Miso. Carrot. Sesame.

I can’t really explain what sort of diet Chris and I have been on lately. I suppose it isn’t a diet, rather it’s just a newer way of eating that we’ve had to implement.

The basic premise is that we try to eat as light and as healthy as possible during the week, because the weekend is always a caloric disaster. Pretty simple, right?

I’ve said this a zillion times – the food here in San Francisco is undeniably better than any food in any city I’ve ever lived (or visited for that matter). Maybe that’s a bold statement, but living here for almost a year and a half has given me a little time to audition the city’s food, and it’s true. We take full advantage of it, too. If we aren’t going out with local friends, we’re showing visitors our favorite spots instead.

For example, this past weekend my sis-in-law and her husband were visiting, and we went to Flour+Water (tasting menu!), got ice cream, and had some of the city’s best Ramen, bubble tea, and a slice of a porchetta sandwich – all in two days’ time. Oh, and Nopalito, but that goes without saying when visitors are here.

So, to help both our waistlines and our wallets, we’ve made it a point to try to stay in during the week, and to make really smart choices when we do so. That generally means a lot of vegetarian eating, including a lot of healthy grains, egg dishes, and kale – typically in salad form. Now, some of you may not like kale. I guess that’s understandable, but hopefully there is some sort of green aside from iceberg lettuce that you do like. I’ve become a huge fan of the following mix: kale, shaved brussels sprouts (which I used to despise, but now, they have a sweet spot in my heart), and spinach.

The greens alone create the most perfect trifecta. Sure, I switch them around some here and there, but generally, those are included in the mix. A few sprinkles of shaved coconut, a sprinkle of sunflower or pumpkin seeds, a handful of dried fruit and a couple of chopped apples? You almost have the best kale/whatever green salad you want that you could ask for.

But one thing’s missing. One thing of utmost importance. One thing to bring it all together, to make a salad seem like so much more than a salad. And that’s this dressing. I promise you, it is so totally worth a search for the miso paste (or a click here for a bulk version). Salty and tangy, it pairs nicely with toasty sesame oil, and the slight sweetness added by agave nectar (or even honey) makes a perfectly balanced dressing. I’m sure it would be great on things other than salad, but for me, it begs to be tossed into the mixture I described above.

The fact that I’m writing about salad dressing for an entire blog post should be proof enough that this is an amazing dressing, but if you need one more urging, I’ll say it again. This here, friends, is an a-ma-zing dressing.

Miso, Carrot, & Sesame Dressing
Adapted from Bon Appetit, makes 1 1/2 cups

toss this dressing over a mixture of greens (we prefer kale, any kind) and add whatever you like. We make a habit of eating the following combo: kale, shredded coconut, raisins, fresh chopped apples, and a handful of nuts/seeds. If you use kale or any other sturdy green, give the dressing time to settle into the salad. You can even make it the night before for a lunch salad, and with kale at least, there’s not wilty action.

p.s. – I usually double this recipe and the dressing will last for a week or two, as long as your ingredients are fresh.

time commitment: 10 minutes

printable version

ingredients
1/2 c white miso
5 T canola oil
1/4 c finely grated peeled carrot
2 T finely grated peeled ginger
2 T unseasoned rice vinegar
1 T roasted white sesame seeds, optional
2 t toasted sesame oil
2 t honey or agave nectar

instructions
Place all ingredients plus 1/4 cup water in a resealable container. Cover and shake vigorously until well combined. Add more water to thin out, if desired.

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A Nice Change of Pace

This past weekend was completely unlike the one that preceded it. For a ton of reasons. But let’s first state the obvious, most polarizing difference: this past weekend, Chris was on his way to China for a week (yes, without me – again!), and the weekend before it, we were both in the country.

Now that we’ve set the stage, let’s move on.

