Spiced Soy Dressing with Green Veg

Must. Stop. Cooking. Chinese. Food. This is what I’ve been telling myself lately. It is true, my cooking patterns follow my travel patterns, and I’ll often cook a few meals inspired by recent travels. But it has been four months since I visited China and still all I want to eat is Chinese food. Specifically, Sichuan-inspired Chinese food. Eric is sick of the mouth-numbing meals I present to him, often opting to forage for nuts in the freezer rather than having a second helping of whatever spicy, salty thing I put forth.

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So this will be my last one. It’s a somewhat healthy dish, too. I used broccoli, snow peas, and baby bok choy, but the real recipe here is for the dressing. It can go on veg – any veg – or even over noodles. It’d be great served over a soft tofu. I even braised a brisket in a similar liquid (with the addition of chicken broth, subtraction of chile oil) for our “Jewish Christmas” celebration. Not that I’m Jewish, and Eric is only sort of culturally Jewish, but we went with it.

By the way, how cute and funny are these chopsticks? I bought them in the airport in Nairobi because they were, well, too funny to pass up. They’re actually quite hard to eat with because one chopstick is bowed out in a weird shape, but I still use them to cook with and for funny photos.

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Everyone has been asking how we like New York, so I’ll address that here for everyone else…

We love it!

We sort of just picked up our Chicago life and transported it to New York. We have been doing run-to-brunch and exploring new neighborhoods, museums, shops. The Chinese grocer is a bit more convenient here than it was in Chicago, but I still end up buying way too many heavy items and then carry the burden home on the train. The six flights of stairs to our apartment actually aren’t so bad, though we definitely try not to forget things like wallets or umbrellas on our way out the door. We can’t wait to start biking more once we know our way around better and the weather gets warmer. And we even took a weekend trip to the Hudson Valley over Christmas to hike and relax outside the city.

One thing has been on my mind, though: where are all the breweries and tap rooms?? I would have thought that Brooklyn – so loaded with empty warehouses and whatnot – would be so into the brewing scene, but I must say, it is sorely lacking. I miss places like Revolution Tap Room or Half Acre – sunny, open spaces for all my suds-ing needs. I mean, can I fill my growler around here? What is up, hipsters?

**sidebar: yes, I am aware of the few breweries that do exist in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and beyond. It’s just that between all the beer we drank in Chicago and all the various little cities we’ve visited over the past two years, I would have thought the beer scene here would have been more, um, blown up.**

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Spiced Soy Dressing with Green Veg

1 cup light soy sauce
1 cup water
1/4 cup xiaoshing wine
1/4 cup chinese black vinegar
1 tablespoon red sichuan peppercorns
1 tablespoon green sichuan peppercorns
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 cinnamon stick
2 star anise
3 whole cloves
4 dried chiles (I used Tianjin chiles found at the Chinese grocer), ripped up

1/2 cup chile oil

4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons oil
black sesame seeds for garnish

To serve: blanched broccoli, snow peas, bok choy, noodles, etc.

Combine soy sauce, water, xiaoshing wine, vinegar, and all the spices, including the chiles, in a sauce pan. Simmer over low heat for 15 minutes. Strain out the spices and taste – depending on your soy sauce, it could be too salty. If it tastes good as is, combine 1 cup of the spiced soy sauce in a mason jar with the chile oil. Cover and shake to combine. If it is too salty, add a bit of water until you find the taste you desire. Then mix with chile oil.

Fry the garlic in the oil over medium-high heat until they are crispy. Watch closely as they will burn quickly. Remove from oil with a slotted spoon and dry them on a towel or paper towel.

Serve over veggies or noodles. Top with garlic chips and black sesame seeds.

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Rice Bowl + Tofu + Saucy Sauce

It’s all about the saucy sauce.

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This is really a simple recipe. Barely a recipe, actually. Make some rice. Steam some veg. Buy some tofu. And mix it all together with a swanky, saucy sauce.

