Vegetarian Dubu Jeon- Pan Fried Tofu with Mushrooms

When I was in high school, my parents shipped me away to one of those awful college prep summer programs.  I’m sort of a dork so I didn’t really mind the classes but the cafeteria food was another thing altogether.   Plain tofu was one of the only edible things besides jello and granola.  I began to wonder whether I’d been shipped to a weight loss camp in disguise.

So after a month or so of daily, unseasoned tofu I was pretty much ready to write it off for life.  While I’m a huge fan of many vegan foods, I’m much more likely to use beans as the protein source.  I sure didn’t expect to be posting any tofu recipes around here.

But then I found a store that carried packages of these cute-as-a-button enoki mushrooms for only 79 cents.  And then I feel in love with this soy sesame dipping sauce.   And finally, I saw a quick vegan recipe that combined the two.  I figured the only things I had to lose were a 99 cent package of tofu and about five minutes of my time.

Well, I think it’s safe to say that I’ve moved past my self-imposed tofu moratorium.  Quick pan fried pieces of tofu are smothered, and I mean that in the best possible way, with enoki and shiitake mushrooms and then drenched with that killer soy sesame sauce.  This recipe might be just the thing to covert your tofu hating friends.

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Pan Fried Tofu with Mushrooms

Yield: 2 servings

Ingredients:

* 1 pound firm tofu
* 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
* 3 fresh shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
* 1 bunch enoki mushrooms, approximately 4 oz., rinsed and ends trimmed
* Soy sesame dipping sauce

Directions:

Iced Matcha Green Tea Latte

So it might be a stretch to call this matcha green tea latte a Korean beverage but several Korean cookbooks for Western audiences included some matcha green tea desserts and beverages.  This iced version of a matcha green tea latte was so good I figured if you don’t want to beat ‘em, join ‘em.

I’ve wanted to try matcha for a long time but never saw it reasonably priced in any grocery stores.  When I saw a packet for under $5 I grabbed it and started experimenting.  I thought it tasted best with a mix of water and milk.  The water allowed the grassiness of the matcha to shine through while a bit of milk helped add creaminess.

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Iced Matcha Green Tea Latte

Yield: 2-3 servings

Ingredients:

* 2 cup water
* 1 cup whole milk
* 1/4 cup sweetened matcha green tea powder
* 2 cups ice
* whipped cream, optional

Directions:

Heat the water and milk in a saucepan over low heat until warmed very slightly (this helps dissolve the matcha powder). Add the matcha powder and stir until dissolved. Combine in a blender with ice and pulse until the ice is partially crushed. Pour into individual glasses and top with whipped cream, if desired.

Sweet Potatoes with Almond Syrup

Although South Korea has so many great healthy foods this deep fried dish sounded so interesting and looked too pretty to resist.  Sweet potatoes are pre-baked, deep fried and then dipped in a almond syrup before getting a sprinkling of black sesame seeds.  These are great if you have a major sweet tooth.  I also made a variation with a french fry shape that just got a very light drizzle of syrup and a fair amount of salt sprinkled on top.  Sweet and savory, this preparation was my far my preference of the two.

I used the sweet potatoes that I found at the Asian market; it wasn’t until I peeled them that I realized they weren’t orange inside.  Feel free to use your favorite sweet potato variety- a purple Okinawan sweet potato would also look pretty with this preparation.

This was my first time ever using black sesame seeds.  A good friend told me his grandfather, at the advice of his doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine, used black sesame seeds to keep from his hair from graying.  I’m not quite at the stage of worrying about that just yet but I’ll be sure to file that piece of information away in the mental bank for the future…

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Sweet Potatoes with Almond Syrup

Ingredients:

* 3 medium sized sweet potatoes, peeled
* 1/4 cup light brown sugar
* 1/4 cup water
* 2 almonds, crushed
* vegetable oil for deep frying
* approximately 1 Tablespoon black sesame seeds
* salt to taste

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the sweet potatoes into bitesize slices or strips shaped like french fries. Soak them in a large bowl full of water to remove some of the starch. Drain and place on a baking sheet.

Bake for 10-15 minutes, until the sweet potato has softened slightly but is not cooked through.

Combine the light brown sugar and water in a small saucepan and simmer over medium heat until a semi-thick syrup has formed. Remove from heat and add the crushed almonds.

Heat several inches of vegetable oil to 350 degrees in a small heavy bottomed saucepan and, in batches, fry sweet potatoes for several minutes until golden. Drain on a paper towel lined plate. Place on a serving plate, drizzle with the almond syrup and sprinkle with black sesame seeds and salt.

Note: If you'd like the super sweet variation, double the amount of syrup (use 1/2 cup each of brown sugar and water and use four crushed almonds). Dip each piece of sweet potato in the syrup before sprinkling with sesame seeds. Use little to no salt for this variation.

Red Date and Walnut Sticky Rice

I couldn’t help myself.  These are typically rolled into balls for a snack, but their beautiful red hue was practically begging to be made into a heart shape.

This was my first experience with red dates, or jujubes, but it won’t be my last. They’re typically sold dried and while they’re not good for out of the bag snacking, they do impart a wonderful fruity sweetness to whatever they’re being cooked with.

Rice balls are a common snack in a lot of Asian countries, although this has been one of my favorites since the black rice, red dates and walnuts give it some extra heft and chew.  It also kept me full a bit longer than the more basic seaweed varieties.

I also saw several sweetened versions of this basic recipe for dessert.  If you’d like to go that route, I’d suggest either adding up to 1/4 cup of brown sugar to the rice prior to cooking, or cook as written below, and drizzle with maple syrup.

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Sticky Rice with Red Dates and Nuts

Ingredients:

* 1/4 cup black rice
* 1 cup sticky rice
* 1-1/3 cup reserved soaking water plus extra water if needed
* 6 pitted dried red dates or jujubes, chopped
* 1/3 cup chopped walnuts
* 1 teaspoon sea salt
* 1 teaspoon sesame oil

Directions:

Place the black and sticky rice in a sieve and rinse under water. Place in a bowl and cover with water. Let soak for five hours. Drain the rice in a sieve placed over a bowl, reserving the soaking liquid.

Place the rice in a rice cooker and add 1 1/3 cups reserved soaking liquid. Add the dates, walnuts, salt and sesame oil. Turn on the rice cooker.

When the rice is done cooking, serve immediately or let cool slightly before rolling into rice balls.

To make the rice balls, place about 1/2 cup cooked rice mixture and place onto a large piece of plastic wrap. Bring the sides of the plastic wrap up around the rice mixture and twist the ends together in the center to shape into a ball.

Note: If you do not have a rice cooker, the rice can be prepared as follows. Combine the rice, 1 1/3 cup soaking liquid, dates, walnuts, salt and sesame oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan with a lid. Place the lid slightly askew and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover tightly and let simmer for 15 minutes, or until the water is completely absorbed. Remove from heat and allow to sit and steam for another 15 minutes.

Adapted from the Korean Table