In Which I Cope with Stress by Eating the Same Food Over and Over Again, Or Mee Goreng

If you went to college with me, you must know that in times of homesickness and stress, my pining for my mom’s homemade pierogi was only every rivaled by my pining for Indian Mee Goreng–a noodle dish that has been perfected at Nyonya, an amazingly flavorful and very friendly-on-the-pursestrings restaurant in my native neighborhood of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. It is a place where I am frequently confronted with dishes that I could eat just about all day, everyday–I have said that it would be difficult to choose between my mother’s cooking and Nyonya’s if ever I had to pick one cuisine to eat for the rest of my life–even though I often have very little clue as to what I am actually eating at Nyonya’s. Of course, the menu makes it clear what protein is in most items, but when it comes to figuring out what spices are in Nyonya’s homestyle Malaysian dishes, I almost always draw a complete blank.

Nom Nom Goreng

So imagine my delight when I found a recipe for not only a Malaysian dish, but my favorite Malaysian dish, in Ottlenghi’s Plenty. I should have figured–the man seems to read my mind. And yet, I could not bring myself to make it–what if it didn’t live up to my expectations? What if the flavors were nothing like Nyonya’s? I discovered that mee goreng translates to stir-fried noodles, of which I am sure there are about as many Malaysian variations as there are American variations of chili. Was I about to go down a rabbit hole of obscure-ingredient-seeking and perpetual disappointment in my renditions of my favorite dish?

Plus Bok Choy

I was crippled by fear and anxiety that I could not get it right, and for that reason, I tucked the recipe away, and contented myself with visiting Nyonya’s every few weeks instead. And yet, in the past few weeks, as I have found myself even more crippled by having to choose what graduate school I will attend next year, I was drawn to this recipe. I know it will not taste exactly the same, I told myself, but wouldn’t it be nice to know I could make something akin to my favorite restaurant meal at home? Wouldn’t that be comforting and reaffirm for me that there are some things in this world I am quite capable of figuring out?

I Should Clean My Stove

So I braved it, and made my first attempt at homemade mee goreng. Was it everything I had hoped for? No. Did I indeed end up making it for several days in a row, altering the recipe each time in what seemed a never-ending quest for perfection? Yes. But I am happy to say, I have arrived at the ideal recipe for home-cooked comfort and flavor, and though it doesn’t taste much like Nyonya’s, I crave it just as much.

Stir It Up

Mee Goreng

Adapted from Ottolenghi’s Plenty

Makes 2 servings

2 tablespoons peanut oil

1/2 yellow onion, diced

8 ounces firm tofu, cut into 1/2 inch thick strips

4 ounces green beans, trimmed and cut in half

4 ounces bok choy, cut into large chunks

2-3 servings rice noodles, cooked and drained (Use your favorite, though I recommend thin rice noodles.)

1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

2 teaspoons sambal oelek (This is very similar to Sriracha, and can be found next to it in the grocery store.)

2 teaspoons thick soy sauce

2 teaspoons light soy sauce

2 teaspoons brown sugar

2 teaspoons Mike’s hot honey (You can substitute 2 teaspoons of honey and a generous pinch of chili powder.)

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon water

2 ounces bean sprouts

shallots, finely diced and fried in peanut oil

lemon wedges, to serve with

Shallot Frying

Place a large wok over high heat. Add the peanut oil, and once it has warmed up, add the onion. Cook for about two minutes to soften the onion, and add the tofu and green beans. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes–until the tofu is slightly golden brown.

Tofu Beans

Add the bok choy, and cook until it wilts. Add the noodles, spreading them over the whole wok so they get a good amount of heat. You want to almost let them fry. Mix, and cook for about 3 to 5 minutes. Finally, add the spices, sauces, sugar, honey, and water, as well as the bean sprouts. Mix well (but carefully not to break up the tofu), and cook for about 2 minutes, until everything is well incorporated.

Plus Noodles

Top with the fired shallots and lemon wedges.

Mee Goreng

Tomato, Cilantro, and Semolina Soup

Have you ever used your finger to wipe a bowl of cake batter clean? How about cookie dough? I know, who hasn’t? But…have you ever used it to wipe every possible last remnant from a giant pot of soup? I hadn’t, before today. You probably have not either, but prepare yourself, because you are about to.

Soup Garnished

I should have expected this, given that this recipe comes from Ottolenghi. Ever since I stumbled upon his cafe in London last year, and his cookbook shortly thereafter, I have only been pleasantly surprised and inspired by his vegetarian recipes. Where others would add cream or a mountain of spices for more flavor, Ottolenghi finds ways to keep the ingredients list simple while letting each simultaneously shine in its own right and meld perfectly with the others.

