sesame oil

This is my attempt at a very simple side dish I enjoyed many times at a small Korean restaurant in Palo Alto. Tofu House is a tiny chain in Santa Clara County. Chain or no, I really love their food. When I worked in PA, I’d often go there for a special lunch-upgrade. I have to thank my great friend Euriele for introducing this restaurant to me.

sesame oil and shoyu flavored sweet potato

sesame oil and shoyu flavored sweet potato

I work in San Francisco now so don’t get there much any more. Too bad for my stomach, though the car is a lot happier. These days, anytime we visit Palo Alto I try to eat there. My favorite dish is the spicy soft tofu soup flavored with kimichi. They deliver it piping hot in a stone pot. It is thrilling and dangerous. You have to let it cool for a while or you’ll burn your mouth and lips. (That’s happened to me more than once.)

Like a lot of Korean places, they serve kimchi and a myriad other small dishes both before and during the main course, all with endless refills. Tofu House is pretty creative so there’s lots to choose from: Napa cabbage kimichi, scallion and seafood pancakes, pickled cucumber, pickled radish, rice cooked with beans and, of course, the sweet potato dish.

Lately I have been reminiscing about Tofu House and the sweet potato side dish in particular. I think I got the recipe “right” based on my taste buds. I served this at a small dinner party. Everyone went back for seconds. The secret is the smoky flavors that the sesame oil and shoyu add to the potatoes.

sesame oil and shoyu flavored sweet potato

1½ lbs yellow or white sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into medium size cubes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp olive oil
½ cup water
pinch of kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp shoyu (soy sauce)

Add olive oil, garlic and sweet potatoes to a pan and sauté for about 4 minutes. Add water, salt, black pepper, cover and cook on high temperature until potatoes are cooked through: sort of holding their shape but nearly dissolving. Add a bit more water if not fully cooked. Remove from heat. Fold in sesame oil and shoyu. Add more shoyu or salt if needed. Delicious!


ramen noodle soup with shiitake in shiro miso broth

ramen noodle soup with shiitake in shiro miso broth

A couple of weeks ago my friend Eric invited me to have lunch with him at a new ramen noodle soup food stall at the Ferry Building in San Francisco. He said that the chef used to work at the restaurant, Nopa, which I had tried and enjoyed a while ago. I don’t remember seeing soup on the menu at Nopa. I wonder why not, as the ramen noodle soup is particularly delicious. I’ve seen it open on Tuesdays for sure and I think the soup shop is there on Thursdays as well. He only serves ramen soups with miso broth for vegetarians, or miso and meat stock for the rest. Perfect!

Obviously, I ordered the one with miso broth.

The soup comes hot, with beautiful fresh and freshly cooked ramen noodles. Swimming among the noodles were shiitake mushrooms, sprouts, wilted collard greens, a boiled egg that was partially cooked and a nori sheet folded into a 3×3 inch square that was half submerged in the soup. Very beautiful presentation! They use disposable biodegradable plastic containers, which I also liked. On the side the chef offers chili oil, chile flakes, shoyu and toasted sesame oil. I used all of them to spice it up some.

I’ve been thinking about this soup since. Fantasizing, really. That soup was divine! I couldn’t let it go, so I decided to make my own version at home. It, too, was amazing. There’s something incredible about the combination of miso, mushroom and nori: sort of earthy and oceanic all at once.

