Improvised Ma Po Tofu

Feed the craving for homemade Ma Po Tofu with this fast and easy recipe:

Homemade Ma Po Tofu Soup

I call this soup Improvised Ma Po Tofu, because, when the craving strikes, and you have no intention to shop for specialty ingredients on a frigid Sunday night in your PJs, you improvise. For this soup, I used a David Tanis recipe in the New York Times as a template and dabbled with the ingredients I had, while adding extra smidges of this and that to ramp up the flavor and spice to my taste.

With that said – and in the spirit of planning ahead – I recommend preparing yourself for any future nocturnal cravings with two Asian condiments I relied on for this recipe. These ingredients add lip-smacking flavor to a smattering of dishes, Asian or otherwise. They also have a long shelf life and can easily be tucked away in your refrigerator, so they are worth the effort to purchase.

The first condiment I recommend is gojuchang. It’s a Korean fermented hot chili paste, which adds a smoky kick of heat, mild glutinous-rice sweetness, and that elusive umami flavor to sauces, marinades, and soups that makes them positively addicting.

Another useful ingredient is fermented black bean and garlic sauce, which has a murky, almost meaty quality that adds depth and savory flavor to stir-frys and marinades. Both of these staples can be found in most well-stocked supermarkets or in specialty shops, and they can be stored in your refrigerator for up to a year.

And while we’re talking about cravings, I’ll add that once the ingredients for this soup are assembled, you can whip it up in a matter of minutes. This is a close to instant gratification you can find on a PJ-clad wintry Sunday night.  

Ma Po Tofu

Active Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Serves 2 to 4

1 ounce dried Porcini mushrooms
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 large red jalapeño chile, seeded, chopped
2 tablespoons fermented hot chili paste, such as gojuchang
1 tablespoon fermented black bean and garlic sauce
2 tablespoons grated fresh peeled ginger
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons chicken or mushroom stock
2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
15 ounces semi-firm tofu, patted dry, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 to 2 teaspoons sugar, optional
4 scallions, white and green parts thinly sliced

1. Bring 1 1/2 cups water to a simmer in a small saucepan. Turn off the heat, add the mushrooms, and let steep for 15 minutes.
2. Heat the oil in a skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add the chile, fermented chili paste, and black bean sauce and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the ginger and garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the mushrooms and water to the wok. Stir in the 1 cup stock, soy sauce, and sesame oil. Slide the tofu into the soup, reduce the heat to medium.
3. Whisk the 1 tablespoon cornstarch with the remaining 3 tablespoons stock. Stir into the soup and simmer until the soup is hot. Taste for seasoning and add sugar, if desired. Stir in the scallions and serve.

30 Minute Coconut Shrimp Curry

Greet January head-on with a steaming, aromatic bowl of coconut shrimp curry:

30 Minute Shrimp Curry Stew

Satisfying soups and stews heady with spice, spark the senses and hint of sunny far-flung destinations. You might call it escapism, but I can’t think of a better way to embrace winter. This curry is rich, bright, and potent with flavor. It’s also easy to make and extremely versatile. You can add additional vegetables to the stew, such as carrot and cauliflower. A squeeze of lime juice is essential to brightening the broth with a kick of acidity. Best of all, this dish can be prepared in 30 minutes – which leaves you just enough time to cook some rice.

Coconut Shrimp Curry

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Serves 4

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 green jalapeño pepper, stemmed and seeded, finely chopped
2 tablespoons grated fresh peeled ginger
1 1/2 tablespoons curry powder
1 (28-ounce) can chopped Italian plum tomatoes
1 1/2 cups coconut milk
1 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise, each quarter sliced in 1/2-inch pieces
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus extra for garnish
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 to 2 teaspoons brown sugar (optional)
Cooked basmati rice for serving
Lime wedges for serving

1. Heat the oil in deep skillet or soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic, jalapeño, and ginger and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the curry powder and continue to cook until fragrant, about 1 minute more.
2. Add the tomatoes, coconut milk, and zucchini. Bring to a boil and simmer until the vegetables are tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Stir in the shrimp and cook until they turn pink and are just cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes.
3. Stir in the 1/4 cup cilantro, the lime juice, salt, and black pepper and taste for seasoning. If desired, add 1 to 2 teaspoons brown sugar to balance the flavor.
4. Ladle into bowls with cooked basmati rice. Garnish with additional cilantro and serve with lime wedges.

