Easy Black Bean Dip

Needing a bean dip for my teenager cooking class recently, in which a dessert was the main dish, I developed this recipe that would be simple and quick for the kids to make. This is served with tortilla chips.

Makes sufficient for six or more as an appetizer, accompanied by tortilla chips.

1 (14-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 small onion, finely minced
1 large clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves, plus extra for garnish, if desired
1 teaspoon lime juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper or 1 teaspoon hot sauce
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup sour cream

Drain and rinse beans. Mince onion and garlic, keeping them separate. Chop cilantro. Squeeze lime juice.

In a frying pan, gently fry the onion in the olive oil, stirring frequently, until softened. Stir in garlic for one minute. Add drained beans and heat, mashing them smooth with the back of a spoon. When hot, remove them from the heat.

Stir in the lime juice, seasonings and sour cream. If the mixture is too thick, add a little water. Stir in the cilantro. Taste and add salt if needed.

Serve sprinkled with a little finely chopped cilantro, if desired.

Dip with tortilla chips.


Eggplant Parmesan -- a richly flavored Southern Italian vegetarian treat

Eggplant Parmesan, or Melanzane alla Parmigiana, may have originated in Sicily, though it is now more associated with the Naples region. The province of Parma, and the wonderful cow’s milk cheese Parmigiano Reggiano, named for that province plus the neighboring province of Reggio Emilia, are northern Italian. But the baked eggplant dish, despite the northern name and typically being seasoned with that northern cheese, is classically southern Italian in style with vibrant tomato sauce playing off against cheese and breaded “meaty” vegetable and olive oil. Several later variants of the originally eggplant dish, which substitute thinly sliced breaded meat for the sliced eggplant, include Veal Parmesan and Chicken Parmesan.
As wonderful as eggplant can be, it has several unpleasant characteristics to overcome. The bitterness from traces of nicotine-like alkaloids (eggplant is related to tobacco, after all) needs to be salted out or roasted out. Eggplant also requires proper cooking to not be rubbery or spongy or have tough skin.

For a large casserole dish of Eggplant Parmesan you will first need to make a tomato sauce (sometimes confusingly called “Marinara” – sailor’s sauce) and grate mozzarella cheese plus a little Parmigiano cheese or Romano cheese -- which I prefer, but I grew up around Sicilians.

The Sauce:
3 extra large cloves garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes (Hunts brand or Progresso are good)
3/4 cup water (rinse the tomato can with it before adding to the cooking)
2 1/2 teaspoons sugar (amount will depend on the acidity of the tomatoes)
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
Salt to taste (1/2 - 1 teaspoon or more)
2 large fresh basil leaves

Crush the garlic (press under a drinking glass or with the side of a knife) and remove the skin. Fry the garlic slowly in the olive oil in a large non-corrosive pot (enamel, stainless steel, etc.) until just starting to turn golden. Remove and discard the garlic pieces.

Add the tomatoes, water, sugar, paprika, cloves, and a little salt. Bring to a rapid boil, stirring frequently, and let simmer 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.  (Partially cover the pot, since the tomato splatters; move pot from the heat before stirring to reduce splatter.) Taste and add salt if necessary, and a little more sugar if too acidic. Stir in the basil and remove from the heat.  Let cool. (Stores in refrigerator up to 5 days or freezes up to several months.)

The eggplant:
2 medium-large eggplants
3 tablespoons salt for the soaking water
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt for seasoning the flour
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 cups unseasoned breadcrumbs, plus more as needed
4 tablespoons (approx.) olive oil for drizzling

Cut off stem end and the very bottom of eggplants. With a vegetable peeler, peel a narrow strip off from top to bottom on four sides of the eggplant. Slice eggplants crosswise 3/8-inch thick. In a large bowl dissolve the 3 tablespoons salt and about three quarts of water. Immerse the eggplant slices, and mix them around occasionally, and soak them for 30 minutes or more to get out the bitter juices.

In a bowl, beat the eggs with a fork. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, 1-1/2 teaspoons salt, pepper and nutmeg. In a third bowl place the breadcrumbs.

Drain the soaked eggplant slices. Dredge them a few at a time in the seasoned flour. Tap them to shake off excess flour and dip them in the egg, shake off the excess then put them in the breadcrumb bowl to lightly coat them, Tap the slices to shake off excess crumbs. Place them on one of several baking sheets (lined with parchment paper if available), close but not touching.

When all slices are breaded, drizzle them each with a little olive oil. Bake them in a 350-degree oven 15-20 minutes, or until starting to turn golden and become tender to the touch. Let cool.

Assembling the casserole:
4 cups grated mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

Heat the oven to 360 degrees.

