Green Beans and Tofu Skins with Rice Sticks

Mark Bittman is my favorite food writer. I recently came across a 2007 column of his (I do miss the Minimalist) in which he ,very sensibly, talked about using more veggies and less noodles while cooking. So when I saw the vegan recipe he described, I immediately ordered tofu skins (which I’ve never cooked with) and rice sticks off the internet. Like all Bittman recipes, this one is a masterclass in simplicity of techniques and strength of flavors. I did double the rice noodles and added more soy sauce that he calls for. Simply fabulous! I bet this will be even better with haricot verts.

First boil some water and soak 4 oz of tofu skins (10 min) and 4-8 oz of thick rice sticks (20 minutes).

In a pan- heat 2 tbsp of regular oil and 2 tbsp of sesame oil. Fry up 2 tbsp of chopped ginger and 1-2 chopped green chillies for a few seconds. Add a pound of green beans (I used frozen) and cook covered for 10 mintues or so. Add tofu skins cut into strips if they are wide. Cook for 5 mintues or so covered. Add rice noodles and 2-4 tbsp of soy sauce. Taste for salt and pepper. Serve with chopped green chillies in vinegar.

Sweet and Sour Eggplant with garlic chips

Eggplant when fried slowly becomes luxurious and soft and full of flavor. This takes time- but it is always worth it. This recipe combines the best of Thai and Vietnamese flavors. The herbs are essential . My recipe is based off this Su Li recipe from the NYT.

First make the garlic chips. I’ve made these in the microwave before which is easier but you don’t get the garlic flavored oil to fry the eggplant in. So add 1/4 cup of a neutral oil to a 10 inch non stick skillet. Add 4-5 cloves of thinly sliced garlic and simmer on low heat till they just start turning brown (they will cook further as you take them out and they burn very fast). Inevitably you will cut some garlic chips thinner and will have to triage the situation and fish those out sooner.

Next- fry up about inch size cubes of a pound of eggplant in batches. I used 2 small purple ones. I peel the eggplants but you don’t have to, especially if you have the thin skinned Japanese kind. When you start frying the eggplant- it will soak up all the oil like a sponge- which is a bit scary. Keep at it- medium heat, turn the pieces frequently, the eggplant is done when it is a beautifully caramelized brown and the oil has returned back to the pan. This takes 15-20 minutes per batch (so start with a bigger skillet). You can stop at this step and keep the fried eggplant and garlic for several hours (or even days)

If you have fried the eggpant in batches, add them all back to the pan and add the sauce. The sauce is 3 tbsp of soy sauce, 2 tbsp of light brown sugar, 1 tsp of chilli flakes and 1 tbsp of rice vine or any stronger vingegar. The sauce will become thick and gooey in a minute or two and you are done.

Top with a cup and half of herbs (I used a mixture of cilantro, parsley and mint) and the garlic chips. Serve over rice noodles or rice.

Another Gen Tso Tofu

I do like Chinese American food, the sweet salty combination is very appealing. I’ve made many versions of Gen Tso’s tofu and this one may be my favorite. The sauce is adapted from a gen tso chicken recipe by Grace Parisi.

First crisp the tofu in your favorite way – today I pressed the tofu, diced it into 1 inch chunks and dredged it in 1 tbsp corn flour, 1 tbsp panko breadcrumbs and 1 tbsp sesame seeds. Then I pan fried the tofu in 1 tbsp oil till the tofu was browned all over. Air frying the tofu works well too.

In the same pan, add another 1 tbsp of oil, 1 tbsp of ginger and 1 tbsp of chopped garlic and 4 scallions chopped into 1 inch chunks. Add the sauce (1/2 cup vegetable broth, 2 tbsp soy sauce, 2 tbsp sugar, 1 tsp sriracha) till it starts to simmer. Make a slurry with 1 tsp of cornflour and 1-2 tbsp of water and add 1-2 tsp at a time till the sauce thickens.

Add the tofu and 1 tsp of sesame oil and toss.

Enjoy over rice

Japchae by Mangchi

So lately I’ve watched a lot of Maangchi- a Korean lady with a fabulous youtube cooking channel. Her videos are entertaining and educational- she cooks and talks just like grandma. Of course, Korean food is not known for its vast vegetarian options so when this potentially customizable one popped up- I was all on it. These noodles are very very different texturally- they are sticky and transperant and very chewy, not unpleasantly so but it was unexpected.

I had to order the sweet potato starch noodles from Amazon but I had everything else- well mostly. Here is Maangchi’s recipe and my version follows below.

