Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Ma-Po Tofu (Tofu in Black Bean and Chilli Sauce)

Lately, I've been learning how to cook Chinese vegetarian dishes. I love Chinese food. However, I've found it somewhat difficult to find vegetarian dishes at Chinese restaurants. I've been to Chinese and Thai restaurants where dishes containing meat broth are referenced in the menu as being vegetarian. And then, of course, there's the issue of MSG. I loves me my sodium; but I don't enjoy the headache that sets in after having a meal.

To learn more about Chinese cooking, I've been reading cookbooks on the subject and watching the new Cooking Channel show, "Chinese Food Made Easy." Speaking of the Cooking Channel, have you seen it? I love it! It's what the Food Network used to be before it turned much of its focus (or so it seems) to reality-based programming. I enjoy the diversity the Cooking Channel offers with regard to World cuisine: Indian ("Spice Goddess"), French ("French Food at Home"), Chinese, Asian fusion ("Simply Ming"), Italian ("La Dolce Vita"), etc.

There are a lot of ma-po tofu recipes that can be found on the internet. Many of them call for the use of chicken stock. The following recipe, which comes from the book World Vegetarian Classics by Celia Brooks Brown, uses stock made from dried shiitake mushrooms. I've made this a few times already, and it has quickly become part of our regular rotation of weekday meals.

If you don't have any red chillies, then use red pepper flakes. I also use about 1 teaspoon or cornstarch, rather than 1 tablespoon of cornstarch as called for in Brooks' recipe, because I prefer a sauce that's less gelatinous.

Finally, prepare the rice ahead of time, because this dish does not take long to prepare, especially when using jarred black bean sauce and hoisin sauce.

Ma-Po Tofu
(Tofu in Black Bean and Chili Sauce)
Serves approximately 4

1 small handful sliced shiitake mushrooms
1 cup boiling water
1 pound firm tofu, drained and cut into cubes
3 tablespoons sunflower oil
1 large green bell pepper, chopped into bite-size chunks
1 large fresh red chili, deseeded and sliced (adjust amount according to heat preference)
2 large garlic cloves, minced or sliced
1 tablespoon cornstarch

For the sauce:

2 teaspoons black bean sauce

3 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon sweet chilli sauce
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
1 teaspoon sugar

Place the shiitake mushrooms in a small bowl. Pour the cup of boiling water over the mushrooms and let stand for about 5 minutes. Drain the mushrooms, reserving the water, and set them aside.
Stir the cornflour into the reserved water and set that aside.

Place all of the sauce ingredients in a small bowl and stir to combine.

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the mushroom, green pepper, chilli, and garlic to the skillet and cook until the garlic becomes soft, about 3 minutes. Stir in the sauce mixture.

Next, stir in the reserved water (with cornstarch). Continue cooking until the sauce thickens and becomes bubbly. Add the tofu cubes and stir until they are warmed through.
Serve with rice.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Chinese-Style Pickled Cucumbers

Recently, I had dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Falls Church, Virginia, called Hong Kong Palace (6837 Leesburg Pike). Upon entering, I was given the option of ordering from either the "American menu" or the "Chinese menu." I took both menus, because I had a craving for Americanized vegetable lo mein. From the Chinese menu, I ordered pickled cucumbers as an appetizer. After dinner, I thought to myself, I have to find a recipe for this dish!

Finding a similar recipe on the internet was not difficult. The version below is a hybridization of this recipe from Appetite from China and this recipe from Geema. While I would have preferred to use Thai red chilis, or any red chilis for that matter, they simply were not available at the grocery store. Hence, I used the more readily available red pepper flakes.

This dish is easy to prepare and makes a great side dish for an Asian entree. In my case, I served this dish with mapo tofu (tofu in a spicy chili sauce), the recipe for which I plan on posting sometime next week.

Chinese-Style Pickled Cucumbers

5 to 6 Kirby cucumbers
Salt for tossing cucumbers
1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar
1 medium-size carrot, thinly sliced (using a vegetable peeler)
Sesame seeds, for garnishing (optional)

Cut the cucumbers lengthwise into quarters and then into 1 to 2-inch pieces. Place the cucumbers in a colander, toss them in some salt, and let stand for about 20-30 minutes.

Thoroughly rinse the cucumbers under cold tap water and pat dry with a towel. Place the cucumbers and carrots in a bowl.

Heat the sesame oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the pepper flakes and cook until they start to deepen in color. Take the skillet off the heat and let cool to room temperature.

Combine the vinegar and sugar in a small bowl. Pour this mixture over the cucumbers and carrots and toss. Add the chili-infused oil to the bowl of cucumbers and carrots and toss. Let stand for about 1 hour, until cooled. Sprinkle with sesame seeds before serving.