sushi bowls

I’m so proud of this recipe. I actually came up with the idea on my own. Whoa. Not that sushi ingredients mixed up in a bowl is a groundbreaking idea, but that isn’t the point. The point is that I didn’t know there was already a recipe out there when I came up with it. I was creative! That never happens!

The inspiration behind my big idea was that Dave and I love sushi, but making it is a pain in the ass and going out to eat all the time isn’t feasible. So I figured, why bother making cute little sushi rolls – it’s the ingredients that we like, not their shape. I decided to mix up the ingredients in a bowl and call it a day.

And that makes this a pretty darn easy meal. Sushi rice takes only a little more effort than basic long-grain rice does, and that’s the only ingredient in this recipe that needs to be cooked.

I’ve made this a few times now, and once I used smoked salmon instead of raw tuna. I used smoked salmon twice when I made sushi rolls, and I thought it was good. It’s convenient, and I thought it might be a good option for people who aren’t comfortable eating raw fish. But when I used it in the sushi bowls, it was so salty that it kind of ruined the whole dish. I’m not sure if there’s a difference between brands or if all smoked salmon is so salty. I bought the cheapest brand, because that stuff always surprises me by how expensive it is.

But, every other time I’ve made this, it’s been just so good. And healthy! Look at all that green stuff. There’s no added fat in the recipe; the only fat involved is what’s naturally in avocado, sesame seeds, and the fish. That makes this a super tasty, easy, healthy, balanced meal on its own. It’s perfect.

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Sushi Bowls

I’ve used raw tuna, smoked salmon, and imitation crab in this, all with very good results.  If you’re using salty smoked salmon, reduce the salt in the rice mixture slightly.

4 servings

1⅓ cups rice, rinsed well
1⅓ cups water
¼ cup soy sauce
wasabi to taste, probably at least 2 teaspoons
4 teaspoons rice vinegar
4 teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 (8 by 7-inch) sheets nori, cut into strips 1½ inches long and ⅛ inch wide
1 avocado, pitted, flesh scooped from skin and cut into chunks 1 inch long and ¼ inch wide
1 cucumber, peeled and cut into matchsticks 1½ inches long and ⅛ inch wide
2 green onions, halved lengthwise and cut into strips 1 inch long
8 ounces sushi-grade fish
¼ cup sesame seeds, toasted

1. Rinse the rice. Place the rice and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat, uncovered. Once it begins to boil, reduce the heat to the lowest setting and cover. Cook for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, combine the soy sauce and wasabi in a small bowl. Combine the rice vinegar, sugar and salt in a separate small bowl and heat in the microwave on high for 30 to 45 seconds, until the sugar dissolves. Transfer the rice into a large wooden or glass mixing bowl and add the vinegar mixture. Fold and cut thoroughly to combine and coat each grain of rice with the mixture. Fan until rice is near room temperature. (If you use an electric fan, this will only take about a minute.) Do not refrigerate.

3. Combine rice, wasabi mixture, and remaining ingredients. Serve.

summer rolls

I am not a collector of cookbooks. I do have one full shelf of about twenty or so, but I’m not one to idly buy any book I get excited about. Unless I’m interested in a very good proportion of the recipes in the book, I won’t buy it.

Unless it’s only three dollars, and every recipe has several pictures, and a surprising number of those recipes look good. I recently found a Thai Cooking Step-by-Step book in the bargain aisle and couldn’t pass it up.

The first recipe, and probably the one I was the most excited about, is for summer rolls, rice paper wrappers rolled around vegetables, rice vermicelli, and shrimp. I checked out a few recipes before making them, but most were similar, so I only slightly adapted the one in the book.

Every recipe included shrimp, rice vermicelli, cilantro and carrots. A few also included cucumber and Boston lettuce, both of which I wanted to include. One added mint, one Thai basil, and one preferred Thai basil but offered mint as an alternative. I haven’t been able to find Thai basil (although I haven’t looked very hard), so I used mint the first time I made these. Dave and I both hated the mint. I skipped the extra herbs entirely the second time, just using cilantro, and we much preferred it that way.

I struggled with what to do with the lettuce. I really wanted it inside the roll, similar to spider rolls. I tried it, but it was so bulky that I couldn’t get the summer rolls to make a tight wrap. Leaving the lettuce on the outside was preferable.

I thought the dipping sauce made from the recipe included in the step-by-step book was too pungent. The second time I made these, I used a recipe from another recently-acquired Asian cookbook (but I thought I didn’t buy many cookbooks?), and it was very good.

Admittedly, this isn’t the quickest recipe to put together. I kept thinking it would be pretty fast, since there’s very little cooking. Of course whenever you have to individually prepare fillings and wrappers, there will be a significant time investment. But for such a healthy and delicious meal, it’s worth it to me.

As per Joelen’s suggestion, I am submitting this entry to her Asian Appetizers event.

Update 9.21.08: I made this again and decided the recipe I originally had here needed a few tweaks.  I reduced the vermicelli from 2 ounces to 1.5 ounces and cut all of the dip ingredients in half.  Also, it only took me 45 minutes to make these, so it’s not quite the “significant time investment” that I originally thought.

Summer Rolls (adapted from Fresh Spring Rolls in Thai Cooking Step-by-Step, from the Confident Cooking Series)

Makes 8 rolls

16 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1.5 ounces rice vermicelli
8 rice paper wrappers
½ medium cucumber, cut into matchsticks
1 medium carrot, cut into matchsticks
16 Thai basil leaves (optional)
½ cup (0.5 ounces) loosely packed cilantro leaves
8 small leaves Boston lettuce (or 4 large leaves, torn in half)

1. Fill a medium skillet with water and bring to a boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt and the shrimp and cook just until the shrimp are opaque, about 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and remove the shrimp from the pan using a slotted spoon. Cut the shrimp in half lengthwise. Add the vermicelli to the hot liquid and let set until tender, about 5 minutes. Remove the vermicelli from the pan.

2. Place a rice paper wrapper in the hot liquid and leave until softened, about one minute. Remove it from the water and place it on a work surface. Place 4 shrimp halves side-by-side in center of wrapper and top with 2 basil leaves, 1 tablespoon cilantro, a few carrot and cucumber strips, and a small amount of rice noodles.

