Vegetarian Chao Mian (Chow Mein) and Gai Lan

I’ve been craving a lot of Chinese food recently. I think it’s because I miss home and my mom’s delicious home-cooking. However, Chinese New Year just happened, so I took advantage of some of the sales at the Asian market and picked up some ingredients for some of my favorite comfort foods. Then I got a coupon for a discount off my next purchase so obviously I had to go back… Anyway, this is one of the meals I cooked for myself recently, and it’s been the perfect comfort food for the dreary and drizzly week we’ve been having here in Seattle.

I decided to make chao mian, then add a side of gai lan (Chinese broccoli) to have a little more green on my plate. I’ve never made gai lan, but it turns out, it’s super easy and fast! You just boil some water, drop the gai lan in, cook for a few minutes, and then remove it and you’re done! Drizzle a little oyster sauce on top and it’s just like off a dim sum cart.

As for the chao mian, I prefer the thicker noodles, so that’s what I used, but you can use whatever kind of stir fry noodles you’d like. You can also change up the vegetables to be whatever you’d like, this is just the combination I had on hand. I didn’t follow any specific recipe for the sauce, this is just the blend of flavors I always use and like, and it’s a combination of the Chinese sauces we keep in the fridge at home. I also don’t really use exact measurements, I just add sauces, mix it up, and taste it until I like what I taste.

So here’s my version of Chinese comfort food!

Chao Mian

Makes 6-8 servings

Ingredients

½ block of high protein tofu, sliced into thin rectangles

2 tsp olive oil

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

3-4 green onions, sliced

8-10 shiitake mushrooms, sliced

1 large carrot or about ¾ cup baby carrots, sliced thin

2 tsp canola oil

32 oz package noodles (I used miki noodles, a thick Shanghai stir fry noodle)

½ head of napa cabbage, sliced

Sauce (approximate measurements, I just pour sauces in and mix until the flavor is good)

3 tbsp soy sauce

2 tbsp hoisin sauce

1 tbsp oyster sauce

1 tbsp sesame oil

3 slices of ginger

1 tbsp marsala wine/cooking sherry

Directions

Mix up the sauce ingredients in a bowl or measuring cup. Slice the tofu and add to the sauce to allow it to marinate.

Chop the garlic, green onions, mushrooms, and carrots. Heat a deep skillet or wok over medium heat, then add the olive oil. Cook the garlic and green onions until fragrant, then add the mushrooms and carrots. Cook until slightly tender the mushrooms start to release their juices. Make a well in the middle of the vegetables and turn up the heat to medium-high. Heat the canola oil. Add the tofu to the skillet in the canola oil and allow to brown, stirring every couple minutes. Reserve the marinating sauce to add later.

Once the tofu is browned to your liking, add the noodles and the remaining sauce. Cover and allow to steam-cook for a few minutes to warm and soften the noodles. While you are waiting for the noodles to cook, chop the napa cabbage crosswise. Add the cabbage to the skillet and stir to incorporate the sauce. Reduce heat to medium or medium low and cook until the cabbage is as soft as you prefer. Stir the noodles to distribute the toppings, and serve warm. Enjoy!

Gai Lan

Makes 6 servings

Ingredients

2 bunches gai lan

Oyster sauce

Directions

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Drop in the gai lan and blanch for 2-3 minutes, longer if you want it softer. Remove from the water and drain.

In a small saucepan, thin the oyster sauce with a little water and cook over medium heat for a minute or so. Drizzle over the gai lan. Enjoy!

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Homemade Boba (Pearl Milk Tea, Bubble Tea)

I don’t know what you call this stuff, but I’ve finally converted to calling it boba. All my UCLA friends made fun of me for calling it PMT (pearl milk tea), since apparently that’s just a Palo Alto thing, but I’ve been in SoCal so long that now I default to boba. Pearl milk tea makes sense, since the tapioca balls are the pearls, and they’re in milk tea. But the tapioca balls are also called boba, so I guess that makes sense too. However, I guess the rest of the US calls it bubble tea and that’s just weird. What part of boba is like a bubble? Maybe the fact that they’re round. Are they hollow? No. Can you pop them? No. Anyway, whether you call it boba, pmt, bubble tea, pearl drink, or something different altogether, it’s delicious. This surprisingly refreshing combination of tea, milk, and chewy, sweet tapioca pearls has a special place in my heart. However, it’s getting more expensive around here (Often over $4 a drink? Really?!), so I’ve resorted to making it myself. It turns out to be a lot easier than I expected, and really tasty, since you can customize it to your exact preferences.

