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Soft Tofu Kimchi Stew

23 Aug

The neighbor’s dog keeps wandering into our yard.  Two days ago he made it all the way into our house where we half-heartedly attempted to kidnap him.

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Yes, we are the kind of people who kidnap dogs.

Okay not really.  But this dog is too precious.  And I mean, if you’re going to let your dog wander the neighborhood when you live on a busy road…

I’m just saying, we’d be very benevolent kidnappers.

Actually, my mom went next door to tell the neighbors we had their dog and were hanging onto him so he didn’t wander into traffic.  At first, it seemed like no one was home, so she came back, not having tried too too hard, reporting that they had an enormous tub of kimchi on their porch.

Our neighbors are new, and also Korean.  Well, the wife and the mother-in-law are, anyway.  The dog is not, as far as anyone can tell.

She wrote them a note and returned, and I shouted after her to demand the kimchi in exchange for the dog.

It turned out that someone was home, just didn’t hear the knocking, and came to collect the dog.  No kimchi was gained from this event, to my deep regret.

This is all to show how much I love kimchi.  I like that dog, too, but really I am the kind of person who tries to hold people’s pets hostage in exchange for their fermented cabbage.

Now you know.

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So on the off chance you find yourself in a similar situation, or you acquire your kimchi through more reputable means, here is my favorite recipe involving kimchi.  The recipe is simplified (out of laziness, typically) from Chow Hound.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 medium zucchini, diced (you can substitute broccoli, in which case nix the oil)
  • 1 cup kimchi, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cups broth, beef, chicken, or vegetable
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 package silken tofu
  • 2 whole scallions, chopped
  • steamed rice for serving

Recipe:

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and cook the zucchini for about a minute, seasoning with salt.  Add the kimchi and cook for an additional two minutes.

Add the broth and soy sauce and cook until boiling.  Season with salt (or chili paste, a the original recipe recommends).

With a large spoon, shave off chunks of silken tofu and drop them into the stew, being careful not to squish the chunks to pieces.

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I love this stuff.  At first I thought it sounded gross even though I love firm tofu, but then I tried it and wow it is so good.  I need to find more recipes calling for it, or find an acceptable way to snack on it.

Anyway, simmer the stew for about three minutes, letting the tofu soak up flavor and blending the ingredients together.

Garnish with the chopped scallions.

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The original recipe recommends serving the stew in its own bowl with rice on the side, but I like pouring the stew over a pile of rice (partially because it’s spicy and I’m pathetic), so serve however you want.

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This keeps for about a week when refrigerated and is perfectly delicious when reheated.

I just finished a really excellent book called On the Noodle Road, by Jen Lin-Liu.  It’s part travel book, part noodle anthropology.  Lin-Liu’s six month trek from Beijing to Rome began as a search for the origin of the noodle.  Was it Chinese or Italian?  Did it originate in Iran or Turkey and slowly become replaced by pilaf?  Spoiler: she doesn’t figure out where exactly noodles come from, but it hardly matters in light of the food and the people she writes about.  There’s so much food anthropology in this book, from the origins of certain dishes to the traditions associated with cooking in each country she visits, to the food-laden hospitality of everyone she meets, to the mores surrounding each dish.  I also appreciated that, as a woman who recently married and was trying to negotiate married life and professional and emotional independence, she paid extra attention to women’s roles in relation to food and the husband-wife dynamic across cultures.  Travel books are sadly dominated by men, particularly when talking about Asian and Middle Eastern countries, and much as I love the books I’ve read by male authors, I always wonder how their experiences would be different if they were women.  Basically, this book hit all the right buttons for me, and best of all, included a ton of really delicious-sounding recipes that, if all goes well, I’ll be testing shortly.

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Homemade Vegetarian Dumplings + Announcement!

8 Aug

I have some news to formally announce to you since I have just looked back through my recent posts and realized I have not mentioned it previously.

As of September this blog will be on tentative hiatus for an entire academic year because I am moving to Beijing to study abroad at Tsinghua University.  My apartment in China will have a fully decked-out kitchen but because I’m unsure of the availability of certain ingredients and also myself (school + trying to explore the city and go to concerts and parks and museums and such = probable mess), I don’t know how frequently I’ll be able to update.

That being said, I have a blog dedicated to my China experience, which will be found here and will also have links to some of the other things I do across the Internet.

