Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Some Like It Hot! (and Spicy!)

I was in the mood for something hot and spicy. Something to take the chill off. Even though it’s the end of April, and we should be full into our dry season by now, with temperatures to match, it’s raining. Again. And ‘cold’. For us, anyways. And clouds!

I mean, what’s goin’ on? This doesn’t happen here! People don’t know how to react.

The ski attire already folded away (the mountains are just an hour away), the new beach wear already purchased and just waiting for a hot weekend (depending on traffic, the beach is also just an hour away). Usually our biggest problem is what sun tan lotion to use - SPF 35 or 50.

And then it rains. Everyone is kind of frozen, not having the exact right look to sport in this unusual situation. And the cars! My god! The Lamborghinis! The Maseratis! And for the poor working people, the Porsches, BMWs and Mercedes! All the convertibles with their tops up! All spotted up with rain drops! No way to show off all that new cosmetic surgery in something like that. Where’s the glam? All very un-sexy and bohemian. You’d think this is San Francisco or something ; )

So – we need it hot and spicy (food, that is).

But I also wanted to use my new black soy sauce we found the other day. I know, I know, all soy sauce is basically black, but this is a style of soy sauce that is thick like molasses, and sweet. It still has some of the salty taste of ‘regular’ soy sauce, and is made from fermented soy beans, but has a totally different taste to it. Very rich in flavor.

So it seemed to me that some of the Szechwan-style recipes that often call for both soy sauce and sugar to balance the hot chilies might work with this black soy sauce.

I was not too successful finding just the right recipe, however. So I combined a few of the concepts to create my own. Based on something like a Kung Pau’s style, but using Tofu instead of pork (low fat for Teengirl’s bikini), and with peanuts. And, since I had some here, edamame. Kind of provides a balance between the hard peanut and the soft tofu.

The sauce is just ginger, garlic, Szechwan-style chili-garlic paste, and the black soy sauce. With some hot chilies thrown in for extra fire.

All of this served over pea shoots as the vegetable. Though I’d never noticed them until recently, they are available everywhere for a good price. I saved a few of the tendrils for garnish, and my bunch had a number of small white flower buds on it, which I also used for garnish.

And as a base, pan-fried Chinese noodles.

The flavor was very nice - a good balance of hot and sweet. The chili-garlic paste adds a deeper component than just garlic alone. The sweetness of the black soy sauce helped tie everything together into a harmonious balance. And vegetarian, but with a very high protean content.

Szechaun-Style Tofu and Peanuts on Wilted Pea Shoots with Pan-Fried Noodles

2 tubs tofu – firm, drained on paper towels for 1 hour
1 cup peanuts, roasted, unsalted
1 cup shelled edamame (reserve a few for garnish, if desired)
2 tbsp minced fresh ginger
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp Szechuan chili garlic paste
2-3 tbsp black soy sauce
hot chilies – # depends on type (I used 2 Serrano) – minced
½ tsp sesame oil
peanut oil for frying
1 cup stock
1 tbsp cornstarch, mixed into stock
1 bunch snap pea shoots, washed and roughly chopped, ends trimmed (reserve a few tendrils for garnish if desired)
4-5 slices fresh ginger
fresh Chinese style noodles
Garnish – a few pea shoot tendrils and some edamame nuts

Cut tofu into eating sized pieces. Drain thoroughly on paper towels.

Bring large pot of water to a boil. Heat 2 tbsp peanut oil in a large heavy skillet. Cook Chinese noodles in boiling water for 1 minute, remove to a colander to drain, and place immediately in hot skillet. Spread noodles to cover pan bottom. Pan fry noodles over medium heat until browned on one side, turn, and brown on other side. Remove to a serving plate and keep warm.

Heat Wok or large heavy pan till very hot. Add 2-3 tbsp peanut oil. Add tofu, and lightly brown on one side. Turn and brown on other side, and remove to a plate.

Add 1-2 tbsp peanut oil to pan. Add ginger slices, and sauté for 1 minute. Add pea shoots, and sauté, stirring, until just wilted. Remove to a separate plate, cover and keep warm.

Add 1-2 tbsp peanut oil to pan. Add tofu, peanuts, edamame and hot chilis, and sear, stirring gently, for 1-2 minutes. Add minced garlic, minced ginger, black soy sauce, and garlic chili paste. Stir gently until coated. Add stock with cornstarch, stirring gently until thickened. Add sesame oil at very end, stir lightly, and remove pan from heat.

Arrange pea shoots on noodles. Arrange tofu mixture on top of pea shoots. Garnish with a few pea shoot tendrils and edamame. Serve. Enjoy!

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