The hardest thing about making this is perfecting the pearls. I made these quite a few times before finding the optimal cooking ranges. Trial and error! I cooked some too little, so they were hard and chewy in the middle, and I cooked some too much, so they were soft and stuck to your teeth. But I think now I’ve figured out how to do it best. There’s a range, depending on how you like your pearls, but since you’re cooking it yourself, you can adjust as necessary! That’s the beauty of making it at home. Also important, use the pearls within a few hours of cooking, or they’ll get hard. Until you use them, leave them soaking in the simple syrup. They’ll just get sweeter and more delicious!

As for buying the pearls, I found mine at Ranch 99, the nearest Chinese supermarket to my home. It was something like $4.99 for 2.2 pounds of dried tapioca pearls, or 2.99 for 1 pound. They came in options of black or rainbow, and I opted for black, since the pearls they have in boba cafes are always of the black variety. I got the 2.2 pound package, because they were the better deal. Obviously. Also, you can never have too much boba.

Anyway, the tea is also cheap at Ranch 99, so I got myself some osmanthus tea, which I discovered was actually gui hua, a fragrant tree we have in our backyard. I only ever knew the Chinese name for it, so I was happy to find out that this fragrant flower yielded a subtly fragrant and refreshing tea. I also have learned to appreciate jasmine green tea, so I picked up a box of that as well, and I have made boba with both of these tea varieties. Play around with it, and find a tea that you like! Here’s the recipe I follow, roughly.

Homemade Boba (Pearl Milk Tea, Bubble Tea)

adapted from The Kitchn

Makes 1 serving, multiply as necessary

Ingredients

¼-⅓ cup dry black tapioca pearls (I use ⅓ but you can increase or decrease depending on your pearl to drink ratio preference)

¼ cup honey

¼ cup + 2 tbsp granulated sugar

⅓ cup hot water

1-2 tea bags of your choice, depending on how strong you like your tea (my favorites are osmanthus tea and jasmine tea)

¾ cup hot, almost boiling water

½ cup (or to taste) milk of your choice (I used soymilk)

Ice

Directions

In a measuring cup or bowl, combine the honey, ¼ cup of sugar, and hot water. The water just has to be hot enough to make a simple syrup, and this can also be achieved by adding cold water and microwaving and stirring until the honey and sugar dissolve.

Place the tapioca pearls in a pot and add enough water to have about an 2 inches above the level of the pearls. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring so the pearls don’t stick to the bottom, and boil for 5 minutes. Decrease heat to medium, add the extra 2 tablespoons of sugar, and simmer for 7-12 minutes. Do 7 if you prefer more chewy pearls, 12 if you prefer them super soft. Remember that when added to a cold drink, they will harden up a little bit, so cook them to be a little softer than you want in your drink, taste-testing encouraged!

In the meantime, steep your tea bag(s) in the almost boiling water. As the pearls cook, the tea will steep and cool. If you are making a warm drink, wait to do this step until about 5 minutes before you are done soaking the pearls.

After the pearls are cooked to your preference, drain the pearls and place in the simple syrup mixture. Allow the pearls to soak for at least 10 minutes, but the longer they sit, the more sweetness they will soak in.

Pour the cooled tea into a pint glass, then add the pearls, along with some of the simple syrup. Add the milk to taste, then sweeten with simple syrup to taste. If you desire a colder drink, add ice to the glass. Place a straw in and enjoy your homemade boba!

