vietnamese shrimp quinoa salad

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Does anyone else think shrimp can have an off-putting texture sometimes? It’s not just when it’s overcooked and chewy; even cooked correctly, there can be an unevenly textured graininess that I don’t like. The smaller the shrimp, the less that texture is an issue. On the other hand, the smaller the shrimp, the more shrimp you have to peel.

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However, I love the flavor. Sweet and briny, it’s so good in a huge variety of dishes. This is one of my recent favorites. The vegetables are crunchy and fresh, but the shrimp and quinoa keep it satisfying.

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I’ve found a trick that seems to solve my texture issues with shrimp, although it’s an extra tedious step on top of the already tedious peeling. After cooking, I cut the shrimp in half lengthwise. As an added bonus, it makes them closer to bite-sized for me, so I can get a forkful with all the goodies – shrimp and quinoa and vegetables and herbs. This one simple trick makes me love shrimp – both the flavor and the texture.

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Vietnamese Shrimp and Quinoa Salad (adapted from Serious Eats)

You can save some time by cooking the quinoa in water instead of the cooking liquid from the shrimp, starting to cook the quinoa around the same time as the shrimp.

Shrimp:
1 pound shrimp, unpeeled
2 cups water
5 cilantro sprigs
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 lime

Salad:
½ cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed
1 red pepper, diced
1 cucumber, peeled, seeds removed, quartered lengthwise, and sliced
1 large carrot, peeled and shredded
2 scallions, sliced thin
¼ cup cilantro, minced

Dressing:
¼ cup lime juice from 2 limes
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons sugar
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

1. For the shrimp: In a 2-quart saucepan, combine the shrimp, water, cilantro sprigs, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 1 teaspoon salt. Juice the lime into the saucepan, then add the lime peels to the saucepan. Place the saucepan over medium-high heat and cook until the shrimp turn pink, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain the shrimp, reserving ¾ cup of the shrimp broth. Rinse the saucepan.

2. For the salad: Add the shrimp broth and quinoa to the rinsed saucepan and heat over medium-high heat until the broth boils. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let set, covered, for 10 minutes.

3. In a large bowl, combine the quinoa, red peppers, cucumber, carrot, scallions, and cilantro. Peel the cooled shrimp and add it to the bowl.

4. For the dressing: Mix everything. Pour over the salad and stir to combine. Serve immediately, or cover and chill for up to four hours.

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korean pork medallions with asian slaw

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Can you believe we actually ate this in the middle of December? What were we thinking?! We could have been eating roast beef! mashed potatoes! macaroni and cheese! ‘Tis the season (well, ’twas the season) for rich and delicious food!

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This vegetably starchless meal is clearly made for January. It’s actually exactly what I’m craving. Even though I don’t think I’m eating significantly more healthfully lately than I normally do, I’m more bored with healthy foods right now. Maybe it’s an instinctual reaction to winter, although considering that it was almost 70 degrees here last weekend, probably not.

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This meal, although pretty healthy, is also sweet and salty and meaty and therefore comforting. It definitely doesn’t make you feel like you’re choking down health food to make up for December’s transgressions. Sure, there’s a salad involved, but it’s topped with deeply browned meat. It really is a great meal any time of year.

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Spicy Korean Pork Medallions with Asian Slaw (hardly adapted from Fine Cooking)

Serves 4 to 6

1 large or 2 small pork tenderloins (about 1¼ pounds)
⅓ cup soy sauce
¼ cup rice vinegar
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1½ tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon sriracha
1 pound napa cabbage, thinly sliced (about 6 cups)
2 medium carrots, grated (about 1 cup)
4 scallions (both white and green parts), trimmed and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons canola or peanut oil
kosher salt

1. Trim the pork of any silverskin and excess fat, and cut on the diagonal into ½-inch-thick medallions.

2. In a small measuring cup, whisk together the soy sauce, 2 tablespoons of the rice vinegar, 2 tablespoons of the brown sugar, the garlic, ginger, ½ tablespoon of the sesame oil, and 2 teaspoons of the chile sauce. Toss ½ cup of this mixture with the pork medallions in a large bowl; reserve the remaining mixture to use as a sauce. Let the pork sit at room temperature for 25 minutes or refrigerate for up to 2 hours.

3. Meanwhile, in another large bowl, toss the cabbage and the carrot with half of the scallions, 1 teaspoon salt, and the remaining 2 tablespoons rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, ½ tablespoon sesame oil, and 1 teaspoon chile sauce. Let sit for 15 minutes, toss again, and transfer to a large serving platter.

