Category Archives: Recipes

Okonomilatkes!

I’m working on some type theory posts, but it’s been slow going.

In the meantime, it’s Chanukah time. Every year, my family makes me cook potato latkes for Chanukah. The problem with that is, I don’t particularly like potato latkes. This year, I came up with the idea of trying to tweak them into something that I’d actually enjoy eating. What I came up with is combining a latke with another kind of fried savory pancake that I absolutely love: the japanese Okonomiyaki. The result? Okonomilatkes.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 head green cabbage, finely shredded.
  • 1 1/2 pounds potatoes
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1/2 pound crabstick cut into small pieces
  • Tonkatsu sauce (buy it at an asian grocery store in the japanese section. The traditional brand has a bulldog logo on the bottle.)
  • Katsubuoshi (shredded bonito)
  • Japanese mayonaise (sometimes called kewpie mayonaise. You can find it in squeeze bottles in any asian grocery. Don’t substitute American mayo – Japanese mayo is thinner, less oily, a bit tart, sweeter, and creamier. It’s really pretty different.)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder.

Instructions

  1. In a very hot pan, add about a tablespoon of oil, and when it’s nearly smoking, add the cabbage. Saute until the cabbage wilts and starts to brown. Remove from the heat, and set aside to cool.
  2. Using either the grater attachment of a food processor, or the coarse side of a box grater, shred the potatoes. (I leave the skins on, but if that bugs you, peel them first).
  3. Squeeze as much water as you can out of the shredded potatoes.
  4. Mix together the water, flour, baking powder, egg, and salt into a thin batter.
  5. Add the potatoes, cabbage, and crabstick to the batter, and stir together.
  6. Split this mixture into four portions.
  7. Heat a nonstick pan on medium high heat, add a generous amount of oil, and add one quarter of the batter. Let it cook until nicely browned, then flip, and cook the other side. On my stove, it takes 3-5 minutes per side. Add oil as needed while it’s cooking.
  8. Repeat with the other 3 portions
  9. To serve, put a pancake on a plate. Squeeze a bunch of stripes of mayonaise, then add a bunch of the tonkatsu sauce, and sprinkle with the katsubuoshi.

Noodles with Dried Shrimp and Scallion Oil

During July, my kids go away to camp. So my wife and I have the opportunity to try new restaurants without having to drag the munchkins around. This year, we tried out a new chinese place in Manhattan, called Hao noodle house. One of the dishes we had was a simple noodle dish: noodles lightly dressed with soy sauce and scallion oil, and then topped with a scattering of scallion and dried shrimp.

Dried shrimp are, in my opinion, a very undervalued and underused ingredient. They’re very traditional in a lot of real Chinese cooking, and they give things a really nice taste. They’ve also got an interesting, pleasant chewy texture. So when there was a dried shrimp dish on the menu, I wanted it. (The restaurant also had dan dan noodles, which are a favorite of my wife, but she was kind, and let me indulge.)

The dish was absolutely phenomenal. So naturally I wanted to figure out how to make it at home. I finally got around to doing it tonight, and I got really lucky: everything worked out perfectly, and it turned out almost exactly like the restaurant. My wife picked the noodles at the chinese grocery that looked closest, and they were exactly right. I guessed at the ingredients from the flavors, and somehow managed to get them spot on on the first try.

That kind of thing almost never happens! It always takes a few tries to nail down a recipe. But this one just turned out the first try!

So what’s the dish like? It’s very Chinese, and very different from what most Americans would expect. If you’ve had a mazeman ramen before, I’d say that’s the closest thing to it. It’s a light, warm, lightly dressed noodle dish. The sauce is very strong if you taste it on its own, but when it’s dressed onto hot noodles, it mellows quite a bit. The dried shrimp are briney and shrimpey, but not overly fishy. All I can say is, try it!

There are two parts to the sauce: a soy mixture, and a scallion oil. The scallion oil should be made a day in advance, and allowed to stand overnight. So we’ll start with that.

  • one large bunch scallions
  • 1 1/2 cups canola oil
  • two slices crushed ginger
  • generous pinch salt
  1. Coarsely chop the scallions – whites and greens.
  2. Put the scallions, ginger, and salt into a food processor, and pulse until they’re well chopped.
  3. Add the oil, and let the processor run on high for about a minute. You should end up with a thick pasty pale green goo.
  4. Put it in the refrigerator, and let it sit overnight.
  5. The next day, push through a sieve, to separate the oil from the scallion pulp. Discard the scallions. You should be left with an amazing smelling translucent green oil.