The other big difference is that two weekends ago, Chris and I took our first overnight backpacking trip into the Ventana Wilderness near Big Sur, going “balls to the wall” and hiking a round-trip 23 miles of bonkers up-and-down trail, where we saw mountains, redwoods, waterfalls, pretty greenery, the ocean, and at the final point for the night, a campsite right near natural hot springs. Which means we also saw hippie naked people, our own stinking dirty clothes, and freeze-dried food that didn’t taste half-bad.

It was pretty amazing, to say the least. Amazing and really, really hard. I’m pretty proud of us for roughin’ it out there, and can’t wait to do it again. (Here’s the pics, if you’re interested. There aren’t many since we were more focused on things like not toppling over from the weight of our packs!)

This weekend, I was left to my own devices, and I definitely didn’t go backpacking. Instead, I painted my toenails and fingernails (purple!), I got a massage, I went for a run and a couple of small bikes rides, and I survived my first hot yoga class. Just barely, though.

I also managed to sit out in the sunshine and soak in some Vitamin D. Ironically enough, I watched the “new” Twilight movie and read plenty of ‘Salem’s Lot, too. I did not sleep in a coffin, in case you were wondering, but I did wake up to my second memorable earthquake since living in San Francisco, which is noteworthy.

It wasn’t the same as my usual weekends around here lately – hiking and such – but it was certainly a nice change of pace. And it kept me from sitting in a quiet house with two lazy cats staring a me.

And while I could have easily procured a few microwave dinners to get me through the week food-wise, I had some produce leftovers from last week, and I decided that I couldn’t go one more day without making one of my very favorite dishes, bibimbap. I can’t put my finger on it, but the combination of flavors in bibimbap something that I seem to crave every now and then, and the taste isn’t comparable to anything else I know of. It’s the mixture of veggies with soy sauce and sesame oil, the Korean chili paste, the textures of all the different, individual cooking of ingredients, and the runny, fried egg on top that I absolutely can’t resist. I made enough for 2 servings this time (the recipe below is still scaled to 4, but it does half easily) and I ate leftovers so quickly that I almost poked myself in the face with my fork.

I took a picture with my phone and texted it to Chris, thinking he’d be totally envious and ready to come home right away. But then I remembered he was in, well, China. There’s good food in China.

And then I licked the rest of the chili paste right outta the bowl. I mean shoot, no one’s watching, anyway. But would I care if they were? Prolly not…

Bibimbap, previously: Beef & Asparagus Bibimbap
Korean, previously: Korean tofu tacos

Vegetarian (or not) Bibimbap
Adapted from Cooking Light, March 2012; serves 4 

time commitment: 1 hour

printable version

ingredients
1 c uncooked short-grain brown rice
8 oz extra-firm tofu, drained (or sirloin, chicken, or pork)
1/3 c water
1/4 c apple cider vinegar
2 t sugar, divided
2 t garlic, minced & divided
1 t fresh ginger, minced & divided
1/4 t crushed red pepper
1 c carrots, julienned
2 T lower-sodium soy sauce
3 T dark sesame oil, divided
1 c fresh bean sprouts
5 oz shitake mushrooms, sliced
9 oz fresh baby spinach (usually a large bag)
4 large eggs
4 T gochujang*
1/4 t kosher salt

*gochujang is Korean chili paste. You can usually find it at Whole Foods (the Annie Chun brand) or other brands in Asian markets

instructions
Cook rice. Bring 2 c water and rice to boil in medium saucepan. Reduce heat and simmer for about 45 minutes, or until water is absorbed. This can be done days in advance to cut down on cooking time.

Meanwhile, cut tofu into 3/4-inch-thick cubes. Place tofu in a single layer in between a kitchen towel. Let stand 30 minutes, pressing down occasionally.

Combine 1/3 c water, vinegar, 1 t sugar, 1/2 t garlic, 1/2 t ginger, and crushed red pepper in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil. Add carrot, and remove from heat; let stand 30 minutes. Drain.

Combine remaining 1 t sugar, 1/2 t garlic, remaining 1/2 t ginger, soy sauce, and 1 T oil, stirring with a whisk. Remove tofu from paper towels. Place tofu in a medium bowl. Add 1 T soy sauce mixture to tofu; toss gently. Let stand 15 minutes.

