Sichuan/Szechuan/!!! (part 2)

Here is a paragraph I wrote while very annoyed that I couldn’t finish cooking:

I am sitting here unable to finish (or start, actually) making my Sichuan dry-fried green beans because my shrimps have not finished rehydrating. I did not know they needed to rehydrate until I had finished chopping everything else, and now they are sitting in a pool of water glumly. It might take twenty minutes. I am hungry. This is not something that happens every day. (The shrimp, not my being hungry. That happens multiple times a day.)

Now here is the rest of the post.

This all took place in that yada-yada’d area of the first Sichuan post.

I began by preparing my string beans—stacking them on one end, slicing off the ends, and doing the same to the other end, then cutting them in half. I hadn’t been terribly excited about this recipe, but I wanted a vegetable side dish that went with the dan dan noodles. Then, once I opened the bag of green beans, I suddenly remembered how much I love them raw. I ate a few; I love the crunch, the watery sweetness? That they taste green and of dirt. I have half a pound left and I hope they don’t go bad.

Then I sliced my mini-shiitakes, first pulling the stems out (not sure if that’s necessary, but they always seem slightly gross). I should have washed them or wiped them with a wet paper towel, but I didn’t do either. There’s a lot of controversy. Then I read the recipe again and realized I had to rehydrate my shrimp. So I sat around for a while.

Then—still during the rehydrating—I heated the oil in my larger pasta pot and, once a string bean I added began to sizzle, added about half the string beans. They sizzled away for about four minutes, after which time I thought they were shriveled enough to be considered done.

It’s hard to photograph green beans sizzling in oil.

I drained them in my colander on the suggestion of Use Real Butter. By then I figured the shrimp bits were hydrated enough, so I chopped them into smaller bits (they were still rather tough, but I have no idea what they’re supposed to end up like, texturally) and diced more preserved mustard greens.

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Sichuan/Szechuan (I think)

I like to think that the title of this post means not that I am unsure about the spelling of Sichuan/Szechuan or whether the food I’ve made this week is either of them; but rather, that I do in fact think.

I spent several hours today trying to avoid going to Chinatown to buy groceries for this week’s dinners. First I went to Katagiri, where I bought shiitake mushrooms. Then I went to H-Mart, where I bought absolutely nothing. Then I gave up and went home. Then I went to Hong Kong Market in Chinatown, where I spent at least one blissful hour (I mean all the time I spent there was blissful; I don’t know how much of it there was) perusing and then buying ingredients that I needed both for these dishes and then just generally for my life. I bought some things I have been needing for like a year. It was great.

And Chinatown wasn’t even stressful. I guess I usually go there at bad times, but today it wasn’t crowded, it was peaceful; maybe Hester Street is just calmer. I was in Little Italy, according to the giant flying signs and flags, but everything was Chinese.

I bought kind of a lot of things.

A strainer; two types of preserved vegetables (both mustard greens, I think; note how the label is in German); chili bean sauce; fermented black bean paste; black vinegar; rice wine (SCORE); peanut oil; sesame oil (just for backup); two types of Chinese egg noodles; dried shrimps; peanut meal (ingredients: Fancy Peanuts); dumpling wrappers.

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This tastes less like Golden Garden than I wish it did.

Golden Garden is your average Chinese-American takeout place in my town on Long Island. I am in constant need of an exact replica of their spicy broccoli in garlic sauce, and this recipe is another attempt to imitate it. I more or less lived on that stuff when I was vegetarian, and have very distinct memories of reading the fifth Harry Potter while eating it. Actually I’m not sure why I was ever able to eat it again after that experience. Those emotional wounds have not yet healed.

Anyway, tonight I made spicy broccoli. Recipe courtesy of Macheesmo (excellent blog name), who adapted it from Cook’s Illustrated, which is always a good sign. The produce-scale in my grocery store has been broken for weeks, so I couldn’t weigh my broccoli, and ended up not buying enough. I did try to weigh it by comparing it to a conveniently labeled hunk of kabocha squash, but then I didn’t feel like adding more broccoli to my broccoli bag even though I clearly didn’t have enough. So I approximately two-thirded the recipe in the end.