Next, the noodles and sauce.

  • Noodles. We used a kind of noodle called guan miao noodle. If you can’t find that,
    then white/wheat soba or ramen would be a good substitute.
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 2 slices ginger
  • one clove garlic
  • 2 tablespoons dried shrimp
  1. Cover the dried shrimp with cold water in a bowl, and let sit for 1/2 hour.
  2. Put the dried shrimp, soy sauce, sugar, chicken stock, ginger, and garlic into a saucepan, and simmer on low heat for five minutes. Then remove the garlic and ginger.
  3. For each portion, take about 2 tablespoons of the soy, and two tablespoons of the scallion oil, and whisk together to form something like a vinaigrette.
  4. Cook the noodles according to the package. (For the guan miao noodles, they boiled in unsalted water for 3 minutes.)
  5. Toss with the soy/oil mixture.
  6. Serve the dressed noodles into bowls, and put a few of the simmered dried shrimp on top.
  7. Drizzle another teaspoon each of the scallion oil and soy sauce over each serving.
  8. Scatter a few fresh scallions on top.

And eat!

Recipe: Za Jiang Mien, aka “Chinese Spaghetti”

This is a traditional chinese dish. It’s affectionately known as chinese spaghetti. My wife has been telling me about it for years, and I’ve been trying to reproduce it for years. I’ve finally gotten it to the point where she’s happy with it.

It’s a fun dish: it’s a make-your-own. You prepare the noodles and sauce and a bunch of toppings, and then each guest adds sauce and toppings to their own taste. I’ve seen a couple of variations on the set of toppings you can serve with it: cucumbers, carrots, raw onions, shredded ginger, sliced garlic, and bean sprouts all work. I’ve also seen one version that served it with black chinese vinegar, which was really strange.

Ingredients

  • 4 chicken thighs, ground coarsely.
  • 2 tablespoons tobanjiang (chinese spicy bean sauce, available at asian groceries.)
  • 1/4 plus a couple of tablespoons cup soy sauce.
  • 1 cup chicken stock.
  • 1/2 cup sake or shaoshing wine.
  • 1 large onion, minced.
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced.
  • 1 large slice ginger, crushed and minced.
  • 1 cucumber
  • 1 carrot
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 scallions, green sliced, and whites finely minced.
  • 1 tablespoon sugar.
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with some water.
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil.
  1. Prepare the toppings
    1. Peel the cucumber, cut it in half, scrape out the seeds, and then cut it into thin sticks. Toss with salt, and set aside for 30 minutes, and then pour off the water that comes out.
    2. Peel the cucumber, and cut into thin sticks. Toss it with salt, and set aside for 30 minutes. Pour off the water that comes out.
    3. Finely slice the greens of the scallions, and set aside.
    4. Beat the two eggs with a bit of soy sauce. Put some oil into a hot non-stick pan, and pour in the eggs. Spread then into a thin layer that covers the pan. Cook until it’s mostly solid, then flip it. When it’s all cooked, move it to a cutting board, and cut into thin ribbons. Set aside.
  2. Make the sauce:
    1. Mix the ground chicken thighs with a tablespoon of soy sauce.
    2. Put 1 tablespoon of oil into a hot wok. Add the chicken, and stir fry until it starts to brown. Then remove it.
    3. Put 1 tablespoon of oil into a hot wok. Add the garlic and ginger, and stir fry until fragrant. Then add the onions and scallion whites, and stir until they soften and just barely start to brown.
    4. Scrape the onions to the sides of the pan, then add the tobanjiang to the oil that collects of the bottom of the pan. Stir it around for 30 seconds.
    5. Add the chicken back in, and then add the sake.
    6. When most of the sake has cooked off, add the chicken stock, soy sauce, sugar, and a cup of water.
    7. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and then let it cook for about 20 minutes.
    8. Thicken with some cornstarch, and add the sesame oil. Remove from heat, put into a bowl, and set aside.
  3. Cook some noodles. This will work with a variety of different types of asian noodles: fresh ramen, lo mien, shanghai noodle. Cook according to the instructions on the package. It’s best if it’s a bit undercooked. Drain them, and then toss with a bit of oil to stop them from sticking together.

To serve, you put the sauce into a bowl, and put it and all of the toppings onto the table. Then put a pile of noodles onto each persons plate. Then have each guest add as much sauce and toppings as they want, and dig in.