Before September, though, I have a nice long month that will be filled with posts beginning with this insanely simple and delicious dumpling recipe!

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You can fill dumplings with pretty much anything, but I made half of the dumplings kimchi-filled and the other half filled with an egg + spring onion mixture that I found in Fuchsia Dunlop‘s Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking.  Fuchsia Dunlop’s book has a lot of really great filling options, and also is just plain excellent so I highly recommend getting it.  I’ll probably hunt down a copy whilst in China so I have things to cook.

 

Ingredients:

  • Package of dumpling skins.  You can make your own, but why bother?  These are really cheap and it’s hard to make good skins.
  • 2 eggs
  • ~4 spring onions, white and green parts
  • 1/4 cup kimchi
  • Ground Sichuan peppercorns (optional)

Recipe:

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For the first set of dumplings, scramble two eggs.  When just cooked, transfer to cutting board and chop finely.  Also chop the spring onions finely.


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For the other set of dumplings, drain 1/4 cup kimchi.  I salted the kimchi and put it in a wire strainer to draw out the moisture and let it sit over the sink for a few minutes.

In a small bowl, mix the eggs and onions.  Chop the drained kimchi finely and place in another small bowl.

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Now, the fun part!  Folding dumplings is monotonous on its own, so put on a podcast or a show or something while you make these.  I think I was watching Orphan Black…

For folding directions with pictures, I highly recommend this step-by-step from Appetite for China.  Once you start folding it totally makes sense, but it seems very confusing at first.

Hold a dumpling skin in one hand and drop a spoonful of filling in the middle.  Wet the tip of your finger with water and run it along the upper half so the skin will stick to itself.

Fold the skin like a taco.  Starting from the right of the dumpling taco, pinch the end and fold the dough over.  So you’ll be pinching on the right and folding the dough over from your left, progressively working leftwards.

Does this make sense?

Sorry.

I would follow the link if I were you.

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I was going to make my own pictorial, but I was learning while folding and didn’t want to try to make an instructional thing on top of that.

Maybe next time?

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So do this until you run out of filling.  I had about two dozen by the end.  You can boil them all at once, pan fry them, or freeze them for later.  If you boil them, heat a pot of water to a rolling boil and drop in the dumplings.  You should cook them for 4-5 minutes, dropping in a cup of cold water every time the water starts to boil rapidly (according to Fuchsia Dunlop’s book) so they don’t fall apart.

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You know, it really thrills me to make things that you most often buy pre-made.  Like dumplings or ravioli, pumpkin purée, etc.  It feels self-sufficient, I think.  Like you’re putting effort into your life instead of being a passive consumer and accepting what is given to you without question or curiosity.  Perhaps this is too heavy for a blog post about dumplings.  Perhaps it is just heavy enough.

In any case, we have 26 days together until I leave, and many recipes to cover!

 

But before I go, a recommendation.  I have been giving more and more consideration to joining the Peace Corps, and my consideration recently turned much more committed after reading Rajeev Goyal’s A Spring in Namje.  Goyal was a PC volunteer in Nepal about 10 years ago teaching English.  However, the town in which Goyal was stationed (Namje, way up in the mountains) and the surrounding area was experiencing a crippling water shortage by dint of being way up in the mountains, far above the river.  All day people would have to trek down to the river and then trek back up hauling containers of water.

Goyal proposed building a water pump.  The water pump ended up being 21 feet taller than the Empire State Building, assembled by the people of Namje, engineered by a few men from the town who didn’t even have a complete high school education, and financed by serious lobbying of the Nepalese ex-pat community in New York as well as some other sources by Goyal.  The pump was successful and the town has since prospered (for a given definition; you’ll have to read the book).

That, however, is only half the book.  The other half covers Goyal’s tenure as a UN translator and his current career as a Congressional bird-dogger who lobbies for increased Peace Corps funding.  His book–and career and life and abilities–is incredible and I highly, highly recommend it for everyone.

Baked Tofu and Kimchi Sandwiches

28 Jun

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This is what summer looks like.  Ideally.  It’s what my summer looks like.

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It’s an amazing summer so far.  And it’s only been 2 weeks!  Literally two weeks and two days ago I was in school.  Now I’ve been all up and down the coast of Chicago, way out into the suburbs, around more neighborhoods than I can remember right now, and have shot so much video it pains me to think of editing it all.  I’m off to NY soon, then upstate, then RI, then NY, then China…  These months just get crazier and crazier.