Heat a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over high heat for 4 minutes. Add 1/2 T sesame oil; swirl to coat. Add rice to pan in a single layer; cook 1 minute (do not stir). Remove from heat.

Turn on oven just enough to warm and then turn off. Keep the following components warm by putting them on a baking sheet and keeping them in the oven until all pieces are sautéed. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 t oil; swirl to coat. Add 1 1/2 t soy sauce mixture and bean sprouts to pan; sauté 1 minute. Remove sprouts from pan; keep warm. Add mushrooms to pan; sauté 2 minutes. Stir in 1 1/2 t soy sauce mixture; sauté 1 minute. Remove mushrooms from pan; keep warm. Add 1/2 T oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add tofu to pan; sauté 7 minutes or until golden brown. Remove tofu from pan; keep warm. Add 1 t oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add remaining 1 t garlic and remaining 1 T soy sauce mixture; sauté 30 seconds. Add spinach to pan; sauté 1 minute or until spinach wilts. Remove spinach from pan; keep warm.

Reduce heat to medium. Add remaining 1 t oil to pan, more if desired. Crack eggs into pan; cook 4 minutes or until whites are set. Remove from heat.

Place 1/2 c rice in each of 4 shallow bowls. Top each serving evenly with carrots, sprouts, mushrooms, tofu, and spinach. Top each serving with 1 egg and 1 T chili paste. Sprinkle evenly with salt.

Fair and Square

One of our favorite types of food these days is ramen. No, not the 10/$1.00 packs that come in all sorts of flavors, like chicken, oriental, and beef, but the actual kind that you are given in a restaurant, in a gigantic bowl filled to the brim with steaming hot broth, ramen noodles, pork (or fried chicken. fried chicken!), and all sorts of other ingredients that have me salivating right this second.

We’ve tried a handful of spots in the city over the past few months, and every time I’m feeling the need for some warm comfort food my mind goes straight to ramen. I can’t get enough of it.

Of course, while waiting for said ramen to make its appearance at the table, it’s never a bad idea to have an appetizer or three. Many of these ramen joints make killer meat skewers, but often times all I want is a freakin’ potsticker. Something about a little sheet of dough enveloping a bite of meat and veggies, and then steamed and served alongside some sort of amazing dipping sauce makes me so amazingly happy. So happy that I could likely eat a couple orders of them and call it a night, if it weren’t for the ramen making its way to the table.

But when you’re home, that’s another story. I’ve eaten potstickers only quite a few times.

Potstickers are those little treats that look so damn hard to make, but are in all reality, probably one of the easiest dishes to throw together, minus the time. You toss the filling into a food processor, which means your initial chopping skills really don’t matter all that much, as long as things are similarly butchered to smithereens. You put the filling onto pre-made wrappers. You fold them (which is what people think is so dang hard. It isn’t.), and then you steam them. The sauce is nothing but a handful of ingredients whisked together (and for that, there are thousands of choices, but I’m a fan of a spicy peanut sauce, I am). Then you’re ready to chow down.

Sure, they look intricate. And sure, it might take some precision and a little patience, but there isn’t much that can go wrong, even if the wonton shapes aren’t winning beauty pageants. Either way, what results are little pockets of delightful goodness that you, I promise, won’t be able to resist.

You can even take them to a potluck if you want. And when that potluck gets canceled without your knowledge, you can smile a little on the inside, because they just turned into lunch, which means you can eat like, 10 of them, instead of 2. That’s what I call winning – fair and square.