This is the size of my broccoli-crown pieces. I like very small, soft broccoli bits.

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Frazzly, sour, bitter, hot

I have, in my long life, come across recipes for kimchi fried rice many times. It never seemed remotely appealing. I don’t like kimchi: it’s too cold, sour, spicy, lip-puckering, shriveling. It always comes before something better, something I want much more.

But when I came across it on Pink Basil, it suddenly looked perfect—red, hot. Full of onion and chewiness and oil; I thought it would be cooling. And I anticipated a week or two of Pantry Staples because of various traveling.

So I bought kimchi (which totally destroyed my $5 rule—that I can’t buy any single thing that costs more than $5, ingredients-wise; this rule is frequently destroyed, most recently by CHERRIES), and it sat in my fridge for a while. Kimchi, if you are not aware, is basically fermented cabbage. It is also very good for you, in a yogurt sort of way, if you catch my meaning. The brand I bought—no idea what the name is; it just says “New York Kimchi” and then some things in Korean—contains cabbage, apple, salt, ginger, garlic, green onion, anchovy broth (SURPRISE! not vegetarian!), pepper, chile powder, and some sort of bacteria that’s put there on purpose.

Today I finally made the fried rice.

I have purchased a new friend. His name is Mofo, Do Not Rob Me Or You Will Regret It. I will keep him under my pillow. This reminds me of an Eddie Izzard bit, but I cannot find it on YouTube.

“Glang Gling Gling Gling … Gling Gling.” That was a barrel organ version of “Jerusalem,” which was a British, a British Empire type song. It’s a hymn, you know, one that we’d sing in church as a kid, I used to [sings] “And did those feet Boom Boom Boom Boom in …” you know. And it’s got really weird lines in it, and it was “And shall my sword sleep in my hand.” Not a good idea. You’re gonna roll over and cut your bits off, aren’t you. And then it’s that Godfather scene of [holding things to his face] “Uhh, Uhh, Uhh, Uhh, a head of a horse, and my willy.” “Should my sword sleep near my bed, but not too close so it cuts my bits off.” That’s how the line should go.

(Thank you, wonderful people who have transcribed all of Eddie Izzard.)

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COLD SESAME NOODLES!!!!!!!

Dear Sam Sifton,

You are the best person ever.

Love,

Julie

I just made his cold sesame noodles and then I died because they were SO GOOD and I was SO EXCITED THAT I MADE SOMETHING THAT TASTES GOOD. I AM GOING TO EAT THESE NONSTOP FOREVER.

Anyway, so it is ridiculously hot in New York these days and I decided I should try making cold sesame noodles, even though I’ve never actually eaten them. After extensive research I settled on this recipe, mostly because I love Sam Sifton (ah, the roller coaster of emotions when he was appointed restaurant critic, and then again when he stopped being the restaurant critic).

To go with them, I decided on an Asian-ish vegetable stir-fry with tofu. The stir-fry was made up; I figured it should involve snap peas, because I love snap peas, and baby bok choy. I also bought scallions and then discovered they weren’t in the sesame noodle recipe, so I included them in the stir fry. For the bok choy, I cut the ends off and then just sliced them; I broke up the stems a bit more so I wouldn’t have huge bites of them. (See note below.) For the snap peas, I de-stringed them—you just pull the little string thingy and they sort of unzip; it’s very satisfying—and broke them in half.

I stir-fried the baby bok choy, scallions, and snap peas with garlic, ginger, and a little soy sauce and toasted sesame oil (not enough of either, actually). I pan-fried the tofu until golden. For some reason I thought it would mingle with the vegetables, which would impart their flavor to it; but then I just ate it plain, which was sort of gross, but serviceable, I guess.

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