4. Heat 1 tablespoon of the canola oil in a 12-inch, heavy-based skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering hot. Remove the pork from the marinade, shaking off the excess, and transfer the pork to a clean plate. Discard the marinade. Add half of the pork medallions to the skillet, spacing them evenly. Cook them without touching until well browned, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook until the pork is just cooked through (slice into a piece to check), about 2 more minutes. Set the pork on top of the slaw. Pour out the oil and wipe the pan with paper towels (if the drippings on the bottom of the pan look like they may burn, wash the pan). Return the pan to medium-high heat. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon canola oil, and cook the remaining medallions in the same manner. Top the slaw with the remaining pork, and pour the reserved soy-ginger sauce over the medallions. Serve immediately, sprinkled with the remaining scallions.

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shitake mushroom and lentil asian tacos

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Vegetarian food, for me, means something quick and easy, healthy, perfect for a weeknight dinner. There’s no fussing with the handwashing of cooking with chicken, no long braising times. Most are one-bowl meals that don’t require side dishes. The exceptions to these rules invariably include lots of cheese, almost certainly pasta, and a long prep time – and are relegated to weekend meals.

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Few and far between are vegetarian meals that are not only healthy and delicious, but also feel special. This is one. First, it’s tacos, and I’m not out of my taco phase. Second, so many fillings and toppings in the tacos satisfy all sorts of flavor and texture desires.

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The mushroom-lentil mixture has plenty of ingredients that kick up the umami sensation that usually comes from meat. The miso and soy sauce in the sauce don’t hurt either, but the sauce is about more than just umami; it’s sweet and herbal and a bit sour from the rice vinegar. There’s crunch from the carrots and the buttery richness of avocados. All of it combines to form a special occasional dish that is perfectly healthy and not just vegetarian, but vegan. It’s a far cry from most of my favorite vegetarian dishes, and I love it.

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Shitake Mushroom and Lentil Asian Tacos (adapted from Sprouted Kitchen)

Serves 4 to 6

I toasted the garlic, while still peeled, in a small not-nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until the papery peel started to brown on a few sides. This softens the bite of raw garlic, making it sweeter and more mellow.

My favorite new way to soften corn tortillas for tacos is to spray both sides of them with oil, then heat them in a 400 degree oven until pliable, about 5 minutes. Even better, add some of the mushroom-lentil mixture to the tortillas at that point and fold the tortilla over the filling; continue baking until the tortilla starts to crisp, another 3-5 minutes.

I grew radish sprouts just for this recipe, but they didn’t sprout in time. Bummer. They made a good garnish for avocado and shrimp-filled tortilla cups the next day though.

Miso herb sauce:
3 garlic cloves, peeled (see note)
2 packed cups basil leaves
1 packed cup cilantro
2 tablespoons white or yellow miso
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon soy sauce
pinch of red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons orange juice
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

Tacos:
¾ cup brown or green lentils
salt
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 onion, thinly diced
12 ounces shitake mushrooms, stems discarded, sliced
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
about 16 corn tortillas, warmed (see note)
2 large or 3 small avocados, peeled and sliced
5 small carrots, peeled and grated
micro greens, for garnish (see note)

1. For the sauce: Place the garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the cutting blade; process until minced. Add the herbs and process until pureed. Add the remaining ingredients and process until the sauce is evenly mixed. Transfer to a serving bowl; set aside.

2. Bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a 2-quart saucepan. Add the lentils and ½ teaspoon of salt. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, partially cover, and cook for about 20 minutes, until tender. Drain.

3. In a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat, heat the oil until it flows like water when the pan is tilted. Add the onion and a pinch of salt; cook, stirring often, until the onion is softened and translucent. Add the mushrooms and another pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms soften and release their liquid. Once the liquid evaporates, add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, and cook until the mushrooms and onions brown. Stir in the cooked lentils and the cider vinegar.

4. Stuff each tortilla with the mushroom-lentil mixture, carrots, avocado, microgreens, and miso-herb sauce. Serve immediately.

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pepper-crusted salmon with wasabi dipping sauce

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This is one of the best new meals I’ve made recently. The salmon was perfectly browned on top but still juicy in the middle. The Old Bay and lemon were interesting matches with the wasabi and ginger, but it definitely worked. The watercress and avocado salad I served the salmon with was the perfect bright balance to the umami-rich fish and soy sauce dip. The meal had a few of my favorite sushi components, with the fish, wasabi, and avocado, but it went a different direction with the salad and Old Bay.

