Tag Archives: spicy

Mapo Tofu

Mapo Tofu 1

“Comfort food” means something different to everyone. Our youngest child (soon to leave the nest and graduate into adulthood) has always been our pickiest eater. I gave up long ago on trying to see the logic in what she likes and dislikes. But one thing is consistent: she hates bland food. She wants nothing to do with hot dogs, hamburgers (or any variation like meatballs/meatloaf), pizza, roast chicken/turkey, and ANYTHING in gravy or a tomato-based sauce. But she LOVES most ethnic foods that come packed with flavor and spiciness. She especially loves Mexican and Asian cuisine (Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Thai, Vietnamese), with a few un-explainable exceptions.

So to her, comfort foods DO NOT include soups, stews, pot pie, roast beef or chicken, or pretty much any American food. Mapo tofu, however, is one of her very favorite meals. It is packed full of mouth-tingling flavor! And tofu (which is the blandest thing ever, but provides a nice texture in the spicy sauce).

Mapo Tofu 3

Mapo Tofu (also spelled mabodofu) is a Szechuan dish that we first came to love while living in Japan. It is made with ground pork, tofu, chili paste, onions, garlic, and other Asian seasonings. The best place we have ever eaten it is in a Szechuan restaurant in Beijing; it was so spicy it was hard to swallow, but soooo good. When we moved back to the US, I needed to find a way to make it from scratch.

In addition to other ingredients, I use a few tablespoons of this spicy bean sauce to flavor my mapo tofu. This requires a special trip to an Asian market for me, but that is one of my favorite outings, and the family loves it when I also come home with Aloe drinks, ramune, and senbei snacks.

Mapo Tofu 4

Part of the flavor of this dish comes from ground Szechuan peppercorns, which are unique because they are not especially spicy (that quality comes from other ground peppers). But they cause a slightly numbing sensation to your tongue when you eat them.

Mapo Tofu

So as our weekend forecast is for cold and snow, this is what our Little J hopes to see on the menu!

RECIPE:

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Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies (and other stuff): Roasted Spiced Pecans

Roasted Spiced Pecans

DAY 4: Roasted Spiced Pecans

These slightly spicy nuts are my family’s very favorite snack. I make them all year round, at least once or twice a month.

And since this is a savory treat, not a sweet one, you can feel good about dipping into these all through the holidays!

RECIPE:

Roasted Spiced Pecans

Yield: 6 cups

Roasted Spiced Pecans

6 cups (24oz bag) pecan halves
5 Tbs butter
2 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbs Sriracha sauce (adjust to taste)
1 tsp coarse kosher salt
¾ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp onion powder
½ tsp ground mustard

Preheat oven to 300°F. Line a large baking sheet with foil.

Place pecan halves in a large mixing bowl. Melt butter in a glass measuring cup or small bowl. Stir in remaining seasonings and mix well. Pour butter mixture over pecans and stir until pecans are well coated.

Spread pecans in an even layer on baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes; stir and bake for an additional 10-12 minutes. Allow pecans to cool on the baking sheet, stirring occasionally as they cool. Store in an airtight container.

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Instant Pot Chipotle Black Beans

Chipotle Black Beans 2

For my birthday a few weeks ago, I received an Instant Pot pressure cooker. True confession: I bought the Instant Pot when it was on sale over the summer, hid it in my closet, and gave it to my husband to give to me on my birthday. Gift-giving often works out best for us this way.

I am still  in the pressure cooker learning phase, but I have made a few things that my family really loves. These spicy black beans have definitely become a family staple. In the last 5 weeks, I have made them 3 times, and everyone cheers to see them on the table again. I never expected such a great reaction to a bean side dish!

Chipotle Black Beans 1

These beans are flavored with chipotle peppers and various smoky spices. We like them on the spicy side, but if you want a little less heat, just scale back on the chipotles.

These beans (and yogurt making) have totally made the Instant Pot worth it. I love being able to start with dried beans and have a delicious dish in a little more than an hour. And No Soaking! No need to plan the night before. The total prep time for this recipe is less than 5 minutes (or as long as it takes you to chop an onion and measure some spices).

Maybe we will actually be able to eat our way through all of the dried beans in our basement now.

I also made these once using dried pinto beans, and they were delicious too.

UPDATE: I recently bought a different brand of black beans and they took longer to reach the same level of softness. I have updated the recipe to reflect the longer possible cooking time.