Asian Spiced Turkey Meatball Skewers with Sweet Chili Sauce

Everything tastes better on a stick, including turkey meatballs:

Asian spiced meatball skewers with a sweet chili dipping sauce

Here’s the thing: it’s fun to eat with your fingers. Skewering food, such as these turkey meatballs, puts the fun in food. It takes ordinary recipes and sticks it to them (pun intended), along with an assortment of dipping sauces – because dipping a stick in a sauce is half the fun of eating food on skewers. If you need to encourage your kids to eat their veggies, or if you wish to invite your 20 best friends to a cocktail party, food on a stick is the way to go.

These Asian spiced meatballs are a sweet and spicy blend of ground turkey, ginger, cilantro, and garlic. They are fragrant and addictively good. Dutifully skewered on sticks or speared with toothpicks, they put the fun in food. Paired with a sweet and sour chili sauce for dipping (or drizzling) they are guaranteed to be gobbled up.

and nd who doesn’t like meatballs? Besides, it’s ’s also fun to eat meatballs.

Asian Turkey Meatballs with Chili Sauce

Active Time:
Total Time:
Makes about 20 (1 1/2-inch) meatballs

Meatballs:
2 pounds lean ground turkey
1/4 cup panko bread crumbs
3 scallions, white parts finely chopped, green parts reserved for garnish
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 red jalapeño chile pepper, seeded, finely chopped
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Chili Sauce:
1 cup unseasoned rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon Sambal Oelek (red chili paste)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon chopped mint leaves
2 teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger

Vegetable oil for pan frying

1. Combine all of the meatball ingredients together in a large bowl and mix to combine without over-mixing. Form into 1 1/2-inch balls (wet your hands from time to time to prevent sticking). Arrange on a plate, loosely cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 hour or up to 6 hours.

2. Prepare the chili sauce: Combine the vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Heat until the sugar dissolves, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining ingredients. Cool to room temperature.

3. Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the meatballs in one layer without overcrowding and flatten slightly. Cook until brown on both sides and thoroughly cooked through the center, 6 to 8 minutes, turning as needed. Transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel. Repeat with remaining meatballs.

4. Spear the meatballs with small skewers. Thinly slice the reserved green scallions. Serve with the Chili Sauce for dipping or drizzling. Garnish with the green scallions.

 

Spring Rolls Deconstructed – Shrimp and Rice Noodle Salad

Shrimp and Rice Noodle Salad with Spicy Peanut DressingShrimp and Rice Noodle Salad with Spicy Peanut Dressing

If you like spring rolls, then you will love this salad. All of the goodness stuffed into a rice paper wrapped Thai or Vietnamese roll – rice noodles, shrimp, crisp veggies, fresh herbs, and chiles – is jumbled together in a big bowl of salad. The result? You might be tempted to call it a deconstructed spring roll, with all of the great flavor minus the labor of actually making a roll. Once all of the ingredients are prepped, it’s quick to assemble for a light and healthy dinner. The dressing is the magic touch that pulls this colorful dish together. It has all of the ingredients you’ll find in an Asian dipping sauce and then some: ginger, garlic, Sriracha, lime, and peanut butter. The trick is to blitz all of the dressing ingredients in a food processor (including the lime sections!) to form a thick and potent sauce. In fact, you might want to make extra dressing to keep on hand – it makes a great dipping sauce for cruditées or tossed with cooked Asian noodles.

Shrimp and Rice Noodle Salad with Spicy Peanut Dressing

Active Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Serves 4

Dressing:
1/2 cup canola oil
1 lime, peel and pith removed, quartered
2 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons coarsely grated peeled ginger with juices
2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon Sriracha
2 teaspoons runny honey

Salad:
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound large (18/20) shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Salt
4 ounces rice noodles, cooked per manufacturer’s instructions, room temperature
3 scallions, ends trimmed, white and green parts sliced on the diagonal
1 large carrot, cut in matchsticks
1/2 English cucumber, seeded, cut in matchsticks
2 cups coarsely chopped Napa cabbage
1 cup bean sprouts
1 cup sugar snap peas, thinly sliced lengthwise
1 red jalapeño pepper, stemmed and seeded, finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, coarsely chopped, plus extra for garnish
1/2 cup fresh coriander sprigs, coarsely chopped, plus extra for garnish
1/4 cup chopped roasted peanuts for garnish

1. Place all of the dressing ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Transfer to a bowl.
2. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp in one layer, sprinkle with the red pepper flakes, and lightly season with salt. Cook until the shrimp are pink on both sides and just cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes, turning as needed. Transfer to a plate.
3. Place the rice noodles, scallions, carrot, cucumber, cabbage, bean sprouts, snap peas, jalapeño, mint, and cilantro in a large bowl. Add the shrimp and half of the dressing and toss to combine.
4. Divide the salad among plates. Scatter the peanuts over the salads and garnish with additional mint and cilantro. Serve with the remaining sauce on the side.