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It was an unusually light weekend dinner for us. Usually those tend to include a lot more carbs and red meat. It isn’t rare that they also require a serious investment of time in the kitchen, and this recipe differs from that routine as well.

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In fact, there is absolutely no reason this wouldn’t fit right in with our weekday routine of healthy and quick meals. And that’s good news, because there are more weeknights than weekends, and that means more opportunities to make this dish.

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One year ago: Dulce de Leche Cupcakes
Two years ago: Beer-Marinated Flank Steak
Three years ago: Zucchini Bread
Four years ago: Chocolate Whopper Malted Drops

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Pepper-Crusted Salmon with Wasabi-Lemon Dipping Sauce (adapted from Steven Raichlen’s Planet Barbecue! via epicurious and from Cook’s Illustrated’s Glazed Salmon recipe)

Serves 4

I served this with Avocado and Watercress Salad (without the apple), and it was absolutely perfect.

For the sauce:
1 tablespoon wasabi powder
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
juice of 1 lemon
½ cup soy sauce
1 scallion, white and green parts, minced

For the salmon:
2 tablespoons Old Bay seasoning
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon cornstarch
4 (8-ounce) salmon fillets
coarsely ground black pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil

1. Heat the oven to 300 degrees. In a small bowl, mix the wasabi powder and water until smooth. Set aside for 10 minutes to enhance the wasabi flavors, then add the remaining sauce ingredients.

2. In a small bowl, combine the Old Bay, salt, sugar, and cornstarch. Rub into the flesh (not the skin) of the salmon. Season with a generous layer of coarsely ground black pepper, pressing the pepper into the salmon.

3. Heat the oil in a nonstick 12-inch oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat. Transfer the salmon to the pan, flesh-side down. Cook without moving for 1 minute, then flip and cook for another minute. Transfer the skillet to the oven; cook 8-10 minutes, or until the thickest part of the salmon reaches an internal temperature of 125 degrees. Serve immediately.

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general tso’s chicken

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I’ve never understood fried foods that are coated in sauce, like General Tso’s chicken and buffalo wings. For me, the best part of fried food is the crisp browned coating. Once you mix that with sauce and it loses its crunch, what’s the point?

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So I knew from the beginning that I wouldn’t be deep-frying for my version of General Tso’s chicken. Pan-frying sounded a lot easier, as least as far as clean up goes, and it seems like it should be lighter than dumping the entire piece of meat in oil, right?

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The chicken did end up good – like tender chicken nuggets – but I still have to wonder if using shredded roast chicken instead of breaded pieces would really be so bad. The rough texture of shredded chicken would soak up sauce just as well as the crags of breading. It would certainly be easier. I think the difference it would make on the final dish would be minimal, and it would without a doubt be worth avoiding the calories and mess of frying.

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One year ago: Prosecco Raspberry Gelée
Two years ago: Espresso Chocolate Shortbread
Three years ago: Pickled Coleslaw
Four years ago: Eclairs (Daring Bakers)

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General Tso’s Chicken (adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Feed and Food and Wine)

Serves 4

A couple of the commenters on the ATK recipe noted that the sauce lacked something, and I’d say what it’s lacking is balance. It was very sweet and dominated by hoisin, although this might depend largely on the brand of hoisin you use. (I used Sun Luck, the only one available in my town.)

½ cup hoisin
¼ tablespoons white vinegar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1½ cup water
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch chunks
2 teaspoons oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons grated ginger
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1½ cup cornstarch
½ cup flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
3 egg whites
oil for pan-frying
4 scallions, white and green parts, chopped

1. In a medium bowl, mix the hoisin, white vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, 2 tablespoons cornstarch, and water. Transfer 6 tablespoons of this mixture into a bowl with the chicken; stir to combine and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

2. In a medium skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add 2 cups of the hoisin mixture; increase the high to medium-high and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 2 minutes, then remove from the heat and cover.

3. Add the cornstarch, flour, and baking soda to the bowl with the remaining hoisin mixture. Stir with a fork until the mixture resembles coarse meal. In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites until frothy.

4. Heat an ⅛-inch of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Dip half of the chicken pieces in the egg whites, then the cornstarch mixture. Transfer to the hot skillet; cook, without moving, for 3-4 minutes, until the bottom is browned. Flip and brown the second side. Transfer to a plate. Repeat with the remaining chicken.