Soak: 7-8 dried shitake mushrooms in 1/2 cup of warm water for 30 minutes. Soak 8 oz of the sweet potato starch noodles in cold water for 40 minutes

Protein: I used one block of frozen tofu (defrosted and squeezed and then crumbled). Marinate with 2 tsp soy sauce, 2 tsp brown sugar and 1 tsp sesame oil for 15-20 min and fry up in a non-stick pan till browned.

Egg garnish: Beat 2 eggs with some salt and make a small thin pancake on the same non stick pan on very low heat. Cut into strips

Seasoning sauce: 1/4 cup soy sauce, 3 tbsp brown sugar, 1 tsp black pepper and 5 garlic cloves minced.

Now assemble and chop:

In a large pan: chop the soaked mushrooms, 8 oz of crimini mushrooms chopped into strips, 1 large onion in slices, 1 large carrot into matchsticks. Toss all the vegetables with 1/4 cup vegetable oil and 1/4 cup water.

Add 8 oz baby spinach on top- do not mix, snip the soaked noodles with scissors (this is impossible prior to soaking) and lay on top- do not mix. Pour seasoning sauce over this (yes- do not mix). Add a tight fitting lid and cook for 10 mintues on moderate heat. After 10 minutes – stir well and cook for another few minutes till the water is almost all absorbed by the noodles.

Decant into a large serving platter, add tofu and egg strips. Add 1 tbsp of sesame oil and 1 tbsp of toasted sesame seeds.

Serve with sriracha if you wish.



Tamago Sando (Japanese Egg Sandwich) and Japanese Milk Bread

Every expat or immigrant knows that there are dishes you crave when you go back home. Apparently in Japan, it is these egg salad sandwiches- with the softest bread and the simplest of dressings (kewpie mayo, salt and pepper), it is a taste of home for the Japanese. I wouldn’t know- I’ve never been to Japan but I do like egg salad and this was a snowy weekend project.

This recipe is in 2 parts- part one is the egg salad and part 2 is the bread. I have no idea if any of this tasted like the real thing but it was pretty tasty to us.

Egg Salad:

Mayo: All the recipes specifically call for Kewpie Mayo which I could have ordered off amazon or boutht at the Asian store. But instead- I improvised and landed up with something quite delicious (though likely not at all accurate). To 5 tbsp of regular mayonnaise, add 1 tsp of rice wine vinegar, 1 tbsp of sugar, 1 tsp of red pepper flakes, 1 heaped tsp of Dijon mustard, 1 tsp of nutritional yeast (in place of the dashi powder or MSG in most recipes), ½ tsp of granulated garlic and salt and pepper. Increase or decrease the quantities of the additives to your liking till the mayo becomes a delicious dip that  you repeatedly “taste” and then find a cracker to “taste” some more.

Boiled eggs: I love reading about boiling eggs. The serious eats encyclopedia entry on this is one of my favorite food articles. For hard boiled eggs- this works for me- start eggs in cold water and set timer for 15 minutes– the yolks are firm and a beautiful yellow wihtout being rubbery.

Combine chopped eggs with special mayo and 2-3 finely chopped scallions (because Japanese dish).

This is a delicious egg salad- good with any kind of bread but let’s now make the special super soft Japanese bread. Our old friend America’s test kitchen’s bread illustrated book will help us.

Fair warning- this is not a beginner bread, you need to have a fair idea of dough hydration and proofing times. But it isn’t croissants (laminated doughs hate me) –  you should try it. Bread flour is cheap- you can throw away your mistakes.

Start by bringing 3 tbsp of butter to room temperature (soft but not melted). The bread starts with a cooked flour and water paste (a Japanese roux) which leads to a very tender crumb. Whisk 3 tbsp of flour and 1/2 cup water will no lumps remain. Microwave covered, whisking every 20 seconds till the  mixture forms a stiff pudding.

Add the flour paste, 1/2 cup of cold milk and 1 large egg to your stand mixer and use the whisk attachment to blend till smooth (note to self- use blender next time).

Add 1.5 tsp of instant yeast and 11 oz (2 cups) of bread flour. Switch to the dough attachment and knead on low speed for 2-3 minutes till a sticky dough forms. Cover with cling film and rest for 15 minutes.

Add 2 tbsp of sugar and 1.5 tsp kosher salt to dough. Knead for 5 minutes, then add butter 1 tbsp at a time. Knead on medium speed for another 5 minutes till the dough leaves the sides of the bowl but still sticks to the bottom.

Transfer to a floured surface using a bench scraper and form a smooth round ball lightly coated with flour and tuck all the seams under the dough ball. Proof in a lightly greased container for 1-2 hours till doubled in size.