Cilantro

In this recipe, the dominant flavors are of tomato, cilantro, and lemon, but this soup is so much more. It is thick and hearty–the ultimate in comfort food without making you feel like you need to hit the gym and seriously revisit your New Year’s Resolutions if you want a second serving. So, go ahead, have a another portion or two, and don’t be afraid to lick the bowl clean.

Before Tomatoes

Tomato, Cilantro, and Semolina Soup

From Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

Makes 5-6 servings

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 celery stalk, chopped

2 cups cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

2 teaspoons fresh thyme, finely chopped

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 3/4 teaspoons sweet paprika

3 tablespoons tomato paste

1 1/3 pounds tomatoes, peeled and chopped

6 1/2 cups water

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1 cup semolina

salt and pepper, to taste (I found myself adding a generous amount of each, so don’t be afraid to pile it on.)

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

sour cream, for garnish

cilantro, for garnish (you’ll want lots)

After Tomatoes

Heat the olive oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, cilantro, thyme, cumin, coriander, and paprika. Saute on medium heat for a few minutes, until the onions are golden and have softened.

Onion and Spice

Add the tomato paste and stir for a minute or two.

Tomato Pastey

Add the tomatoes and a generous amount of salt and pepper and let cook for a few more minutes. Add the water and sugar, stir, and turn the heat to high. Once the mixture is boiling, reduce it to a simmer and let it simmer for 20 minutes.

Pre Semolina

After 20 minutes, slowly pour the semolina into the soup, whisking constantly, to prevent the semolina from clumping together. Cook for another 10 minutes, whisking frequently to prevent clumping.

Soup with Semolina

Finally, add the lemon juice, and more salt and pepper to taste. Serve garnished with some sour cream and plenty of cilantro.

Mushroom Risotto

Lest you think the only things I make in my brand new Le Creuset are fat- and flour-laden, I must share with you this recipe for mushroom risotto. Being delicious, easy-to-make, and extremely healthy (and vegan, but please, let’s not dwell on that), this recipe is clearly a standout in my kitchen, where many of the recipes meet two, but rarely all three of those qualities.

Healthy Mushroom Risotto

I’m not quite sure how this risotto manages to be so creamy and hearty—it has none of the butter or cheese of the other risotto recipe I have written up for you. I have heard murmurs from the food science blogging community that this has something to do with the high amount of starch in Arborio rice. Apparently if you break the starches down enough (even if it is just with vegetable stock instead of various fats) it will invariably result in a very pleasing and smooth texture.  Mushrooms and onions add an amazing depth of earthy flavor to this dish, but I can’t wait to experiment with other flavor profiles.

And on the note of experimenting in the kitchen (and shameless self-promotion), I’ll be competing in South Bar’s chili competition this Sunday. I’ll be making (my hopefully soon-to-be famous) Triple B: Beer, Beef, and Bacon Chili. So come by, do some day drinking, and taste many flavorful and amazing chilis!  Recipe for the Triple B coming soon!

Fresh Mushrooms

Mushroom Risotto

Adapted from the Kitchn

1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms, finely chopped

2 cups boiling water

1/3 cup olive oil

4 medium yellow onions

6 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 pound cremini or similar mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

1 spring fresh rosemary (you can also use dried rosemary or not use it)

1 cup Arborio rice

1/2 cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 cups vegetable broth

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

Risotto Making

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Soak the dried mushrooms in the water and set them aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a dutch oven over medium heat. Finely chop one of the onions and add to the dutch oven. Add the garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 8 minutes, until the onions have softened and begun turning golden brown. Move the onions to one side of the Dutch oven.

Dried Mushrooms

Increase the heat to medium-high, add the cremini mushrooms and let cook for 5 minutes without stirring. Then, flip the mushrooms and cook for another 5 minutes. The mushrooms should be brown and there should be some browning on the bottom of the pan.

Earthy Flavor

Drain the mushrooms that were soaking (hold on to the liquid) and add them to the dutch oven. Add the rosemary and mix everything in the pan together, letting it sauté for a few minutes. Add the rice, and stir occasionally for about 5 minutes, until the rice begins to turn transparent.

Turn the heat to high, and add the vegetable broth, wine, balsamic vinegar, mushroom liquid, salt, and pepper. Stir, and scrape the bottom of the pan to loosen any of the brown deliciousness that should have formed on the bottom of the dutch oven.

Once the mixture is boiling, cover it with a lid, and put in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes. It is ready to be taken out of the oven when it looks like most of the liquids have been absorbed, but it still looks very moist. Remove it from the oven and let it cool for 5 minutes before serving.

