Friday, April 28, 2017

Vegetarian bibimbap - the best recipe ever?


I regularly slave over meals for whole afternoons. It's not at all uncommon for me to ferment vegetables, nuts, or condiments for weeks in preparation of a particular dinner. My Thanksgiving menu planning starts in mid-June in a typical year. In addition to being a kitchen slut, I'm an over-analytical type-A scientist with OCD and too much spare time.... What I'm trying to say is that I tend to overdo things in the kitchen. So it came as a bit of a pleasant shock today when the love of my life told me no less than 7 times that the dinner I made last night was the best meal I've ever made. And it was a breeze to whip up. So gone are my days of sleuthing through a dozen spice stores to find the freshest ajowan seeds in order to make some obscure Pakistani dish. In the future, I'll just whip up a quick bibimbap and spend the rest of my newfound free time soaking up lavish praise and compliments.

So what the fuck is bibimbap? In addition to a wildly popular 1997 hit song by teenage heartthrob brother band Hansen, it's a wonderfully vibrant, flavorful, and satisfying Korean medley of rice, vegetables, eggs, and hot sauce. Optional are beef, if you're of the carnivorous persuasion or tofu, if you're a fellow Chaco-wearing, leg-shaving vegetarian such as myself. Either way, you simply not go wrong with this meal. Just ask the love of my life!

Prep time: 2 cocktails

Rice:
1 cup forbidden black rice
1 TBSP rice vinegar
1/2 tsp salt

Sauce:
3 TBSP gochujang (a Korean chili paste available at Asian grocers or in the Asian aisle of many supermarkets)
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
2 tsp agave nectar
1 TBSP rice vinegar
1 tsp ginger, minced or very finely grated (optional)

Vegetables:
1/2 cucumber, sliced into the thinnest wheels you can possibly make (a mandolin is helpful if you have one)
2 TBSP rice vinegar
Several TBSP neutral oil with high smoke point (canola or avocado oil are great options), divided
1 large carrot, julienned 
8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, sliced into 1/2-inch strips
4 cloves garlic
12 ounces (about one bunch) spinach, stems removed and chopped up a bit
1 1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
2 TBSP soy sauce
2 TBSP mirin cooking wine (available in the Asian aisle of most supermarkets)
4 scallions
4 eggs
4 ounces bean sprouts
1 sheet nori (sushi wrapper) or similar Korean seaweed, chopped up coarsely with a knife or scissors
Several generous pinches sesame seeds

First, get the rice started. Combine all the rice ingredients, along with 1 3/4 cup water in a rice cooker or saucepan with a lid. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender. Keep warm.

After the rice gets going, toss the cucumbers with several generous pinches of salt and place them in a colander or strainer to let excess water drip out. After 20-30 minutes, transfer cucumbers to a bowl and toss with the 2 TBSP of rice vinegar.

As the cucumbers are sitting in the colander, prepare the sauce by whisking together all the sauce ingredients. Set aside.

Now, heat a TBSP or so of your neutral cooking oil on medium heat in a frying pan or wok. Toss in the carrots and saute until they've turned golden are are a bit blistered, about 10 minutes. Set aside.

Return your pan or wok to stovetop, reduce heat to medium (or a little less) and heat up a couple more TBSP of the neutral cooking oil. Add mushrooms and cook about 8 minutes, until they turn a bit golden. Add garlic and stir for  about 30 seconds. Add spinach and cook until it's well-wilted, about 3 minutes. Stir in toasted sesame oil, soy sauce, mirin, and scallions and remove from heat and transfer to a covered bowl to keep warm. 

Now use a large frying pan (you can use the same one from the vegetables if it's big enough) and add 1-2 more TBSP of your neutral cooking oil. When pan and oil are totally hot, add eggs and cook sunny-side-up. 

As eggs are finishing, build your bibimbap bowls. Start with a big mound of rice in the bottom. Add a small heap of cucumbers, carrots, mushroom/spinach combo, and bean sprouts. Top with eggs and garnish with pieces of seaweed and sesame seeds. Serve with generous drizzles of the hot sauce. Then drink massive amounts of soju and bask in the compliments of your dinner companions!

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

Noodles:
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

Broth:
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

Toppings:

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, vinegar, 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!