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.

Pork Wonton in Sichuan Chili Oil

Well, it has been a while since I’ve checked in here. In the meantime, I accepted a new job; traveled to China, it’s Special Administrative Regions – Hong Kong and Macau, and Taiwan; and started coordinating a move to New York City. Yes, we’re moving! We’re in the midst of figuring out logistics of a cross-country move, which is a lot more challenging than I initially imagined. Little by little, though, we’re putting the pieces in their places, packing up all our belongings, and mentally preparing for everything to come. It’s an exciting time. Certainly, it is bittersweet to be leaving Chicago, but this move seems to be the right thing right now.

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And then there was vacation! The trip was planned with my friends as a last hurrah before I start working full time again, and what a final hurrah it was. I’m still editing the photos and will hopefully share some soon, but in sum, we ate a lot of good food, saw a lot of cool sites, and soaked up all the crazy awesome little things that make up Chinese culture. It was also fun to see the differences among Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and mainland China as we saw it in Beijing. It was a really special trip and, like usual, I’ve been inspired to cook all the foods we ate.

We didn’t make it to Sichuan province, but we still managed to eat a few Sichuan dishes and brought home Sichuan peppercorns to replicate everything. We learned how to wrap wontons in a cooking class in Beijing and I used that same technique to wrap up some seasoned ground pork. This recipe is a project, to be sure, but totally worth it.

Pork Wonton in Sichuan Chili Oil

Pork Wonton in Sichuan Chili Oil

I would recommend making your own Sichuan chili oil, which is really easy once you gather up all the ingredients. You can likely find everything at a Chinese grocer, including the green Sichuan peppercorns. They’re sometimes found under the label Prickly Ash. Several ingredients are found online, also. I roughly followed Lady and Pups’ recipe using the amounts below.

You may end up with a lot of leftover filling. You can sauté the filling and add it to noodles, or just buy more dumpling/wonton wrappers and keep wrapping! Oh, and the Sichuan chili oil is great on so many things: salads, noodles, eggs, etc – anywhere you would use a hot sauce, you can use this oil.

Sichuan Chili Oil

4 cups neutral flavored vegetable oil
2 green onions, cut into quarters
10-15 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons red Sichuan peppercorns, stems and seeds removed
6 tablespoons green Sichuan peppercorns, stems and seeds removed
1/2 cup chili flakes (I used gochugaro, a Korean chili flake)
3-4 star anise pods
1/2 stick cinnamon
2-inch piece of ginger, chopped
4 dried chili pods

Pork Wonton

1 package square wonton wrappers
1 pound ground pork
2 tablespoons Shaioxing wine
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1-inch piece ginger, peeled and minced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 cup chopped Chinese chives
1 teaspoon shrimp paste, optional

For serving

1 teaspoon light soy sauce
1 teaspoon black vinegar

sliced green onions and Chinese chives
Sichuan chili oil

Gather the ingredients for the chili oil. Heat all the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until the oil is hot. You know it’s hot when you insert a wooden chopstick and bubbles form around the chopstick. Add all the ingredients and cook for a minute or so. Remove from the heat and let cool for several hours, up to a full day. After the oil is fully cooled and room temperature, strain out all ingredients.

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For the wontons, combine the pork with the rest of the ingredients in the list. Mix well. Put the wonton wrappers on a plate and cover with a wet cloth. You’ll also need a small bowl of water to seal the wontons.

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To make the wonton, place the wrapper in the palm of your hand. Dip your finger in the water and wet the edges of the wonton wrapper. Place a half teaspoon of wonton filling in the center of the wonton. It’s very important to keep the amount of filling to a half teaspoon or less, otherwise the wonton will not fold properly.

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Fold the bottom corner of the wrapper up and at an angle, so the two corners form little mountain peaks like in the picture below.

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Then grab the two folded corners on each side of pull them down to meet. Cross one edge over the other and squeeze together to seal the wonton.

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To cook, bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. Drop the wontons in the water in batches and cook for five minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and allow the water to drain away from the wonton.

Place the wontons in a bowl and drizzle with soy sauce, black vinegar, Sichuan chili oil, and sliced green onions + chives.

Ethiopian Ful

I was cleaning out my cupboards the other day and found one of the few souvenirs I brought back from Ethiopia last summer: berbere, a deep crimson spice mix that flavors a lot of Ethiopian foods. It’s a bit spicy and really flavorful, and I’ve been using it on everything. Berbere vinaigrette. Berbere cheese sauce over roasted broccoli and romanesco. Berbere yogurt dip. And this, Ethiopian ful, which is basically a stew made with dried fava beans that is eaten for breakfast.

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I regret never having tried ful while in Ethiopia – though I filled up on nearly everything else – so I’ve been wanting to make this at home. And the verdict is… yum! It’s so, so easy, too. I added a bunch of toppings that I had laying around, but they’re all pretty much optional. I saw ful served with eggs and crusty bread in Ethiopia, but the avocado, yogurt, feta, roasted tomatoes all added something nice as well. Next time I’m thinking an aleppo pepper oil to drizzle.