5. Reheat the sauce over the medium heat. Add the chicken and toss to coat. Serve over rice, topping with the scallions.

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california roll burgers

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I am not the most effusive of food bloggers. I’m not much for “OMG OMG make this ASAP” types of statements. I understand that we all have different tastes, different health requirements, different time constraints; what is a perfect recipe for me might not seem so to you. But, most importantly, those types of statements need to be saved for the really special recipes.

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This is a really special recipe. If you consider the best burger I’ve ever eaten to be really special, that is. And I think it is, because I have eaten some pretty fantastic burgers, starting with the classic green chile cheeseburger, including lamb burgers with feta and tzatziki, and not to mention the fancy schmancy fig-glazed burger with onion jam.

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All are wonderful, and I don’t plan on giving them up, but this one is my new favorite burger. Admittedly, this is coming from a sushi lover who lives over 150 miles from the nearest sushi restaurant, so I’m always excited when I can get sushi flavors without requiring raw fish or hours of rolling.

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I thought at first that mild turkey burgers would work better with the light shellfish and vegetable toppings, but it turned out that the turkey was too timid, and I could hardly taste it over the king crab, avocado, and wasabi. It was still the best burger I’d ever had though. But I tried again, this time using hearty ground beef instead of turkey and pasteurized lump crab (soaked in milk for 20 minutes to null fishy odors, as per Cook’s Illustrated’s recent crab cake recipe) instead of king crab. And then that was the best burger I’d ever had.

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And next time, I’ll get the best of both worlds by using ground beef and king crab, and then that will be the best burger I’ve ever had. This small-town desert girl has figured out how to get her sushi fix, and that’s worth getting excited about.

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One year ago: Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake
Two years ago: Stuffed Butterflied Leg of Lamb
Three years ago: Fresh Strawberry Scones
Four years ago: Hash Browns with Sautéed Vegetables and Poached Eggs

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California Roll Burgers (adapted from Use Real Butter)

6 burgers

The fish sauce replaces salt in this burger recipe, while also providing a dose of umami. I’ve tried it with regular burgers and didn’t notice any difference, but I like it here because the flavor matched the toppings I used for this burger. If it isn’t something you keep around, use ¾ teaspoon salt instead.

If you prefer, you can replace the Greek yogurt with additional mayonnaise.

1 pound ground beef (no leaner than 90%)
2 tablespoons fish sauce
¼ teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon black pepper
6 ounces shelled crab (from 2 king crab legs, or use pasteurized lump crab)
¼ cup mayonnaise, divided
2 sheets nori, cut into strips
¼ cup Greek yogurt
1-2 tablespoons powdered wasabi
1 tablespoon soy sauce
6 burger buns, halved horizontally
2 avocadoes, peeled, seeded, and sliced
1 cucumber, sliced thinly
sesame seeds

1. In a large bowl, combine the ground beef, fish sauce, sugar, and pepper. Form into 6 patties, about ½-inch thick and 4 inches wide. In a medium bowl, combine the crab, 2 tablespoons mayonnaise, and nori. In a small bowl, combine the remaining 2 tablespoons mayonnaise with the Greek yogurt, wasabi powder, and soy sauce.

2. Prepare a medium-hot grill. Using a paper towel, grease the grate with vegetable oil. Grill the beef patties for 5 minutes; flip, and continue grilling another 5 minutes. Meanwhile, toast the burger buns on the hottest part of the grill.

3. Spread the wasabi mayonnaise on both sides of the buns. Top with slices of avocado, a burger patty, the crab salad, cucumber slices, and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. Serve immediately.

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ginger fried rice

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Telling someone you’re having fried rice for dinner – not with dinner, but for dinner – doesn’t sound very impressive. Someone asked me if I was adding a bunch of stuff to it, and I had to think about it before I realized that no…not really. It’s really just aromatics stirred into rice, topped with an egg and some soy sauce.

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But it did seem to me that serving the egg fried and on top of the rice, instead of scrambled into the rice, made this more worthy of being a stand-alone dish. Plus, I added one leek per person, which seemed like a fair enough vegetable serving; not generous, perhaps, but adequate considering what else we’d eaten that day. With that, it has all the components many of my favorite weeknight dishes do – a whole grain, a vegetable, some protein.