Smear some of the tomato sauce to wet the bottom of a large, attractive 10-by-13-inch baking dish (or several smaller ones), from which the eggplant will be served. Place almost half the roasted eggplant slices tightly together or slightly overlapping to cover the bottom of the casserole. Cut some eggplant slices into quarters to fit into the spaces around the edge. Sprinkle half of the mozzarella and half the other cheese over the eggplant. Spoon about half the remaining sauce evenly onto the cheese layer. Place the second layer of eggplant (it will be the top layer) onto the first layer, using up the eggplant slices except for a few to cut to fill in spaces. Spread the remaining sauce over this layer, then sprinkle the remaining cheeses on top. 

Bake on the lower shelf of the oven until bubbling on the edges and the cheese on the top browns somewhat, 35-45 minutes. Turn the dish once or twice during the baking.

Serve hot with a salad and crusty bread.


Lentil and Tomato Dip, and a bit of history

I often fix appetizers for my daughter Maria’s pottery shows, at which it’s customary to offer light food for visitors to the gallery. A while back I started using lentils in some of these dishes, for a reason that is not at first obvious.

Lentils are one of the earliest crops in human cultivation, at least in the Fertile Crescent. They were so important a part of human cultivation and nutrition that they even play an important role in Genesis, which metaphorically recapitulates human history.

Esau, the elder son of Isaac, and heir to the patrimony of Isaac and Issac’s father Abraham, was the hunter. The younger son, actually Esau’s fraternal twin, Jacob, was the farmer. Thus the twin brothers symbolize the hunter-gatherer vs farmer dichotomy of the Neolithic period of human development. Esau had been unsuccessful in hunting at one point and, starving, implored Jacob to give him some lentils to eat (they were apparently red lentils). Jacob forced a hard bargain on his twin brother and traded Esau a pot of lentils for the family birthright. Thus for a pot of lentils, Israel became the House of Jacob rather than the rightful House of Esau. The ethics of this bargain I’ll leave to rabbinical scholars. I’m primarily interested in the scriptural references to pottery and lentils.

Pots in which to actually boil lentils only became available with the advent of terra cotta pottery in the late Neolithic period. Prior to that technological advance lentils were more marginal, needing to be ground and fried as a bread or cake on a hot stone griddle. Thus pottery enhanced lentils’ usefulness to human nutrition and survival, and lentils in need of cooking enhanced pottery’s practical value. Lentils and terra cotta pottery thus co-evolved and helped spur the Neolithic agricultural explosion.
Of course, the other reasons I do lentil-based appetizers for Maria’s shows is that they are suitable for vegetarian eating, which is common in the circles that frequent pottery and art gatherings, they are quick to cook, and they are as economical as they are nutritious. And I love the taste, if not the dull appearance, of lentils.

Here’s a lentil dip I made recently for one of Maria’s events, though this was a birthday gathering rather than a pottery exhibit. Garnishes improve the visuals of a lentil dish.

The recipe serves 10 or more as part of an appetizer selection, with somewhat over a quart of dip. Offer lightly salted crackers or chips for serving.

2 cups split red lentils (available at many supermarkets and natural food stores)
6 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes, chopped finely
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) red wine
1 tablespoon tomato paste (store the rest frozen in a zip-lock plastic bag for other use)
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 cup sour cream
Finely chopped parsley for garnish

Rinse the lentils several time in cool water and drain. Soak them in a cooking pot with water to cover them by half an inch and let them sit for half an hour or more. In a small bowl, mix finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes with wine, and allow to marinate, stirring from time to time.

Place pot with lentils and their soaking water over medium heat and bring to a boil. Simmer the lentils, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom of the pot (they tend to stick), adding small quantities of water to keep lentils moist, with the water level just below the surface of the lentils. 

When lentils become tender (15-20 minutes) add the marinated dried tomatoes plus any juices, the tomato paste, salt, and dry spices. Stir frequently, scraping the bottom of the pot, and simmer until lentils are fully tender but still intact.

Remove from heat and stir in sour cream. Taste and add a little salt if needed. Let cool.

Serve in a shallow bowl. Dust with finely chopped parsley. Accompany with low-salt crackers or chips.


Sweet and Sour Fish, one of the favorite dishes in my family

This is one of the most popular Chinese dishes in Southeast Asia, and has numerous versions. At fancy Chinese restaurants sometimes an entire fish is deep-fried for it.