3. Fold up bottom 2-inch border of wrapper over filling. Fold left, then right edge of wrapper over filling. Roll filling to top edge of wrapper to form tight cylinder.  Lay each roll in a leaf of lettuce and place on a serving platter.  Serve with dipping sauce.

Summer Roll Dipping Sauce (adapted from Nouc Cham in Corinne Trang’s Essentials of Asian Cuisine)

1 tablespoons granulated sugar
1.5 tablespoons fish sauce
1/4 cup lime or lemon juice
1 tablespoon water
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Combine all ingredients. Let stand for 30 minutes to allow the flavors to come together.

kung pao shrimp

I almost always ask Dave if he wants any input on our meals for the upcoming week, looking either for new ideas or for a way to limit all the ideas already swimming around in my head. Sometimes I ask just to be polite, even though I already have a nice plan forming, betting on the good chance that he won’t care. That’s what happened this time, and even though Dave wouldn’t mind one bit if I totally ignored his suggestion, I feel like a jerk for asking and then dismissing his opinion.

Not enough like a jerk to not tweak his response though. Dave simply answered “Sichuan” to my request for dinner ideas, and while I’m pretty sure he had something specific in mind, I chose to take his answer literally, opening my options up to anything Sichuan. A quick search on the Cooks Illustrated website turned up the perfect compromise – Kung Pao Shrimp, a classic Sichuan dish that also used up the red pepper I had and satisfied my craving for shrimp.

And satisfy it did. I wasn’t surprised, because it contains a lot of my favorite ingredients for Asian cooking – shrimp, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, peanuts, chiles…I’m sorry, I’m naming every single ingredient. But each is something that I love, and they worked wonderfully together in this dish.

Kung Pao Shrimp (from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 4

You can substitute plain rice vinegar for the black rice vinegar (available in Asian markets), but we prefer the latter for its fruity, salty complexity. If you prefer roasted unsalted cashews over peanuts, substitute an equal amount. Do not eat the whole chiles in the finished dish.

1 pound extra-large shrimp (21 to 25 count), peeled and deveined
1 tablespoon dry sherry or rice wine
2 teaspoons soy sauce
3 medium cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press or minced (about 1 tablespoon)
½ inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced (about 2 teaspoons)
3 tablespoons peanut oil or vegetable oil
½ cup roasted unsalted peanuts
6 small whole dried red chiles (each about 1¾ to 2 inches long), 3 chiles roughly crumbled, or 1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
¾ cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 teaspoons black rice vinegar or plain rice vinegar
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1½ teaspoons cornstarch
1 medium red bell pepper, cut into ½-inch dice
3 medium scallions, sliced thin

1. Toss shrimp with sherry and soy sauce in medium bowl; marinate until shrimp have absorbed flavors, about 10 minutes. Mix garlic, ginger, and 1 tablespoon oil in small bowl; set aside. Combine peanuts and chiles in small bowl; set aside. Mix chicken broth, vinegar, sesame oil, oyster-flavored sauce, hoisin sauce, and cornstarch in small bowl or measuring cup; set aside.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch skillet over high heat until just beginning to smoke. Add shrimp and cook, stirring about once every 10 seconds, until barely opaque, 30 to 40 seconds; add peanuts and chiles, stir into shrimp, and continue cooking until shrimp are almost completely opaque and peanuts have darkened slightly, 30 to 40 seconds longer. Transfer shrimp, peanuts, and chiles to bowl; set aside. Return skillet to burner and reheat briefly, 15 to 30 seconds. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil, swirl to coat pan, and add red bell pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly softened, about 45 seconds. Clear center of pan, add garlic-ginger mixture, mash into pan with spoon or spatula, and cook until fragrant, 10 to 15 seconds; stir into peppers until combined. Stir broth mixture to recombine, then add to skillet along with reserved shrimp, peanuts, and chiles; cook, stirring and scraping up browned bits on bottom of pan, until sauce has thickened to syrupy consistency, about 45 seconds. Stir in scallions; transfer to serving plate and serve immediately.

sichuan green beans

I’m not very good at mise en place. I know that isn’t a sign of a particularly good cook, but I must be getting better lately because the kitchen isn’t so messy when I’m done cooking. I didn’t do a good job with this recipe though. I read “cook beans for 5-8 minutes” and I think Perfect! I’ll have just enough time to mince garlic, chop ginger, get the pork out of the fridge, measure out 3 liquids and 5 powders for the sauce, and slice the scallions! While stirring frequently. Dork.

Sichuan green beans was one of my favorite meals to make when I lived alone, and I still make it fairly often for me and Dave. It’s a quick, easy, balanced, healthy one pot meal. The recipe (according the Cooks Illustrated article) is based on a traditional Chinese meal involving deep-fried green beans. This recipe gets the same effect with just a couple tablespoons of oil over very high heat. The beans are cooked until they’re shriveled and blackened. It sounds like they’d be overcooked and soggy, but I swear they’re not. They’re crisp and sweet. It’s similar to what you get when you roast vegetables.

I did a quick scan on the internet of similar recipes, but I can see immediately that they’re not going to get the same sweet crunchiness out of the green beans. One steams the beans separately, one adds water to the pan to steam/boil them in the pan, one sautés them for a few minutes over medium heat. Bland (and extra work and dishes), boring, raw. No good. The high heat searing is necessary to get the most flavor out of the beans. I tried using Chinese long beans for this recipe once, but I actually didn’t like it as much. Besides costing far more than regular green beans, they weren’t as sweet.

The rest of the recipe is no problem. Cook some ground pork, add garlic and ginger, stir in some sauce ingredients, serve over white rice. You can leave the pork out and add shiitakes instead. This would make a nice side dish, but doesn’t have any protein source for a full meal. Either way, just make sure you do your chopping and measuring before you do your cooking. Otherwise you’ll be scrambling around like a dork, like I was.

