January 29, 2012

Beef Fried Rice Noodle

(Belated) Happy Year of the Dragon! How about some 乾炒牛河?

This was the very first dish I had in a Chinese restaurant, and I both adore it and hold it to high standards. It's a tricky one to be sure - careful handling is needed to ensure that the noodles do not become either greasy or mushy. It's also often overloaded with bean sprouts, which puts a lot of people off it entirely, but I don't mind bean sprouts, actually. There's none in the picture simply because I don't tend to keep them around generally, and I didn't remember to pick some up on my way home from work. The loss is negligible, really, especially if you serve the dish with some nice gingered broccoli. It really does need a vegetable on the side, in my books, to feel like a meal.

Now, it should be noted, that while I mentioned that I am picky about this dish, my version includes an ingredient which is not usually found in it (black bean sauce), but I do enjoy the depth of flavour that it brings, so I'm keeping it. Since I use a low sodium version of soy sauce, my dish is not as darkly coloured as some, so if you want a darker overall look, substitute some dark soy sauce in the sauce mixture. Do keep in mind that this is a very sodium-intense dish, though - a little less is probably better for you.

Now, I suspect some of you may be saying "wait a minute! She's got "convertible to vegan" in her tags!" Yep. To convert this dish to vegan, all you need to do is use a combination of sliced mushrooms and/or fried tofu (atsu-age) instead of the beef, and a vegan-friendly sweetener (such as agave). It's still going to be delicious, but it might need a new name.

As for Gluten-Free? Simply ensure you are using one of the GF versions of soy sauce and black bean sauce (or skip the black bean sauce and use a little extra soy sauce in that case, right at the end).

Beef Fried Rice Noodle
Serves 4 (as part of a meal)
Total Prep & Cooking Time: 45 minutes

2 tablespoons peanut oil, divided
200 grams thinly sliced beef
600 grams fresh wide rice noodle (ho fun)
1 cup trimmed bean sprouts
1 medium yellow onion
2 cloves garlic, sliced
2 green onion

Marinade for beef
2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon Chinese cooking wine (or dry sherry)

Sauce
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon black bean sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon beef concentrate

Combine the marinade ingredients in a bowl, and add the beef, stirring well to make sure it is thoroughly coated.

Wash and dry the sprouts (trim the dragging tails, if you like). Wash the green onions and cut into matchstick-lengths (full disclosure - in the picture above, I erred by forgetting to prep the green onions, so I sliced them thinly and added them as a garnish, after the picture was taken). Slice the yellow onion (pole to pole) in long slices.

Combine the sauce ingredients in a measuring cup and set aside.

Separate the noodles onto a plate - if they are really stuck together, place them in a large pot of almost-boiled water (the heat should be off) and let them sit for about five minutes, giving a stir occasionally, until they separate. Drain immediately into a colander. If the noodles separate nicely without the soaking step, give them a quick microwave-zap for a minute or two, until they are hot. This will prevent over stirring later.

Heat a tablespoon of peanut oil in a large non-stick skillet over high heat. Add the garlic, then the bean sprouts and green onions, fry for a minute or two, then remove them to a warm plate. Lift the beef slices out of the marinade, and quickly stir fry them until they are mostly cooked. Remove the beef to the plate with the bean sprouts. Add the second tablespoon of peanut oil, and quickly stir fry the onions until just tender-crisp - they should be translucent, but not too floppy. Quickly add the hot noodles, the reserved marinade from the beef, and the sauce ingredients, and stir and toss the noodles until thoroughly coated and hot throughout. Add the beef and sprouts back into the pan, and continue to stir and toss until everything is nice and integrated. Serve hot, with extra soy sauce and/or chile oil on the side (and a nice green vegetable, too, ideally).

Enjoy!

January 15, 2012

Mujaddara


Mujaddara sure has a lot of different spellings: mujadarrah, mudardara, mejadra, moujadera...the legacy, I suppose of translating from an alphabet with so many more options for the letter "r" alone, than English. The name derives from the Arabic word for smallpox, apparently because of the way the lentils interrupt the rice surface is said to look like a pockmarked face (another example of this imagery in cooking is in the Chinese dish MaPo Tofu, in which chile flakes stand in as pockmarks). It is a relative of kushari, biryani, and probably a dozen other rice-based dishes, and can be dressed up or dressed down as desired.

In any language, Mujaddara is one of those beautifully simple dishes that is both incredibly healthful and eminently affordable. It is a staple in the Middle East that is, even in its simplest form, popular amongst people of every walk of life. Each cook makes adjustments based on his or her preference, availability, or cultural norm: what starts as a dish of rice and lentils topped with fried onions finds infinite variability in the type of lentil, the ratio of lentil to rice, the type of rice or grain, the medium for frying the onions, and the seasonings. It can be served as a complete meal unto itself, plain or garnished with yoghurt sauce, or beside meat or other vegetables for a more complex meal.

