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every dish has a story

Momofuku-Style Cherry Tomato Salad With Soft Tofu and ShisoDec 09, 2011

My apologies for the blurry, dark photo. It was late, and I was hungry.

When I was about two years old, my best friend in the whole world was Jon. He was six months younger but a whole head taller than me, and while I was very quiet and shy, he could wail loud enough for the both of us (or so my mom says). Where I would scamper, he would lumber. One of the only things we seemed to agree upon was that pigeons were meant for chasing (we're city kids), but despite our differences, we were practically inseparable: JonJon and SaSa. Then his family moved down the Peninsula, and our paths wouldn't again cross until much later.

In college, my Jon was my buddy Kevin. Again, he was the outgoing one, and quiet little me always seemed to be tagging along to his parties. His social sphere was only slightly smaller than the campus population, whereas I tended to stick to a very small circle of friends. So it was a strange twist of fate when I found out that Kevin and Jon were close friends, having met through the university's crew team.

Fast forward about 15 years to last weekend when we hosted Jon, Kevin, and their awesome wives for a little dinner party conceived through my Momofuku cookbook. We enjoyed an upscale ssam dinner (Korean barbecue served as make-your-own lettuce wraps) with kalbi-style New York strip and grilled pork belly and an insalata caprese-inspired cherry tomato salad that I was dying to try. Rather than nesting the tomatoes on soft discs of mozzarella, Chang substitutes silken tofu and replaces zesty strips of basil with equally pungent Japanese shiso.

The resulting dish was fantastic, even heading into Winter (I can only imagine what it's like when the tomatoes are at their peak of flavor in late Summer). And in one of my pensive moments (because — if you haven't already noticed — I am a quiet person) I realized it's a terrific metaphor for these friendships: seemingly mismatched ingredients intersecting in a harmonious medley. For the recipe, read on.

Mapo DoufuOct 04, 2010

One of my favorite dishes of all time is mapo doufu.  A fiery hot tofu casserole that leaves your lips tingling hours later (think DuWop Lip Venom!), it's also richly flavored with many difficult-to-isolate flavors. After trying it for the first time at Spices in the Richmond District, I quickly researched recipes and added it to my early repertoire. But the flavors I was searching for eluded me. I could taste the ginger and garlic -- that part was easy. My next quest was for fermented, salted black beans which I found after scouring the aisles in Sunset Super. Many recipes also called for sichuan peppercorns, which were difficult to find, so I summarily dismissed that ingredient, assuming that I could recreate the flavor with regular black pepper. This assumption, I later realized, was terribly wrong.

On Sunday, after researching a few more recipes online, I headed out to Sunset Super to search for this spice. Finally, among the dried beans, fungus, and star anise, I found a one-pound bag of these curious-looking pods. I took my prize home. And now my mapo doufu is about 90% of the way there. I have noted my future adjustments after the recipe. For the recipe, read on.


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