Stir-Fried Sichuan Green Beans (from Cooks Illustrated January 2007)

Serves 4 as a side dish or 2 as a main course

CI note: To make this dish vegetarian, substitute 4 ounces of shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and minced, for the pork. If using mushrooms, you will need to add a teaspoon of oil to the pan in step 3 before adding the mushrooms. The cooking of this dish goes very quickly, so be sure to have all of the ingredients prepped before you start. Serve this dish with steamed white rice.

2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon cornstarch
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
¼ teaspoon dry mustard
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound green beans, ends trimmed, cut into 2-inch pieces
¼ pound ground pork
3 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
3 scallions, white and light green parts sliced thin
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1. In small bowl, stir together soy sauce, sherry, sugar, cornstarch, white pepper, pepper flakes, mustard, and water until sugar dissolves; set aside.

2. Heat oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until just smoking. Add beans and cook, stirring frequently, until crisp-tender and skins are shriveled and blackened in spots, 5 to 8 minutes (reduce heat to medium-high if beans darken too quickly). Transfer beans to large plate.

3. Reduce heat to medium-high and add pork to now-empty skillet. Cook, breaking pork into small pieces, until no pink remains, about 2 minutes. Add garlic and ginger; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, 15 to 20 seconds. Stir sauce to recombine and return beans to pan with sauce. Toss and cook until sauce is thickened, 5 to 10 seconds. Remove pan from heat and stir in scallions and sesame oil. Serve immediately.

Per Serving:
Cal 200; Fat 14 g; Sat fat 3 g; Chol 20 mg; Carb 12 g; Protein 8 g; Fiber 4 g; Sodium 680 mg

sushi

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Sometimes I don’t know what gets into me. Last week, I became determined to make my own sushi. But what possible good could this serve? I certainly wasn’t expecting to exceed the quality of the sushi restaurants I’ve been to. I couldn’t, or at least didn’t want to, make it any healthier. And with the specialized tools and ingredients I’d need to buy, homemade sushi promised to be similar in price to eating out. Finally I realized that I wanted to make sushi for the simplest of reasons – for fun.

But I was intimidated. I had difficulty finding precise recipes for sushi rolls. I also wanted to make a variety of rolls with a minimum of ingredients. Not being a spontaneous cook, I did a lot of research and took notes on exactly what I’d need to buy and prepare.

I decided to stick to one fish type (tuna, this time) for four different rolls. I made adapted versions of Philadelphia rolls (fish, cream cheese, cucumber), California rolls (fish, cucumber, avocado), spicy tuna rolls (tuna, avocado, scallion, spicy mayonnaise), and sort of a spider roll (tuna, tempura bits, cucumber), plus a few nigiri.

I settled on Alton Brown’s sushi rice recipe. The rice is cooked similar to standard long-grain rice, except without salt, and then a mixture of rice vinegar, salt, and sugar is poured over the cooked rice and folded in. The rice must be fanned while it cools so that the starches on the surface…something. I can’t remember. Just fan it until it’s near room temperature, and be gentle with stirring. I used a paper plate to fan the rice. If you have an electric fan nearby, that would work great.

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Obviously the fillings must be prepared before any rolling starts. I’m not usually great at mise en place, but I didn’t have a choice this time. This picture shows, clockwise from the upper left, mayonnaise mixed with ancho chile powder, toasted sesame seeds, tempura bits, cucumber, scallion, cream cheese, and avocado. I never did mix in enough chile powder to make the mayonnaise spicy enough, plus I should have used more mayonnaise. For the tempura, I simply mixed up a bit of batter and fried it. I peeled one strip of cucumber and not the other two, and I do prefer it peeled. The avocado I brushed with lemon juice so that it wouldn’t brown.

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Alton’s California roll recipe recommends cutting the nori (seaweed) sheets in half. At first I didn’t, which is what this picture shows. However, they should be smaller. You don’t want to spiral your fillings, you just want to enclose them. I found half a sheet to be a little too small for the amount of filling I used, but a full sheet was far too big.

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The relatively more simple method of rolling is shown above, where everything, including the rice, is inside the nori. Slightly more complicated is the inside-out roll, where the rice is on the outside.

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Except that, it didn’t actually end up being more complicated. I was pleasantly surprised when it actually…worked.

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Look at that, a sushi burrito. Mmm…sushi burrito. Unfortunately, sushi isn’t, in fact, eaten in burrito form. It is cut into “bite-size” pieces. Except I don’t know whose bite-size, because sushi rolls are always way too big for me. Anyway, cutting the rolls was the only part of the process that was really frustrating, and I recognize that the problem is my dull knives, but I don’t have an immediate solution. I found that a serrated knife worked better on the inside-out rolls.

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…My display needs some work. By this point, I was frustrated with the cutting and worried about the raw fish sitting at room temperature while I figured out how the hell to make sushi. Plus sushi rice? Is sticky. Moving around individual pieces inevitably resulted in rice stuck to my hands and the plate. I decided aesthetics be damned, it was time to eat.

Overall, it was good. Probably as tasty as a restaurant’s, although obviously not nearly as pretty. I’m sure I can improve on that with time, even though I don’t plan on buying any special platters for sushi. I’ll make it again, at least until I use up the ingredients I had to buy. As far as a cost comparison goes, Dave and I generally spend $30-40 on a sushi dinner, and including the special equipment and ingredients that I won’t need to buy again for a while, this meal was $25. Next time I’ll use a cheaper fish, and I can probably make sushi for under $10. The preparation should also be far easier now that I’ve done it once. But I don’t see this becoming a regular thing for me. I think I’ll leave sushi-making to the professionals.

Sushi recipes/method

Serves 2

Sushi rice (adapted from Alton Brown)

1 cup sushi or short grain rice
1 cup water
1 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt

Rinse rice.

Place the rice and water into a medium saucepan and place over high heat. Bring to a boil, uncovered. Once it begins to boil, reduce the heat to the lowest setting and cover. Cook for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes.

Combine the rice vinegar, sugar and salt in a small bowl and heat in the microwave on high for 30 to 45 seconds. Transfer the rice into a large wooden or glass mixing bowl and add the vinegar mixture. Fold and cut thoroughly to combine and coat each grain of rice with the mixture. Fan until rice is near room temperature. Do not refrigerate.