Shrimp & Ginger Potstickers w/ Spicy Peanut Sauce
makes 24 potstickers – 4 servings as a meal, 12 as an appetizer

time commitment: 1 hour

printable version

ingredients
potstickers
3/4 c Napa cabbage, shredded
1/3 c scallions, chopped (+ more for garnish, optional)
1/4 c carrots, julienned
2 T cilantro, chopped
1 T low sodium soy sauce
2 t fresh ginger, minced
1 t dark sesame oil
1/2 t salt
1/2 lb shrimp, cooked
sriracha, optional but totally not optional
24 small wonton wrappers
2 T cornstarch or arrowroot powder
1 T canola oil, divided
1 c water, divided

sauce
1/4 c water
1/4 c reduced fat peanut butter
2 T low sodium soy sauce
1 1/2 T rice vinegar
1 1/2 T chile paste w/ garlic (sambal oelek)
1/2 t sugar

instructions
combine 1st 10 ingredients (sriracha to your liking) into food processor and pulse ~4 times, or until coarsely chopped and mixed together.

working with 1 wrapper at a time, spoon 1 1/2 t of filling into the center. wet the edges of the wonton with a small brush and bring opposite corners together, pinching to seal. place on a baking sheet sprinkled with cornstarch/arrowroot powder.

heat 1 1/2 t canola oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 12 potstickers to pan and cook for 2 minutes, or until bottoms are golden brown. slowly add 1/2 c water, cover and cook for 4 minutes. uncover and cook 3 more minutes, until the liquid evaporates. Repeat again with remaining oil, potstickers, and water.

prepare sauce by combining all sauce ingredients together in a small bowl and whisking until mixed.

serve potstickers with peanut sauce, garnishing with green onions, if desired.

Sesame Street

If I remembered being a toddler, I’d probably recall a few instances of frustration when things didn’t go right – like when I couldn’t figure out for the life of me what letter came after Q in the alphabet, and damn that song because it didn’t always help, either. I’d remember not being able to fit the plastic red square into the oddly shaped “toy”.

I’d remember wanting Bugsy, our albino Siamese kitten, to love me so badly that I’d just pick him up and squeeze him to pieces, dragging him across that shaggy yellow carpet like a rag doll, until one day he scratched the side of my face off. Okay, that’s a little of an exaggeration, but nonetheless Bugsy ‘disappeared’ shortly after that incident and I still feel a little guilty about that.

Being a toddler isn’t much different than being an adult, in a lot of ways. We screw a lot of shit up and smile afterwards, hoping our cuteness makes it go away (that worked better then than it does now). We throw tantrums here and there when things don’t go our way, and sometimes we look back on those incidents and laugh, but sometimes we just shake our heads in disbelief. We get excited about the little things, and sometimes the big picture escapes us.

Occasionally, great ideas aren’t always as well-executed in practice as they were in theory. But often, trying again (and sometimes again and again and again) leads to success.

But being a toddler was so much easier than being an adult, wasn’t it? If only we all had someone bigger than us, wiser than us, more adult than us, to make all those big choices in the big people world. Like what retirement fund to choose, or whether to bring an umbrella to work today, or what to tell the crying patient in your office, or how to get the damn trash people to just take our freaking box that’s been sitting outside all weekend.

Or how to cook soba noodles. Yeah, seriously. How to boil water, open a package, dump the dried buckwheat sticks into said boiling water, wait 5 minutes, and drain the now-soft noodles, and rinse them in cool water afterwards. You wouldn’t think it’d be that hard, wouldja?

But a couple of weeks ago, it was. I missed a c-rucial step.  You see, the buckwheat noodles were divided into three groups, each tied together by a thin strip of paper the same color as the noodles (translation – I didn’t see them). The water boiled, the package was opened, and the sticks were dumped into the water, but the paper ties caused a minor problem: the noodles didn’t separate, causing three large chunks of glop, and realizing this error right after dumping the noodles into the water was just 1 second too late, and past the point of no return. Some penne in the pantry saved the day, but all the while I knew this dish needed to be right, and it wasn’t.

So I put on my big girl pants, I procured another package of noodles and tofu along with more sesame seeds, I swallowed my pride, and I tried again. And man, am I glad I did. Admitting defeat and trying again is so grown up, don’t ya think?

