Mapo Dofu

Mapo Dofu is originally a Chinese (Szechuan?) dish, which is also commonly found in Japan. My version is based on the Japanese ones, which is much less spicy and less oily than the original. This dish is very easy and inexpensive, because it uses a little meat for flavor, and tofu to make up the majority of the dish.

Some of these ingredients might be unfamiliar: doubanjiang is a kind of spicy bean paste, and tianmianjiang is a sweet bean sauce. Nira is a vegetable (maybe garlic chives in English) that looks similar to green onions, but the leaves are flat.

Ingredients
1 tbsp sesame oil
100g (3.5 oz) ground pork
1/2 tbsp grated ginger
1/2 tbsp minced or grated garlic
1/2 tbsp doubanjiang (豆板醤 / トウバンジャン)
1 tbsp tianmianjiang (甜麺醤 / テンメンジャン)
2 tbsp sake, divided
1 tbsp soy sauce
150 mL / ~3/4 cup chicken broth
6 stalks nira
2 tsp cornstarch + a little water
1 block firm tofu (木綿)

Rice for serving

Instructions

Wrap the block of tofu in paper towels, place something flat (like a plate) on top, and let it sit for about 20 minutes to remove excess water.

Meanwhile, heat a frying pan over medium heat and add the sesame oil, ground pork, ginger, and garlic. Cook until the pork is no longer pink. Move the pork over to one side, and add the doubanjiang and tianmianjiang sauces on the other side of the pan. Mix them together and fry for a few seconds before mixing them with the pork. Stir until everything is combined.

Add 1 tbsp of sake and mix with the pork. Cook for a minute or two to let the alcohol evaporate. Add the chicken broth, soy sauce, and remaining 1 tbsp of sake.

Cut the tofu into bite-size squares, and cut the nira into about 3cm (1 inch) pieces. Add both to the frying pan and mix gently (be careful not to break the tofu pieces). Let cook for a few minutes, then add the cornstarch mixed with a little water. Let the sauce thicken, and then turn off the heat.

I like to serve this on top of freshly cooked rice, or you can serve it alongside.

Bulgogi (Korean Barbequed Beef)

bulgogiI learned to make this dish during college, and still love to make it now. Bulgogi is a famous Korean dish that has a sweet sesame and soy flavor.

Ingredients
1 lb (450g) beef, sliced as thinly as possible
1 kiwi
1 medium onion
1/4 cup sugar, divided
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp sake (or rice wine)
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tbsp rice vinegar
5 – 6 green onions, cut into 2″ pieces

Instructions

Spread beef slices in thin layers and sprinkle with 2 tbsp sugar. Allow to sit for 15 – 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, peel the kiwi and onion and blend them in a food processor until smooth. In a small bowl, mix garlic, soy sauce, sesame oil, sake, remaining 2 tbsp sugar, and rice vinegar.

Add the two mixtures and the green onions to the meat and mix well. Marinate for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

When ready to cook, remove meat and green onions from the marinade and cook on a hot grill or in a frying pan. It should cook very quickly, in just a moment or two.

Serve with rice, or in a lettuce wrap!

Beef Rice Bowl (Gyuudon)

One of my favorite dinners, this beef rice bowl comes together quickly and is warm and comforting. I like the sweet and salty flavor. In Japan, a bowl of rice with some kind of topping like meat, seafood, egg, or vegetables is called a donburi, which can also be shortened to don, giving this dish its name: gyuu (beef) + don.

Ingredients
1 cup rice (uncooked)
2 tbsp butter
1/2 onion, sliced thinly
1/3 cup (80mL) sake or rice wine*
3 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp ginger juice
2 tbsp sugar
1/4 tbsp minced garlic
1/2 lb (228g) beef, very thinly sliced
2 eggs (optional)

Instructions

Start cooking the rice according to your usual method first, then while it’s cooking make the topping.

Melt the butter in a medium frying pan, then add the onion and cook, stirring, until translucent. Add the sake and cook for about 2 minutes to let the alcohol evaporate.

Add the soy sauce, ginger juice, sugar, and garlic and mix well. Finally, add the beef and cook, stirring constantly, until it is just cooked through. It should cook very quickly, in no more than 2-3 minutes.

When the rice is cooked, divide it between two bowls and spoon the beef and onion mixture on top. Serve at once.

(Optionally, you can put a raw egg on top of each bowl and mix it in; it’ll become half-cooked in the hot rice.)

Serves 2.

Peanut Chicken

I invented this crispy peanut chicken recipe as a copy of a dish that my husband used to eat at a Chinese restaurant in the U.S. It’s definitely not the healthiest dish, but once in a while we really enjoy this for dinner.

Japan notes: Peanut butter is definitely available in Japan, in small, expensive jars. American brands are sold at import stores and some grocery stores. I have never tried the Japanese product called “peanut cream,” so I don’t know how that compares. We usually get our peanut butter from loving family members who send it from the U.S.

Ingredients

2 chicken breasts
1/2 tbsp grated ginger
1/2 tbsp sake or rice wine
salt and pepper
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup peanut butter (we prefer chunky)
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp vegetable oil
extra vegetable oil for frying
1 tbsp sesame oil

Squeeze the juice from the grated ginger into a bowl. Add sake and mix. Cut the chicken breasts into strips. Add the chicken to the bowl, add a sprinkle each of salt and pepper, and stir to coat. Let the chicken marinate for at least 20 minutes.

Remove the chicken from the marinade and shake off any excess liquid. Coat the chicken in cornstarch. I find the easiest way is to put the chicken pieces and cornstarch in a bowl, cover with a lid, and shake it to coat them evenly.

Heat about 2″ vegetable oil on the stove and add sesame oil for flavor. Once the oil is hot, fry the chicken a few pieces at a time until golden brown. Drain on paper towels to remove extra oil.

Make the peanut sauce by heating the peanut butter in a saucepan over low heat until it softens. Add the sugar and vegetable oil and cook, stirring constantly, until the sugar melts.

To serve, I like to put the chicken on the plate and drizzle peanut sauce over. This keeps the chicken crispy. I usually serve this with rice and some green veggies. The peanut sauce is good over the vegetable as well!