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It certainly tasted like it was worthy of having the dinner plate to itself. I thought the rice would be bland, without any sauce stirred into it, but a heavy dose of garlic and ginger, not to mention the grassy onionness of the leeks added plenty of flavor. The drips of soy sauce and toasted sesame oil offer hits of strong seasonings, especially once carried into the rice with the unctuous yolk. This won’t be the last time I have to tell someone I’m having something as simple as fried rice for dinner, so I’d better get used to it.

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One year ago: Green Pea Ravioli in Lemon Broth
Two years ago: Brown Sugar Cookies
Three years ago: Pasta with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
Four years ago: Sichuan Green Beans

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Ginger Fried Rice (adapted from Mark Bittman via Smitten Kitchen)

I used 4 leeks, but since leeks are usually sold in bunches of three, I wrote the recipe for just three leeks.

Serves 4

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon canola or peanut oil, divided
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons minced ginger
salt
3 leeks, white and light green parts only, sliced ⅛-inch thick
4 cups day-old cooked rice (from 1 cup uncooked rice)
4 (or more) large eggs
2 teaspoons sesame oil
4 teaspoons soy sauce
1 green onion, sliced

1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat; add the garlic and ginger. Cook, stirring often, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the leeks and a pinch of salt; cook, stirring often, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add another 1 tablespoon oil and the rice; cook until evenly heated, 3-4 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 teaspoon oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Crack the eggs into separate small cups. Add the eggs to the pan, season evenly with salt, and cover the pan. Cook until the whites are set but the yolks are still soft, 6-8 minutes.

3. Divide the rice between serving plates. Top with the fried eggs and a drizzle of both soy sauce and sesame oil. Garnish with green onions; serve immediately.

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marinated roasted tofu

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I cannot eat another hard-boiled egg. For a long time, it seemed like the perfect snack to bring to work – portable, easy, packed full of protein and nutrients. And, most importantly, I loved hard-boiled eggs. The creamy yolk balances the watery white, and I would try to get just the right ratio of each in every bite.

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A year and a half later, they’ve lost their charm. I considered switching to a new snack before it reached this point, but I couldn’t figure out what would have similar nutrient characteristics. I already eat plenty of beans, nuts, and dairy, so I needed a new protein source.

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Soy is a comparable replacement, nutrition-wise, for eggs, but digging into a cube of spongy tofu wasn’t appetizing. But tofu is perfect for marinating, because it soaks up whatever flavor you add. Then you can roast it to concentrate the flavors of the marinade and firm up the texture.

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I’ve eaten this tofu every afternoon at work for three weeks, and so far it’s one of my favorite daily snacks. (Still doesn’t hold a candle to my morning bagel, of course.) I’m sure I’ll go back to hard-boiled eggs eventually; maybe in another year and a half, when I get tired of tofu?

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One year ago: Pasta e Fagioli
Two years ago: Oatmeal Raisin Muffins
Three years ago: World Piece Cookies
Four years ago: Chocolate Cupcakes

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Marinated Roasted Tofu (adapted from Jeanne Lemlin’s Vegetarian Classics)

Serves 4

I like these plain as a snack, but they also make a good sandwich filling.

The pictures might be confusing – the first couple times I made these, I sliced the tofu into slabs and then cut the slabs into thirds.  Later, I got annoyed with arranging so many little tofu bites (I always make a double batch) on the cooling rack, so I kept the tofu as larger slices and cut them in half after baking.

1 pound firm tofu, drained
1½ tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon sriracha (optional)

1. On a dishtowel, slice the tofu crosswise into eight slabs approximately ½-inch thick. Arrange the slices in a single layer; cover with a second dish towel and pat dry.

2. Meanwhile, mix the remaining ingredients in an 8-inch square container or baking dish. Add the tofu to the marinade in the dish; stir gently and set aside for at least 30 minutes, or refrigerate, covered, overnight.

3. Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Arrange an oven-safe cooling rack on a baking sheet. Transfer the marinated tofu slices to the cooling rack. Roast until dry and browned at the edges, 25 to 30 minutes. (If you don’t have an oven-safe cooling rack, bake the tofu in a baking dish in a single layer.) The roasted tofu can be refrigerated for at least 5 days.

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asian lettuce wraps

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I try not to order dishes in restaurants that I can easily make at home, but PF Chang’s lettuce wraps had so many raving reviews that I had to get them the first time I ate there. They were just as good as I was hoping, but were also simple – too simple to pay someone else to make them for me. I made a mental note to try these at home.

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That was years ago, but I still hadn’t gotten around to making this easy dish that promised to be just as tasty as it was healthy. That is why this recipe, which requires no great skill or time-investment, no new ingredients or techniques, made the list. Sometimes I just need a little extra push, even if it’s from myself.