RECIPE:

Instant Pot Chipotle Black Beans

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Chipotle Black Beans 2

1 Tbs olive oil
1 large onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp cumin
1 bay leaf
1 quart chicken broth
1 can mild diced green chiles, undrained
1 lb dried black beans**
2 canned chipotle peppers, finely chopped plus 2-3 Tbs adobo sauce
*adjust for desired spiciness

Chopped Cilantro, for garnish

Set the Instant Pot to Sauté. Add the oil, chopped onion, and garlic. Sauté for 5 minutes with the lid off. Stir in dry seasonings and cook for 1 additional minute.

Add broth, green chiles, black beans, chipotle peppers and adobo sauce.

Press Cancel to reset. Place the lid on the pot, with the valve in the “Sealing” position. Press the Bean/Chili button (or Manual, high pressure) and set the time for 50-60 minutes. After the beans cook, let the pressure release naturally (about 30-40 minutes).

Remove lid and stir beans. Remove bay leaf. Taste and add additional salt, if necessary. If beans are soupy, use a slotted spoon to serve. Beans will thicken with time. Garnish with cilantro.

Total Cook Time: about 90 minutes

**Notes:
-I used to always cook these for 50 minutes, but I recently bought a different brand of black beans and they took longer to reach the same level of softness (about 60 minutes).
-You can also use small dried white beans or pinto beans

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Thai Green Curry

Thai Green Curry

After spending the month of February with temperatures in the 70s, we are having a brief cold snap. Perfect weather for a bowl of hot Thai Green Curry. Although around here, any temperature is good weather for a delicious curry.

Curry pastes vary widely in their spiciness. My favorite green curry paste is this variety from Maesri. It is, however, extremely spicy. As you are adding your curry paste to the broth, add in small amounts,  tasting before adding additional paste, until you reach your desired spice tolerance.

Green Curry Paste

RECIPE:

Thai Green Curry

Thai Green Curry

about 3 Tbs coconut oil, divided
3-4 Thai eggplant, cubed (or 1 medium zucchini, cubed)
½ cup sliced mushrooms
1 cup diagonally sliced asparagus
3-4 Tbs green curry paste (divided)
1 lb chicken breast, thinly sliced
2 cans coconut milk
1 cup water (or Swanson Thai ginger broth)
1 tsp fish sauce
2 Tbs brown sugar
1 tsp salt
2 red chilies, thinly sliced
1 package firm tofu, cubed
¼ cup Thai basil leaves, sliced
Lime wedges
Hot cooked rice

Heat 1 Tbs coconut oil in a large pot. Add eggplant to hot oil and cook for 3 minutes (eggplant will not be completely cooked). Remove eggplant from pan and set aside. If necessary, add an additional tablespoon of oil to the pot and cook mushrooms and asparagus for 3-4 minutes, or until crisp-tender. Set aside in a separate bowl from the eggplant. Add 1 Tbs coconut oil and 1 Tbs curry paste to the pot. Cook until fragrant. Add chicken to pot and cook until outside is no longer pink, but chicken is not completely cooked.

Add coconut milk and water to the pot with the chicken and bring to a low boil. Reduce heat to low and stir in partially cooked eggplant, fish sauce, brown sugar, salt, red chilies and tofu. Simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes, or until chicken and eggplant are cooked through.  (If using zucchini, instead of eggplant, do not return to the curry until just before serving).

Add additional curry paste until desired level of spiciness is reached (add in small amounts and taste after each addition). Return asparagus and mushrooms to the curry. Add additional water if curry is too thick.

Stir in sliced basil leaves just before serving. Serve with lime wedges over hot rice, if desired.

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Szechuan Beans

Szechuan Beans 3

Szechuan Beans are one of my favorite dishes at Chinese restaurants. Often at restaurants, they are made with Chinese long beans. When I make them at home, I use the skinny French filet beans.

These beans are slightly spicy, flavored with Szechuan peppercorns, a good dose of garlic, ginger and chili paste. Szechuan peppercorns are actually less spicy than regular black pepper or chili peppers. They have a slightly lemony taste and leave your tongue with an interesting tingly, slightly numb sensation.

Szechuan Peppercorns

Szechuan Peppercorns

I buy whole Szechuan peppercorns from Penzeys. If I am grinding a large quantity of the peppercorns, I use a mini electric coffee grinder. For times when I only need a small amount of ground peppercorn, I have a separate peppermill (the wooden kind you turn by hand) that I keep full of these peppercorns. Don’t use your regular black peppercorn mill to grind the Szechuan peppercorns and then refill with the black ones. As straight Szechuan peppercorns can leave your tongue feeling numb, your kids might not appreciate that sensation when they are expecting regular pepper.