My version of Tsukune: Japanese Chicken Meatballs

A few weeks ago, my wife took me out to dinner at an Izakaya that she found. If you don’t know about Izakayas, you really need to find one and try it. An Izakaya is basically a Japanese sake bar – it’s sort-of the Japanese equivalent of a Tapas bar – you order a variety of small dishes, and eat them with your sake. Izakayas are really terrific – they’re a nice informal place to have dinner with good sake, and a variety of delicious dishes.

One of the dishes we had was Tsukune, which is a standard at Izakayas. It’s basically a meatball made from ground chicken, and served drizzled with a sauce that’s a lot like a thick, rich teriyaki. These suckers were the tenderest, most succulent meatballs I’ve ever eaten. I was strongly motivated to try to reproduce them.

So I did some research. And it turned out that there were two tricks to how really good tsukune come out that way.

One part is what goes in: pretty much any part of the bird that can get finely minced. Breast, thigh, neck, legs, wings. If the cartilage is soft enough to be minced, it goes right in with the meat.

The other part is how it’s treated. The meat has the living hell beaten out of it. It’s finely minced, and then the ground meat is kneaded and pounded until it’s all soft and firmly stuck together. That process both binds the meat without adding any extra binding agents like eggs, and tenderizes it.

I really don’t like working with cartilage. I’ve tried it in some recipes in the past, and I find it really unpleasant. It’s slimy, and it tends to sometimes form sharp edges that can cut you. Getting cut by raw meat is not something I like doing.

So I decided to try to reproduce as much of the flavor as I could, using ingredients that I had on hand. And I tried couple of tricks to get the tender texture. It’s not as tender as a true Izakaya tsukune, but it was awfully good.

I relied on three things to get the tenderness I wanted.

  1. Force: I beat the living hell out of the meat. I didn’t do it by kneading; instead, I took chicken thighs, cut the meat off the bones, and then beat the crap out of it with the flat of my meat tenderizer. By the time I was done, I wouldn’t describe the result as a particular thickness; I’d say that it had been reduced to more of a chicken paste smeared across my cutting board.
  2. Chemistry: I took that, and put it into a flat bottomed baking dish, and poured a cup of apple juice over it. There’s an enzyme in fruits from the apple family that tenderizes meat, so I let that do some work.
  3. Slow heat: Finally, I browned the meatball quickly in a pan, and then transferred them to a baking dish with the sauce, and put them into a low oven for a long time.

The result was, honestly, not very much like the tsukune from the Izakaya. But it was really, really delicious. I mean really, seriously delicious – like some of the best meatballs I’ve ever eaten. Not quite as good as the Izakaya ones, and quite different – but so, so good.

It’s not a difficult dish to make, but it is time consuming. Not really that different from other meatball recipes I’ve made: meatballs are often the kind of dish that cooks all day.

The sauce cooks for a while on its own, and then cooks more with the meatballs in it. But the chicken needs to marinate for an hour or two – so you really need to start both around the same time.

The Sauce

The sauce is basically just a slightly amped up teriyaki sauce – but homemade is so much better than the crap you get out of a bottle, and it’s really easy to make.

Ingredients
  • White part of one scallion, minced.
  • 3 cloves finely minced garlic.
  • 1 inch section of fresh ginger, finely minced.
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce (ideally good quality shoyu!).
  • 1/2 cup sake
  • 1/4 cup mirin
  • 1/2 cup apple juice
  • 1 cup chicken stock.
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar.
Instructions
  1. Heat a bit of oil in a pot. When it’s hot, add the garlic, ginger, and scallions, and cook until it’s nice and fragrant.
  2. Add the sake, and then let it reduce by half.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and add the rest of the liquids and the brown sugar.
  4. Simmer for about an hour.
  5. Remove from heat, and set aside.

The meatballs

Ingredients
  • 6 boneless chicken thighs
  • 1/4 onion, finely minced
  • 1/4 cup apple juice
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs.
  • sliced scallion greens (the leftovers from the whites used in the sauce.)
  • flour
Instructions
  1. With a meat tenderizer, pound the heck out of the chicken thighs until they’re severely mangled and very thin.
  2. Put them into a dish with the apple juice, and put that into the refrigerator for an hour or two.
  3. Put the marinated thighs into the food processor with 1/4 cup of the sauce, and pulse a couple of times until they’re minced.
  4. Fold in the onion and the bread crumbs.
  5. Chill the ground meat for an hour until it firms up.
  6. Separate into about 30 meatballs – it should be around a heaped teaspoon per meatball.
  7. Roll each meatball in flour; flatten slightly, and then brown the two flat sides in a hot pan with a bit of oil. The meatballs will not be cooked through by this – you’re just browning the meatballs, not fully cooking them.
  8. Put the meatballs into a baking dish, cover with the sauce, and bake for 1 1/2 hours.
  9. Remove the meatballs from the sauce, and reduce the sauce until there’s just a cup or so left. Thicken with a bit of cornstarch.
  10. Pour the sauce back over the meatballs, and sprinkle with scallion greens.

