Eggplant with Chili Garlic Sauce

Have you tried it yet? Huy Fong Foods Chili Garlic Sauce.

I got a small bottle a few days ago and it’s already almost half gone. Yes, it is that good.
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The ingredient list is short: chilies, salt, garlic, vinegar,  a couple of preservatives and a thickener. The taste is nothing short of delicious. It’s not super spicy, and the garlic and vinegar gives it a depth that cannot achieved with chili peppers alone. I used it with stir fried rice noodles, and now it’s made its way into my eggplants.

This is a simple recipe, think weekday meal in a pinch. The soft eggplant is a perfect “sponge” for the chili garlic sauce. I imagine green beans, asparagus, and carrots would also do well here (although perhaps not altogether in one dish).

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Eggplant with Chili Garlic Sauce

Serves: 3-4

Ingredients

  • 2 Chinese eggplants (the long, skinny kind), sliced
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp chili garlic sauce (for moderately-spicy, adjust as needed)
  • ~400 g fried tofu, cut into cubes
  • 4 Roma tomatoes, cut into 1/8th wedges
  • 2-3 tbsp water for cooking

Method

  1. In a large bowl, mix together the salt and eggplant, allow them to sit for 15 minutes while you gather the rest of the ingredients.
  2. In a wok or large saute pan, heat up the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic and chili garlic sauce and cook until fragrant.
  3. Add eggplant and tofu, stir to coat in the yummy sauce. Add 2-3 spoonfuls of water to prevent burning. Cook for ~ 8-10 minutes.
  4.  Add tomatoes and cook for another 5 minutes. Taste and adjust salty/ spicy level as desired before serving.

Sauteed Black Kale with Ricotta, Crispy Garlic, and Chilies

Black kale, also know as dinosaur kale, is a gorgeous member of the cabbage family. Like many dark green leafy vegetables, it’s rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals, including magnesium, calcium, vitamin C, beta-carotene, and folate. It also contains fibre, which gives a feeling of satiety. Beyond its impressive nutrition content, I love black kale for its mild flavour and tender texture. As a bonus, it can be grown locally in BC and it’s easily found in farmers’ markets in the Lower Mainland area during the summer and fall months.

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The recipe is from Mario Batali, one of my favourite celebrity chefs. Its simplicity showcases the natural flavours of the ingredients, and it’s super easy to make for a quick weeknight supper.

I carefully fried thinly sliced garlic and hot chilies to a crisp. This process infuses their flavour into the oil (which permeates the rest of the dish), and provides a texture contrast with the soft kale and ricotta cheese.
Black Kale with Ricotta

Sauteed Black Kale with Ricotta, Crispy Garlic, and Chilies

Recipe from: http://www.rachaelrayshow.com/recipe/14247_Mario_Batalis_Black_Kale_with_Ricotta/

Serves: 2-4

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp canola or other neutral flavoured oil (such as sunflower or grape seed)
  • 1/2 red banana pepper, sliced thinly
  • 3 large cloves of garlic, sliced thinly
  • 1 bunch black kale, stems and cores removed, chopped roughly
  • 1-2 tablespoons water
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper

Method

  1. Add oil to a pan over medium heat, cook chilies until they release their flavour (1-2 minutes), use a slotted spoon to remove the chilies from the oil and reserve in a small bowl for garnish.
  2. Add sliced garlic to the pan and fry until a golden crisp, be careful not to burn the garlic. Reserve in the same bowl as the chili peppers.
  3. Add chopped kale to the pan. Saute for ~10 minutes, or until they’re starting to wilt. Add water to help the kale cook and to prevent burning. Season with salt to taste.
  4. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together the ricotta cheese, olive oil, and black pepper.
  5. Dish the cooked kale on a platter. Dollop with ricotta mixture throughout, and top with fried chilies and crispy garlic.

Water Spinach with Sesame (芝麻空心菜)

Water spinach was on sale last week, a whole bunch for less than $2!

Water spinach is a popular vegetable in Asia. According to Wikipedia, it is known by many different names, including phak bung, ong choy, rau muống, kangkong, trokuon, kolmou xak, kalmi shak, kangkung, and hayoyo. The name for water spinach I am most familiar with is in Mandarin: 空心菜 (pinyin: kōngxīncài), which literally translates into “empty-hearted vegetable”, a reference to its hollow stem.
Water spinach with tahini and sesame seeds

I used a traditional Asian technique to stir-fry water spinach, although with some non-traditional ingredients. I like experimenting, and this one was tasty!

