Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Blistered Shishito Peppers with Smoked Sea Salt

I tend to grow chiles in the garden (or Earthbox, usually) that are too hot to eat a lot of. Trouble is, pepper plants produce a TON of chiles, so I toddle outside throughout the season and collect a Serrano (or habanero or jalapeno or black cobra chile) or two for whatever dish I'm making and the rest of the thousands of chiles I grow are destined to be harvested, frozen, and eventually turned into hot sauce. Bell peppers are just okay for me, and anchos are kind of huge to just eat.
A few years ago, I was at Wine Vault & Bistro in Mission Hills and the waitress recommended Shishitos, since they were in season and kind of a rarity.


No, they're not spicy. OK, it's a little like Russian Roulette- about one pepper in 50 is spicy- but that's fun, right?

These are my favorite fried finger food type thing ever. These beat out french fries, calamari, onion rings, jalapeno poppers and anything else you can think of in this terribly guilt inducing fried finger food category. And here's the best part- they're not NEARLY as bad for you as any of those. They're not breaded, they don't need to be dipped in anything. They're like a fry that doesn't need ketchup and isn't made of starch! They're healthier and actually taste better than the unhealthy alternatives you're used to. And they're waaaaay less labor intensive to make- in fact, they whip up in about 5 minutes. When does that ever happen? Never, that's when.

Handful of shishito peppers with stems left on (can be found readily in asian markets when in season)
2 Tbsp peanut oil
2 big pinches of finishing salt (whatever you like to use when you really want the salt to be special/not something you'd dissolve into food- I have an applewood smoked sea salt from Dean & Deluca that I love with these)

Heat the oil in a shallow saute pan until shimmering but not smoking.

Add the peppers (make sure they're dry or you'll have scary hot oil spattering everywhere) and give the pan a shake so they spread out.

Leave them alone for 30 seconds, then give them another shake. Leave them alone another 30 seconds, then use your tongs to check one. It should look like the skin is blistering/beginning to char a little. Once that happens, flip the peppers over and cook this way, shaking and flipping until they're nicely blistered. It should take no more than 5 minutes- you don't want them cooked all the way through to the point that they're completely floppy.

Remove from the pan onto paper towels and drain. Sprinkle well with salt, plate, then give them another hit of salt. Don't eat the stems, and try not to burn your mouth. :)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Vegan Agedashi Tofu

Agedashi Tofu is one of my favorite dishes. It's so simple and delicious. The sauce is the only thing about this that is traditionally not vegan, so it was easy to veganize without sacrificing flavor or texture or anything. The tofu should be like custard inside a light and crispy fried crust. I can never wait for it to cool and invariably burn the hell out of my mouth the first few bites.
Crispy on the outside, custardy on the inside, with a delicate, savory, sweet, and salty shiitake sauce.
1 package silken tofu (the kind that comes in the cardboard box, not the plastic water pack!)
2 Tbsp potato starch (cornstarch works fine too)
Salt & Pepper (my weird westernized preference, totally optional)
Oil for frying (I use corn or peanut)

1/2 c. vegetarian shiitake dashi (I buy granulated dashi you just add water to)
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. mirin
Green onions, sliced for garnish

Place a folded up paper towel on a plate and put the block of tofu on the paper towel. Cut the tofu with a sharp knife into cubes that you feel like you can handle without them falling apart. Small cubes are good, but they're very delicate. Gently spread out the cubes on the paper towel and drain for 10 minutes while you gather your other ingredients. Replace the paper towel by folding up another towel, laying it on the tofu cubes, place another plate on top, gently squeeze the plates together and flip the whole thing. Remove the top plate and wet paper towel that used to be on the bottom, and drain for another 10 minutes while you make the sauce.

Combine the dashi (or granules & water), soy, and mirin in a microwave safe dish and nuke for 1 minute. Stir and continue zapping, 1 minute at a time until hot.

Heat the oil to about 360F degrees. I usually don't check exact temps for frying, I just wait until the oil looks shimmery and then drop a test piece of food in to see if it sizzles how I like. You need enough oil to come up about halfway up the sides of the tofu cubes.

Put the potato or cornstarch (and salt and pepper, if using) in a container with a lid and add half the tofu cubes. Gently toss the tofu cubes so they're lightly coated. Don't do this step early- coat the tofu with the potato starch right before you fry them.

Add the tofu to the oil, try not to let them touch or they'll stick together, and fry for about 5 minutes on the first side. Then flip them over and fry for another 3-5 minutes, until they're golden brown.

Remove the tofu from the oil and drain on a paper towel. Fry the second batch and drain as well. Now would be a good time to zap the sauce for another 30 seconds to reheat. Add a few pieces of tofu to a small bowl and add some of the sauce. Sprinkle with green onion and serve.

Try not to burn your mouth. ;)