While the risotto is baking in the oven, prepare the onions. Heat the remaining olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Cut the remaining three onions into thin slices, and add to the skillet. Sprinkle them with salt liberally, and reduce the heat to low. Let the onions cook for at least 30 minutes, until they are very soft and turning brown.

Preglazed Onions

Spoon the onions over the risotto. Voila!

Tomato Pie

No, it’s not pizza! Nothing like it, indeed. You probably won’t believe me until you (make and) try it yourself, but if that’s the case, so be it. Now that we are in the depths of winter and the polar vortexes that it entails, we could all use something that allows for a little summer reminiscing while still sticking to our ribs. So, pick up the best tomatoes and cheese you can, and get baking!

Slice of Tomato Pie

And did I mention you can make a double batch of the pie crust, and freeze the half you don’t use for up to four months? Or, even better, use it to make Cheddar-Crusted Apple Pie with Bacon Lattice. Now that’s a hearty meal.

Heirloom Tomatoes

Tomato Pie

Adapted from Tupelo Honey Cafe

Makes 8 servings

For the crust recipe, see this Cheddar-Crusted Bacon Apple Pie recipe.

For the filling:

1 3/4 pounds tomatoes, sliced into 1/2 inch thick slices (preferably heirloom, definitely a juicy, dense variety that is very ripe)

2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1/4 cup grated parmesan, plus more for garnish

1 cup mayonnaise

1 cup panko bread crumbs, plus more for garnish (Italian seasoned, if available)

4 cloves garlic, minced and cooked over a little butter

2 green onions, chopped

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

Tomato Pie

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Roll out the pie crust and press into a 9 inch pie pan. Cover the edges with alumni foil (to protect from burning), fill the crust with pie weights (or dry beans), and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes, until the crust has browned slightly.

Pie Crust

In a bowl, combine all of the remaining ingredients except for the tomatoes.

Cheese Mixture

Put a layer of tomatoes on the bottom of the pie crust. Cover with a layer of the cheese mixture. Repeat twice, so that you end up with 6 layers (3 of tomatoes and 3 of cheese mixture).

Tomatoes in Pie

Sprinkle some more panko bread crumbs and parmesan cheese on the pie. Bake for about 35 minutes, until the pie is slightly browned and bubbling. Remove the aluminum foil for the last 10 minutes of baking. Let cool for about 5 minutes, and enjoy warm. I recommend pairing with a relatively plain side salad, or another slice of tomato pie.

Slice of Heaven

Ginger Molasses Cookies, Or The Easiest Cookies That Ever Were

I have made these cookies three times in less than three weeks. It may have something to do with how easy they are to make–they are a strictly two bowls and five minutes ordeal. But, more likely, it has to do with ease and flavor, and how these cookies sit perfectly on the intersection of the two. I daresay, if we add a third element–accessibility of ingredients–these cookies would still rest perfectly at the nexus of all three factors.

Ginger Molasses Cookie

Not to add more elements than necessary, but I must also point out how malleable these cookies are. Don’t have enough brown sugar? Add some white. Not enough cinnamon? Put in nutmeg and some more ginger. Basically, do whatever you want. As long as your dough ends up somewhat sticky and the taste is to your liking, the finished product should be just as good. And I probably don’t even have to tell you about how many variations you can make on the dusting that the cookie dough gets rolled in before it is baked, or baking time (12 minutes for soft and chewy, 15 or more for ginger crisps). Whatever you want out of a cookie, chances are this recipe can deliver!

Cookie Ball Balls

Ginger Molasses Cookies

Adapted from Flour

Makes about 32 cookies

For the dough:

1 2/3 sticks unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature

1/4 cup dark molasses

1 cup mine 2 tablespoons brown sugar (I like to use a mix of light and dark.)

1 egg

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 heaping teaspoon ground cloves

For the dusting:

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Cookie Pile

Put the butter, sugar, molasses, and egg in a stand-mixer and mix on medium until combined (about 1 minute). In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and spices, and mix until spices are evenly distributed. Pour the flour mixture into the stand mixer, and mix on low and then medium until combined (about 2 minutes). Once the dough has come together, pull it into a ball, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.

Brown Sugars

Spice and Everything Nice

Prepare the dusting by mixing all of the ingredients together with a whisk.

Ginger Molasses Dough

Once you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Using your hands, roll the cookie dough into balls about the size of ping pong balls or slightly smaller. Roll each ball in the dusting, and space about 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. Bake for about 12 minutes. The cookies should be slightly cracked, but beware: do not over-bake if you want them to retain any chewiness!

Cookie Dough Balls

These can be kept in an airtight container for up to two days, though they will quickly become more crisp. That is not such a bad thing, since they are delicious when dunked in coffee.

Cookie Platter