Being a mild tasting vegetable, I imagine it would go well with a variety of seasonings, including ginger, chilies, hoisin sauce, or oyster sauce. As with most dark green vegetables, it contains vitamin A (for night vision, among other things) and folate (for making blood cells, among other things).

Water spinach with tahini

Water Spinach with Tahini and Sesame Seeds  (芝麻空心菜)

Serves: 2-4 as a side dish

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
  • 1 large bunch of water spinach, leaves and stems separated, washed and cut into ~ 1 inch pieces
  • 1 tbsp sesame paste (tahini)
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 tsp white sesame seeds, toasted

Method

  1. Add oil in large pan (wok) over high heat. When oil is hot, add garlic and cook until fragrant.
  2. Add water spinach stems, stir-fry for 1-2 minutes. Add the leaves and cook until wilted.
  3. Add sesame paste and salt to taste. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds.

Spicy and Sour Nappa Cabbage 酸辣白菜

When I was growing up, nappa cabbage sold for 30 cents per 1/2 kg during the fall harvest in Tianjin, China and became sustenance for the proletariat family throughout the winter months. Stacked in pyramids, it wasn’t uncommon for households to stash a pile beside their respective doors in the unheated apartment hallway cooled by the winter air. Brined and stewed with pork and potatoes, braised with chicken and shiitake mushrooms, stir-fried with tofu, or minced and mixed with meat as part of a dumpling, nappa cabbage was always there, a comforting ingredient, something to make a meal stretch and the belly happy.

I was lucky enough to be born into a family and a time without hunger. Unlike my father, as well as many others in his generation and the generations above him, I never associated (brined) nappa cabbage with being a famine food. Its presence on the dinner table grew as October turned into January, but skillfully prepared in a variety of ways, I always enjoyed seeing it there.

Since moving out of my parents’ place, I rarely ate nappa cabbage. But recently I’ve felt a growing affection (or perhaps nostalgia) for this vegetable. Searching up a recipe on a Chinese cooking website, I had a distinctly different experience from looking on a Western one. Precise measurements are rare and quantities are given as “a little”, “a small handful”, or “an appropriate amount”– frustrating and liberating all at the same time.
Sour and Spicy Nappa Cabbage 酸辣白菜I made this dish with my friend Christine. It was the last time she came over to my apartment before she left Vancouver. So there are memories of her embedded in this somewhere too.

Spicy and Sour Nappa Cabbage

Serves: 2-4

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp dried goji berries (optional)
  • 1/4 cup boiling hot water (optional)
  • 2-3 tbsp oil
  • 3-5 dried red chilies, in half
  • 1/2 head of nappa cabbage, cut into 1.5 x 2 inch  rectangles
  • 2-3 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp salt (to taste)
  • 1-2 tsp corn starch

Method

  1. If using goji berries, soak in boiling hot water for 15 minutes, drain and set aside.
  2. Make a slurry by dissolving vinegar, salt, and corn starch, set aside.
  3. In a large wok, heat oil over high until hot, add dried chilies and cook until fragrant but not burning.
  4. Add nappa cabbage, stirring to ensure even cooking. Turn heat down to medium if needed.
  5. When cabbage is almost ready, add slurry and goji berries (if using). Stir and cook until cornstarch thickens the sauce, about a minute more. Serve immediately.

Vegetables in Soy Sauce

The original recipe was called “market vegetables cooked in a clay pot”. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a clay pot in which to cook, but a stainless steel pot did the job pretty well. There’s such a wide variety of vegetables which would be suitable for this dish, for example, cauliflower, bok choy, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts, daikon, lotus root, chayote… Feel free to use your favourites.

The soy sauce, sugar, and sesame seed oil provided a perfect balance of salty, sweet, and umami. Just be careful not to overcook the vegetables.

Vegetables in Soy Sauce

Vegetables in Soy Sauce

Adapted from: http://www.sbs.com.au/food/recipes/market-vegetables-cooked-clay-pot-u-cu-tay-cam

Serves: 2-4

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tbsp minced garlic
  • 4 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 4-5 tofu puff (fried tofu), sliced thinly
  • 200 g enoki mushrooms, cut in half
  • 100 g green beans, 1.5 inch pieces, blanched
  • 150 g broccoli florets, blanched
  • 2 carrots, 1/2 inch pieces, blanched
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper 
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced

Method

  1. In a medium-sized pot (clay if you have it) over medium-high heat, fry minced garlic in vegetable oil until fragrant.
  2. Add soy sauce, sugar, and water, bring to a boil.
  3. Add tofu puff, mushrooms, and simmer for 5 minutes.
  4. Add blanched vegetables, ground pepper, sesame oil, and green onions.
  5. Heat through and serve.