Ingredient preparation

Mix ¼ teaspoon of ancho chile powder into 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
Toast and cool 2 teaspoons sesame seeds
Tempura-mix 1 tablespoon flour, 1 tablespoon ice water, 1 teaspoon egg – cook in hot oil
Seed and peel cucumber and cut 3 ¼-square strips
Cut green part of green onion
Shape ¾ ounce cream cheese into strip
Cut nori in half crosswise (or not…see text)
Peel and pit avocado, cut into 2 strips, brush with lemon juice to prevent browning
Cut fish into strips

Rolling

Fill medium-sized bowl with cold water. Cover bamboo mat with plastic wrap.

Regular rolls:
Lay 1 sheet of nori, shiny side down, on the plastic covered mat. Wet your fingers with water and spread ½ cup of the rice evenly onto the nori, leaving 1 inch of far side bare. Lay filling near edge of mat closest to you. Grab the edge of the mat closest to you, keeping the fillings in place with your fingers, and roll it into a tight cylinder, using the mat to shape the cylinder. Lay it seam side down while you form the other rolls. Cut into 6-8 pieces.

Inside-out rolls:
Lay 1 sheet of nori, shiny side down, on the plastic covered mat. Wet your fingers with water and spread ½ cup of the rice evenly onto the nori. Sprinkle the rice with sesame seeds (optional). Turn the sheet of nori over so that the rice side is down. Lay filling near edge of mat closest to you. Grab the edge of the mat closest to you, keeping the fillings in place with your fingers, and roll it into a tight cylinder, using the mat to shape the cylinder. Lay it seam side down while you form the other rolls. Cut into 6-8 pieces.

Fillings:
“Philadelphia”: cream cheese, fish, cucumber
“California”: fish, avocado, cucumber, sesame seeds
“Spicy tuna”: avocado, fish, mayonnaise (1 tbsp), green onion (1 stalk, green parts only)
“Spider”: fish, cucumber, tempura

four soups

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I have backlog of soups to be blogged, so I’m going to throw them all into one soupfest entry.

First up is lentil soup, which I was excited about because I found the fancy French lentils, but it seems like I’m cursed to never quite have all the right ingredients for this soup. The first time I made it, I was entrenched in step 3, after the vegetables are softened and the lentils are darkened, adding the wine, and running out of wine. Eh. I played around with some other acidic ingredients, and ended up with a delicious but teensy bit vinegary soup. This time it was chicken broth that I ran out of. Chicken broth! I never run out of chicken broth! I carefully monitor my Better Than Bouillon supply because I loooove Better Than Bouillon. Bummer. I substituted some vegetable (not better than) bouillon. Still a damn good soup. And healthy! The only non-healthy item in the whole thing is a few slices of bacon. That’s nothing.

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Next up is white chicken chili. This is the second time I’ve made this recipe, and I seem to remember liking it more the first time. It was far from bad this time – look at all that flavory goodness, how could it be bad?

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I just didn’t feel excited about it. Maybe it would have been as simple as adding salt. Another possibility is that adding 50% more beans than the recipe called for made the soup a little bland. I will make it again, but it’s on trial.

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Poor cream of mushroom soup. It’s been relegated to nothing more than an ingredient in bad casseroles, so when I saw a recipe for the real deal, I did a double take. People actually eat mushroom soup? Unheard of! Dave and I are both big mushroom fans, so I was excited about this soup. Unfortunately, it just didn’t deliver. It wasn’t bad, it was just so dominated by pureed mushrooms. It was a little intense, even for mushroom lovers like us. Maybe because I used all cremini mushrooms instead of the button mushrooms that the recipe calls for? Whatever, next time I’ll be trying this highly recommended recipe.

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And finally, we have my favorite of these four soups. I served this hot and sour soup with the potstickers, which we’re a little crazy about, so this soup had a tough job standing up to that. But it holds it’s own, oh yes. I loved the moo shu I made a few weeks ago, and this has most of the same ingredients, but in soup form. I also really like when tofu is used in recipes where it’s actually the original ingredient, instead of covering for some maligned but more flavorful meat. Mmm, and black vinegar. This is good stuff. And I’m all about the texture that the cornstarch gives the soup. It doesn’t thicken it to a paste, it just provides a little body. The soup has so many strong and contrasting flavors, I just love it. And, it’s healthy! In fact, it’s so light, that I don’t know if I can recommend serving it as a meal on its own. I made the full recipe, we ate it with potstickers for two meals, and then we snacked on it throughout the week. I wasn’t complaining about having hot and sour soup around all week!

So there you have it – a January’s worth of soups. Yum!

Hearty Lentil Soup (from Cooks Illustrated)

Lentils du Puy, sometimes called French green lentils, are our first choice for this recipe, but brown, black, or regular green lentils are fine, too. Note that cooking times will vary depending on the type of lentils used. Lentils lose flavor with age, and because most packaged lentils do not have expiration dates, try to buy them from a store that specializes in natural foods and grains. Before use, rinse and then carefully sort through the lentils to remove small stones and pebbles. The soup can be made in advance. After adding the vinegar in step 2, cool the soup to room temperature and refrigerate it in an airtight container for up to 2 days. To serve, heat it over medium-low until hot, then stir in the parsley.

Makes about 2 quarts, serving 4 to 6

3 slices bacon (about 3 ounces), cut into ¼-inch pieces
1 large onion, chopped fine (about 1½ cups)
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped medium (about 1 cup)
3 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
1 can (14½ ounces) diced tomatoes, drained
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1 cup lentils (7 ounces), rinsed and picked over
1 teaspoon table salt
ground black pepper
½ cup dry white wine
4½ cups low-sodium chicken broth
1½ cups water
1½ teaspoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves

1. Fry bacon in large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until fat is rendered and bacon is crisp, 3 to 4 minutes. Add onion and carrots; cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables begin to soften, about 2 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in tomatoes, bay leaf, and thyme; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in lentils, salt, and pepper to taste; cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until vegetables are softened and lentils have darkened, 8 to 10 minutes. Uncover, increase heat to high, add wine, and bring to simmer. Add chicken broth and water; bring to boil, cover partially, and reduce heat to low. Simmer until lentils are tender but still hold their shape, 30 to 35 minutes; discard bay leaf.

