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Amory with Cooper

My wife Amory looks forward to Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday Cooking with Chala meals. Interesting recipes, created in another family’s kitchen, translate into a diversity of flavors and no sink of encrusted pots to scrub. Clean-up’s her job at home and who doesn’t like fewer bullets on the To-Do list?      

Last March, Christian and I began cooking with healthy recipes extracted from The Blue Zones Kitchen. Six months later, we use a mixture of books and websites. Christian likes to grab recipes off Knifeforkswoon.com and gimmesomeoven.com. We adjust recipes to our own tastes and identify our favorites. We don’t use the same recipes twice, although in a moment of spontaneity, Christian may get out the mayo and mirin (similar to rice vinegar) for a tried-and-true favorite like Yum Yum sauce to accent shrimp or spring rolls or even plain rice.

Which reminds me, it’s time to answer Amory’s what’s-for-dinner-tonight question.

“It’s Asian food week,” I said.
“Huh?” she responded. “How does last night’s pork carnitas tacos follow that theme?
“We were going to make Five-Spice Tofu with Noodles,” I explained, “but Leslie [my daughter, Christian’s mom] had a HELLO FRESH meal kit that needed to be used and tacos were the menu item. Besides, I wanted to see what was in that neatly packaged paper bag.

Photo by Chad Montano

HELLO FRESH is a company like BLUE APRON. They make doorstep deliveries of pre-measured ingredients based on selections the subscriber has chosen. Aside from a shortlist of basics such as salt, pepper, or olive oil, the recipient must provide, everything else is there, including cute little containers of vinegar and mustard and squeezable packets of sour cream. A menu card with simple instructions and pictures tells the most minimalist cook what to do. From paper bag to the table, the carnitas tacos took us forty-five minutes to prepare (the company estimated thirty-five minutes) and had unfamiliar (to us) elements we enjoyed trying: poblano pepper and pickled onion. The final evaluation? culinary equivalents of thumbs up and high fives.  Check out HELLO FRESH’s recipe and instructions: Pork Carnitas

Asia Oriental Market, Bellingham

With Mexico in the kitchen’s rear-view mirror, despite the availability of all our ingredients at local supermarkets, we headed to an Asian grocery store to see what curiosities might grab our attention. The shelves were stacked high with colorful products we’d never heard of: cooked salt duck eggs, Pan Pan Bread Roll Cream, Meco Peach Pink Grapefruit Treat. Narrow aisles and little possibility of social distancing kept our visit short. We left with Pocky Sticks for snacking, a block of compressed tofu (water removed), and a packet of five-spice powder.

Five-Spice is composed of star anise, cloves, Chinese cinnamon, peppercorns, and fennel seed and is supposed to impart all five senses of taste—sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and savory. Finely granulated, the spice looks like milled dirt. I stabbed some on the end of my finger—I tasted and smelled mild hints of fennel (licorice) and cloves. Five-spice is common in Asian recipes. Since Christian doesn’t like licorice, he was pleased that the smell of fennel did not dominate the finished product.

 All family members enjoyed bowlfuls of piled up tofu, yakisoba noodles along with a halo of al dente broccoli, and generous amounts of tangy, sweet hoisin sauce. The medley of hoisin and five-spice, the heat of sriracha, the chunky comfort of yakisoba noodles all worked together to dress up the well-known blandness of tofu. We both assigned the recipe to our keeper binder. You might like it for yours.

Five Spice Tofu and Hoisin Yakisoba Noodle Bowl

INGREDIENTS FOR TOFU SAUCE
1-pound extra firm tofu (we don’t recommend compressed tofu–too cardboard like).
1 pound yakisoba noodles
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon five-spice powder

INGREDIENTS FOR HOISIN YAKISOBA NOODLE SAUCE
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon sriracha
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions
toasted sesame seeds

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Tofu Sauce: Whisk together hoisin, rice vinegar and five-spice powder and set aside.
  2. Hoisin Sauce: Stir together soy sauce, rice vinegar, ginger pressed through a garlic press, garlic powder, sriracha, and black pepper. Set aside.
  3. Yakisoba Noodles: Boil the yakisoba noodles according to the package. Drain the water off and set aside.
  4. Tofu: Drain the water off the tofu and press slices between layers of paper towels. Let rest for 15 minutes. Slice into ½ inch cubes. Heat oil, sauté for 10 minutes until crisp, flipping often.
  5.  Add the sauces appropriate to each dish.
  6. Toss in handfuls of sesame seeds and green onions for added texture, and visual appeal.

Next Asian experiment: I’ve requested 101 Asian Dishes You Need to Cook Before You Die by Jet Tila from the library. Besides learning Asian cuisine from his Cantonese grandmother, Tila studied at Le Cordon Bleu and the California Sushi Academy. His parents started Bangkok Market, the first Thai grocery store in Los Angeles. Jet grew up, doing his homework in the back room of the store. He has created some striking combinations of food: Burnt Milk Ice Cream and Korean BBQ Short Ribs on Coke—by which he means the cola…not the drug.

P.S. Jet Tila’s cookbook just came! I think I’m going to buy it. Christian and I look forward to experimenting with many new Asian recipes, although….hint…we do switch culinary directions often!

Happy Cooking from us both!

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