Serve this on a bed of simple steamed rice, and some stir fried veggies on the side. Home cooking doesn’t get better than this.

Skirt Steak with Shoyu Gastrique

I made an amazing dinner tonight, out of a total ad-lib. So I want to write it down so I’ll remember it. This turned out to be the best steak I’ve ever made.

The Steak

  • 1 pound skirt steak
  • Kombu leaves
  • 1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon finely minced ginger
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup mirin
  • 1/4 cup sake
  1. Mix together the liquid ingredents in a baking dish. dip the steak into it, to coat both sides.
  2. Press kombu leaves into both sides of the steak, and then put it in the dish, and leave it in the fridge for a couple of hours.
  3. Take the steak out, pat dry.
  4. Toss the steak on a very hot grill, and cook for 2 minutes on one side, and about one minute on the other.
  5. Let rest for a few minutes, then slice on the bias. (Save any juices that drip off while it’s resting, and add them to the sauce!)

The Sauce

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sake
  • 1 tablespoon shoyu
  1. Mix together the sugar and water, and cook on high heat, whisking until the sugar is dissolved.
  2. Keep cooking on high heat until all the water evaporates, the sugar starts to caramelize, and turns amber.
  3. Add the cider and sake, and reduce the heat. Then whisk vigorously until everything is dissolved. (When you add the liquids to the caramel, it will seize up; you need to whisk until it’s redissolved.
  4. Turn off the heat, then add the shoyu and any juices that dripped off the steak.

That’s it. Best damned steak ever.

Weekend Recipe: 3-cup chicken

This is a traditional chinese dish that my wife grew up eating in Taiwan. For some reason, she never told me about it, until she saw an article with a recipe in the NY Times. Of course, I can’t leave recipes alone; I always put my own spin on it. And the recipe in the article had some (in my opinion) glaring problems. For example, it called for cooking with sesame oil. Sesame oil is a seasoning, not a cooking oil. It’s got a very strong flavor, and it burns at stir-fry temperature, which makes any dish cooked in it taste absolutely awful. You cook in neutral oils with high smoke points, like peanut, canola, or soybean; and then you add a drop of sesame as part of the sauce, so that it’s moderated and doesn’t burn. Anyway, below is my version of the dish.

  • 2 pounds of chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces.
  • About 8 large cloves of garlic, thickly sliced.
  • About a 1-inch section of fresh ginger, cut into disks.
  • 5 whole dried szechuan chili peppers (or more, if you like those lovely things!)
  • A good bunch of thai basil leaves, removed from the stems, but left whole. (About a cup, if it’s packed pretty tight. Don’t skimp – these are the best part of the dish!)
  • 4 scallions, thinly sliced, whites and greens separated.
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce.
  • 1/4 cup mirin
  • 1/2 cup sake
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch, dissolved in water.
  • 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil (just a drop, for flavor).
  • Enough canola oil (or similarly bland, high-smoke-point cooking oil) to took – a couple of tablespoons at most.
  1. Get your wok smoking hot. Add enough oil to coat the bottom, and swirl it around.
  2. Add in half of the chicken, and cook until it’s nicely browned, then remove it. (It won’t be cooked all the way through yet, don’t worry!)
  3. Repeat with the other half of the chicken.
  4. Make sure there’s enough oil in the bottom of the wok, then toss in the garlic, ginger, chili peppers, and scallion whites. Stir fry them until the garlic starts to get just a little bit golden.
  5. Add the chicken back in, and add the soy, mirin, sake, and sugar. Get it boiling, and keep stirring things around until the chicken is cooked through.
  6. Add the basil and scallions, and keep stirring until the basil wilts, and the whole thing smells of that wonderful thai basic fragrance.
  7. Add the cornstarch and sesame oil, and cook until the sauce starts to thicken.
  8. Remove it from the heat, and serve on a bed of white rice, along with some simple stir-fried vegetables. (I used a batch of beautiful sugar-snap peas, quickly stir fried with just a bit of garlic, and a bit of soy sauce.)