2. Puree 3 cups soup in blender until smooth, then return to pot; stir in vinegar and heat soup over medium-low until hot, about 5 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons parsley and serve, garnishing each bowl with some of remaining parsley.

White Chicken Chili (from Cooks Illustrated)

Adjust the heat in this dish by adding the minced ribs and seeds from the jalapeño as directed in step 6. If Anaheim chiles cannot be found, add an additional poblano and jalapeño to the chili. This dish can also be successfully made by substituting chicken thighs for the chicken breasts. If using thighs, increase the cooking time in step 4 to about 40 minutes. Serve chili with sour cream, tortilla chips, and lime wedges.

Serves 6 to 8

3 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken breast halves, trimmed of excess fat and skin
Table salt and ground black pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 medium jalapeño chiles
3 poblano chiles (medium), stemmed, seeded, and cut into large pieces
3 Anaheim chile peppers (medium), stemmed, seeded, and cut into large pieces
2 medium onions, cut into large pieces (2 cups)
6 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1½ teaspoons ground coriander
2 (14.5-ounce) cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from 2 to 3 limes)
¼ cup minced fresh cilantro leaves
4 scallions, white and light green parts sliced thin
1. Season chicken liberally with salt and pepper. Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add chicken, skin side down, and cook without moving until skin is golden brown, about 4 minutes. Using tongs, turn chicken and lightly brown on other side, about 2 minutes. Transfer chicken to plate; remove and discard skin.

2. While chicken is browning, remove and discard ribs and seeds from 2 jalapeños; mince flesh. In food processor, process half of poblano chiles, Anaheim chiles, and onions until consistency of chunky salsa, ten to twelve 1-second pulses, scraping down sides of workbowl halfway through. Transfer mixture to medium bowl. Repeat with remaining poblano chiles, Anaheim chiles, and onions; combine with first batch (do not wash food processor blade or workbowl).

3. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat from Dutch oven (adding additional vegetable oil if necessary) and reduce heat to medium. Add minced jalapeños, chile-onion mixture, garlic, cumin, coriander, and ¼ teaspoon salt. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables soften, about 10 minutes. Remove pot from heat.

4. Transfer 1 cup cooked vegetable mixture to now-empty food processor workbowl. Add 1 cup beans and 1 cup broth and process until smooth, about 20 seconds. Add vegetable-bean mixture, remaining 2 cups broth, and chicken breasts to Dutch oven and bring to boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until chicken registers 160 degrees (175 degrees if using thighs) on instant-read thermometer, 15 to 20 minutes (40 minutes if using thighs).

5. Using tongs, transfer chicken to large plate. Stir in remaining beans and continue to simmer, uncovered, until beans are heated through and chili has thickened slightly, about 10 minutes.

6. Mince remaining jalapeño, reserving and mincing ribs and seeds (see note above), and set aside. When cool enough to handle, shred chicken into bite-sized pieces, discarding bones. Stir shredded chicken, lime juice, cilantro, scallions, and remaining minced jalapeño (with seeds if desired) into chili and return to simmer. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper and serve.

Per Serving:
Cal 370; Fat 6 g; Sat fat 1 g; Chol 115 mg; Carb 25 g; Protein 52 g; Fiber 7 g; Sodium 710 mg

Creamy Mushroom Soup (from Cooks Illustrated)

To make sure that the soup has a fine, velvety texture, puree it hot off the stove, but do not fill the blender jar more than halfway, as the hot liquid may cause the lid to pop off the jar.

Makes 8 cups, serving 6 to 8

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 large shallots, minced (about 3/4 cup)
2 small cloves garlic, minced (about 1 1/2 teaspoons)
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg, freshly grated
2 pounds white button mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced 1/4 inch thick
3½ cups chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth
4 cups hot water
½ ounce dried porcini mushrooms, rinsed well
1/3 cup dry sherry or Madeira
1 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons lemon juice from 1 lemon
Table salt and ground black pepper

Sauteed Wild Mushroom Garnish (optional)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 ounces shiitake mushrooms or chanterelle, oyster, or cremini mushrooms, stems
trimmed and discarded, mushrooms wiped clean and sliced thin
Table salt and ground black pepper

1. Melt butter in large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium-low heat; when foaming subsides, add shallots and saute, stirring frequently, until softened, about 4 minutes. Stir in garlic and nutmeg; cook until fragrant, about 1 minute longer. Increase heat to medium; add sliced mushrooms and stir to coat with butter. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms release liquid, about 7 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover pot, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and mushrooms have released all liquid, about 20 minutes. Add chicken stock, water, and porcini mushrooms; cover and bring to simmer, then reduce heat to low and simmer until mushrooms are fully tender, about 20 minutes longer.

2. Pour soup into a large bowl. Rinse and dry Dutch oven. Puree soup in batches in blender until smooth, filling blender jar only halfway for each batch. Return soup to Dutch oven; stir in Madeira and cream and bring to simmer over low heat. Add lemon juice, season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve with sauteed mushroom garnish, if desired. (Can be cooled to room temperature and refrigerated up to 4 days.) If making ahead, add cream at serving time.

3. For the Sauteed Wild Mushroom Garnish (optional): Heat butter in medium skillet over low heat; when foam subsides, add mushrooms and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms release their liquid, about 10 minutes for shiitakes and chanterelles, about 5 minutes for oysters, and about 9 minutes for cremini. Uncover and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid released by mushrooms has evaporated and mushrooms are browned, about 2 minutes for shiitakes, about 3 minutes for chanterelles, and about 2 minutes for oysters and cremini. Sprinkle a portion of mushrooms over individual bowls of soup and serve.

Hot and Sour Soup (from Cooks Illustrated)

To make slicing the pork chop easier, freeze it for 15 minutes. We prefer the distinctive flavor of Chinese black vinegar; look for it in Asian supermarkets. If you can’t find it, a combination of red wine vinegar and balsamic vinegar approximates its flavor. This soup is very spicy. For a less spicy soup, omit the chili oil altogether or add only 1 teaspoon.