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Tip: Next time you buy boba, take a few extra straws, so for every time you splurge out, you can enjoy your own homemade variety at home a few times! Or you can use a spoon to scoop out the pearls, but it’s not quite the same experience.

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Boba time!

Sweet Potato Black Bean Patties with Thai Peanut Sauce

Happy Monday! Although I guess it’s Tuesday now. Anyway, some exciting news, my ultimate frisbee team spent the last weekend at SoCal Sectionals, and we won! I’m so glad to be part of this team, and I can’t wait for Regionals, then hopefully Nationals coming up later in May.

Anyway, that’s just a quick little celebration, but now onto the food. Sweet potatoes were on sale a while ago, so I got inspired to make these patties. I served them with some roasted vegetables and topped it off with a delicious thai peanut sauce. I had leftover sauce, so I ended up using it as salad dressing and a dip for carrots and other raw veggies. It was amazing! The patties were also quite good, with plenty of sweetness from the sweet potatoes, and packed with protein from the beans. Here’s the recipe!

Sweet Potato Black Bean Patties with Thai Peanut Sauce

Ingredients

Patties

2 medium sweet potatoes

Half a sweet onion, chopped

1 15oz can black beans, drained

1 bunch green onions, chopped

1 cup cooked brown rice

2 eggs

Thai Peanut Sauce

3/4 cup lite coconut milk (half of a 14oz can)

1/2 cup peanut butter

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup agave nectar

2 tbsp red curry paste

Directions

For the patties, cook the sweet potatoes using your method of choice-either roast them at 400˚F until soft (about 40 minutes) or microwave for about 7 minutes. Allow to cool, then scoop out the insides.

Preheat the oven to 375˚F and line baking sheets with parchment. Combine the sweet potato, onion, beans, green onions, and brown rice in a food processor and process until loosely combined but still chunky. Mix in the eggs until a doughy mixture forms. Scoop out 1/4 cups of patty mixture and form into round patties. Place on the baking sheets. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until the patties are set and dry on the outside. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

For the sauce, combine all ingredients in the food processor and pulse until well-incorporated. Add warm water as necessary to thin sauce to your desired consistency. Drizzle over patties. Enjoy!

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The Thai peanut sauce really adds to the flavor of these patties

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Asian Sesame Eggplant Shiitake Frittata

Hello world! I know it’s been a long time since my last post, but I’ve been in a study hole for the last few weeks. Midterms, papers, more midterms, more papers… Yay quarter system. This post will be quick so I can get back to work, but I wanted to share this recipe with you.

I never really liked eggs, but I’ve recently discovered that if they are flavored correctly, they can be quite delicious. One of my new favorite flavors for eggs is adding sesame oil and green onions, to give it a distinct asian flair. I added some other asian sauces, eggplant, spinach, and shiitake mushrooms to this frittata to make it a well-rounded meal. The whole thing is quick to come together and bakes right in the cast iron skillet that you cook the vegetables in, so it’s a easy and delicious meal. Here’s the recipe!

Asian Sesame Eggplant Shiitake Frittata

Ingredients

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 bunch green onions, chopped

1 eggplant, diced

1/2 cup dried shitake mushrooms, rehydrated and chopped

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp hoisin sauce

8 oz frozen spinach, thawed and drained

8 eggs, beaten

1 tsp rice vinegar

1 tbsp sesame oil

2 tbsp soy sauce

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp black pepper

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat. Add the green onions and eggplant and saute until the eggplant is soft. While the vegetables are cooking, preheat the oven to 350˚F. Add the mushrooms and spinach, along with the soy sauce and hoisin sauce and stir to incorporate the flavors.

In a separate bowl, beat the eggs. Whisk in the rice vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce, ginger, and pepper. Pour the eggs over the vegetables and stir quickly to evenly distribute the vegetables. Allow to cook for a couple minutes, then transfer the skillet to the oven. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until a knife inserted comes out clean and the frittata is set. Remove from the oven, allow to cool, then slice and serve. Enjoy!