Black Sesame Otsu
adapted, barely, from Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson; serves 4

okay, I have a new cookbook addiction, which doesn’t happen often. and to you carnivores out there, I am sorry to report that I am again tossing another tofu recipe onto this site. I promise a meat-heavy dish is in your future. but for now, i am really happy about soba noodles, black sesame seeds, and tofu. I probably could have eaten the paste all by itself, actually.

printable version

time commitment: 30 minutes

ingredients
1 t pine nuts
1 t sunflower seeds
1/2 c black sesame seeds
1 1/2 T natural cane sugar
1 1/2 T soy sauce
1 1/2 t mirin
1 t toasted sesame oil
2 T brown rice vinegar
1/8 t cayenne pepper
Fine-grain sea salt
1 package organic soba noodles
1 package extra-firm tofu
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 bunch green onions, white and light green parts, thinly sliced

instructions
Cut the tofu into thin, bite-sized pieces. Put on a towel-lined plate and let sit out to release some of the moisture.

Toast the pine nuts and sunflower seeds in a large skillet over medium heat until golden, shaking the pan regularly. Add the sesame seeds to the pan and toast for a minute or so. Remove from the heat as soon as you smell a hint of toasted sesame. Transfer to a mortar and pestle and crush the mixture; the texture should be like black sand. Stir in the sugar, shoyu, mirin, sesame oil, brown rice vinegar, and cayenne pepper. Taste and adjust if needed.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the soba, and cook according to the package instructions until tender. Drain, reserving some of the noodle cooking water, and rinse under cold running water.

While the noodles are cooking, season the tofu with a pinch of salt, toss with a small amount of oil, and cook in a large skillet over medium-high heat for a few minutes, tossing every couple minutes, until the pieces are browned on all sides.

Reserve a heaping tablespoon of the sesame paste, then thin the rest with 1/3 cup of the hot noodle water. In a large mixing bowl, combine the soba, half of the green onions, and the black sesame paste. Toss until well combined. Add the tofu and toss again gently. Serve topped with a tiny dollop of the reserved sesame paste and the remaining green onions.

Crunch & Munch

There are certain things in life that I’m willing to admit I’m pretty particular about. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not a long list, but nonetheless a list it is.

I like for my seat in the car to tilt back a decent amount. Call it thuggish, call it bad posture, whatevs – I have tried countless times to sit up straight like the little Asian ladies in their SUVs that I pass on the freeway, but for the life of me I just can’t do it. I won’t tell you what Chris says about that way I sit in the car, but let’s just say that he likes to sit up fairly straight. Surprised?

I like to wash my hair every other day. Not every day, not every three days, but every other day. Things get planned around this – for serious.

The kitchen has to be clean before I start cooking. Yes, I’ll be dirtying it up in no time, but I can’t seem to start off on the right foot unless the sink is empty and all dishes are put away in their place, including the dishwasher getting unloaded. I think this one’s a wee bit on the compulsive side, but I’m ok with it.

We definitely do not make the bed every morning. I rebelled here because it didn’t matter how late I awoke each morning or how close the bus was to getting to my house; that bed was made before I left the house or mom was having a hissy-fit. But! The sheets and comforter have to be straightened. The pillows aren’t perfect and the sheets aren’t even on each side (there is always less on my side because someone steals them every single night), but I hate getting into a bed that has wrinkly sheets. This one sounds a little weird, too….

I eat apples from top to bottom, going all the way around each time. I thought that was normal? None of that haphazard biting; my apple is clean and organized. Boo-yah!

Okay. I don’t want you to think I’m nutso; of course, maybe you did before you even started reading this, in which case I assuredly have only further enhanced that opinion. So here’s an easy one –

I like two types of food to always be crunchy, always. Soggy pieces need not apply and will render themselves useless. These are vegetables (broccoli specifically) and tofu. I can’t be alone here, can I? I realized this fact about veggies once I realized that I actually like veggies, just not the soft, mushy ones that seemed to dominate my childhood meals, most of which came from cans or long stints in boiling water.

