Saturday, August 28, 2010

Korean Kimchi Pancake

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I love Korean food. After living in Los Angeles for a number of years, how can I not? Its abundance and my proximity to K-town made it my must have in Los Angeles. VB, too, loves Korean food. But it's not so easy to find vegetarian Korean food that's any good. All the Korean BBQ restaurants are automatically out. There's always the fear of chicken broth in any sort of tofu pots. Kimchi may or may not have shrimp paste. VB usually ends up with seafood pancake (hold the seafood) and tofu bibimbop (hold the raw egg yolk). It can be a bit sad, but fortunately at least we can make a decent kimchi pancake at home now.

I found this recipe on the New York Time's website under The Temporary Vegetarian feature by Elaine Louie. First of all, this recipe is... wonky. One cup of dry ingredients cannot be made into pancake batter by adding only one egg. I tried it (despite my disbelief when I first read the recipe) and the egg formed small clumps in the flour. Secondly, not all kimchi is made vegetarian. Of the few brands to choose from at my local 99 Ranch, only one did not contain shrimp paste. That may not matter to a temporary vegetarian, but it does to a permanent vegetarian.

That said, for my adapted kimchi pancake recipe, you'll need:
  • 1/2 cup of flour
  • 1/2 cup of potato starch
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup of water
  • 2 scallions, cut into 1 1/2-inch-long pieces
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of garlic, sliced thinly
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of Korean red pepper powder or cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 cup of prepared cabbage kimchi, cut in 3-inch-long pieces
  • 2 tablespoons of kimchi juice
  • 6 tablespoons of vegetable oil
Start by mixing potato starch with flour. Whisk in eggs and water. Add all the remaining ingredients except vegetable oil. Add about 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil to a non-stick skillet over medium high heat. When the oil is hot, ladle in about a third of the pancake batter. Spread the mixture out evenly. After about 3 to 5 minutes, lift the pancake and add another tablespoon of oil into the skillet. Flip the pancake and cook for another 3 to 5 minutes. The edges should be light brown and crispy. Repeat with the remaining pancake batter. You will get 3 to 4 pancakes.

For the dipping sauce, you'll need:
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon minced scallion 
  • 1/4 teaspoon sesame seeds
Mix together. That's it!

I only wish that my pancakes were spicier and a bit fluffier. If I had to do this all over again, I'd add even more cayenne pepper (that's just me!) and maybe some leavening agent that gives the pancakes more substance.

    Monday, August 23, 2010

    Healthy Blueberry Muffins

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    We eat a lot around here. But you hardly ever see desserts or sweets being featured on this blog. VB and I generally have different approaches when it comes to desserts. I always want to do it up, Paula Deen and this is why you're fat style. Bring on the butter, eggs, chocolate and ice cream! But VB wants to keep things light. You know, for his girlish figure. So we're often at an impasse and just skip dessert altogether.

    But I couldn't resist making blueberry muffins given the abundance of cheap and sweet blueberries. In order to entice VB, I made these super healthy blueberry muffins. These muffins are light and moist -- just sweet enough to satisfy my sweet tooth and healthy enough to keep VB happy. I think it turned out to be a great little compromise.

    You can find the recipe for these blueberry muffins here. My only modification to the recipe was substituting unsweetened soy milk for nonfat milk.

    Friday, August 20, 2010

    Tofu Gua Bao (素刮包)

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    Everyone loves comfort food that evokes good childhood memories. (Yes! Chalk that up as an universal truth -- along with "you'll never find what you are looking for at Trader Joe's even if you saw it yesterday" and "you'll always find a better parking spot after you've circled around for 15 minutes and parked a mile away.") Food memories can be so powerful. I know someone who made a taxi driver drive around the island of Macao in search of something that he ate when he was nine.

    I grew up on a steady diet of Taiwanese street food from vendors that used to park right outside my elementary school. I ate a lot of junk food (as all kids do at some point). And a lot of pork and porky parts. (Mmm, porky parts...) Instead of giving up that warm and fuzzy feelings I get from eating a piece of braised pork belly, I try to make a vegetarian version of my childhood favorites so VB (and piggies) can share those warm and fuzzy feelings. Although I'm sure he has many more fond memories attached to pizza.

    To that end, I made this Taiwanese gua bao with a piece of firm tofu instead of pork belly. You can easily substitute the tofu for pork belly and make a traditional gua bao. For those not in on the delicious awesomeness of this dish, gua bao is generally a piece of braised fatty pork that's stuffed into a steamed bun along with pickled mustard leaves, peanut powder and cilantro. You have to get the perfect bite with all the ingredients -- the soft sweet buns with the savory and tender pork, sweet peanut sauce, crunchy and sour mustard leaves and the freshness of cilantro. Excuse me. *wipe off drool* It's just not the same if you're missing a component.

