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.

Mortar and Pestle Guacamole

 Tap into your inner caveman with this guacamole recipe:

Homemade Guacamole Recipe

My favorite kitchen tool is my stone mortar and pestle. It sits proudly on my kitchen counter, holding its own in a caveman-esque sort of way, flaunting its primal elegance in between the stove and the espresso machine. It’s smugly confident in its weight and kitchen hierarchy (deemed decorative) while my food processor and standing mixer are banished behind cabinet doors (deemed clutter). New kitchen techniques are awe-inspiring and futuristic, yet my mortar is old and wise with a lineage extending as far back as the Old Testament. Sous-vides, anti-griddles, and smart ovens may be cutting edge, favored by professional chefs and culinary buffs, but my mortar has a stellar history as an essential tool to Native Americans, ancient Romans and Greeks, medieval pharmacists, and home cooks spanning the ages. It is the embodiment of simplicity and timelessness, pleasingly tactile and massively elemental. And it’s affordable.

What can you do with a mortar and pestle? You can grind, pound, and smash to your heart’s content (a useful method of expression these days), making pestos, pastes, sauces, dips, dressings, and marinades. You can grind seeds into powder. (I assure you that the results of lightly toasting cardamom, cumin, or coriander seeds, and then grinding them to a fine powder in a mortar will yield results unparalleled by the pre-ground versions.) The mortar is also the perfect place to smash garlic with sea salt, adding fresh-cut herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, sage, basil, and mint. Crush the garlic first with the salt, then add the herbs and bruise them by giving them a few turns with the pestle to release their juices and flavor. You will be left with a powerful, aromatic paste you can smear on meats and poultry before roasting.

You can make guacamole, a perfect crowd pleaser, just in time to make for your Super Bowl party. Serve with chips, and you have one-stop-shopping in a primitive vessel. If you don’t have a mortar, then simply combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and mash with a fork to achieve a chunky consistency.

Guacamole

Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes
Makes about 2 cups

1 small red or green jalapeño pepper, stemmed and seeded, finely chopped
1 garlic clove,  chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, plus extra chopped leaves for garnish
3 to 4 large ripe Hass avocados
2 tablespoons coarsely grated yellow onion with juice
Juice of one lime
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 to 3 dashes hot sauce, such as Tabasco (optional)

1. Combine the jalapeño, garlic, and red onion in a mortar. Press on the ingredients with your pestle, and grind them around the mortar in a circular movement, 3 to 4 times. Add the cilantro and gently bruise the leaves with the pestle.
2. Add the avocados, yellow onion, and lime juice and mash to form a blended but chunky consistency. Mix in the cumin, salt, black pepper, and hot sauce, if using, and taste for seasoning. Serve garnished with additional chopped cilantro.

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.

 

Porcini and Rosemary Crusted Lamb Chops

A little magic mushroom dust does wonders to your meat (not that kind of mushroom, silly):

Porcini and Rosemary Crusted Lamb Chops Recipe

You want these mushrooms – namely dried porcini mushrooms – in your kitchen. They keep indefinitely in your pantry, and can easily be reconstituted for use with pasta, risotto, soups, and sauces. Or you can simply blitz the heck out of them and turn them into dust.

Porcini mushroom dust is a magical elixir, fragrant with umami-rich aroma and flavor, and a gorgeous ingredient to add to rubs and marinades. Its earthy smoky flavor melds beautifully with garlic and herbs, such as rosemary and thyme, and is an excellent complement to meats, such as beef and lamb, when used as a rub.

While dried porcini mushrooms are pricey by the pound, the good news is that you don’t need a lot to make this rub – all you need is a half-ounce. When the mushrooms are dried, their flavor intensifies, so a little goes a long way. Other dried mushrooms, such as shiitakes, may be substituted, but in terms of flavor, the porcini is best. I use a spice grinder to blitz the mushrooms before mixing them with the rub ingredients, for a pasty consistency. If you don’t have a spice grinder, you can use a mini-food processor, with slightly coarser, results.

Note: If the dried mushrooms are slightly spongy and not entirely crisp before grinding, then cut them into 1/2-inch pieces, spread on a small baking tray, and place in a 300°F oven for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove and cool to room temperature before grinding.

Porcini and Rosemary Crusted Lamb Loin Chops

Active Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes, plus 20 minutes drying time if needed
Serves 4

1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 lamb loin chops, each about 1-inch thick

1. Finely grind the mushrooms in a spice grinder. Transfer to a small bowl and add 3 tablespoons oil, the rosemary, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon black pepper and stir to blend.
2. Coat the lamb on all sides with the rub and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.
3. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
4. Heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat in a large ovenproof skillet. Add the lamb to the pan without overcrowding. Cook until brown on both sides, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer the skillet to the oven and cook to your desired doneness, about 8 to 10 minutes for medium-rare. Remove from the oven, tent with foil, and let rest 10 minutes before serving.

Condiment Spotlight: Green Olive Tapenade (with Oven Roasted Salmon)

The Green Olive Tapenade is a keeper.

Green Olive Tapenade Topping on Roasted Salmon

I’ll be honest. The real star of this salmon dish is the green olive and almond tapenade. No offense to the salmon, which is sublime as always and a no-fail simple, healthy meal. But, frankly, it’s the tapenade I want to talk about: it’s positively addictive with a briny brightness that complements the buttery rich salmon. It’s also versatile. Not only is the tapenade a worthy accompaniment to grilled fish (halibut is also a good contender), it’s a great stand-alone starter spooned on crostini or sprinkled over pizzas, pasta, and grains. The good news is that this recipe makes a generous amount of tapenade, so you can refrigerate the leftovers. Then you will have extra to smear on a slice of bread or swipe a carrot stick through. You might even find yourself eating it straight up from a bowl with a spoon. I’m speaking from experience.