Ethiopian Ful

Ethiopian Ful

The berbere here is essential. You can buy a mix online or at a local spice shop, or you can try making your own at home.

1 cup dried fava beans

1 teaspoon clarified butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon berbere
salt to taste

to top: sliced avocado, oven-roasted cherry tomatoes, crumbled feta, plain yogurt, soft-boiled egg, squeeze of lime, cilantro, sliced green onions, sliced chile peppers, and a squeeze of fresh lime juice

Combine the dried fava beans with 3 cups of water and cook on a low simmer until all the liquid is absorbed.

In a large pan, heat the clarified butter over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook for a minute. Add the berbere and cook another minute longer. Add the cooked fava beans and 3/4 cup water. Season with salt and let cook for about 5 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Break apart the beans a bit as they cook more.

To serve, top with any or all of the garnishes listed. Eat with a spoon or fork or as they do in Ethiopia – with bread as your utensil!

Roasted Poblano Soup

I am posting this recipe with a warning: be careful how much spice you add! I, in my infinite wisdom, added one whole pepper – it was a pepper I’ve never used before, but I thought it looked ‘cool’ in the market, stupidly using the entire thing in one soup without knowing just how hot it was. Well, I’ll tell you, it was HOT. Two weeks later, my lips are still burning. Eric wouldn’t even touch the soup after a couple bites. Sounds like a winner of a recipe, eh?

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Well, the thing is, despite that quick-hitting and lingering heat, the flavor of the soup was really fantastic. Peppers and chiles, especially poblano peppers, are really among my favorite foods – especially after our trip to New Mexico last year. So it’s really easy to make this soup edible – just add less hot pepper!

Also – it seems as if I have one excuse after the other for not updating this blog enough. My current excuse – and probably the same excuse I’ve been using for a while – is I am obsessed with honeymoon planning right now. After hours and hours of online research, we have decided to cut out our trip to Cambodia. 😦 Eric and I are both very sad about this, but we decided to prioritize and focus so that we could maximize our other experiences in SE Asia; our priority = wildlife/outdoors/nature. Ancient temples? I can only imagine how amazing they are, but we’ll have to wait until our next trip to the region to explore them. We also cut out Thailand almost entirely except for a couple nights in Bangkok. This gives us 6 full days in Hanoi to explore the City and Halong Bay; TWO weeks in Borneo to explore Deer Cave and Mulu National Park (have you seen Planet Earth? the bat poop cave? yes – we decided bat poop was more important than ancient Angkor temples), Danum Valley rain forest, and Sipadan island (supposedly some of the best diving in the world, though we will only be snorkeling); and 6 full days in Bali to do whatever the heck we feel like. Of course – we don’t go anywhere without at least a loose itinerary – I can’t help it, it’s my nature as a planner. So, in Bali, I’m planning a day in Kuta – the famed surfing town loved by many Australians (just one night, and just for the experience), a couple days to explore Ubud (of Eat, Pray, Love fame) and the north/eastern coasts of Bali, then a few days hiking to the crater rim of Mount Rinjani on Lombok. Maybe, maybe if time permits, we’ll spend a day on the Gili Islands.

And well, I’m sure most of those names mean nothing to you. Just Google the names for pictures – you’ll see why I’m obsessed!

Wow, this post is long – here’s the recipe.

Creamy, Spicy Roasted Poblano Soup

adapted from Serious Eats
*I added a big dose of spinach to this soup to up the health ante and used greek yogurt instead of Mexican crema – same effect, less indulgent*

4-5 large poblano peppers
1 jalapeno, seeded and membranes removed
4-5 cloves garlic
1 medium white onion
1 tablespoon olive oil
big handful cilantro (scientific, I know) (original calls for epazote, which I did not have)
really big bunch of spinach
1 teaspoon cumin
salt and pepper to taste
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 cup greek yogurt or Mexican crema
tortilla or corn chips or corn tortillas

Roast the poblanos over an open flame, or if you don’t have a gas stove top, roast them in the oven until blistered and black. Transfer to a bowl and cover with plastic to let the skins steam off.

Roughly chop the onions and garlic and start sauteing in a soup pan in the olive oil – until onion is transparent. It doesn’t matter if they’re finely chopped at this point – everything will be blended. Toss in the jalapeno and cumin and cook a couple minutes longer.

Meanwhile, remove the skins and seeds from the poblanos. Toss those in the pot as well. Stir everything around and let the cumin coat all the veggies, then dump in the stock. Bring this to a boil then let simmer for five minutes. Take the soup off the heat and add the spinach, yogurt, and cilantro. If you have an immersion blender, just blend everything together in the pot; otherwise, transfer to a blender. Add salt and pepper and adjust seasoning accordingly.

If using tortillas, cut in to strips and fry them in a bit of canola or vegetable oil until crisp. Place the crispy strips or chips on top of the soup with another dollop of yogurt/crema.