As a very amateur photographer, one of the most fun things about working on this blog has been trying to figure out how to make each dish look as good as it tastes. So far, I am finding that meat is my biggest challenge, photography wise. It can look so good in real life and then in the photo, it will look gray and unappetizing. I'm working on that, but today, I found an even harder subject...Tofu! Out of curiosity, I looked up the meaning of the recipe name "Mapo Tofu" and was surprised to find that it means, "pockmarked face lady's tofu" Well, I guess that one wouldn't expect that dish to be lovely. But it is tasty!
The three recipes that follow are bold and spicy. You can, of course, adjust the amounts of the chilies and peppers up or down to suit your taste.
I wish that you could see the Mongolian Beef page in my copy of Chopsticks, Cleaver and Wok, by Jennie Low. It is splattered, splashed and frayed. That goes to show just how many times I have turned to this recipe over the years. I like to use sirloin strip steaks instead of flank steak, which is what is called for in many Asian stir fry recipes. It's a bit more expensive, for sure, but I find that I can serve four easily with just two good-sized steaks and it has a wonderful texture when sliced very thinly and cooked quickly over very high heat.
1 1/2 pounds strip sirloin steak
2 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
2 green onions, slivered
2 fresh red chili peppers ( or 1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes)
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons thin soy sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
dash of pepper
1 tablespoon white wine (or dry sherry)
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 teaspoons catsup
Cut each steak crosswise into three pieces. Trim fat from edges and slice across the grain very thinly...almost paper thin. (a good sharp knife and cold meat will make this easier) Place in a bowl.
Add seasoning ingredients to beef. Mix well.
Combine sauce ingredients, mix well, and set aside.
Heat wok or heavy skillet and add half of the oil. Add half of the garlic and stir fry for 10 seconds over high heat.
Add half of the beef, spreading it out quickly, and let it brown nicely on one side undisturbed (about 2 minutes) Then stir fry for another minute or two until beef is browned on both sides. Remove to a plate and repeat with the remaining oil, garlic and beef. (Cooking all of the meat at once will lower the heat in the pan too much causing the meat to simmer. I sometimes have to cook this in many batches when serving a crowd but I just do it ahead of time and reheat it gently at serving time.) Remove second batch of meat to the plate while you briefly stir fry the green onions and red chili pepper for a few seconds then add all of the meat back to the pan. Add the sauce mixture, mix thoroughly and cook for one minute, stirring. The sauce should thicken a bit to coat the meat nicely. Serve with rice. (serves 4)
Minced Chicken in Black Bean SauceThis is a super quick stir-fry that I have been making for years. I know that I got the recipe from a book...a paperback with Asian noodle and rice dishes....but I don't have it anymore so I can't give credit. This is just so easy that I never copied the recipe. It's a bold sauce...kind of an Asian chicken spaghetti, if you will.
2 tablespoons peanut oil
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of all fat and minced into small pieces
(you can actually buy ground chicken or turkey if you want to make this super easy...I just prefer the texture when I mince the chicken myself)
1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
3 tablespoons white sesame seeds
1/3 cup Asian black bean sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 pound spaghetti
1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
3 scallions, trimmed and chopped
Heat oil in wok or heavy skillet over high heat. Add chicken in a single layer and sprinkle the minced garlic over the top (you may have to do this in two batches, depending on the size of your pan) Let cook undisturbed for several minutes until golden brown on one side. It may be almost cooked through at this point. Add the sesame seeds. Using two utensils (I use a metal spatula and a big spoon) toss the chicken and the sesame seeds around, breaking up the clumps and stir-frying until no longer pink. Add the black bean sauce, soy sauce and red pepper flakes and stir to combine and heat thoroughly. Remove from heat, add the 2 teaspoons of sesame oil, and let rest while you make the pasta.
Cook the pasta in lots of salted boiling water until just al dente. Drain well then toss with the sesame oil.
Reheat chicken if necessary and serve over the spaghetti, sprinkled with the chopped green onions. Serves 6
This recipe is adapted from Potsticker Chronicles, by Stuart Chang Berman and it is new to my repertoire. Living with three sons and a carnivore husband, I didn't serve many meatless meals. But I really like this dish and as the author says, the non vegetarian version is to substitute 1/2 pound sauteed ground pork for the portobello mushrooms. The sauce is a bit fiery for sure but I just love the complexity of the heat...from three different peppercorns as well as chili paste. (Sichuan peppercorns can be found in Asian markets and specialty food shops...it is an important flavor in this dish)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon crushed Sichuan peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon Asian chili paste
3 garlic cloves, crushed and minced
1/2 tablespoon finely minced fresh ginger
1 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1 cup vegetable broth
1 package firm tofu, cut into cubes
2 portobello mushroom caps, cut into cubes
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water
chopped scallions or chives to garnish
brown rice, prepared according to package directions
Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy skillet that has a lid. Add the Sichuan peppercorns and black and white pepper. Immediately add the chili paste, garlic and ginger. Stir once. Quickly add the soy sauce and the sherry. Add the vegetable broth and stir.
Add the tofu cubes and portobello mushrooms. Fold them in gently with a wooden spoon. Add the sesame oil. Cover the pan with a lid and braise for 15 minutes on medium heat. Uncover. Stir gently and slowly with the wooden spoon. Continue to braise uncovered for 10 more minutes.
Stir the cornstarch mixture into the skillet and bring to a boil, stirring gently until thickened. Serve over rice and garnish with the scallions or chives. (serves 4)