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I don’t think I’ll need that extra push to make these again. It will be hard to forget how well the savory filling compliments the crisp mild lettuce and sweet hoisin sauce. I can’t compare them to the restaurant’s version, since it’s been years since I’ve had theirs. I won’t wait so long before I eat lettuce wraps again, not after this reminder of how good they are, and how easy they are to make myself.

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One year ago: Stromboli
Two years ago: Maple Oatmeal Scones
Three years ago: Twice-Baked Potatoes with Broccoli, Cheddar and, Scallions
Four years ago: Mandarin Pancakes

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Asian Lettuce Wraps (adapted from Rasa Malaysia)

Serves 4

I used a combination of ground pork and lean ground beef, but many recipes call for ground chicken. Use whatever lean ground meat you want; I particularly recommend chicken or pork.

Marinade:
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon dry sherry
½ teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 green onion, finely chopped
chile-garlic sauce (optional)

Filling:
1 pound lean ground meat
1 tablespoon oil
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
5 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded, caps thinly sliced
1 (5-ounce) can water chestnuts, chopped
2 green onions, thinly sliced

1 small head of Boston or Bibb lettuce, leaves separated, rinsed, and dried

Dipping sauce:
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon water
½ teaspoon sriracha (optional)

1. In a large bowl, combine all of the marinade ingredients. Add the ground meat; use a fork or your hands to coat the meat with the marinade, breaking up large chunks. Set aside for 15 minutes.

2. Heat the oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until it flows like water when the pan is tilted. Add the shallot, garlic, and ginger; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about one minute. Add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms soften. Add the chicken with its marinade and the water chestnuts; cook, breaking the meat into small pieces, until no pink remains, about 6 minutes. Stir in the green onions.

3. Combine all of the dipping sauce ingredients in a small bowl. Serve with the meat and lettuce leaves, filling the lettuce just before serving to prevent wilting.

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rice noodle salad with peanut dressing

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I was going through a protein rut recently, where I seemed to be cooking with beans more weeknights than not. We try not to eat meat on weekdays, we take hard-boiled eggs to work everyday as snacks, and cheese has too much fat. So what does that leave me? I’d completely forgotten about soy.

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Think of tofu as a sponge that soaks up flavor. True, on its own, it tastes like water and has a jello-like squishiness, but when you sauté it and soak it in sauce, it’s hardly discernible from chicken, except cheaper and easier to work with. Plus, it won’t dry out like boneless skinless chicken breasts.

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This sauce has plenty of flavor for the tofu to absorb. Ginger, garlic, soy sauce, sugar, rice vinegar, and sesame oil, all mixed into creamy peanut butter, make for one heck of a combination. There are plenty of vegetables to provide brightness and crunch.  This was so good we had it two weeks in a row – alternating with dinners involving beans, of course.

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One year ago: Pasta Puttanesca
Two years ago: Asian-Style Chicken Noodle Soup
Three years ago: Pasta with Broccoli, Sausage, and Roasted Red Peppers

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Rice Noodle Salad with Peanut Dressing (adapted from Cate’s World Kitchen)

My noodles stuck together in one big clump, so I chopped them up after cooking. I know that’s against standard noodle procedure, but in the end, it worked perfectly.

Serves 4-6

Having made this a bunch more times, I’ve found that it’s even better with the juice of a lime squeezed into the sauce.

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 pound tofu
salt
8 ounces rice noodles (linguine shape)
½ inch fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
½ cup creamy peanut butter
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
¼ cup warm water
chili garlic sauce to taste (optional)
1 medium cucumber, sliced into half moons
1 red bell pepper, cut into matchsticks
2 green onions (green parts only), sliced
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

1. Heat the oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Slice the tofu lengthwise into ½-inch thick slabs; pat dry on a dishtowel. Transfer the tofu to the oil and cook, without moving, for 4-6 minutes, until browned on the bottom. Flip the tofu and brown the second side. Remove the tofu from the skillet and cut into bite-sized cubes.

2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a large pinch of salt and the rice noodles; cook until tender. (Check the package instructions for exact cooking times.) Drain and rinse the pasta.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together the peanut butter, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, sugar, rice vinegar, sesame oil, water, and chili garlic sauce until smooth. Fold the tofu into the sauce, then add the remaining ingredients, reserving some of the green onions and cilantro for a garnish.

rice noodle peanut butter salad 6