I like to include a small amount of ground pork when I make these beans, but you could leave that out for a vegetarian dish.

Szechuan Beans 1

RECIPE:

Szechuan Beans

Szechuan Beans 3

1 Tbs oil
¼ lb ground pork
4 green onions, chopped
1 Tbs minced garlic
2 tsp chopped fresh ginger
2 Tbs soy sauce
1 tsp ground chili paste (use more for spicier beans)
1 tsp honey (or 5 drops liquid stevia)
½ tsp ground Szechuan peppercorns
1 lb Chinese long beans or French filet beans, ends trimmed

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add ground pork, green onions, garlic and ginger. Cook until pork is cooked through.

Add soy sauce, chili paste, honey and ground peppercorns to skillet. Stir to mix, then add green beans to skillet. Cook for 2 minutes. Add 3 Tbs water to the skillet and cover with a lid. Cook beans for about 3 minutes, or until beans are not quite done.

Remove lid and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated and beans are crisp-tender. Do not overcook beans. Serve immediately.

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Spicy Black Bean Soup with Shredded Chicken

102411 007-1 There are certain people, when they share a recipe with you, that you know you can trust. My friend Alyce is such a person. I have never been disappointed by any of her recipes. We have been making this soup for a number of years, and it is always a favorite with everyone here. Even the self-professed bean haters. Because the beans have been pureed to create a thick and delicious base, there are no longer any objections. With kids, I really think that most disliked foods are more of a texture dislike than a taste dislike.

Alyce’s original recipe was a delicious pureed black bean soup. I usually doctor it up a little by adding shredded chicken, corn, olives and pimentos to the pureed bean base, and serving it with fun and delicious toppings. If you are trying to please kids- it is all about the toppings. Crispy tortilla strips are their favorite. They are fast and easy to make (baked in the oven for 5 minutes) and can be made with either flour or corn tortillas. In the soup shown, I used a multi-grain flour tortilla.

The spiciness of the soup is completely up to you. Alyce’s recipe uses Spicy V-8 juice, but I don’t usually have that around here, so I use a can of spicy Rotel tomatoes (tomatoes with onions, garlic and green chilies). If you want a milder soup, just use a can of regular tomatoes and go easy on the cayenne pepper (Ancho chili pepper has a nice flavor without the heat of cayenne).

RECIPE:

Spicy Black Bean Soup with Shredded Chicken

102411 007-1

2 Tbs olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, minced
1 stalk celery, diced
2 cans beef broth
1 can Rotel tomatoes (or 1 cup Spicy V-8)
1 Tbs dried parsley
1 tsp salt
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp chili powder
½ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp thyme
¼ tsp pepper
1/8-1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (adjust to taste)
2 cans black beans, drained & rinsed
2 cups cooked and shredded chicken (or 2 cans undrained canned chicken)
1 can corn
1 small can sliced olives
1 small jar diced pimentos

Garnishes:
Sour cream
Shredded cheddar cheese
Chopped fresh cilantro
Crispy Tortilla Strips (see below)

Heat olive oil in large stockpot. Cook onion, carrot, garlic, jalapeno, and celery until onions are soft and tender, about 5 minutes. Add broth, tomatoes, seasonings, and black beans. Cover and simmer for one hour. Puree in blender or with an immersion blender. Stir in chicken, corn, olives and pimentos. Cook 15 minutes longer. Serve with sour cream, shredded cheese, cilantro, and crispy tortilla strips.

To cook in crockpot: Sauté vegetables in oil and place in crock pot with broth, tomatoes, seasonings, and black beans. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours. Puree in blender or with an immersion blender. Stir in chicken, corn, olives, and pimentos. Turn crock pot to high and cook 15-30 minutes longer, or until heated through. Serve with sour cream, shredded cheese, cilantro, and crispy tortilla strips.

Crispy Tortilla Strips

about 4 corn or flour tortillas
1-2 Tbs olive oil
Kosher (or other coarse) salt

Spread olive oil onto a rimmed baking sheet. Cut tortillas into thin strips (a pizza cutter works nicely). Place on the baking sheet and use a spatula to toss the strips with the oil to lightly coat. Bake at 350°F for 5-7 minutes, or until strips just begin to brown. Sprinkle lightly with coarse salt.

adapted from my friend Alyce

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