It is delicious. It is easy to make. We served it for dinner with a little leftover roasted chicken mixed in, and curry-roasted cauliflower on the side. I want to try making some of the infinite varieties out there, but first I want to make it again, just like this:

Mujaddara

Serves 4

2 medium yellow onions
2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup basmati rice
3/4 cup brown lentils
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cumin
125 grams roasted chicken thigh meat
2 tablespoons flaked almonds
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon Baharat* (optional)

Slice one onion, and dice the other. Fry the onions rings in 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil, until dark brown, 25 to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a medium pot, and boil the lentils for ten minutes.

Fry diced onions in 1 tablespoon of oil in a large pot. Once translucent, add the salt and spices. Add the rice, and stir it about for a couple of minutes, and then add two cups of boiling water (from the microwave, or a recently boiled kettle). Drain the lentils, and add immediately to the pot of onions, rice and water. Stir well, and bring back to a boil, reduce heat, and let simmer on the lowest temperature for 25 minutes.

Remove chicken meat from bones and skin and set aside. Toast the almond flakes in a dry skillet.

Remove lentils and rice from the heat. Stir in chicken and almond pieces, and half the onions. Top bowls with remaining onions and almonds, and serve, sprinkled with Baharat if you like.


*Baharat: Technically, baharat simply means "spices" in Arabic (bahar means spice), and versions vary from place to place. The one I use is a rather simple one made of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom and black pepper, and I use it in the dish, too, in place of the cinnamon and allspice. It is very fragrant. I add the cumin separately, although some versions of Baharat include it in the mix.

January 07, 2012

Chorizo Succotash


January often marks a fresh attempt at better eating habits, and my house is no exception. The luxuries of the holiday season, some of which are still piled up on the dining room table, have become a menacing responsibility - the need to value the efforts which went into making the various treats, both mine and others, and the wish to refrain from waste, all jumble together against the knowledge that December was full of exceptions and indulgence, and that January had better feature some strategic planning.

My reactionary meal-planning almost always skews to the quickly prepared items, generally brightly coloured dishes which feature the greatest variety of vegetables that I can pack into my skillet. This Succotash fits the bill.

A side dish in the American South, succotash generally features a trifecta of lima beans, corn, and peppers, and varying amounts of butter, cream, bacon, or ham, depending on the cook and the needs of the moment. This version adds a small amount of chorizo to bump it up to centre plate, and is served over rice. Leftover succotash can be stirred right into the rice for a pleasing lunch, too.

Don't let the words "lima beans" put you off, either! I use the bitty little frozen ones, and they are tender and tasty, not bland and starchy. Plus, the combination of bacon and chorizo gives you plenty to take your mind off any childhood lima-induced trauma.

Chorizo Succotash
Adapted from "Cook This! Not That!"
by David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding


Serves 4 (over rice)

2 pieces thick, dry-cured bacon
150 grams dry-cured chorizo, diced
300 grams baby lima beans (fresh or frozen)
2 cups frozen corn
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1/4 cup half & half or light cream
1 medium red bell pepper, diced
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Chop the bacon into lardons, and fry gently over medium heat until crispy. Remove the bacon pieces from the pan, but leave a tablespoon of the drippings. Add the onions and chorizo to the skillet, and saute for about three minutes, or until tender. Add the lima beans (no need to defrost, if using frozen), and stir and saute for another three minutes. Add the frozen corn, and stir and saute again.

Season with cumin and cayenne, add the bacon pieces back to the pan, and taste to see if you need to add any salt (the chorizo and bacon may have added enough). Add the red pepper, and a dribble of water, and saute for three more minutes. Continue to cook and stir until vegetables are tender (test the beans). Add the half & half, and cook and stir until liquid boils off to a thin sauce, almost evaporated. Remove from heat and serve over basmati rice.

Could you make this dish vegetarian? Absolutely. Simply omit the meat, and use a tablespoon of olive oil to saute the vegetables. To give a little more depth of flavour, you might want to add a splash of liquid smoke. Alternatively, you could also use an extra-firm smoked tofu, diced moderately finely, in place of the chorizo. For vegans, follow the vegetarian instructions, but also replace the half & half with either vegetable broth or a non-dairy milk (such as almond or rice milk), possibly thickened with a little cornstarch, to give it body. Please note that I haven't yet tried making the vegetarian versions, but these are my best estimates. If you give it a try, or have other suggestions to veg-ify this recipe, please do leave a note, and tell me how it went.