SPOILER ALERT! In the latest episode of Fresh Off the Boat, “Ride the Tiger”, the Huangs play a New Year’s game where each family member competes to see who can speak in Mandarin the longest. Of course the showdown ended up being between Jessica and Evan, with Jessica ruthlessly winning in the end. I absolutely love Constance Wu in this series and wish it wasn’t a mere 30 minutes long, as I just can’t get enough of her character Jessica’s unapologetic wit and dry, sharp humor. After watching this episode, I felt even more compelled to pay homage to the Chinese New Year, especially since it’s the Year of the Dog, which is my zodiac sign. Growing up I only knew about Chinese culture through the greasy lens of an all-you-can-eat-buffet sneeze guard. I did back then….as Maya Angelou would say.
Today, I try to immerse myself in the more traditional cuisines of China. Specifically, cuisine from the Sichuan Province is my favorite type of Chinese food. The numbing tingle of Szechuan Peppercorns, the inferno heat of dried Tsien Tsien or de Arbol chiles in dishes like Ma La or the lake of fire lapping around every Dandan noodle excites me whether I’m cooking at home or dining out. I keep my pantry stocked at all times with Szechuan Peppercorns and dried de Arbol chiles because ya know what? Some like it hot! So I decided to ring in the Chinese New Year like I do most every holiday, with delicious food. Fortunately I’ve got an AMAZING international market near me, Newark Farmers Market, where almost any ingredient I can image is readily available. When I narrowed down my menu to Mapo Tofu and Kung Pao Brussels I knew a quick supply run to NFM was in order. Without much effort I found the Broad Bean Paste, Fermented Mustard, and Shaoxing Wine I was looking for then added on a package of mushrooms and fresh Wonton noodles before heading back to my casa.
Mapo Tofu is typically made with ground pork but I am all carnivored out this week and so subbed in Brown Beech mushrooms instead. Also, the traditional execution of Kung Pao is with chicken and so I veered off the path again by subbing in Brussels Sprouts and decided to balance the dish with Hoisin sauce instead of using sugar. Since it was Mardi Gras week, we were both riced out as well and so I chose to serve buttery Wonton Noodles in place of rice. The noodles were the perfect fire extinguishing accompaniment to the piquant Sichuan dishes. We were both really in the mood for a meatless meal and this homemade Chinese dinner was a fiery, umami packed vegetarian delight. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but in my humble opinion the Mapo Tofu and Kung Pao Brussels Sprouts were the perfect way to welcome in the New Lunar Year of the Earth Dog!
xin nian hao!
Mapo Tofu with Mushrooms
1 pkg Soya Organic Firm Tofu, cubed
1 pkg Brown Beech Mushrooms, rinsed, trimmed and rough chopped
1/2 Sweet Onion, diced
2 cloves Garlic, minced
2 tbsp Sichuan Style Broad Bean Sauce
1 tbsp Black Bean Chili Paste
2 tbsp Shaoxing Wine
1 tsp Fermented Mustard
1/2 tsp Whole Sichuan Peppercorns, or to taste
6 dried de Arbol Chiles, or to taste
4 slices Dehydrated Ginger, crushed
1/4 cup Lite Soy Sauce
1/4 tsp Raw Sugar
2 tbsp Peanut Oil
Garnish: 2 tbsp chopped fresh Chives
In a wok over med flame, toast the peppercorns until fragrant, about 2 – 3 minutes. Turn off the flame. Remove the toasted peppercorns and crush them into a rough powder with a mortar and pestle. Set aside.
Over med flame, heat the peanut oil until just shimmering. Add in the crushed peppercorns, ginger, de Arbol chiles, onion and garlic. Saute about 2 minutes or until the onions are just translucent. Stir in the Sichuan Style Broad Bean Sauce and Fermented Mustard and saute about 5 minutes longer. Add in next the Shaoxing Wine, Black Bean Paste, and Soy sauce. Continue sauteing, stirring frequently about 5 minutes longer. To the sauce, add in the mushrooms and cook until tender about 5 – 8 minutes. Last, add in the cubed tofu and sugar, gently tossing the tofu in the sauce until well coated. Continue to cook until the sauce has reduced and the tofu begins to crisp up, about 10 – 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Serve immediately with chopped fresh chives.
Note: if you are heat intolerant DO NOT eat the de Arbol chiles, as they are very hot! If needed, sub Red Pepper Flakes for the dried chiles to bring the heat level down to mild.
Kung Pao Brussels Sprouts
2 cups Brussels Sprouts, trimmed and sliced in half lengthwise
1/3 cup Toasted Peanuts
1/4 cup Hoisin Sauce
2 slices Dehydrated Ginger, crushed
2 dried de Arbol chiles, or 1/4 tsp Red Pepper Flakes
2 tbsp Rice Wine Vinegar
2 tbsp Lite Soy Sauce
1 tsp Toasted Sesame Oil
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss all ingredients together in a roasting pan. Roast the Brussels in the oven until tender and just beginning to caramelize, about 25 – 30 minutes. Serve immediately.
Sesame Wonton Noodles
1 pkg fresh Wonton Noodles
1 tsp Toasted Sesame Oil
1 tab Butter
1 tsp Black Sesame Seeds
Cook the Wonton noodles per the package instructions. Once cooked, toss the warm noodles with the Sesame oil, Sesame seeds, and butter. Serve immediately.