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We’ve also been having the most stunning weather in Chicago.  Constant back and forth between storms and hot sunlight.  Yesterday at the beach we got rained on and sat on the rocks through the whole storm, jumping into the lake when it got too cold.  And afterwards, a double rainbow and the most stunning sky.

Now, these sandwiches.

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I got the idea from Appetite for China, which is also where I got the instruction for baking tofu.  Other than that, I used none of the same ingredients as her, so this is quite a different recipe.  Also, this makes enough for about 2 servings, but it’s easily increasable.

Ingredients:

  • One demi-baguette
  • 8 oz tofu (1/2 block)
  • 1/3 cup kimchi, chopped
  • some sliced cucumber

Recipe:

You may want to add sauce of some kind.  I don’t know.  I don’t really do sauce on my sandwiches.

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So, preheat the oven to 350 and slice the tofu in half and then into strips (about 1 in x 1 1/2 in).  They should fit comfortable in a sandwich.  Oil a baking pan (I really do not recommend using Pam here) and turn the tofu pieces until coated.  Bake for about 30 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Meanwhile, chop the kimchi and heat it up over medium-high heat until warmed through.  Slice the cucumbers.

DSC_0007Slice the baguette open and put down a layer of tofu topped with kimchi.  Then add another layer of tofu and then the cucumbers (or whatever; you can layer how you like).

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I’m really excited about this recipe.  I have to pick up another baguette tomorrow because I went grocery shopping too late today and they were out.

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So I’m actually just going to re-iterate my recommendation from last time since I’ve gotten further into Absolution.  I really highly recommend this book.  It’s amazing.  It’s so complex and it pulls you in so slowly and gently.  It doesn’t make you tear through the pages like Gone Girl or 1Q84, but you sit down to read it and when you next look up the sun’s in a completely different place and your coffee is cold and you feel like you’re slowly surfacing from the bottom of a lake.  It doesn’t even matter what it’s about.  I have no idea.  I didn’t read the jacket, I just picked it up.  As should you.

Pasta with Spinach, Feta, and Mushrooms

26 Jun

I always feel vaguely lazy/guilty for writing up posts like this involving simple pasta dishes because… do you really need a recipe for this?  I literally just threw things into a bowl of pasta.  And then drowned it in feta cheese.

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And yet, I go looking for recipes when I want to make pasta, so I suppose there’s some merit to this?  I think the problem is that I’ve been running this thing as a baking blog for so long.

Baking is a science, you know?  Of course you do, because a) duh, and b) I make science posts sometimes. It’s pretty exact and you need to follow the damn instructions if you want to make something really good.

Cooking definitely requires the same level of love and care, but it’s more of an art, less of an exact science like baking.  Depending on the dish, of course.  Cooking is more forgiving.  So I always feel like I don’t really need to write up a cooking recipe because hey, you can figure it out.

But that’s a stupid viewpoint because I run a blog dedicated to recipes.  So get on with it, right?  I would say that this is so different that it’s not even adapted anymore, but I went to the grocery store intending to get things for this recipe at The Kitchn, so credit where credit is due.

Ingredients:

  • some olive oil
  • 1/2 small yellow onion, chopped
  • 5 large handfuls of spinach (or more if you really like spinach)
  • 6 oz white button mushrooms
  • 1 lb short pasta
  • 1/2 lb/a fuck ton of feta cheese

Recipe:

Boil water for the pasta.  Slice the mushrooms and onion while you wait.  Once you’ve started cooking the pasta, heat the olive oil in a medium skillet until simmering and cook the onions until starting to brown.  Then, add the mushrooms and cook until they also brown a little and begin to smell awesome.

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Throw in the spinach.  Cook until wilted.

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In a large bowl, toss together all the cooked ingredients with the pasta.  If you’re serving it all at once, sprinkle the feta on top just before serving (unless you like your feta a bit more melted, in which case… ew).  If not, add the feta to the individual portion you’re about to eat.

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Ta-da!

 

So I am reading this novel about South Africa that was mentioned on the Sinica podcast… sometime in the past year, maybe.  It’s called Absolution, by Patrick Flanery, and it comes very highly recommended.  I’m not too far in, but I’m enjoying it and will make that my book recommendation of the day!