrated is the word I'm looking for. Then, just like other underrated things--from kumquats to the subtle power of Stanley Tucci's acting, once you give it a try, you're totally hooked. You swoon at the thought of annatto-infused oil. You're that guy at a dinner party extolling the virtues of Indonesian annatto versus Brazilian (which, frankly, tastes like sawdust) to a captive stranger at the snack table as he desperately tries to escape your spice drivel. Which, is exactly why, my friend, you should give it a try. Become part of the underground culture who have fallen in love with this smooth, delicate spice the way way we quietly and hopelessly fell in love with the Pixies the first time we heard them. Welcome to the club.

So what is achiote recado? Well, I'm glad you asked. It's a spice blend from the Yucatan. It's a mix of annatto with other spices and sour orange juice. As I learned while living down there, it's both delicious and super popular. You can use it as a rub for any type of meat that you want to enjoy, but it goes great in tofu-based tacos too. Every time I make this, it brings me right back to eating 5 of these tacos for a couple bucks in an open air stall at the town market for lunch!

Prep time: 3 cocktails

Achiote recado:
1/4 cup annatto seeds
6 allspice berries
1/2 tsp whole cumin seeds
1 tsp peppercorns
5 whole cloves
1 TBSP oregano
1/4 of a nutmeg pod, grated on a microplane or the finest side of a box grater
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup orange juice
1/4 cup lime juice

3 TBSP canola or peanut oil
1 brick of extra-firm tofu, cut into 3/4 inch cubes

Roasted carrot refried black beans:
2 TBSP oil
1 very large carrot, cut into matchsticks
3/4 cup veggie stock, store-bought or homemade
1 14-oz can black beans, drained
Thyme (optional)

For the tacos:
Mexican style pickled onions
La Costena pickled jalepenos (available in the Mexican aisle of any grocery store), sliced
Cilantro, chopped
Tortillas, fresh or homemade

Additional optional toppings:
Avacado slices
Salsa macha

Combine all the first 5 ingredients of the achiote recado in a spice grinder or coffee grinder and grind into a powder. Transfer to a small, dry frying pan that's over medium heat and add oregano and grated nutmeg. Dry toast the spices until aromatic and just beginning to smoke a tiny bit, about 3-3 minutes. Transfer immediately to a food processor. Also, add garlic, salt and both juices to the spices in the food processor and process it.

For the tofu: in a large frying pan heat the 3 TBSP over medium-high heat. hen hot, add tofu and sauté, stirring with a spatula almost constantly, until the tofu is nicely golden brown but not burned. It may take some care to prevent the tofu from falling apart. When tofu is golden brown, add the achiote recado and stir it all together well.

While you're working on the tofu, make the beans. First in a medium saucepan, heat the 2 TBAP oil over medium heat. When hot, add the carrots and sauté until the carrots are nicely caramelized, but not burned, stirring frequently. Add veggie stock, beans, and thyme, if using. Bring to simmer for 3-5 minutes, then transfer to food processor and puree until it's smooth. Return to the saucepan and keep it warmed over super low heat.

Now assemble your tacos: throw down some beans and tofu on a tortilla and add a smattering of onions, jalepenos, and cilantro. Perfect!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Creamy cashew chutney!

This bad boy is from the south of India and goes great with literally just about any Indian dish as a cooling to medium-heat chutney.

Prep time: 1/4 cocktail

1 cup raw, unsalted cashews, chopped up a bit
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
1/2-inch piece ginger, chopped (no more!)
1-2 small hot chilies, chopped
1/2 cup water
2 TBSP cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped

Combine all ingredients EXCEPT cilantro in food processor and process until totally smooth (this will take a few minutes). Taste and adjust salt or lemon juice, if necessary. It should be a nice, spreadable chutney. If it's too thick, puree in a bit more water. Stir in cilantro and serve!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Fireball Chutney!

Okay, so it's not actually that hot, but with a deep red color, this toasty, spicy chutney looks like the devil's favorite condiment. Goes great with any type of Indian dish that calls for a little added flavor and heat.

Prep time: 1/4 cocktail

1/4 cup chana dal (a type of split chickpea that's available at an Indian grocer or online)
8 dried red chilies (you can dial this up or down depending on personal preference)
8 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 1/2 tsp tamarind concentrate (I use Tamicon brand, others brands may vary in potency, so be careful!)
1/4 cup onion, chopped
2/3 tsp salt

Over medium-low to medium heat, warm up the dal in a frying pan. Stirring constantly for about 5 minutes, fully toast (but don't burn!) the seeds.

Transfer the seeds to a coffee grinder and process into a smooth powder.

Transfer the chana dal powder and the other ingredients to a food processor and process until it's a smooth paste.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Amazing Jackfruit Tinga Tacos

Traditionally made with shredded chicken or beef in a spicy, smoky, and savory sauce, tinga is not dissimilar from barbecue. And, like barbecue, this dish is best served with beer. A lot of beer. In fact, I learned how to cook the chicken version of this dish while living in the Yucatan from a short, plump local woman named Lily. She drank a lot of beer when she taught me how to make it. So I know it's authentic. Logic.

You can find jackfruit at many grocery stores and Asian markets. At grocery stores, it is often sold next to the canned fruit.

