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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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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