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A frittata full of delicious asian flavors

 

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Spaghetti Squash Pad Thai

Happy Friday! Time to welcome in the weekend. How better to do that than with a great new recipe? My thoughts exactly. Here’s another spaghetti squash recipe, with an asian flair. I’ve been making lots of spaghetti squash and other fall squash because it’s only 99 cents a pound at Ralph’s, and I love fall squashes. Butternut squash and sweet potato are my favorites, but I’m learning to love spaghetti squash as a pasta substitute, and I’ve done a little experimenting with acorn squash, although I still prefer butternut, since it’s sweeter. I want to try things with kabocha squash in the future, and maybe pumpkin, but buying canned pumpkin is just so easy, we’ll see if I get around to it.

Anyway, back to today’s recipe. I had a bottle of pad thai sauce in my cabinet, a few leftover green onions, and a craving for thai food. Combine all these things (plus a few other things in my pantry and a trip to Ralph’s) and you get spaghetti squash pad thai!

I know, using store-bought pad thai sauce seems a little bit like cheating, but it did make my life significantly easier, otherwise you have to by tamarind juice, fish sauce, and a bunch of other ingredients just to make a little bit of sauce, not to mention the time it takes. That’s my excuse anyway. To make this dish, I roasted up the spaghetti squash, sauteed up all the pad thai ingredients, then flavored the spaghetti squash with the pad thai flavor, and garnished the finished product with some chopped peanuts. It was a great fall meal, and made several days worth of delicious leftover for lunch!

Spaghetti Squash Pad Thai

Makes 4-5 servings

Ingredients

1 large spaghetti squash

2 tbsp olive oil, divided

2 cloves garlic, minced

4 green onions, chopped

1 14oz block extra firm tofu, sliced into strips

1/2-3/4 cup pad thai sauce (or make your own)

3 eggs, well beaten

1/2 cup peanuts, chopped, for garnish

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400˚F. Slice the ends off the spaghetti squash, then cut in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and pulp, then brush half the olive oil over the surface of the squash. Place cut side down on a baking sheet and roast for 25-35 minutes, until easily pierced with a fork. Set aside to cool, then scoop out the spaghetti squash strands (I did this part the day before to cut down on time the next day).

While the squash is cooling, prepare the rest of the pad thai. Heat the other half of the olive oil over medium heat in a skillet, then add the garlic, green onions, and tofu. Saute until the tofu is browned. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Scoop out the spaghetti squash strands and add to the pan with the pad thai sauce. Cook for about 5 minutes, until the squash has soaked in the sauce and is heated through (or closer to 10 minutes if you cooked the spaghetti squash the night before). Once the spaghetti squash is heated through, make a well in the middle of the squash, turn the heat to low, and pour in the beaten eggs. Scramble the eggs, then once they are almost cooked, incorporate them with the spaghetti squash. Add in the tofu, garlic, and green onions and mix to combine. Serve immediately, garnished with chopped peanuts. Enjoy!

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Grab some chopsticks and take a bite!

Vegetarian Eggplant “Meatballs”

Everyone asks me how I don’t eat meat. Well, it’s pretty easy when I haven’t eaten meat my whole life, and when I can make delicious eggplant meatless balls like these! I found this recipe over at Dash of East and I was inspired. I didn’t use Japanese eggplant since normal eggplant was on sale, but I did use Asian flavorings so I stuck with the Asian theme. These were amazing, and super easy to pull together. I like the fact that they’re baked, which means I don’t have to stand over a hot stove, yay! Although the oven does heat up the house a little… Oh well, you win some you lose some. But these vegetarian meatballs are definitely a win! They’re super flavorful, savory with a touch of sweet, crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. Pure vegetarian goodness. I served them over a healthified coleslaw, (something like this, except without the sugar) and the combination was simply delicious. My meat loving friends enjoyed them as well, so that says something! Here’s the recipe!

