Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Spot-on Seaweed Salad Dressing

I've been on a mission to create the perfect seaweed salad for some time. Virtually all seaweed salads you eat at sushi restaurants or buy at Asian grocers are imported--frozen--from one of a few big factories in China. While I love the crap outta some seaweed salad, I'm not a huge fan with the lack of freshness and factory production associated with these products. (Not to mention that the obnoxious Boulderite in me is bummed out with the carbon footprint involved with shipping frozen products 7000 miles). So I've embarked on what has become my life quest: to create the perfect seaweed salad from scratch. Basically, you can think of me as the King Arthur of salads. And after years of searching the vast wilds for the holy grail of seaweed salad dressings, I've found it! While it won't earn you immortal life, it will win ridiculous amounts of praise from all who are blessed enough to partake in this life-altering amazingness.

Prep time: pretty much nil

1 TBSP peanut oil
1 TBSP neutral oil, such as canola, grapeseed, avocado, or safflower
1 TBSP seasoned rice vinegar
1 tsp soy sauce
3/4 tsp toasted sesame oil
A few pinches sesame seeds
A tiny dash agave nectar

Step 1: Combine everything into a small container with a airtight lid. Shake well and immediately toss with salad. 

Step 2: Try your best to handle the massive compliments and praise that come your way. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Vegetarian Hong You Chao Shou! Boom!

These spicy Szechuan tempeh wontons are amazing. Full stop. Ordinarily, these are made of pork, but this tempeh version is just as good (seriously). The origin of these dumplings (according to the interwebs) is that the Sichuanese traditionally wore wear large robes in cold weather under which they put their hands in the opposite sleeves to keep warm. This gesture--chao shou translates to 'folded hands'--resembles the shape of the dumpling with opposite corners of the wrapper pinched together. In fact, you can go into a restaurant in Sichuan to this day and wordlessly cross your arms and they'll bring you this dish, knowing exactly what you've just asked for by gesture alone. However, if you make it at home, you'll likely associate a massive fist pump and a dance around the dining room with this dish because that's what you'll do after tasting the first bite. It's that good.

Prep time: 3 cocktails

4 TBSP peanut oil
8 ounces tempeh, crumbled
2" piece of ginger grated with Microplane or finest side of cheese grater
5 cloves garlic, minced
White parts of 4-5 scallions, chopped
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
3 TBSP soy sauce
2 TBSP rice wine
1 egg, beaten
Store-bought wonton wrappers (you can use small for pot-stickers or big for egg rolls)

1-2 tsp toasted sesame oil
4 TBSP Hong You (Szechuan chili oil), recipe here
2 TBSP soy sauce
2-3 TBSP Zhenjiang (or Chinkiang) black vinegar (available at any Asian grocer)

A small drizzle of toasted sesame oil
Green parts of 4-5 scallions, sliced into small wheels
Sesame seeds (optional)

Heat peanut oil over medium-high heat in frying pan or wok. When hot, add tempeh and stir fry for about 2 minutes. Add ginger, garlic, and scallion whites. Continue to stir fry until tempeh begins to turn golden brown, about 3-5 more minutes. Stir in white pepper, soy sauce, and rice wine and cook for a few more seconds. Remove from heat and stir for a few more seconds.

Start the sauce by combining all sauce ingredients over low heat, stirring occasionally. Also, put medium to large pot with water on the stove to boil--this pot will be for boiling the wontons.

Now fold your mixture into wontons. If you're using big egg roll wontons, you'll use about 1/4 cup of tempeh mixture; if you're using small pot-sticker-size wontons, it'll be more like a TBSP of mixture. Place the mixture in the middle of each wonton sheet, then brush the edges of the dough with egg using a pastry brush. Now fold the wonton over to make a triangle and use your fingers to firmly seal the edges. Traditionally, you'll also fold the two points of the longest section of triangle back together and connect these tips to make a "cap" shape, but this step is optional.

Now gently lower the wontons into your pot of boiling water. Boil until they have had time to cook through--about 3 minutes for small wontons or 5-6 minutes for large wontons. Remove with slotted spoon. Serve with generous portion of sauce and add garnishes.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Hong You (Szechuan chili oil)

Don't buy chili oil at the Asian grocer! That foul, artificially-colored garbage is the surest way to screw up an otherwise perfect Chinese meal! This takes only a few minutes to throw together and will keep almost indefinitely. Also, it is great as a finishing oil, in salad dressings or marinades, and can add awesomeness to just about any sauteed dish. Note, however, that you need a deep-frying or candy thermometer. You can get one for a few bucks at any kitchen store or big box store that sells kitchen stuff.

For the chilies, you can use plain chili flakes from any grocery store or go to an Asian market to buy specific types of chili flakes. You can also buy whole dried chilies and puree in a food processor.

Prep time: 1/2 cocktail

2 cups canola or peanut oil
3 cloves garlic, smashed with the side of your knife and peeled
6 1/2" sections of ginger, also smashed with the side of your knife
4 whole star anise pods
6-10 black cardamom seeds
6-8 whole cloves
1/2 cup chili flakes
1 cinnamon stick broken in half
1/2 tsp ground Szechuan peppercorns, (optional, grind in a cleaned coffee grinder after a brief dry fry)
1 tsp sea salt

Heat the oil (with the thermometer in it) in a small pan over medium heat until it reaches 285 Fahrenheit. AS SOON as it hits 285, remove from heat and add ginger and garlic. Don't stir.

While oil is heating or right after you add garlic and ginger, combine star anise, cardamom, cloves, chili flakes, broken cinnamon stick, and peppercorns in a small dish. AS SOON as the oil temperature drops to 250, add this dish of spices. Also, don't stir.

As soon as the temperature drops to 200, use a wooden spoon or tongs to fish out the ginger and garlic. If you don't do this, they'll cause the oil to go rancid over time.

Now let the oil cool to room temperature. Stir in salt. Transfer to a glass jar with good lid and let sit at least 24 hours before using. The taste will improve over time and it'll stay good unrefrigerated for at least 3 months. After three days, you can strain out all the solids if you think the taste is vibrant enough, but they can remain in as long as you want to continue to infuse the oil with additional flavor. Also, if the oil is too strong for you, dilute with a cup of plain canola oil.