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I have a pretty well-stocked Asian pantry these days. Gochujang and miso are staples in my fridge, and I have both light and dark soy sauces in the cupboard. Usually, whipping up a little Asian-inspired sauce for things isn’t challenging. But if you don’t want to go through all the trouble of sourcing every single bottle available in the Korean, Vietnamese, and Chinese grocery stores, my staples are a nice soy sauce, fish sauce, and sesame oil. I use a lot of rice wine vinegar, but other acids work well (lime, for instance). Mirin is another nice thing to have but I can easily do without. Fish sauce on the other hand… it’s hard to replicate that flavor. Just don’t smell it and you’ll be fine.

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This recipe has some specialty items from the Asian grocery store, but feel free to swap in any other mushroom for the buna shimeji or tarragon for the perilla leaves. We make rice bowls a lot and they’re pretty versatile – truly a kitchen-sink kind of dish if there ever was one.

Rice Bowl + Tofu + Saucy Sauce

The last note here is about the tofu. Get the good stuff or make your own. Sometimes I’ll use a super firm tofu in rice bowls, but this one uses a creamy, silken tofu. The custard-y texture is a nice contrast against crunchy vegetables.

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Rice Bowls + Tofu + Saucy Sauce

1 cup brown basmati rice, cooked according to package directions
1 bunch asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 small bunch broccoli, cut into bite-sized florets
1 avocado, sliced
buna shimeji or other mushrooms, roughly chopped if needed

1 package silken tofu

1 clove garlic, smashed in a mortar & pestle with a bit of salt
1 teaspoon white or black sesame seeds, smashed in a mortar & pestle
1 fresh red chile, finely minced
1-inch nob of ginger, finely minced
1 green onion, finely sliced on the bias
2 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp dark soy sauce (or tamari or Liquid Aminos)
1 tsp fish sauce
2 tsp rice wine vinegar (or other acid like lime juice)
2 tsp water

1 green onion, finely sliced on the bias
2 perilla leaves, rolled and finely sliced
a few extra slices of red chiles

Making the bowls is easy enough: prepare the rice according to the package. Chop the vegetables into bite-sized pieces and steam or blanch them for 1-2 minutes. You want them still snappy. Combine the rice, veggies, and avocado in a big bowl. Dole out individual portions in smaller bowls or on plates.

For the mushrooms, I had a bit of this handy douban oil from this recipe on hand (except made with gochujang and coconut oil), so I quickly pan-fried them in that for about 2 minutes. If you don’t have chile oil on hand, just fry them in any other high-smoking-point oil. The key to mushrooms: fry them on high heat. Otherwise, they’ll release moisture and you’ll steam them. Top individual portions with mushrooms.

Slice the tofu into 1/2-inch long pieces – kind of like thin bricks. Place a slice on each individual portion.

For the sauce, toss everything into a jar or deep bowl and shake or whisk vigorously. Pour over individual servings to taste, and top each bowl with the green onions, perilla leaves, and red chiles.

One Bowl of Veggies, Day 5: Pulled Pork Tacos with Cilantro-Lime Slaw

Day 5. (days 1, 2, 3, and 4) We’ve reached the end, and we’re going to go out with a bang. A big porky bang.

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Pulled pork has become one of our favorite indulgent meals because it’s so easy to make it good. I don’t cook meat that often – it’s expensive, often time consuming, and when it tastes good, it’s not particularly healthy. Yes, there are plenty of healthy boneless, skinless chicken recipes out there, but I’d just as soon make something vegetarian that tastes equally good, if not better.

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Pulled Pork Tacos with Cilantro-Lime Slaw

I made this pulled pork in the slow cooker, but you can also do a braise in the oven, which is faster. To do that, follow the first steps of browning and adding the braising liquid in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Put the whole thing in a 350-degree oven for 2-2.5 hours. After two hours, check it. If it pulls apart with a fork, it’s done, if not, keep cooking.

1.5 pounds bone-in pork loin
1 tablespoon neutral oil (like grapeseed or canola oil)
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 onion, quartered
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup water
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano
1 dried avocado leaf (optional)

mixed veg
j
uice of 2 limes

3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon honey

corn tortillas

If your slow cooker has a removable pot, pull it out and heat it over medium-high heat. If not, heat a pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the oil. Generously season the pork loin with salt and pepper, then brown each side of the meat in the oil. Be sure to get a deep brown color on each side.