Vegetarian Eggplant “Meatballs”

adapted from Dash of East

Ingredients

1 eggplant, sliced

Salt

2 tsp olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tbsp ginger, minced

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp hoisin sauce

3 green onions, chopped

2 eggs

1 cup breadcrumbs

Directions

Sprinkle the eggplant slices with salt and allow to sit for 10 minutes to draw out water. While the eggplant is resting, chop the garlic, ginger, and onions. Once the eggplant is done resting, dice it into 1/2 inch cubes.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and eggplant and saute until the eggplant is tender.

Preheat the oven to 400˚F and line baking sheets with parchment paper. In a large bowl, stir together the eggplant, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, green onions, eggs and breadcrumbs. Stir until the mixture becomes sticky and holds together. Drop spoonfuls, about 2 tbsp each (I used a large cookie scoop) of the mixture onto the baking sheets. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the outsides are well-browned and crispy and the insides are tender. I sacrificed one by cutting it open to test for doneness. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Serve over coleslaw. Enjoy!

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Veggie ingredients!

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Crisp on the outside, juicy on the inside. Delicious!

Nian Gao (Chinese New Year Rice Cake)

I love Asian markets. My friend took me to one yesterday, and walking down the aisles was like a walk down memory lane. They had the peanuts with the shells still on, and it reminded me of when I would sit at the table with my grandpa and we would just crack and eat peanuts, making a huge pile of peanut shells on a napkin between the two of us. All the different types of noodles just made me crave my mom’s cooking, and a good stir fry. But the main reason we went to the Asian store was to get nian gao, the flat, oval, sticky rice cakes which are delicious stir-fried in a simple sauce. While classified as a rice cake, they’re sort of a mix between noodles and rice cakes. This is a savory version, but sweet versions of nian gao are also made for dessert, but tend to come more in block or log form, rather than the oval noodle form used for this dish. I actually don’t really like the sweet kind, but the stir-fried variety is my favorite dish, and something I can eat an embarrassing amount of in one sitting. Good thing I had plenty of friends to share it with last night, or I would have ended up eating the whole thing by myself!

The sauce for this dish is very simple: soy sauce, oyster sauce, a bit of sugar, a splash of wine, and a couple slices of ginger. They all come together to give this dish a lightly sweet and deliciously savory flavor. I love how the sticky rice cakes soak in the flavor, and I love their soft, chewy texture. The noodles are complimented by cabbage, mushrooms, and marinated tofu, although you can really add whatever vegetables you like. This would be great with bok choy, any kind of meat, carrots, and a variety of other vegetables. This is just my personal favorite version.

Nian Gao (Chinese New Year Cake)

Makes 8 servings

Ingredients

24 oz rice cakes, found at Asian markets

19 oz extra firm tofu, sliced

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup oyster sauce

2 tbsp white wine

5-6 slices fresh ginger

1 tbsp sugar

1 tsp olive oil

4 green onions, sliced

1 tbsp crushed garlic

4 oz shiitake mushrooms, sliced

1 head cabbage, shredded

Directions

Two hours before you plan to serve dinner, place the rice cakes into a large bowl, then cover with very hot or boiling water and allow to soak for at least an hour, until the rice cakes soften.

Slice the tofu into thick matchsticks, then place in a shallow dish. Whisk together the soy sauce, oyster sauce, wine, ginger slices, and sugar, and pour over the tofu. Cover and refrigerate, allowing the tofu to marinate for at least an hour. While the noodles soak and the tofu marinates, you can slice all the vegetables.

When you are ready to start cooking, heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Toss in the green onions, mushrooms, and garlic and sauté until lightly browned and fragrant. Add the cabbage and a splash of water, cover, and allow the cabbage to wilt. The cabbage should reduce to about half the volume. Remove the veggies from the saucepan.

Drain the rice cakes and add to the pan over medium heat. Add the tofu and marinade and stir to coat the noodles with sauce. Heat until the noodles and tofu are heated through, then add the vegetables back in and stir to combine. Serve warm. Enjoy!

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Letting the noodles soak is important to do a couple hours ahead of time, so they soften up in time to cook!

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Another great thing about the sauce is that it acts as a marinade and a sauce

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Cook the veggies first

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Then the noodles and tofu

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Then mix it all together!

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The best Chinese comfort food 🙂