As for the tofu, I blame Satay, the restaurant that made their tofu the only way I’ve ever really cared for it – moist, but crunchy, spongy in a way. I also blame Satay for my difficulty in finding a perfect pad thai, but that’s a story that’s already been told. Nonetheless, this is one of the reasons you see limited dishes with tofu here. But last week I made something that defied all odds: I made a dish that included BOTH crunchy broccoli(ni) AND crunchy tofu. It made me want to be a vegetarian.

Well, I take that back. It made me want to be a vegetarian for the whole five minutes it took me to clean my plate. But those five minutes were awesome.

Fried Tofu w/ Spicy Ginger-Sesame Sauce & Broccolini
tofu adapted from Food & Wine, December 2010; serves 2

printable version

time commitment: 30 minutes

ingredients
2 1/2 T soy sauce
1 T sugar
1 T crushed red pepper, divided
1 large garlic clove, very finely chopped
1/2 T toasted sesame oil
2 t finely grated fresh ginger
1 t toasted sesame seeds
One 14-ounce container firm tofu
Canola oil, for frying, plus 1 T for broccolini
1 scallion, thinly sliced
1 bunch broccolini
1/2 c uncooked jasmine rice

instructions
In a small bowl, whisk the soy sauce with the sugar, 2 t red pepper, garlic, sesame oil, ginger and sesame seeds.

Slice the tofu into 1-2″ strips. Dry the tofu with paper towels, pressing until no moisture remains.

Cook rice according to package directions and keep warm.

In a large skillet, heat 1/4 inch of oil until shimmering. Add the tofu and cook over moderate heat, turning once, until browned and crisp, about 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Spoon the sauce over the fried tofu and sprinkle with the scallion. Meanwhile, heat 1 T oil in a smaller skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, add broccolini and remaining teaspoon of red pepper flakes. Saute for ~3-4 minutes.

Serve tofu and sauce with broccolini and steamed rice.

Hello, Lover

Some of us get lucky in life. Sure, we all have our ups and downs; I don’t mean to say that you are either fortunate or unfortunate on all accounts. I’m speaking strictly about love here. What I’m trying to say, I think, is that those people who find true love – those people are lucky.

I’m lucky enough to be one of them.

In acknowleging said good fortune, I also appreciate that most people fall in love at least once in life. And when you fall in love, that feeling of happiness, of satiety, is one that at that particular time feels so permanent. Going without, or being without that love seems somewhat otherwordly.

And so, when I celebrated 4 years of marriage last week, to me it’s just another year of a bazillion I’ll spend with him. A bazillion years of drinking bottles of wine (barrels, rather), watching hours (days) of reality tv, repeatedly checking the time during Rush concert after Rush concert (do those guys ever quit??!!), jetsetting to country after country, and waking up day after day with the person I feel in my heart was meant for me.

I know for many, “forever” is only 1 year, or 5, or maybe 20 before it’s all said and done. Some good things, unfortunately, must come to an end. [For some reason, I just started singing a Every Rose Has It’s Thorn, but I reckon it’s somewhat appropriate to the tone of the sentence, no?]

Anyway, these “endings”, abrupt or slowly unraveling, don’t just occur in love. Sometimes, our favorite mascara gets discontinued, sometimes the movie theatre behind the mall closes, and sometimes, our favorite restaurant where we used to order our favorite dish vanishes into thin air. I’ve fallen victim to all of them, at one time or another.

But the restaurant-closing is probably the one that’s most relevant here: the restaurant that introduced me to “bibimbap” was open one day in December before the Christmas holiday, and by the time I’d returned it was shuttered. And although I ate there less than (maybe equal to) 5 times during it’s existence, I may or may not have died a little on the inside when I realized that the bowl of rice, veggies, and beef topped with fried egg and doused in Korean pepper paste would never again pass my lips.