    To make the braised tofu (or pork, I won't judge), you'll need:
    • 1/4 cup of soy sauce
    • 3/4 cup of Chinese cooking wine
    • 2 tablespoons of Chinese rice vinegar
    • 2 to 3 small pieces of rock sugar candy or 1 1/2 teaspoon of sugar
    • 1 1/2 cups of water
    • 3 stalks of scallion, chopped to 2-inch pieces
    • 3 slices of ginger, about 1/4 to 1/8-inch slice
    • 3 star anise pods
    • 8 cloves
    • 1 block of firm tofu, portioned into 6 slices
    • 1 tablespoon of canola oil
    • 1 pinch of salt
    You will also need:
    • 1 portion of cold water dough, divided into 6 pieces
    • cilantro leaves, torn off and don't bother chopping
    • 1/2 cup of shelled and blanched peanuts
    • 2 tablespoons of brown sugar
    • pickled mustard, chopped
    Start by pouring canola oil into a medium pot over medium-high heat. Begin to lightly pan fry star anise pods, cloves and ginger until fragrant, about 2 to 5 minutes. Add scallion and cook for another minute. Add all the liquid (water, soy sauce, cooking wine, rice vinegar), sugar and salt. Bring liquid to boil, then reduce to simmer. Add tofu and allow it to simmer for at least hour. Stir and flip the tofu occasionally. If you're cooking pork belly, expect to braise for a bit longer so the meat is tender.

    In the meantime, prepare dough and peanut sauce. To shape the dough, roll each piece into a ball and then flatten by hand into a disc. Roll disc to about 5-inch diameter in size. Fold in half. Slide a piece of waxed paper or parchment paper into the fold and between each bun. Steam for 20 minutes. I used a rice cooker; it makes life easier. To make peanut sauce, add peanuts and brown sugar to food processor. Pulse until the mixture becomes a fine granulated powder.

    To serve, open the bun along the fold, add braised tofu, chopped pickled mustard, peanut powder and cilantro. So. Good. I have to say, it's better with pork because the fatty meat gives it another dimension, but my tofu version is a good imitation and gives me those familiar warm and fuzzy feelings.

      Tuesday, August 17, 2010

      Fajitas + Trader Joe's Chicken-less and Beef-less Strips

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      This is my standard I-really-don't-have-time-to-cook-and-all-the-restaurants-are-closed-and-there's-no-way-I-will-eat-more-pizza-or-bad-Chinese-delivery dish. It's really pretty simple -- slice up one onion, one green bell pepper, one red bell pepper, one jalapeno pepper, add some mock chicken (or beef) strips and some salsa. Voila! Fajitas!

      It brings us to the second installment of the product review feature, where I eat fake meat and tell you just how they taste. Some are good, some are okay, others are just downright inedible. For our fajitas, I used Trader Joe's Chicken-less Strips and Beef-less Strips. These meat-less strips are mushy when compared to meat -- there is no density, chewiness or "meaty-ness" in these strips. The texture is all wrong and not at all similar to meat. But appearance-wise, these strips can fool you into thinking they are the real deal if you're not looking closely. If you bite into a strip, you can see that the cross section looks similar to the muscles in real meat.

      Taste is where these strips really fail to emulate meat. Before you ask, there is no significant difference in taste between the two products. If there is, then I'm sorry because my palate is not sophisticated enough to discern those subtleties. There are some red pepper flakes that are packaged in with the strips, but the strips are pretty bland and don't taste like either chicken or beef. But they don't taste like soy either, which is a big bonus. Spicy salsa is a good condiment to add to this product because it provides flavor that this product clearly lacks.

      Texture: 3.5 out of 5 stars
      Taste: 3 out of 5 stars
      Overall: 3 out of 5 stars

      In A Nut Shell: Meh. Not horrible, but not awesome. It's edible with some spicy salsa.

      Wednesday, August 11, 2010

      Potato and Fava Beans (Maybe) Empanadas

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      Food people are obsessed with names, labels and categories. If you call your dish something, then it'd better really be that something. Otherwise, you're in big big trouble, mister! You see that on all the cooking competition shows. I remember on Chopped, an ill-fated attempt at banh mi was publicly called out as being so not. On Top Chef, one of Tom Colicchio's biggest pet peeve also has to do with what a contestants calls one dish versus what s/he actually delivers.

      But does it really matter? Especially if it's delicious?

      To me, the bigger crime is always bad food, not poorly named food. The point of called a dish something is to set up some sort of boundary in defining what it is, like if I grilled corn I wouldn't call it fried rice. But whether the boundary is fuzzy or firm is up to the listener. If everything we cook is subject to strict scrutiny, then we should just all stop cooking. Because there's no way that my Chinese food is as authentic as my grandma's.

      I like to cook food that's out-of-the-box and hard to categorize. I'm not so concerned that Gordon Ramsay is going to call me a donkey for making unconventional, improper food. But I do want to make delicious food. Here, I made a potato and fava bean stuffed something. I struggled with what I wanted to call this. It's sort of like a perogie because it's stuffed with potatoes. It's sort of like a ravioli but I didn't boil them. It's sort of like an empanada but I didn't use puff pastry. It's sort of like a pot sticker, but I didn't pan fry it. It's sort of like a dumpling, because I used dumpling wrapper. And on and on that went in my head...

      I ended up with something totally unique and defies categorization. What I should call this bizarro creation is up for debate. But it's really delicious with the lemon herb sauce that I made. The original recipe that inspired this monster of a dish can be found here.