Once every side is browned, remove the pork from the pan and set aside. Add the garlic, onion, and cumin to the pan and stir it around in the remaining oil. Let cook for 2-3 minutes. Add a splash of the apple cider vinegar to deglaze the pan, scraping up all the leftover brown bits. If you’re doing this in a separate pan, transfer everything to your slow cooker now and add the rest of the vinegar, water, red pepper flakes, Mexican oregano, and avocado leaf. Season this sauce generously with salt, then add the pork back in. Otherwise, add the remaining ingredients to your slow cooker pot while it is still on the burner. Bring the liquid to a boil, then move the pot into the slow cooker.

Cook in the slow cooker for 5 hours. At this point, the pork should be falling off the bone and tear apart easily with a fork. Remove the pork from the slow cooker and pull it apart using two forks. I usually do this in a large bowl, then pour a bit of the braising liquid over the pork and stir it around. I like to keep the braising liquid by straining out all the other stuff. I will water it down and use it as a base for soups, and you can freeze it to save for later.

To make the slaw, combine lime juice, olive oil, cilantro, and honey in a small bowl. Whisk it all together, then toss the mixed veggies in the dressing.

To make the tacos, warm the tortillas in a dry frying pan or over a gas flame. Add the pulled pork and some of the dressed vegetables. Eat.

One Bowl of Veggies, Day 4: Kale + Mixed Veg Salad with Coconut-Lime Dressing

Day 4. (days 1, 2, and 3) Are you sick of veggies yet? In anticipation of the fatty, porky tacos that are to come tomorrow, today we have a kale salad. You might have noticed that I make kale salads a lot. They’re just good.

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We’re back from Louisville and had so much fun driving around rural Kentucky to taste bourbon. Our favorite of the day was at the Heaven Hill Distillery; they make the Elijah Craig 12-yr bourbon that went down nicely without the aid of water. Buffalo Trace and Woodford Reserve had the prettiest distilleries with a lot of old buildings; Buffalo Trace is pictured below.

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This picture is of Willet Distilleries bourbon aging warehouses… they look like eery old prisons.

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With our newfound educations, we felt a lot more comfortable ordering bourbons at the bar!

Louisville

Louisville

We ate at Chef Edward Lee’s restaurant in downtown Louisville called Milkwood. It was so delicious, and the cocktails were perfect. The octopus bacon was a killer starter, but the pork burger was what we thought about the rest of the night.

Louisville

And now… back to healthy food for the week!

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Kale + Mixed Veg Salad with Coconut-Lime Dressing

1 bunch lacinato kale
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 can full-fat coconut milk

zest of 1 lime
juice of 1 lime
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon honey
mixed veg

To prepare the kale, remove the stems and roll the leaves up into a tight bundle, then finely shred the leaves. Place the kale in a large bowl and mix in the olive oil. Massage the leaves until they are all coated.

In a small bowl, whisk together the coconut milk, lime zest, lime juice, red pepper flakes, and honey.

Toss the kale with the veg and dressing.

One Bowl of Veggies, Day 3: Miso Soba Noodles

Day 3! (days 1 and 2) Here we goooo. Soba noodles. Miso. Vegetables.

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Miso Soba Noodles with Mixed Vegetables

1 9.5-oz package soba noodles
2 heaping teaspoons mellow brown rice miso or white miso
4 teaspoons sesame oil

2 teaspoons soy sauce
3 teaspoons rice wine vinegar
3 teaspoons water
mixed vegetables

Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the soba noodles for 3 minutes. Strain the noodles and rinse under cold water to remove all the starch.

In a large bowl, whisk together the miso, sesame oil, soy sauce, vinegar, and water. Add the noodles and a few scoops of the mixed vegetables and toss it all together.

One Bowl of Veggies, Day 2: Creamy Coconut Soup

It’s day 2 of having a big bowl of vegetables in the fridge (see day 1 here). Today’s recipe is super easy. Simmer coconut milk with some aromatics and then add your vegetables to the pot. Done.