Serves 6 to 8 as an appetizer

7 ounces extra-firm tofu, drained
4 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
3 tablespoons cornstarch, plus an additional 1 1/2 teaspoons
1 boneless, center-cut, pork loin chop (1/2 inch thick, about 6 ounces), trimmed of fat and cut into 1 inch by 1/8-inch matchsticks
3 tablespoons cold water, plus 1 additional teaspoon
1 large egg
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup bamboo shoots (from one 5-ounce can), sliced lengthwise into 1/8-inch-thick strips
4 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, caps sliced 1/4 inch thick (about 1 cup)
5 tablespoons black Chinese vinegar or 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar plus 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (see note above)
2 teaspoons chili oil (see note above)
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
3 medium scallions, sliced thin

1. Place tofu in pie plate and set heavy plate on top. Weight with 2 heavy cans; let stand at least 15 minutes (tofu should release about ½ cup liquid). Whisk 1 tablespoon soy sauce, sesame oil, and 1 teaspoon cornstarch in medium bowl; toss pork with marinade and set aside for at least 10 minutes (but no more than 30 minutes).

2. Combine 3 tablespoons cornstarch with 3 tablespoons water in small bowl and mix thoroughly; set aside, leaving spoon in bowl. Mix remaining ½ teaspoon cornstarch with remaining 1 teaspoon water in small bowl; add egg and beat with fork until combined. Set aside.

3. Bring broth to boil in large saucepan set over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low; add bamboo shoots and mushrooms and simmer until mushrooms are just tender, about 5 minutes. While broth simmers, dice tofu into ½-inch cubes. Add tofu and pork, including marinade, to soup, stirring to separate any pieces of pork that stick together. Continue to simmer until pork is no longer pink, about 2 minutes.

4. Stir cornstarch mixture to recombine. Add to soup and increase heat to medium-high; cook, stirring occasionally, until soup thickens and turns translucent, about 1 minute. Stir in vinegar, chili oil, pepper, and remaining 3 tablespoons soy sauce; turn off heat.

5. Without stirring soup, use soupspoon to slowly drizzle very thin streams of egg mixture into pot in circular motion. Let soup sit 1 minute, then return saucepan to medium-high heat. Bring soup to gentle boil, then immediately remove from heat. Gently stir soup once to evenly distribute egg; ladle into bowls and top with scallions.

Per Serving:
Cal 120; Fat 5 g; Sat fat 1 g; Chol 12 mg; Carb 12 g; Protein 8 g; Fiber 1 g; Sodium 1110 mg

potstickers

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I am not good at timing my cooking. I had grand plans for these potstickers to be part of an all day sporadic eating event during the NFL championship games. We’d eat potstickers in the first game, hot and sour soup at the beginning of the second game, and dessert sometime later. But my timing is so bad that I ended up sitting down with a plate full of potstickers right during halftime of the first game. Boring!

My plan got another wrench thrown in it after our first plate of potstickers, when we looked at each other and both said “we want more!” It’s always like that when I make potstickers – neither of us can ever get enough!

Another thing that’s great about potstickers is that they adapt to your schedule. You can make the filling and then forget about it until you’re ready, even if it isn’t until the next day. You can fill the potstickers and then forget about them for months! This time, I filled enough for our first serving, and then filled some more when we decided that we absolutely had to have more. I left the rest of the filling in the fridge overnight, formed more dumplings the next afternoon, and steamed them when we wanted to eat dinner. I was planning on freezing some for later, but it was clear early on that that wasn’t happening.

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And you know what else? They’re actually healthy. Look at those ingredients – 3 cups minced cabbage, scallions, egg whites. Two tablespoons of oil in the whole thing, and to be honest, you won’t need that much with a good nonstick pan. I bet I only used a few teaspoons. So we can eat all we want!

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Pork and Cabbage Dumplings – Wor Tip (from Cooks Illustrated)

We prefer to use gyoza wrappers. You can substitute wonton wrappers, but the cooking time in step 4 will be reduced from 10 minutes to 5 or 6 minutes and note that the yield will increase to 40 potstickers (see chart below Step 4 for more information). These dumplings, also known as potstickers, are best served hot from the skillet; we recommend that you serve the first batch immediately, then cook the second batch. To freeze, place filled, uncooked dumplings in the freezer in a single layer on a plate until frozen, then transfer to a storage bag. There’s no need to thaw frozen dumplings; just proceed with the recipe.

Makes 24 dumplings, 6 first course servings

Filling
3 cups minced napa cabbage leaves (about ½ medium head)
¾ teaspoon table salt
¾ pound ground pork
4 minced scallions (about 6 tablespoons)
2 egg whites, lightly beaten
4 teaspoons soy sauce
1½ teaspoons minced or grated fresh ginger
1 medium garlic clove, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 1 teaspoon)
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

Dumplings
24 round gyoza wrappers (see note)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup water, plus extra for brushing
1. For the filling: Toss cabbage with the salt in colander set over a bowl and let stand until cabbage begins to wilt, about 20 minutes. Press the cabbage gently with rubber spatula to squeeze out any excess moisture, the transfer to a medium bowl. Add the remaining filling ingredients and mix thoroughly to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until mixture is cold, at least 30 minutes or up to 24 hours.

2. For the dumplings: Working with 4 wrappers at a time (keep the remaining wrappers covered with plastic wrap), follow the photos below to fill, seal, and shape the dumplings using a generous 1 teaspoon of the chilled filling per dumpling. Transfer the dumplings to a baking sheet and repeat with the remaining wrappers and filling; you should have about 24 dumplings. (The dumplings can be wrapped tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 1 day, or frozen for up to 1 month. Once frozen, the dumplings can be transferred to a zipper-lock bag to save space in the freezer; do not thaw before cooking.)