A couple of notes on ingredients:

  • This is a dish where the soy sauce matters. Don’t use cheap generic american soy sauce; that stuff is just saltwater with food coloring. For some things, that’s actually OK. But in this dish, it’s the main flavor of the sauce, so it’s important to use something with a good flavor. Get a good quality chinese soy (I like Pearl River Bridge brand), or a good japanese shoyu.
  • For the sugar, if you’ve got turbinado (or even better, real chinese rock sugar), use that. If not, white sugar is Ok.
  • Definitely try to get thai basil. It’s very different from italian basil – the leaves are thinner (which makes them much easier to eat whole, as you do in this dish), and they’ve got a very different flavor – almost like Italian basic mixed with a bit of anise and a bit of menthol. It’s one of my favorite herbs, and it’s actually gotten pretty easy to find.
  • Szechuan peppers can be hard to find – you pretty much need to go to an Asian grocery. They’re worth it. They’ve got a very distinctive flavor, and I don’t know of any other dried pepper that works in a sauce like them. You don’t actually eat the peppers – the way you cook them, they actually burn a bit – but they bloom their flavor into the oil that you use to cook the rest of the dish, and that totally changes the sauce.

Roasted Vegetable Recipes

One more post of recipes, and then I’ll get back to math, I promise!

One of my proudest accomplishments that somehow, I successfully taught my children to not just eat, but to love vegetables. I think part of that is genetic – neither of them are supertasters. But the other part of it is a combination of training and cooking.

The training side is, I think, simple. Most adults are convinced that vegetables are icky but necessary. They’re wrong. But they actively teach that to their children. They make eating vegetables, even when they’re delicious, into a chore.

The other side is that because most adults think that veggies are icky, they cook them in ways that don’t taste good.

Take one of my favorite vegetables as an example: brussel sprouts. My children will actually fight over who gets the last bite of brussel sprouts. When we’re talking about what to make for dinner, they beg me to make them! But when I mention this to most people, they act like I’m absolutely insane: brussel sprouts are gross!

If you take a bunch of brussel sprouts, and throw it into boiling water for 20 minutes, what you get is a stinky, pungent, bitter, mushy, revolting little ball of green awfulness. But, if you slice them thin, and saute them in a smoking hot pan with olive oil, salt and pepper, and a bit of garlic, until the edges start to turn brown, what you get is absolutely amazing: sweet, crisp, and wonderful.

So, what I’m going to share here is a couple of vegetable side dishes I made in the last week, which were fantastic. All of them are roasted vegetables – for some reason, people don’t think about roasting veggies, but it’s often one of the easiest and tastiest ways to cook them.

First: simple roasted brussel sprouts.

  1. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Take a pound of brussel sprouts, and cut them into quarters.
  3. Toss them with enough olive out to coat them, but not drench them.
  4. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.
  5. Spread them out over a baking sheet.
  6. Put them into the hot oven, for around 10 minutes. After ten minutes, take them and and turn them. If they look really well done and brown on the edges, then they’re done; if not, put them in for up to another 10 minutes.
  7. Take them out, and toss them with a teaspoon or two of balsamic vinegar.

That’s it – and they’re amazing.

Next: Chili Glazed Roasted Sweet Potatoes

This one I’m particularly proud of. I absolutely love sweet potatoes. But normally, my wife won’t touch them – she thinks they’re gross. But this recipe, she actually voluntarily had multiple helpings! It’s sweet, salty, and spicy all at the same time, in a wonderful balance.

  1. Take a couple of pounds of sweet potatoes, peel them, and cut them into cubes about 2 inches on a side.
  2. Toss them with olive oil to coat.
  3. Mix together 1 teaspoon of salt, 1/4 cup of brown sugar, and one generous teaspoon of kochukaru (korean chili powder).
  4. Sprinkle it over the oiled sweet potatoes, and toss them so they’re all coated.
  5. Spread onto a baking sheet, and cook at 350 for about 30 minutes, turning them at least once. They’re done when the outside is nicely browned, and they’ve gotten soft.

Finally: roasted cauliflower

  1. Preheat your oven to 450.
  2. Take a whole head of cauliflower, and break it into small florets. Put them into a bowl.
  3. Take a half of an onion, and slice it thin. Toss the onions with the cauliflower.
  4. Coat the cauliflower and onions with olive oil – don’t drench them, but make sure that they’ve got a nice coat.
  5. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.
  6. Spread onto a baking sheet, and into the oven.
  7. After 10 minutes, take them out, and turn them, then back in for another 10 minutes.

All three of these got eaten not just by adults, but by kids. The brussel sprouts and sweet potatoes were eaten not just by my kids, but by the kids of other people too, so it’s not just the crazy Chu-Carroll’s who thought they were delicious!