Steven thinks that this would be a great meal for the day after Thanksgiving. It is light for starters. Also, it has a different flavor profile from traditional T-day foods, though it is still “comfort food.” This is especially good for cold weather.

fresh and rehydrated shiitake and rehydrated tremella mushrooms

fresh and rehydrated shiitake and rehydrated tremella mushrooms

ramen noodle soup with shiitake in shiro miso broth

2 stalks celery
1 carrot
1 onion
1 pot of water (about 1 gallon)
2 dry shiitake mushrooms, stems removed
6 fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems removed
1 dry tremella mushroom
1lb daikon, cut into 1½ inch rounds
Leaves and stalks from daikon, roughly chopped
4 mustard green leaves, roughly chopped
4 toasted nori sheets
1 lb soft tofu
8-10 tbsp shiro miso (white miso paste)
shoyu/soy sauce
1 scallion, chopped
wedges of roasted acorn squash baked in the oven 20 min with a sprinkle of salt, pepper and a bit of brown sugar as garnish (optional)
300 gr fresh ramen noodles (~11 oz)
2-4 tbsp toasted sesame oil
shichimi togarashi (Japanese chili pepper mix)

Bring a large pot filled with the water, celery, carrot and onion to a boil then simmer for about 15 minutes to create stock. Discard celery, carrot and onion.

Place dry shiitake and tremella (tremella look like dried coral) mushrooms in two separate bowls. Remove tofu from package, rinse then sprinkle with a bit of salt and put it in a third bowl. Add a cup of the hot stock to each of them and soak for about 20 minutes. Drain mushrooms. Cut shiitake into quarters. Do the same with tremella mushroom using a pair of scissors.

Add chopped daikon root to stock pot and bring to a boil. Cook until al dente, for about 12 minutes. Add mushrooms, mustard greens and daikon leaves/stalks in the last couple of minutes. Turn temperature down to simmer.

Transfer about 2 cups of hot broth to a bowl. Add miso and whisk until dissolved. Return to the pot. Add fresh ramen noodles, sesame oil, and shoyu. Taste and adjust flavors with more shoyu and miso. (If you need more miso make sure you dissolve it in a bowl before adding to the soup.) Break apart tofu and add to soup, simmer for a couple more minutes just to warm it through.

To serve, fill each bowl with an assortment of the vegetables and tofu then add broth. Add nori (mine is buried in there for extra marine flavor). Top with a wedge of acorn squash. Sprinkle with chopped scallion. To adjust flavors at the table, have shichimi togarashi, toasted sesame oil, shoyu on hand.


Szechuan fry bread

by Stevie on July 1, 2010

I’ve been wanting to make this recipe for ages, but was having trouble locating Szechuan peppercorns. Finally, I found some in the bulk section of my least favorite grocery store ever, Rainbow. Everyone in San Francisco raves about that place but I think that it has poor lighting; it’s difficult to find things; it’s very overpriced; and, the worst thing of all, the staff is rude. Ugh! I rarely shop Rainbow but this time I was desperate so put up with the rough conditions.

Szechuan fry bread

This recipe comes from my favorite East-meets-West cookbook, Silk Road Cooking: A Vegetarian Journey. The dish is surprisingly easy to make, particularly considering that it’s a bread. It was delicious: not too spicy but very flavorful. The sauce is sour and a little savory, which matches perfectly. Brilliant work, Najmieh!

Szechuan peppercorn

I served this with Szechuan style green beans with zucchini, essentially using the same recipe as the one with long beans. We loved it.

Szechuan fry bread

3 cups flour, sifted
1¼ cups boiling water

¼ cup sesame oil
1 tsp. Szechuan peppercorns, toasted and ground
2 tbsp. sesame seeds
2 spring onions, shredded

Olive oil for frying

some key ingredients for Szechuan fry bread

½ cup vegetable stock
¼ cup rice vinegar
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 hot red pepper, crushed
1 spring onion, chopped
2 tbsp. soy sauce

Place flour in food processor with bread dough attachment. Pulse in water to mix and make dough. Mix for three to five minutes until a soft dough is formed. Place in bowl and cover with damp cloth. Let rest for thirty minutes.

Place rested dough on floured surface. Roll into a long cylinder about two inches in diameter. Cut into six equal pieces. Roll each piece into a flat round about six inches across. Paint each piece with sesame oil on one side. Sprinkle sesame seeds, Szechuan pepper and shredded spring onion over each. Roll each round into a cigar shape. Twist each cigar into a spiral. With a rolling pin, gently flatten each spiral to form a round. When I did this, some of the sesame oil and stuffing came out. That’s o.k.