What I would do differently

  • To save time, I would cook the green beans, broccoli, carrots in the soy sauce-water mixture rather than separately blanching them ahead of time.

Buckwheat Harvest Tart

Butternut Squash Tart

The recipe came from The Sprouted Kitchen: A Tastier Take on Whole Foods by Sara Forte, and it is absolutely delicious.

It’s essentially a vegetable quiche pumped full of butternut squash, greens, and cheese. It took my friend and I around two hours to make the recipe from start to finish, so be prepared for the amount of labour and time required. In the end, both of us agreed that the work was well worth it. The sweet squash, savory cheese, and tangy onion (flavoured with vinegar) is a winning combination. The tart looks impressive, tastes delightful, and can be made using readily available local BC ingredients (squash, kale, onion, eggs,…).

Buckwheat Harvest Tart

Here’s the original recipe. I made a few minor adjustments with the ingredients I had on hand, but I would suggest sticking with the original. The changes I made were:

  • 4 medium eggs instead of 3 large ones
  • ~4 cups chopped kale instead of Swiss chard
  • cayenne pepper instead of red pepper flakes (I think I used less too)
  • red onion instead of yellow
  • apple cider instead of balsamic vinegar (I used less than 2 tbsp, but would use the full amount in the future)
  • Havarti cheese instead of Gruyere
  • ~ 1 tsp dried thyme in the crust instead of fresh
  •  used salted butter and omitted the salt in the crust (bad baking technique, I know, but salted butter is so much cheaper!)
  • pressed the dough into the pan instead of rolling it out (looks messier, but easier)
  • whole wheat flour instead of white flour

Buckwheat Harvest Tart

Bon appetite!

Late Summer’s Salad

End of August, the last few days of summer cling onto shorts, ice cream cones, and the outdoor swimming pool. Amidst the goodbye to warm weather and sunny days in Vancouver, we’re lucky enough to say hello to the season’s bounty: farm-fresh vegetables and fruits from local growers.

I’ve made a few variations of this salad already, using yellow bell peppers, chickpeas, eggs, figs, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, bulgur, dried tofu, and yellow wax beans in various combinations with one another. The dressing was kept simple: olive oil, vinegar, salt, black pepper. Once I used soy sauce, canola oil (sesame, chili, or Sichuan peppercorn oil would be perfect here as well), white pepper, and rice wine vinegar for an Asian-inspired taste.

A hearty salad, perfect for lunch or dinner in the summer heat.
A hearty salad, perfect for lunch or dinner in the summer heat.

The trick to making this salad quickly is to pre-cook as many of the ingredients as you can ahead of time. For example, I soaked and boiled about 1 cup of dry chickpeas, cooked 3 eggs, and reconstituted 1 cup of dried bulgur all at once when I made this salad the first time a few days ago. Today, I simply pulled the chickpeas, egg, and bulgur out of the fridge, and they were ready to use. This salad came together in no time at all.

Late Summer’s Salad 

Serves: 1

Ingredients

  • 1 roma tomato, seeds removed, diced
  • 1 mini cucumber, diced
  • 1/2 cup bulgur, cooked
  • 1/3 cup chickpeas, cooked
  • 3 figs, 3/8 inch cubes
  • 1 egg, boiled to your liking, cut into 8 wedges

Dressing

  • 1-1.5 tbsp acid (balsamic vinegar, or rice, red or white wine vinegar, or lemon juice)
  • 1-1.5 tbsp olive oil
  • Pinch of salt and black pepper

Method

  1. Put all ingredients except the egg into a medium-sized bowl, mix well to combine.
  2. When ready to serve, gently lay the egg pieces on top of the salad.

 

To compliment the sweetness of the figs, I used a dark chocolate balsamic vinegar from the Vancouver Olive Oil Company (http://vooc.ca).
To compliment the sweetness of the figs, I used a dark chocolate balsamic vinegar from the Vancouver Olive Oil Company (http://vooc.ca).