30 Minute Coconut Chicken Curry

January weather invites slow-cooking and one-pot meals. When it’s crazy cold, icy, and wet outside, it’s a good time to hunker down and make a steaming pot of fragrant, spicy curry. This chicken curry is brimming with vegetables and napped with coconut milk. It’s rich, aromatic, and bright  – a perfect antidote to the winter blues. It’s also  a one-pot wonder, simply prepared in 30 minutes, which is perfect for a weeknight meal or a no-fuss apres-ski (or shoveling!) dinner. Feel free to switch up the vegetables to your taste. Chicken thighs may also be used in place of the breast meat – just adjust the cooking time accordingly.

Coconut Chicken Vegetable Curry

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Serves 4

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 pound chicken breast, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 large carrots, sliced 1/4–inch thick
1 poblano pepper, seeded and chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon grated peeled ginger
2 tablespoons curry powder
1 (28-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes with juice
1 (15-ounce) can coconut milk
6 to 8 leaves lacinato or curly green kale, tough stems removed, coarsely chopped
1 red jalapeño pepper, sliced
Chopped fresh cilantro

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a wide pot or deep skillet. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and add to the pot in one layer without overcrowding. Cook until the chicken colors on all sides, turning as needed, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pot and set aside on a plate. (It will continue to cook when it’s added back to the stew.)
2. Add 1 tablespoon oil to the same pot and then add the carrot and onion and sauté until the carrot brightens in color and the vegetables begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the poblano and sauté until crisp tender, about 2 more minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the curry powder and cook, stirring, to coat the vegetables and lightly toast the spice, about 30 seconds. Pour in the tomatoes and coconut milk and season with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Partially cover the pot and simmer over medium-low until the vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.
3. Return the chicken to the pot and stir in the kale. Continue to simmer until the chicken is thoroughly cooked through and the leaves are wilted, about 5 minutes.
4. Serve the curry in bowls with basmati rice. Garnish with the jalapeño slices and fresh cilantro.

Lemongrass and Garlic Skirt Steak with Sesame Noodles

Marinated Skirt Steak Noodles - one dish dinnersOne Dish Dinner: Vietnamese Skirt Steak Noodles

There is something infinitely satisfying about presenting a complete dinner heaped on one platter. The arrangement suggests a family-style feast. It’s a fun method for casual dining, which allows everyone to dig into a balanced meal combining meat, greens, and grains, or in this case, noodles.

This Vietnamese-inspired recipe embraces budget friendly skirt steak, a flavorful cut of meat that loves a good marinade, piled over a tangle of Asian noodles. A sweet and sour marinade is perfumed with lemongrass, a key ingredient in Vietnamese and Thai cuisine, which infuses the meat with flavor and spice. The longer the beef marinates the better the flavor, but that’s the only time consuming step in making this dish, which requires little effort – only advance planning to allow for marinating.

Lemongrass, also known as citronella, is a commonly used to flavor stir-fries, marinades, and curries. It looks like a woody spring onion and has a uniquely fragrant lemon-floral flavor concentrated in the oils in the centers of its stalk. For the purpose of a marinade, the stalk need only be sliced to release its flavor. For other dishes where the lemongrass is eaten, the outer stalks should be removed and the center stalks minced or pounded to a paste. Lemongrass is sold in the fresh produce section of well-stocked supermarkets or Asian markets. If you can’t find fresh lemongrass in the produce section, it’s also sold as jarred paste. Simply add 1 tablespoon of the paste to the marinade. The other marinade and dressing ingredients are available in the international section of grocery stores and in Asian supermarkets. Once the ingredients are on hand, this dish comes together quickly for a family-friendly weeknight dinner that will have everyone reaching for seconds.