Shaping dough: take dough out onto a large floured area on your countertop ( I use a very large silpat on my countertop for this). Shape into a 24×4 inch rectangle. Now divide the dough using your benchscraper lenghtwise to get 2 rectanges 24×2 inches in size. Start rolling the 2 dough strips into tight spirals and place both side by side into a greased 8.5×4.5 inch loaf pan. Cover with cling film and proof for 1/2-1 hour till the bread rises to the lip of the pan.

Bake at 375 degrees for 30-35 minutes till the bread is a deep golden brown. Cook for 15 minutes, remove from pan and brush all over with  butter. Let bread cool for 2-3 hours before serving.

Slice and pile with egg salad above. Delicious with tomato soup.

Sheet Pan Fried Rice

Without the necessary BTUs- I have found it impossible to achieve the fried rice of my dreams. Wok-kissed, each grain glistening with fat and flavor- the kind of fried rice served in Chinatowns everywhere.

Until I found this recipe! Fried rice in the oven- with high heat from all side- it is a brilliant idea and works like a charm.

Rice: I cooked 1.5 cups of white rice in the rice cooker and then cooled the rice on a baking sheet

Vegetables: I used a blend of frozen peas, corn and beans – defrosted in the microwave

Protein: I used trader joes meatless meatballs- heated in a pan with some oil for 5-10 minutes

Sauce: 1 tbsp gochuang (from whole foods), 2 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tbsp oil

Technique- mix all- set in oven at 450 F for 10-15 minutes till rice grains get slightly charred on top- add salt if needed

Top with sliced scallions and some chilles in vinegar ( chillies sliced, vingegar, salt, sugar)

This one is a weeknight keeper- total prep time is less than 10 minutes (slice scallion while defrosting stuff). The NYT recipe has fresh veggies in it- which I’m sure will also be delicious.



Kung Pao Tofu

When David Leibovitz recommends a recipe it’s generally fabulous. I followed the recipe pretty exactly except I used regular peppercorns in place of Sichuan peppercorns

It’s very good!!

Here is the recipe

Kung Pao Tofu

author andrea nguyen

yield 4 servings


14 to 16 ounces extra-firm tofu

Rounded ½ teaspoon salt

3 to 4 tablespoon canola oil, divided

2/3 cup roasted, unsalted peanuts

Seasoning sauce 1

2 ½ teaspoons regular soy sauce

1 teaspoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry

Seasoning sauce 2

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1 tablespoon plus ½ teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Chinkiang vinegar, or 1 tablespoon balsamic and 1 teaspoon cider vinegar

1 tablespoon water

1 ½ teaspoons regular soy sauce

1 teaspoon dark soy sauce, or ½ teaspoon regular soy sauce plus ½ teaspoon molasses

1 ¼ teaspoons toasted sesame oil

8 dried red chiles, stemmed, halved lengthwise with scissors, seeds discarded

1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns

Rounded 1 tablespoon minced garlic

Rounded 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

White part of 4 large green onions, cut to match size of peanuts

Green part of 1 large green onion, cut to match size of peanuts


Cut the tofu into thumb nail-size cubes (each about ¾ inch). Sprinkle on the salt and gently toss to coat. Spread out on 2 layers of paper towel and let drain for 10 to 15 minutes.

Heat 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil in a large wok or skillet over medium-high or high heat. When barely shimmering, add the tofu (work in batches, if needed), then cook for 1 to 2 minutes, tossing and stirring to sear and lightly brown the tofu. Transfer to bowl and set aside.

Reheat the wok or skillet over medium-high heat until bead of water evaporates in 2 to 3 seconds. Add 2 tablespoons of oil and the peanuts, stirring constantly for 1 to 2 minutes, until fragrant; take care not to burn them. Use a slotted spoon to transfer peanuts to small plate, leaving excess oil behind.

Stir together the ingredients for each of the seasoning sauces, keeping them separate. Set near the stove with the remaining ingredients from dried red chiles down to the green onion.

Reheat the wok or skillet over high heat. Add the chiles and Sichuan peppercorns. Stir briskly for 20 seconds, until aromatic and crisp. Add the tofu, give things a stir, then splash in seasoning sauce 1. Let the tofu absorb the seasonings, then add the garlic, ginger and white scallion parts. Stir-fry for 1 minute more to cook through and become aromatic.

Give seasoning sauce 2 one last stir, then add to wok. When sauce is thick and coats things, about 30 seconds, return the peanuts and add cut green scallion parts. Stir, transfer to a plate, and serve.

courses main

cuisine chinese