Many singles and couples find it difficult to cook at home, so here’s my first attempt at offering a tasty and easy ethnic recipe to try. This is a follow-up to a post I made last month on saving on grocery shopping by going ethnic, addressed mainly to the same audience.
A little preamble: I don’t do complicated dishes. I’m a pretty lazy person when it comes to cooking. (My hubby’s the one who likes long, complicated dishes that involve multiple pots and marinades, and yep, I know I really lucked out in this respect!) The recipes I like involve using only one pot, or two if noodles are involved, and are very forgiving when it comes to measuring, cooking time, and mixing. I find Asian home cooking fits this description very well. Half of the dishes out there involving fried rice or noodles are actually “new” dishes made from leftovers.
WARNING: This recipe is spicy. If you don’t like spicy dishes, you might be able to get away with not adding any peppers or chili sauce. I haven’t tried it that way yet, but I imagine it’d probably come out tasting a little teriyaki-ish. This recipe is also vegetarian, though if you wanted to, I’m sure you could substitute some pre-cooked chicken instead of the tofu, or add it in as an additional ingredient.
The original recipe was from a site called PepperFool.com, which posted a recipe called Spicy Garlic Noodles. I’ve adapted the ingredients a bit to suit my own tastes, but you can try their version too.
This recipe makes 2 servings, a full meal for two people. Prep time is about 5-10 minutes depending on how good you are at slicing and dicing, and cook time is another 10 min. or so (even faster if you own a wok and a gas stove).
3 scallions (green onions)
2 big handfuls of bean sprouts
3 baby bok choy (napa cabbage can be substituted, but doesn’t taste as good)
1 package firm tofu
2 Dried Thai chili peppers
5 cloves garlic (adjust to taste)
2 1/2 tsp Sugar
1/4 C Soy sauce
1/4 C Mirin (rice wine for cooking, or you can use sake), plus 2 Tbsp more
1 T Canola oil
1 T Sesame oil
1/2 Tbsp Chili paste (adjust to taste)
Salt (to taste, but not much)
Spaghetti (a little less than what you usually use for two people)
Sesame seeds (optional)
Fresh cilantro (also known as coriander, optional)
I know that cooking ethnic dishes with strange sounding ingredients might be intimidating the first couple of times, so I’ve included a picture of all the ingredients to the left. Ignore the “organic” label on the foods; it’s not a requirement. We just happened to buy a bunch of stuff from Trader Joe’s when we first moved here. Anyway, feel free to leave comments or questions below and I’ll try my best to answer them. These days, you can find all of the ingredients above at a Safeway or other mainstream store, or again, head to your local Asian grocer for better prices.
For the chili sauce, I use a particular kind called “Chili Black Bean Sauce” (pictured to the right) that can be found in larger Asian grocers. If you can’t find it (I couldn’t when I was visiting family in Tennessee), you can substitute some other type of chili sauce. The dish won’t taste exactly the same, but hey, variety is the spice of life. As you can see, we use this particular sauce often.
1) Rinse the green onions and carrots. Cut the top off of the green onions (the part where the roots are growing from). Clean and peel the carrots (if necessary). Julienne the green onions and carrots.
2) Soak and rinse the bean sprouts in a bowl. If you bought these pre-packaged, they’re probably pretty clean already. Just remove any floating debris or hulls from the beans and drain the water from the bowl. These are ready to go.
3) Rinse the baby bok choy. These you have to clean a little more carefully since they’ve got folds and crevices where bugs can hide. Chop off the white, tough part of the vegetable, and you should be left with leaves with a little bit of stalk. Rinse these again. Chop them in half if they’re long.
4) Smash and peel the garlic cloves. The easiest way to get rid of garlic skin is to take the side of your knife, lay it over the garlic clove, and carefully but forcefully hit the knife with the base of your palm. You can see the results to the right — the skin just falls off of the garlic. Chop off the hard piece at the top of the cloves and mince the garlic into little bits.
4) Open up the block of tofu and slice the tofu lengthwise so you’re left with long rectangles. Chop each rectangle into 1/2″ lengths. (The size isn’t critical since the tofu will break apart while cooking, but you just don’t want them too small.)
5) Bring a pot of water to boil to cook the spaghetti according to directions on the package (e.g. boil for 7 minutes, etc.). In traditional Italian cooking, salt and olive oil are added to the water, but don’t do it here, or else this dish will turn out really salty. You can cook the spaghetti while you’re making the other part of the dish, but just keep an eye on it to make sure the water doesn’t boil over and the spaghetti doesn’t overcook.
6) Heat up a skillet on med-high. A lot of Asian cooking is done really fast, using high heat. Once the skillet is hot and ready, put in the canola and sesame oils and turn the heat down to medium. Add in the green onions. Mix and cook these for about 30 seconds. Add in the thai chili peppers and chili paste (this might splash a bit). Add in 2 Tbsp mirin or sake. Cook for about 30 sec. more.
7) Add in the carrots and baby bok choy. Sprinkle some salt (not too much). Cook for 1 min. Add in the bean sprouts, cook for another minute. Add in the tofu and minced garlic. Mix everything together well. Add in the soy sauce, the 1/4 C mirin, and sugar. Let everything simmer for a few minutes. At this point, you can add in some cilantro if you like the flavor, but it’s not necessary.
8) Drain the cooked spaghetti and divide it into two large bowls. Set aside.
9) In the skillet, the water and juices from all the vegetables, plus the soy sauce and other liquid ingredients should have formed a sort of soup by now, and you can taste it to see if it needs adjusting. If it’s too salty or spicy, you can add water. Not enough salt or sweetness, add some soy sauce or sugar.
10) Remove the skillet from the burner. Divide the contents equally over the two bowls full of spaghetti. Garnish with cilantro, cut spring onions, or sesame seeds if you’d like.
I realize this is my first time writing a recipe for the public, and it might not be as clear as it is in my head. I also realize the preparation time is probably a lot longer than I stated in the beginning of this post until you’ve cooked it a few times. I find this recipe very flexible, and you can add or remove any vegetables from it that you’d like. (The original recipe calls for red peppers, for example.) You can’t really overcook this dish by adding some cooking time to each step, either, so don’t worry about that.
Any comments, questions, or suggestions are welcomed. I’d love to hear what you think, positive or negative. Enjoy!