Wednesday, March 19, 2008

What I'm Making for Dinner - 3.19.08

Ma Po Tofu, Sesame Noodles, Veggie Stir-Fry

All the Chinese restaurants in my neighborhood are horribly American. One even has a neon sign reading "Chinese-American Food" in the window. If you're in the mood for some General Tso's, this isn't necessarily bad. However, I am lusting after lighter and spicier fare just now, and one of my favorite dishes is Ma Po Tofu. I'd ordered the sesame noodles in town before, and was seriously disappointed. Both of these dishes are easy enough to make, especially if you take the cheapskate way out and use a boxed sauce mix. It also pays to get acquainted with your Chinese market...

Do yourself a favor and try to buy Asian stuff at an Asian store. Not only is it more likely to be the real thing, but your supermarket probably charges double and triple for the basics. Mine sells a can of bamboo shoots for $3.99 that goes for $0.69 at the Chinese place next door.

Another case in point: Szechuan peppercorns. Tough to find. Available at Williams-Sonoma for $10.99 a jar. Available at your oriental market for $1.39.

Now, going into an Asian grocery store can be a daunting experience for the uninitiated. Here, with pictures, are what I consider the most essential Asian ingredients:

Soy Sauce

This is Kimlan Dark soy sauce. Try it and you'll find it has a ton more flavor than whatever you usually get, along with less salt.

Chinese Cooking Wine

Usually made from rice, this wine lends a distinctly Chinese flavor. If you try to make Asian food with Pinot Grigio, you may get weird results.

Rice Vinegar

Depending on the brand, rice vinegar may have more or less kick. I like the brand pictured- the popular Maruchan brand is milder, but also good.

Sesame Oil

Use this as a flavoring- it has a wonderful aroma. But don't try to fry things in it! Sesame oil burns easily and is best added last.

And now without further ado...

Ma Po Tofu
1 tbsp oil
2 tsp garlic
2 tsp fresh ginger, chopped
1/2 lbs ground pork or beef
Splash of Chinese cooking wine
1 box firm tofu
1 packet of Ma Po Tofu mix (Lee Kum Kee brand is great)
1/2 tsp Szechuan peppercorns (if you want extra spice)
1 tbsp scallions, chopped

Sautee garlic and ginger in oil, then add ground meat and cook until brown. Add a splash of wine, the tofu, sauce and seasonings. I usually tinker with the flavoring, adding soy sauce, rice vinegar and sesame oil as needed. You can also add peas to this dish for a touch of green. Cook everything together on low heat until the tofu has absorbed some of the flavors. Garnish with scallions.

Sesame Noodles - can be served hot or cold

1/2 lb cooked Chinese wheat noodles
1 tbsp oil
1 tsp garlic
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar
Splash of Chinese Cooking Wine
2 tbsp sesame paste (available at Chinese markets)
2 tbsp peanut butter
1/2 cup water
1 shredded carrot
1 cucumber, thinly sliced
2 tsp sesame oil
sesame seeds and/or toasted peanuts

Sautee garlic in oil and add sesame paste and peanut butter, wine, soy sauce and vinegar. Sesame paste may thicken, so add water as needed to keep a smooth, saucy consistency. Once the sauce is smooth and the wine has cooked off, add freshly boiled noodles, carrot and cucumber. Toss together and garnish with sesame seeds or peanuts. Add chopped scallions if you like.

1 comment:

adele said...

Ah-ha! So that's what that dish is called!

(I've eaten my way through a good swath of Chinese cuisine, but I don't know the names of anything. And waiters give you weird looks when you try to order "that thing with the bits and the stuff.")