Heat a non-stick pan on medium high. Pour about two tablespoons into pan then add first bread. Fry for a few minutes until the edges dry out and the bottom becomes a reddish brown. Flip and fry reverse in same way. Repeat with remaining breads.

stuffing the bread

To prepare dipping sauce, mix remaining ingredients together in a bowl. Serve with hot bread.


fresh Chinese eggplant

fresh Chinese eggplant

I grew up eating American Chinese food in New England. This was mainly take-out or at restaurants on special occasions like Christmas Eve. Chinese places were always open on December 24th for some reason. The whole family was really into the fried stuff, like eggrolls and dumplings. When I was quite young, we’d order this amazing dish called the Pu Pu Platter. This came in a large wooden tray with a bunch of separate bowl-like sections for different appetizers. But what made the platter truly wonderful was the blue flaming torch in its center! The tray would always have a bunch of fried items like eggrolls and batter coated shrimp. In addition there’d be various meats like spare ribs and steak teriyaki that you could re-heat over the flame. Very festive!

Now that I’m pescetarian and have middle aged problems like elevated cholesterol, I’m trying to get away from the fried meaty stuff. Also, I’ve traveled to China and realize that there’s a lot more to their cuisine than just the bland French-fry styled foods so popular in this country. I’ve a wonderful colleague at work, Lila, who recommended a recipe for Szechuan eggplant. I’ve modified it a bit by removing the ground pork, using less sugar and trying it with rehydrated soy protein. Otherwise this is more or less the traditional method for preparing the dish. Because there’s a lot of ingredients involved and I don’t really measure them that accurately, each time I prepare this, it tastes and looks differently. I like the surprise.

step 1: sauteeing the eggplant

step 1: sauteeing the eggplant

Soy sauce and toasted sesame oil are fairly widely available these days. I get the hot bean sauce in specialty Chinese markets in the Richmond or Sunset districts of San Francisco.

Vegetarian Szechuan Eggplant

3 large or 4 to 5 medium Chinese or Japanese eggplant, cut into medium dice
3 tbs. vegetable oil
1 bulb garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 inch piece ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 to 2 tbs. hot bean sauce, depending on taste
3 cups vegetable stock
1 tsp. salt
½ to 1 tsp. sugar
2 tbs. soy sauce
1 tsp. Toasted sesame oil
1 tsp. Chinese brown vinegar or similar (I use cider vinegar)
6 spring onions, cleaned and sliced into thin rounds


8 to 10 fresh mushrooms, cut in quarters
1 cup rehydrated soy protein

vegetarian Szechuan eggplant over rice

vegetarian Szechuan eggplant over rice

1. Sautee diced eggplant in vegetable oil over high heat for a few minutes until starts to become a bit soft. Remove from pan and place in colander to drain.
2. In medium bowl, add sugar, salt, soy sauce and vegetable stock. Stir and set aside.
3. In same pan, add ginger, garlic and hot bean sauce. Stir over high heat for about a minute until spices become fragrant. Add eggplant to spices. Stir to mix.
4. Pour vegetable stock mixture over eggplant. If using mushrooms or rehydrated soy protein, add this now. Heat liquid to poi8ling then lower heat to maintain medium to vigorous simmer.
5. Cook until most of the water has evaporated and a thick sauce has formed.
6. Remove from heat. Stir in toasted sesame oil, vinegar, and spring onion. Serve at once with rice.

This dish is actually pretty easy to make once you get all of the chopping done. It’s always enjoyable to eat. I make my own vegetable stock by boiling about three to four cups of water and adding a cleaned carrot, peeled onion and stalk or two of celery. The stock cooks while I’m chopping the other ingredients.

enjoying Szechuan dinner

enjoying Szechuan dinner

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