Prep time: 3 cocktails (or 6 cocktails if you drink like Lily)

5 TBSP oil, divided
2 14-ounce cans jackfruit, rinsed, drained and lightly shredded
1 very large onion, peeled but not cut up
1/2 tsp salt
8 cloves garlic, minced and divided
4 medium tomatoes, cored but not chopped
3/4 tsp whole peppercorns
1/2 tsp dried allspice berries
1/2 tsp whole cumin seeds
8 whole cloves
3 bay leaves
1 TBSP oregeno
1/2 cup veggie stock, store-bought or homemade
The sauce (but not the peppers) from one small 7-ounce can of chipotles in adobo sauce
1 batch homemade tortillas
Pico de gallo
Mexican pickled onions
Black beans and rice (optional)
Avocado (optional)
Mexican crema or sour cream (optional)

Cut the onion in half. Slice the first half into thin "half-moon" slices. Chop the other half.

Heat 3 TBSP oil over medium to medium-high heat. When hot, add shredded jackfruit. Saute jackfruit about 7-10 minutes, stirring frequently. Now add 3/4 of the chopped half of the onion. Continue to saute another 10 minutes or so until the jackfruit is starting to get nicely browned, then add salt and half of the garlic. Saute 3 more minutes then remove from heat.

In a medium saucepan, combine tomatoes, the last little bit of chopped onion, and half of the remaining garlic over medium heat (without any oil). Cook until the tomato skin wrinkles and starts to fall off the fruit, gently stirring occasionally so all sides are wrinkled. This will take about 15 minutes. Then transfer to a food processor and buzz into a sauce.

While the tomatoes cook, combine peppercorns, allspice, cumin seeds, and cloves in a spice grinder and powder them all.

Add remaining 2 TBSP oil to a large pan and put it on medium heat. When oil shimmers, add the 'half moon' onions and saute until transparent. Add the last of the garlic and saute one more minute. Add the tomato puree and stir well. Once it begins to boil, add spice mixture from the grinder plus the bay leaves, oregano, veggie stock, and adobo. Cook until you have a marinara-like consistency, about 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Add jackfruit mixture and cook 3 more minutes and adjust salt if needed. Remove from heat and build yer' tacos. Drink beer. Love life.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Want to Be Rich and Famous? Make This Fattoush.

If you'd like to be famous in life, make this Middle-Eastern salad next time you have company over. By then end of the first course, your guests will be falling all over themselves to compliment you. They'll be live-tweeting their meal. They'll call their loved ones to rave about the meal they're having. It will go viral. Paparazzi will start following you. The President will call you for advice in matters of great national importance. Sexy young underwear models will throw themselves at your feet when they realize that you're the Fattoush guy. Your whole life will change. That's the power of this salad. You've been warned.

If you forget to leave the pita out overnight, you can pan-fry it. Heat a frying pan with vegetable oil over medium heat. Fry the pita until nice and golden brown but not burned. Pat off excess oil, allow to cool, and use as you would the day-old stuff.

Also, this is a salad that must be served fresh. It won’t keep for even a few hours, let alone overnight. So if you don’t think you’ll eat enough of it fresh after making, then cut the recipe in half.

Prep time: 1 cocktail

1/2 cup high quality, first cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 2 lemons
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
3-4 pieces pita bread, left out to dry overnight, torn into small pieces
1 small head romaine lettuce, cut into shreds
1 cucumber, quartered lengthwise, then sliced thinly
1 pound plum, cherry, or garden heirloom tomatoes chopped
4 scallions, chopped
2 TBSP dried ground sumac
½ cup chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
¼ cup chopped fresh mint
3 ounces crumbled feta (optional, but highly recommended)
1 medium diced orange bell pepper or a handful of sliced radishes (optional)
½ cup Kalamata olives, pitted and coarsely chopped (optional)

Prepare the dressing by combining olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and salt in a small bowl. Whisk well and set aside for a few minutes.

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Top with dressing and mix well. Serve right away. 

Homemade Pita Bread

Fresh, homemade pita is infinitely better than the dry, tasteless garbage at the grocery store. So stop wasting your money! And simple to prepare in the background as you assemble other awesomeness for dinner.

Note that you can vary the ratio of whole wheat and white flour. You can make this recipe using up to 100 percent whole wheat flour or up to 100 white. Just adjust the liquid accordingly.

Prep time: 3 cocktails

3 cups flour (I typically use 50/50 whole wheat to white)
1.5 tsp salt
1 TBSP sugar
1 packet yeast (or 2 tsp)
1.25 cups warm water
¼ cup olive oil

Combine all the dry ingredients and mix well. Then stir in water and oil and stir everything well, until the dough forms a ball. Add a couple TBSP of water if the ball is too dry to absorb all the flour.

Knead the dough by hand or with mixer for 10 minutes.

Place the dough in a mixing bowl that has been brushed with oil. Cover with a damp towel and let rise at room temperature for 90 minutes, or until the ball doubles in size.

After dough has spent 30 minutes rising, preheat oven to 500 (or as high as the bake setting will go) with a pizza stone or non-glazed terra cotta tiles inside. If you have neither, a cast-iron frying pan in the middle rack will suffice.  

Punch down the ball and divide the dough into 8 balls. Cover with a damp rag or plastic and allow to sit for 20 minutes. Roll each ball out with a rolling pin on a floured surface until they are about ¼ inch thick (or even a little less) and about 6-7” in diameter. Let sit uncovered an additional 10 minutes.

When ready, place the pitas directly into the pizza stone and cook for about 3-4 minutes. Serve warm.