3. Line a large plate with a double layer of paper towels; set aside. Brush 1 tablespoon of the oil over the bottom of a 12-inch nonstick skillet and arrange half of the dumplings in the skillet, with a flat side facing down (overlapping just slightly if necessary). Place the skillet over medium-high heat and cook the dumplings, without moving, until golden brown on the bottom, about 5 minutes.

4. Reduce the heat to low, add ½ cup of the water, and cover immediately. Continue to cook, covered, until most of the water is absorbed and the wrappers are slightly translucent, about 10 minutes. Uncover the skillet, increase the heat to medium-high, and continue to cook, without stirring, until the dumpling bottoms are well browned and crisp, 3 to 4 minutes more. Slide the dumplings onto the paper towel-lined plate, browned side facing down, and let drain briefly. Transfer the dumplings to a serving platter and serve with scallion dipping sauce (see related recipe). Let the skillet cool until just warm, then wipe it clean with a wad of paper towels and repeat step 3 with the remaining dumplings, oil, and water.

Choosing the Right Wrap
Tasters preferred the slightly chewy texture of gyoza-style wrappers to thinner wonton wrappers, but both styles produced terrific potstickers. Although we developed our recipe using round wrappers, square or rectangular wrappers can be used as well. Here’s how to adjust filling amount and steaming time. Because the smaller wrappers yield more dumplings, you’ll need to cook them in multiple batches.

Instructions for different size wrappers:
Round gyoza (3¾ inches diameter), fill with 1 rounded tablespoon, steam for 10 minutes
Round wonton (3¾ inches diameter), fill with 1 rounded tablespoon, steam for 6 minutes
Square wonton (3 3/8 inches square), fill with 2 rounded teaspoons, steam for 6 minutes
Rectangular wonton (3¼ inches by 2¾ inches), fill with 1 rounded teaspoon, steam for 5 minutes

Scallion Dipping Sauce

The sauce can be refrigerated overnight.

Makes ¾ cup

¼ cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon chili oil (optional)
½ teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 medium scallion , white and green parts, minced

Combine all ingredients in bowl and serve.

not a chinese burrito (moo shu pancakes)

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I haven’t been reading food blogs long – only about a week longer than I’ve had my own, in fact – but I’m already playing favorites. One of the blogs that first caught my attention and held it is Jen’s use real butter. Jen’s blog has what I consider the three requisite aspects of a good food blog: beautiful pictures, entertaining writing, and recipes I actually want to make. Something else I love about Jen’s blog is that some of those recipes are authentic Chinese food. At least, I’m assuming they’re authentic. As an all-American mutt, I’m not exactly an expert on spotting traditional ethnic cuisine.

The latest such recipe is moo shu pork. I’d heard of moo shu before – the term seems to get tossed around a lot just because it sounds cute and is fun to say. Moo shu. Moooooo shu. But I actually had no idea what it was until Jen’s post about it. Turns out, it’s a bunch of stir-fried goodness all wrapped up in flatbread. Sounds delicious!

The recipe is fairly simple, but it did involve some ingredients that weren’t familiar to me. The first is hoisin sauce. Jen says that she prefers to buy hoisin sauce with more Chinese on the label that English. That sounds reasonable. My grocery store has a well-stocked ethnic section, so I was pretty confident that I’d be able to find something that fit the bill. I ended up with a bottle with about 50% English, 50% Chinese on the label. Close enough.

The moo shu shells were a bigger problem. Even Wegman’s ethnic section can only go so far. I had a bit of hope when I saw an “asian” sign in the freezer section, but there was no luck to be had there. I had two options at this point: find an asian grocery store or make my own moo shu shells. I just moved to Philadelphia a week ago and didn’t relish the idea of driving around looking for an asian grocery store, so homemade it was.

Okay, let’s be honest. I could have found an asian grocery store – I know how to use the internet, after all. The truth is, I’m just not very comfortable in them. The merchandise is unfamiliar to me, I don’t know how anything is arranged, and most of the labels are in Chinese. Last time I went to one, I wandered up and down the aisles looking for dried shrimp. When I gave up and asked the cashier for help, she yelled, “in the cooler!” The cooler encompassed an entire aisle of this store. I wandered over there and searched around, all the while with her yelling from the cash register which direction I needed to be looking. Why she didn’t just walk the 10 steps over to the cooler and grab the damn shrimp off the shelf for me is a mystery. Then, as I was checking out, she asked if I was making pad thai. Apparently little white girls have one use for dried shrimp and one use only. I said I was, and she told me I needed Thai basil. I know Thai basil is a traditional pad thai ingredient, but I’m assuming that it has the same shelf life of regular basil – so about 3 hours. My pad thai had always been damn good without it, so I declined, admitting that my pad thai must not be that authentic. So there you go – my desire to make traditional ethnic food lies somewhere between dried shrimp and Thai basil.

So, homemade moo shu shells it was. Turns out making moo shu shells is even easier than finding a recipe for them on the internet. (Hint: Don’t google “moo shu shells”, regardless of how you spell the “moo.” You need to look up “mandarin pancakes.”) The process is a little strange, but it worked out beautifully in the end. Flour is mixed with boiling water, then the dough is allowed to rest. It’s rolled into a rope, then cut into pieces. Each piece is flattened, brushed with oil, and then stacked on another piece with the oiled sides together. Each pair of dough segments is rolled out together, then cooked in an ungreased skillet. The only tricky part is tearing the two pieces apart after they cook, and the only difficulty there stems from the fact that it’s hot!

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So, in the end, moo shu pork is good. Really good, in fact. I can’t wait to make it again. And hoisin sauce? Also really good. All salty and sweet and just altogether tasty.

Now, Jen insists that these shouldn’t be called Chinese burritos. I can understand this I suppose – after all, I’ve never heard of a burrito referred to as Mexican moo shu. But I’m sure you can see the resemblance. In fact, when I handed Dave his plate, guess what he said? “Oh, cool. It’s a Chinese burrito.”

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Mandarin Pancakes (from Fine Cooking)

The only change I’ll probably make in the future is to add a pinch of salt to the dough.