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Què màs? Well, Eric and I are heading to Louisville this weekend to drink our way through the Bourbon Trail. We have an ambitious plan of visiting four (maybe five, if we can handle it) distilleries on Saturday, including Buffalo Trace, Woodford Reserve, Heaven Hill, and Willet. We’re quite excited. I’m making a big batch of quinoa patties to sustain us between distilleries, and I’m loading them with veggies. Broccoli, rapini, and butternut squash are getting mixed in for maximum health benefit in addition to herbs and parmesan cheese. This trick of ours – bringing quinoa patties to munch on – also helps us cut down on eating-out costs while we travel. Win-win.

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Creamy Coconut Soup with Veggies

1 13.5-oz can full-fat coconut milk
13.5 oz water (just use the can to measure this)
1/2 inch knob of ginger, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, smashed
1 stalk lemongrass
salt to taste
mixed vegetables
handful of toasted pepita seeds

In a pot, combine the coconut milk, water, ginger, garlic, and lemongrass. To prepare the lemongrass, remove the tough outer leaves and cut off the ends. Cut it into 4-inch pieces and smash it with the back of the knife. Simmer the mixture for 20-25 minutes, being careful to never let it boil.

You can heat the vegetables in the microwave for a minute or two to warm them, then place them in a bowl. Ladle the coconut broth over the vegetables and top with toasted pepita (pumpkin) seeds.

One Bowl of Veggies, a Week of Meals

Making a giant bowl of veggies has become a nearly weekly ritual. I’ve nearly perfected the art – it takes just the right vegetable combo, proper blanching, and a bit of creativity – but lately I’ve managed to turn my big bowl of vegetables into several different meals, and I thought it was time to finally share. Here we go.

Day 1: Make the veg and eat a simple bowl mixed veg with harissa and yogurt.

Day 2: Creamy coconut soup and top with mixed veg.

Day 3: Miso soba noodles with mixed veggies.

Day 4: Cold kale-veggie salad with coconut-lime dressing.

Day 5: Tacos topped with mixed veggie slaw.

Veg-Lentil Bowls Day1 2

On day 1, I like to keep it simple. After all, I just went through all the work of chopping and blanching and roasting, so I generally throw the veggies in a big bowl with some harissa, yogurt, and a soft-boiled egg. If I have a decent avocado, that will go in the mix as well. The harissa here is homemade, and I’ll include a recipe below, but you can also buy jars of harissa at the store.

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Making the harissa was a process as well, since I bought seven different peppers, prepped and processed them each separately, and then mixed then in small quantities until I found the perfect recipe. I actually recommend you do the same because a) it was a fun experiment and b) your palate is likely different than mine. Eric ended up preferring a different recipe than I did, but they both had one thing in common: fresh roasted red pepper. Most recipes for harissa only call for dried red chiles, but the fresh red peppers add a sweetness that works well to counter the bitterness of the dried chiles.

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As for the veggies, you can get creative with it, but the broccoli in my opinion is not optional. Quickly blanched, it just works. The asparagus in this bowl was on sale, which is why it is here, but I would say a good base is always squash, broccoli, and red cabbage. This trio has the perfect texture and color to make it all look so entirely appetizing. Add to that lentils and any other veg that looks good/is on sale.

Big Veggie Bowl 

1/2 head red cabbage, cored and finely shredded
1 medium-sized head broccoli, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 small butternut, buttercup, or other squash of your choice, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 cup black lentils, uncooked
1/2 cup green lentils, uncooked

To save on dishes, I usually use two pots and cook everything in series. But, by all means, if you have 4 pots and you want to wash them all when you’re done, do it all at once! Otherwise, bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Once boiling, put the broccoli in for 30 seconds to 1 minute, MAX. Immediately drain the broccoli (you can reserve the liquid to blanch the cabbage if you want) and place it in an ice bath. Follow the same procedure to blanch the cabbage, though the cabbage can cook in the water for 1-2 minutes.