I’m not afraid of recreating restaurant dishes. But you must agree with me here – you can recreate, or attempt to recreate, all you want. Sometimes it’s just never the same. And over a year I’ve held out, though I’ve looked up recipe after recipe for bibimbap. And finally, I decided I’d give it a try. But rather than recreating the exact dish, I took inspiration from a variation I came across, and tweaked it until it sounded a little more accurate.

Is it the most authentic bibimbap I’ve ever seen? Well, no. But I’m not looking for authenticity here. I’m looking for something reminiscent of that long, lost love. Something that’s pretty good right out of the gate, but with a couple more iterations and a little nurturing, it’s bound to be a love that will last forever.

Korean Bibimbap with Steak & Asparagus
Adapted loosely from Bon Appetit, April 2010; serves 4

like i said, you could leave this be and it’s going to knock your socks off, if you’re wearing them. i’ve already tweaked the pepper paste sauce a little, added some ingredients, and made a few changes to the marinade for the bulgogi. i added mushrooms to the ingredient list, because i kept wishing they were there with every bite. another suggestion is to try a short grain brown rice, which i remember being far superior. oh, and some corn would be nice too.

if you’ve had bibimbap before, i’d love to know what you think of it. it truly is a favorite of mine.

printable version

ingredients
1 lb New York strip steak, trimmed
3 T toasted sesame seeds, divided
1/2 c low sodium soy sauce
3 T + 2 t Asian sesame oil, divided
2 green onions, finely chopped
3 T light brown sugar, divided
1 T Chinese black rice vinegar
1 T garlic, minced
1 T fresh ginger, minced
1 t crushed red pepper flakes
3/4 t Maldon sea salt
1/2 t hot smoked paprika
4 T Korean red pepper paste (gochujang)
1 lb slender asparagus spears, trimmed
1 c carrots, sliced thinly
1 c enoki mushrooms, or other variety
2 t evoo plus additional for brushing
4 large eggs
4 cups freshly cooked medium-grain white rice
Kimchi, optional, for serving

instructions
place steak in freezer for 1/2 hour to make slicing easier. meanwhile, make marinade, paste mixture, and sesame salt.

bulgogi marinade
combine 1 T toasted sesame seeds, 1/2 c soy, 2 T sesame oil, green onions, 2 T brown sugar, black rice vinegar, garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes in medium bowl. once steak is somewhat firm, remove from freezer and slice crosswise into 1/8 thick slices. add to marinade and let marinate at room temperature for at least 1/2 hour. you can marinate overnight, if so remove from fridge at least 1/2 hour before cooking and let come to room temp.

paste mixture
combine 1 T sesame seeds, 2 t sesame oil, 1 T toasted sesame seeds, and 1 T brown sugar. set aside.

sesame salt
combine remaining 1 T sesame seeds, 3/4 t sea salt, and paprika in spice grinder or mortar and pestle. combine until somewhat smooth. set aside.

heat large skillet over medium-high heat. Toss asparagus with 2 teaspoons olive oil on large rimmed baking sheet. Sauté asparagus until crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Return to rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle sesame salt over; drizzle with remaining 1 tablespoon sesame oil. Tent with foil to keep warm, or place in warm oven. Repeat process with carrots or any other vegetables you use, adjusting cooking time as needed. Cook each vegetable separately.

Brush grill panor skillet with vegetable oil. Working in batches, grill steak until just browned, about 1 minute per side. Transfer to bowl; tent with foil to keep warm.

Crack eggs onto skillet. Cook until whites are set but yolks are still runny, 2 to 3 minutes.

Divide warm rice among bowls. Divide asparagus, carrots, then beef among bowls, placing atop rice. Top with fried egg. Serve with Korean hot pepper paste mixture and kimchi.

Seoul Food

These days, roaming street vendors carrying various delicacies are all the rage. I don’t know about you, but I distinctly remember the yellow Schwan ice cream truck, complete with that tantalizing bell, slowly cruising through my neighborhood once or twice a week when I was a kid. Those vendors were banking on the fact that we kids would be out romping around the yard and that, the second we heard that unmistakable melody, we’d sprint into the house to claim our allowance. For me, it was either fudge ripple or butter pecan, since those were the best.

