Green Beans with Creamy Sesame Sauce

Green Beans with Sesame SauceThis one falls in the category of simple and tasty.  Green beans are blanched, then cooled and dressed with a lovely sauce of sweetened tahini.   The slight bitter quality of the tahini combines with the saltiness of the soy to make a really delightful combination.  In the photo above, the dish is garnished with fried tofu cubes, which I really like.  If you are pressed for time, simply substitute some type of almond.  My personal favorites are the Marcona almonds that Brinn gets from Trader Joe’s, but simple slivered ones will work just fine.

Dishes like this are a very good reason to keep a small garden.  That way yo can be a little bit discriminating about what types of beans you cook.  Although there is a wide variety of beans to select from in the grocery stores around here, I know that this is not the case in many parts of the country.  We prefer french filet-type beans for blanching and eating fresh, but you may prefer something more strongly flavored.  In a pinch, blue lake green beans will do, but they get a little tough if they get too large.  I am really looking forward to about a month from now when beans from the garden are available.  If you have even a small area that you can till up or even a large pot, I encourage you to grow some beans.  It is easy and you will get the type you like to eat.  Baker Creek Seeds is a great vendor…still not too late to give either bush or pole beans a go…. 

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Turnip and Roast Sesame Soup

Turnip Sesame SoupI tend to forget how much I like this soup and don’t make it frequently enough.  The turnips and roasted sesame seeds give the soup an astringent, almost bitter quality that is brought back just a little bit by the broth, which is very slightly sweet.  The small portion of greens that is added may seem like a minor touch, but because this soup is so austere, they play an important role in providing a touch of additional flavor variety.  I like some of the more spicy or bitter greens such as mizuna or shungiku (a type of edible chrysanthemum), but spinach would be nice too.  In this iteration of the soup, I added a pinch of Sichuan pepper to provide just a little bit of bite to the flavor.  I think a pinch of nutmeg would also be a good, but slightly unconventional addition, although I haven’t tried it…. 

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Pear with Peppercorns

Pears with PeppercornThis post is more about a concept than a “dish”.  In fact, to call this a “side dish” feels wrong somehow.  It is, however, something that shows up on our lunch-time table with alarming frequency and, therefore, probably deserves some mention.  As the title indicates, it is pears (in this case sliced) dusted with peppercorns (in this case pink).  That’s all; no fancy technique, no complicated spicing scheme.  Just simple and tasty.  So why write about it at all?… 

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Mapo Tofu

Ma Po TofuSunday’s lunch was a big pile of Sichuan-style food.  Yay!  This main dish is what we cooked to accompany the Dan Dan Noodle, that I mentioned earlier.  Mapo tofu is pretty much a classic.  Hot bean paste is cooked together with ground pork and a grip of oil to really develop some spectacularly rich flavors.  Tofu and, for my version, leeks and mushrooms are simmered in the infused oil and chicken stock to blend and further develop the flavors.  One of the things that I really respect about this tofu dish is that it makes no attempt to be vegetarian.  The originator obviously recognized that, if heavily spiced tofu was good, the same tofu cooked in meat sauce would be better.  The end result is a dish that is very much comfort food.  It is rich, big, and you don’t have to eat a ton of it to fill up…. 

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Dan Dan Noodle

Dan_Not enough can possibly be said about the merits of this oddly named and fiercely flavored Sichuan dish.  Like a lot of the Sichuan dishes that I have run into, this one is a oil-based, chili-fueled piece of culinary perfection.  Chili oil and black vinegar create the foundation for the sauce, which is used quite sparingly.  We prefer to accent our sauce with plenty of Sichuan pepper, which provides an astringent and numbing quality that is a type of flavor, I guess.  Ground pork is a pretty common topping and rounds out this richly flavored and wickedly spiced  household favorite.  The blend of flavors in the sauce are such that they really deserve fresh noodles in order to really shown them off, but dried egg noodles will do in a pinch.  Wider noodles work better, I think…. 

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