Meanwhile, pour the black lentils in a pot with 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil then reduce to a low simmer until all the water is gone. Put the lentils in a big bowl and reuse the pot to cook the green lentils.

While all the above is happening, roast the squash. For butternut squash, peel the skin off, but for many other types you can and should leave the skin on. Toss the cubes in olive oil and salt and pepper. For butternut or buttercup squash cut into 1-inch cubes, I usually roast them for 25 minutes at 400 degrees. Other squash might take more or less time. Just check them and pull them out when tender.

When everything is finished cooking, mix it all together in a big bowl. Taste it and season as necessary. This big bowl is now the vegetable base for your week’s worth of meals.

Day 1: Mixed Veg with Harissa, Yogurt, and a Soft-Boiled Egg

1 egg
1 heaping teaspoon harissa (see recipes below)
1 heaping teaspoon greek yogurt
1/2 avocado, finely sliced
few big scoops from the big veg bowl

To make a soft-boiled egg, I place a raw egg in room-temperate water (from the tap) and turn on the burner. Once the water comes to a rolling boil, I set a timer for 2 minutes. After 2 minutes, I pull the egg out and run it under cold water until it is cool enough to peel. This timing makes the whites nice and solid and the yolk still runny, but this could vary a lot based on altitude, so play around with it. For example, in Nairobi, I boil my eggs for 5 minutes instead of 2.

Layer everything in a bowl, take a picture because it’s pretty, and then mix it all around. Eat.

Homemade Harissa

To test out the recipes, I bought fresh red pepper, fresh red jalapeño, and five varieties of dried chiles: ancho, morita, mulato, guajillo, and pulla. If you want to do your own chile test, you can follow this method:

1) In a dry skillet, toast the dried chiles one batch at a time. Toast them over medium heat until fragrant but be careful not to burn them. Remove the stems and deseed the chiles as best you can. Keep the different varieties in separate bowls and label them if you need to.

2) Roast the fresh red pepper and red jalapeño. Place the red peppers under a broiler until the skin turns black. Remove them and allow to cool until you can peel the charred skin off. Roast the red jalapeños under a broiler, but not charred. Pull out and remove the stems. I kept the seeds for spice, but you can also remove them.

3) In a food processor, process the chiles. For the dried, toasted chiles, pour some water in until the peppers become a paste. Pour each paste into a jar, label it, and set aside. The roasted red peppers should process easily without water, but the red jalapeños will also need a bit of water and/or oil to form a paste.

4)  Make garlic oil. In the food processer, add 5-6 cloves of garlic and process with 3/4 cups olive oil. Pour the mixture into a pan and heat until fragrant over medium heat.

5) Taste all the chile pastes separately to get a feel for the flavor of each one. Morita chiles, for example, have a very smoky flavor, while ancho chiles are a bit sweet.

6) Start mixing and matching. Each batch should have a mix of pepper pastes in addition to salt, garlic oil, and cumin. In general, per 5 teaspoons of pepper paste, I used 1/4 teaspoon of cumin and 1 tablespoon of garlic oil. Play around with it until you find a combo you like.

Harissa 1

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April’s Harissa Recipe

If you already have the pepper pastes made, here are the ratios I preferred:

2 parts roasted red pepper paste
1 part roasted red jalapeño paste
2 parts guajillo paste
1/4 part cumin
3 parts garlic oil
salt to taste

If you don’t have pepper pastes, here are better measurements:

5-6 dried guajillo chiles
1 roasted red pepper
2 red jalapeño peppers
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon garlic oil
salt to taste

Eric’s Harissa Recipe

1 part roasted red pepper paste
1 part ancho chile paste
1 part morita chile paste
1 part mulato chile paste
1 part red jalapeño paste
1 part guajillo chile paste
1 part pulla chile paste
1/4 part cumin
3 parts garlic oil
salt to taste

Eric’s is kind of a mish mash of everything. Rather than providing better measurements, I would simply buy a bunch of different peppers, process them according to the directions above, and mix them all together. The exact quantity is probably not as important as imparting a bit of each chile into the final harissa.