In Chicago, we’ve been without these nomadic food trucks, other than those bearing ice cream and the tamale guy who isn’t in a truck, but on foot carrying a red cooler; he happened to dive into Lemmings one night after I’d stuffed my face with so much food I couldn’t stand the sight of corn husk. Just this month, Flirty Cupcakes came into town, selling ‘cakes by the neighborhood; apparently they were right near my building not long ago, but since I hadn’t yet followed them on twitter I sadly missed out…

You won’t ever catch me saying this again, but LA is where it’s at, at least when it comes to roving food trucks. The real newsworthy truck that seemed to start all the hype was Kogi BBQ, a local sensation that tweets the location of their 4 trucks (4!) chock full of Korean-Mexican fusion delights such as bbq pork tacos, kimchi quesadillas, and even Korean desserts. Aside from Kogi, there are dozens of these traveling trucks, and plenty of ways to find them including a site called Roaming Hunger. If it weren’t for all the things I dislike in LA, I’d move there for what sounds to be the best thing since sliced bread.

Thanks to the Flying Pig, I get to stay away from Los Angeles AND get a slice of LA’s famous treats. They’re featured in a recent Food & Wine issue, and have shared a recipe as a result. In LA, their ginormous pastel pink truck whizzes around town doling out steamed pork belly buns, tamarind duck tacos, and these crunchy Korean tacos that just happen to be made with …

… tofu. Yep, you got it. The bane of a meat lover’s existence, if truth be told. Me? I happen to adore tofu – it’s always part of any Thai dish I order; I love the way the little cubes soak up any flavor given to them, grasping for attention like a middle child or a wilting plant on my back porch. Misunderstood even, and often left aside.

But not here, folks. Swaddled in Korean pepper paste, tossed gently in cornstarch, and crisped perfectly, tofu is not your enemy here. More like the star of the show, the main attraction, the one you bring home to meet your parents knowing that this is the one that will change everything.

Korean Tofu Tacos
Adapted from Food & Wine via Flying Pig, May 2010; makes 8 tacos

The Korean chili powder and red pepper paste can be purchased online, but your best bet is a Korean grocer if there’s one in your area. In Chicago, that would be Joong Boo Market, where their Asian pears are the size of a grapefruit! I didn’t get the chili powder b/c I could only find ginormous bags of it, so I used hot smoked paprika instead.

printable version

ingredients
One 14-ounce package extra-firm tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes
3 T Korean chile powder or hot paprika
1 T Korean pepper paste (gochujang)
1 T finely grated garlic
1 T finely grated ginger
1 T toasted-sesame oil
Kosher salt
3/4 c cornstarch
2 c canola oil, for frying
8 corn or flour tortillas
4 T Hoisin sauce
kimchi (to taste)
1 medium-sized Asian pear, julienned
3 scallions, sliced thinly

instructions
Place the tofu on a towel and drain for at least 15 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine 1 T of the chile powder with the pepper paste, garlic, ginger and sesame oil and season with salt. In another large bowl, whisk the cornstarch with the remaining 2 tablespoons of chile powder and 1 tablespoon of salt.

In a medium, deep skillet, heat the oil until it reaches 365 F and preheat oven to 350 F. Add the tofu to the chile sauce and stir gently to coat. Scrape the tofu into the cornstarch mixture and toss to coat. Transfer the coated tofu to a colander to tap out the excess cornstarch. Fry the tofu in one batch, stirring occasionally, until golden and crunchy, 3 to 3 1/2 minutes; maintain the heat near 360 if possible. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the crunchy tofu to a paper towel–lined rack and sprinkle with salt. Meanwhile, wrap tortillas in aluminum foil and warm in oven for about 8 minutes.

Serve tacos and tofu with Hoisin (~1/2 T per taco), scallions, pear, and kimchi.