Makes 12

1¾ cups (8 ounces) unbleached flour
¾ cup boiling water
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

In a bowl, mix the flour and the boiling water with chopsticks or a wooden spoon to combine. Turn the shaggy dough onto a lightly floured board, gather it into a heap, and knead it until smooth, about 3 minutes. Cover with a towel and let it rest for about 1/2 hour.

With your hands, shape the dough into an even cylinder about 12 inches long. With a sharp knife, preferably serrated, cut the roll into 1-inch pieces. If the cutting squashes any of the pieces, stand them on end and shape them back into rounds.

Lightly flour your palms and use them to flatten the pieces into 2-inch rounds. Brush the top of each round generously with sesame oil. Lay one round on top of another, oiled sides together. Flatten the pair together with the heel of your hand. Continue until you have 6 pairs.

With a floured rolling pin, roll each pair into a thin pancake about 7 inches in diameter, flipping the pancake over now and again to roll evenly on both sides. Stack the pancakes as you finish rolling them.

In an ungreased cast-iron skillet or nonstick pan over medium-high heat, cook the pancakes one at a time. Heat one side until it becomes less opaque and starts to bubble slightly, and just a few brown spots appear, about 1 min. Flip it over and cook it until a few light brown spots appear on the other side, about 30 seconds.

While the pancake is still hot, pick it up, look for a seam to grab, and separate it into two very thin pancakes. Stack them on a plate as you go and wrap them in foil to keep them warm and prevent drying. If not using right away, refrigerate until ready to use.

For Jen’s mu-shu pork filling, check out her blog.

prepping and chopping and prepping… (pad thai)

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I always seem to fool myself into thinking that pad thai is a good weeknight meal. Then I’ll get home from work and start prepping ingredients, and then I’m prepping and prepping and finally asking Dave to help because I’ve been in the kitchen over half an hour and I haven’t even started cooking yet. Fortunately, once the cooking starts, it only takes 10 minutes or so. That short cooking time is what always tricks me into making this on a weeknight.

One of the most difficult tasks with making pad thai is finding at least some of the authentic ingredients. I love tamarind, and I’m always disappointed when I order pad thai in a restaurant and find that they’ve skipped the tamarind. Tamarind is sold in several forms – the whole pods, the pulp of the pods, and a liquid concentrate. I use the pulp. If you really can’t find any, a mixture of lime juice and water can do in a pinch.

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Pad thai has so many freakin’ ingredients, which is the only reason it takes a while to prepare. Another of my favorites, that might be hard to find, is dried shrimp. Mmm…like shrimp jerkey, so salty and good. I tried salted radish and absolutely hated it. Definitely a textural issue. I’ve seen recipes that called for salted cabbage instead of salted radish, so I want to try that too.

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There are so many ingredients, and the cooking happens so fast, that I have to line up all of the ingredients in the order that they’re cooked, so I don‘t have to look at the recipe at all. Sometimes I have Dave read the recipe to me as I stand over the stove doing the fun part.

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Ah, but pad thai is so worth all the chopping and prep work. It’s so good – and healthy!

Pad Thai (from Cooks Illustrated – no adaptations)
Serves 4 as a main dish

Although pad thai cooks very quickly, the ingredient list is long, and everything must be prepared and within easy reach at the stovetop when you begin cooking. For maximum efficiency, use the time during which the tamarind and noodles soak to prepare the other ingredients. Tofu is a good and common addition to pad thai. If you like, add 4 ounces of extra-firm tofu or pressed tofu (available in Asian markets) cut into ½-inch cubes (about 1 cup) to the noodles along with the bean sprouts.

If you’re using tamarind concentrate instead of pulp, mix 1 tablespoon with 2/3 cup hot water. If you can’t find any tamarind, mix 1/3 cup of water with 1/3 cup of lime juice; replace granulated sugar with brown sugar. Do not serve this version with lime wedges.

2 tablespoons tamarind paste or substitute
¾ cup water (boiling)
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
¾ teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 tablespoons peanut oil or vegetable oil
8 ounces dried rice stick noodles, about 1/8 inch wide (the width of linguine)
2 large eggs
¼ teaspoon table salt
12 ounces medium shrimp (31/35 count), peeled and deveined, if desired
3 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press or minced (1 tablespoon)
1 medium shallot, minced (about 3 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons dried shrimp, chopped fine (optional)
2 tablespoons Thai salted preserved radish (optional)
6 tablespoons chopped unsalted roasted peanuts
3 cups bean sprouts (6 ounces)
5 medium scallions, green parts only, sliced thin on sharp bias
¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves (optional)
lime wedges

1. Soak tamarind paste in 3/4 cup boiling water for about 10 minutes, then push it through a mesh strainer to remove the seeds and fibers and extract as much pulp as possible. Stir fish sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, cayenne, and 2 tablespoons oil into tamarind liquid and set aside.

2. Cover rice sticks with hot tap water in large bowl; soak until softened, pliable, and limp but not fully tender, about 20 minutes. Drain noodles and set aside. Beat eggs and 1/8 teaspoon salt in small bowl; set aside.

3. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch skillet (preferably nonstick) over high heat until just beginning to smoke, about 2 minutes. Add shrimp and sprinkle with remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt; cook, tossing occasionally, until shrimp are opaque and browned about the edges, about 3 minutes. Transfer shrimp to plate and set aside.

4. Off heat, add remaining tablespoon oil to skillet and swirl to coat; add garlic and shallot, set skillet over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until light golden brown, about 1 1/2 minutes; add eggs to skillet and stir vigorously with wooden spoon until scrambled and barely moist, about 20 seconds. Add noodles, dried shrimp, and salted radish (if using) to eggs; toss with 2 wooden spoons to combine. Pour fish sauce mixture over noodles, increase heat to high, and cook, tossing constantly, until noodles are evenly coated. Scatter 1/4 cup peanuts, bean sprouts, all but 1/4 cup scallions, and cooked shrimp over noodles; continue to cook, tossing constantly, until noodles are tender, about 2 1/2 minutes (if not yet tender add 2 tablespoons water to skillet and continue to cook until tender).

5. Transfer noodles to serving platter, sprinkle with remaining scallions, 2 tablespoons peanuts, and cilantro; serve immediately, passing lime wedges separately.

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