Lemongrass and Garlic Skirt Steak with Sesame Noodles

Serves 4
Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes (plus marinating time)
Marinating Time: 2 to 24 hours 

Marinade:
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons sweet chili sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 lemongrass stalk, white part only, outer leaves removed, stalk thinly sliced (or 1 tablespoon lemongrass paste)
1 1/2 to 2 pounds skirt steak
8 ounces Vietnamese wheat noodles, Chinese egg noodles, or ramen

Dressing:
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons tahini
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon Sriracha or hot sauce

Vegetable oil for pan frying

Garnishes:
1 to 2 red or green jalapeño chile peppers, seeded and thinly sliced
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves and/or torn mint leaves
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
Lime wedges

1. Combine the marinade ingredients in a large bowl and whisk to blend. Slice the skirt steak on the diagonal against the grain into 1-inch strips. Add to the marinade and toss to coat.  Cover the bowl with plastic and refrigerate at for least 2 hours or up to 24 hours, stirring occasionally. Remove the steak from the refrigerator 30 minutes before proceeding with the recipe.

2. Cook the noodles until al dente per manufacturer’s instructions. Drain and transfer to a bowl. While the noodles are cooking, whisk the dressing ingredients in a small bowl. Pour half of the dressing over the drained noodles and toss to thoroughly coat.

3. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Remove the steak from the marinade and add to the skillet, in batches if necessary, without overcrowding the pan. (The steak may also be grilled over direct medium-high heat.) Discard the marinade. Sear the steak on both sides until cooked to your desired doneness, 6 to 8 minutes for medium-rare. Transfer to a plate and repeat with the remaining meat.

4. To serve, spread the noodles on a serving platter or in a shallow serving bowl. Arrange the skirt steak strips over the noodles and scatter the chile peppers, cilantro, mint, and sesame seeds over and around the steak. Garnish with the lime wedges and drizzle the remaining sauce over the steak and noodles. Serve warm.

Kimchi Soup with Shiitakes, Tofu and Kale

kimchi-soup-tastefood

I won’t say this soup is authentic, but it does take inspiration from a Korean Ramen-style bowl, while I improvised with what-was-in-my-kitchen ingredients. It also nipped my craving for a healthy, warm and spicy soup on a rainy day.  You can see there are no ramen noodles in the soup – I had a package of udon noodles ready to use, but the soup was so densely packed with vegetables, I didn’t see the need to add them (but add them if you wish!) What I did include are gochugang and kimchi, 2 traditional Korean ingredients that are essential to the flavor of the soup. Gochugang is a fermented soy bean and hot pepper paste, which is available in Asian and specialty stores and the international  section of well-stocked supermarkets. It’s a murky, spicy and slightly sweet paste which adds umami-rich depth of flavor to any dish it graces. Think of it as miso with a kick of heat. Kimchi is fermented cabbage and other vegetables such as daikon and scallions – kind of a Korean cole slaw – boldly flavored with the likes of fish sauce, red pepper, ginger, and garlic, all of which contribute heat and a fiery tint to the soup broth. Again, kimchi is available in well-stocked supermarkets and health food stores. The shiitakes are also essential to this soup, as the mushrooms impart deep flavor to the broth. Feel free to substitute or add other vegetables such as spinach, broccolini, and bok choy.

Kimchi Soup with Shiitakes, Tofu, and Kale

If you are using udon noodles or ramen noodles, pre-cook them and add to the soup before serving. Serves 2 to 4.

2 tablespoons grapeseed or canola oil, divided
8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, trimmed, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon peeled grated fresh ginger
1/2 cup kimchi, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons kimchi juice
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon gochugang (fermented hot pepper paste)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1 small bunch kale, tough ribs removed, leaves coarsely chopped
8 ounces soft tofu, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
2 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 red chile pepper, thinly sliced

1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and cook until they soften, turn golden brown and begin to release their juices, stirring frequently. Remove the mushrooms and set aside.
2. Add 1 tablespoon oil and the onion to the same pot over medium heat and sauté until the onion begins to soften, about 2 minutes. Add the carrot and sauté until bright in color and crisp tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the kimchi and kimchi juice and sauté 1 minute, then add the stock, soy sauce, gochugang, sesame oil, and sugar.
3. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer 10 minutes. Stir in the kale and continue to simmer until the kale wilts, about 2 more minutes, stirring frequently. Return the mushrooms to the soup, gently stir in the tofu, and simmer until just heated through.
4. Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with the scallions and chile.