Recipe: Roasted Salmon with Green Olive Tapenade

Active Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: about 40 minutes
Serves 4; Makes about 1 1/2 cups tapenade

Tapenade:
12 ounces pitted green olives, such as Castelvetrano
1/2 cup almonds, toasted
2 anchovies, drained
1 large garlic clove
2 teaspoons capers
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Salmon:
4 (6 ounce) salmon fillets, pin bones removed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for garnish
Juice of 1/2 lemon, plus 4 lemon wedges for serving
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Make the tapenade: Place all of the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process to a coarse paste, without letting it get mushy. (The tapenade may be stored in the refrigerator for up to three days.)
2. Heat the oven to 350°F. Arrange the salmon in one layer in a roasting pan, skin side down. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil and the lemon juice. Lightly season with salt and pepper. Bake in the oven until the salmon is just cooked to your desired doneness, about 25 minutes for medium, depending on the thickness of the filets.
3. Transfer to serving plates and top each filet with about 2 tablespoons of the tapenade. Serve with a lemon wedge.

Cranberry Fig Chutney

Cranberry Sauce 2.0
Add a little zing to your sauce

Cranberry Sauce Recipe

Thanksgiving dinner is not complete without cranberry sauce. And while I have nothing against the traditional sugary cranberry combination, I find I crave an extra depth of flavor in the standard sauce – and so I devised this chutney. What I like about chutney is it’s a combination of fruit and savory ingredients, and not timid about incorporating herbs, spices, and even a kick of heat. In other words, it nails many of the flavor senses (sweet, sour, salt, bitter, heat) that, to me, yield a more satisfying mouthful.

In this chutney, dried figs add a mellow, nutty sweetness, and fresh ginger and orange add perfume and zing, all of which balance out the cranberries’ natural astringency, while allowing them to remain the star of the show – after all we’re talking Thanksgiving here.

The good news is that this chutney is not exclusively for the Thanksgiving table. It also makes a great condiment for other fruit-loving proteins such as pork, duck, and lamb. I like to serve it as an accompaniment on a cheese platter as well, or dabbed on goat cheese-smeared crostini.

Cranberry Fig Chutney

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
Makes about 2 cups

18 dried black mission figs, quartered
1/2 cup Port wine
12 ounces cranberries, fresh or frozen
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger
Juice and zest from 1/2 orange
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 (2-inch) rosemary sprig

1. Place the figs in a small bowl and pour the Port wine over the figs. Set aside for 30 minutes.
2. Combine the cranberries and sugar in a heavy medium saucepan and heat over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally. Add the figs and Port wine, the ginger, orange juice and zest, pepper, salt, and rosemary sprig. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer, uncovered, until the cranberries burst and the chutney has thickened, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Remove from the heat and cool completely. Discard the rosemary sprig. (The chutney may be made up to 3 days in advance. Cover and refrigerate. Serve at room temperature).

Grilled Beef Skewers with Green Chile Sauce

Lean into the heat with these spicy grilled steak skewers:

When the weather is hot and shouty, then why not shout back with skewers of fiery meat? These steak skewers are not only cooked over a flame, they are bathed in a heady lime and garlic marinade that tenderizes and infuses the meat with bold flavor and kicking spice. And don’t stop there: Raise the flavor and heat bar further by serving the skewers with a feisty sauce inspired by Zhoug, a green herb condiment hailing from the Middle East. It’s a heat-spiked herbaceous blend that’s a cross between chimichurri and harissa – arguably a match made in heaven. You can keep the steaks in large pieces, or, better yet, cut into strips and thread on skewers for fun party food. Serve the sauce on the side, so the meat can be dabbed or generously swiped – leave it up to your heat threshold to dictate the amount. 

Skirt steak, flank steak, or hanger steak are great cuts that love a marinade, which helps to tenderize their natural toughness. When cutting the meat into strips, be sure to slice across the grain (the way that the muscle fibers are aligned). By doing this, you will cut up the muscle fibers which would otherwise increase chewiness. Grill the meat quickly over direct high heat for best results.

Grilled Skirt Steak Skewers with Green Chile Sauce

Active Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes plus 4 to 6 hours marinating time
Serves 4 to 6 as a main course

Marinade:
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon Sriracha
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 pounds skirt steak, cut against the grain in 1 inch strips

Sauce:
1 large poblano pepper, stemmed, coarsely chopped
1 large jalapeño pepper, stemmed, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves
1 cup (packed) cilantro sprigs
1 cup (packed) Italian parsley sprigs
1/2 cup (packed) mint leaves
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Prepare:
1. Whisk all of the marinade ingredients together in a small bowl. Place the steak strips in a resealable plastic bag or glass container with a lid. Pour the marinade over and turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 4 to 6 hours.

2. Make the sauce: Place the peppers and garlic in a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped. Add the cilantro, parsley, mint, lime juice, cumin, and salt and process to blend. With the machine running, add the oil, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the sauce is thick but pourable. Taste for seasoning, and add more salt if desired.

3. Remove steak from the refrigerator 30 minutes before grilling. Thread the strips on pre-soaked bamboo skewers and discard the marinade.

4. Prepare the grill for direct cooking over high heat. Grill the skewers over direct heat until charred and cooked to your desired doneness, 5 to 8 minutes depending on the thickness of the meat. Serve with
 the spicy green chile sauce.