When I was young, the popular cliché dish at Chinese-American restaurants, a dish I thought was wonderful in my innocence before living in Asia and having real Chinese food, was “Sweet and Sour Pork,” crispy batter-fried pork pieces in a gluey sauce with chunks of pineapple and bell pepper. But it was a cut above the “Chop Suey” and “Chow Mein.” (Nowadays, the non-authentic, popular clichés at Chinese-American restaurants include “General Tao’s Chicken” and “Mongolian Beef” and “Shrimp Rangoon.” See my blog post of 9/2/2019 for a very tasty, if not really Chinese, “Mongolian Beef.”) 

Photo: Maria Dondero. Platter: Marmalade Pottery, Athens GA
In Asia, the only sweet and sour dish I recall encountering was sweet and sour fish. It was a revelation. That dish has become one of the favorites in my family, often requested for birthday dinners.

The version here, with squares of fish fillet, is practical for home cooking. Grouper would be my preferred fish, but tilapia, which many people frown on, makes a surprisingly good dish and is more economical. In fact, the sweet and sour fish I had in Northern Thailand, distant from the sea, was made with local farm-raised tilapia.

The recipe serves six to eight when accompanied by unsalted white rice and a stir-fried vegetable side dish. Preparing sweet and sour fish is a little elaborate, but it’s a party dish and a centerpiece. The effort is worth it.

1-1/2 pounds (thawed if frozen) skinless fillet of white fish, such as grouper or tilapia
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
1 egg
1 tablespoon water
3 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon rice flour (for crispness), or 1 extra tablespoon flour
Oil for frying (like canola or sunflower oil, not olive oil)
1/2 red bell pepper
1 small-medium carrot*
1 large or 2 smaller green onions
6 sprigs cilantro leaf

1 large clove of garlic
1/2 inch fresh ginger
1 tablespoon oil
3/4 cup water
3 tablespoons soy sauce
5 tablespoons vinegar (white or cider)
1 tablespoon tomato catsup
6 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil (available at Asian groceries)

Pat fish dry with paper towel, and cut it into 2-inch squares. Sprinkle with salt and grated ginger and mix to coat. Allow to sit in a bowl at least ten minutes while preparing the other ingredients. Push fish to one side of the bowl and with a fork, beat egg with the water, flour and rice flour. Combine with the seasoned fish, to coat, using your hands to mix evenly. Set aside until ready to cook.

Prepare vegetables and stack in piles on a plate. Remove stem, core, and seeds from bell pepper. Cut into long slices 1/8-inch wide. If more than 3 inches long, cut them in half. Peel carrot* and slice it on a long diagonal 1/8-inch thick. Pile up the slices and cut them lengthwise into 1/8-inch matchsticks. Cut green onion, white and green parts included, into long diagonal slices 1/8-inch thick. Stack a few up at a time and cut in half lengthwise, so as to shred. Pick over and rinse cilantro leaves.

Prepare sauce ingredients: Finely mince garlic and ginger and set aside. Mix water, soy sauce, vinegar, catsup, sugar, cornstarch and salt in a bowl, then add sesame oil. Taste and adjust with sugar or vinegar to make sweet-sour.
Double batch for serving a crowd.

Heat the oven to warm, for storing the fried fish.

Heat several tablespoons of oil in a non-stick frying pan. Fry fish, part at a time, turning once or twice, until golden (do not overcook). Remove fish from pan, placing it on a warm platter and keep it in the warm oven. Finish cooking fish, adding more oil if necessary.

Remove all except 1 tablespoon of oil from pan, or add oil if necessary to obtain about 1 tablespoon. Fry carrot strips about 1-1/2 minutes over medium heat, stirring. Add minced garlic and ginger and stir and fry about 15 seconds or until fragrant but not browned. Add peppers and fry another half minute. Stir sauce mixture to mix the starch around and add to the pan, stirring. Simmer until boiling and thickened. Remove from heat. Taste, and add salt if necessary.

Arrange fish pieces on serving platter. Spoon sauce and vegetables over fish. Garnish with shredded green onion and coriander sprigs.

*Note: Pineapple is sometimes used in this dish. If desired, replace the carrot with 4 to 5 rings of pineapple, either fresh or canned, cut into small pieces. Stir them into the pan when adding the sauce ingredients.


Butternut Rosato (Pink) Sauce for Pasta shouts Autumn

As summer starts to mellow into fall, I’m eager for cooler, crisper weather and thinking of seasonal food. Here’s a pasta sauce appropriate to the season. The squat pumpkin in southern Europe, “Zucca” in Italy, “Potiron” or “Citrouille” in French, is delightful, and very different from American pie pumpkins or jack-o’-lantern pumpkins. Kabocha squash and butternut squash are closer to the texture and taste, if not the shape, of European pumpkins.

Photo: Maria Dondero. Plate: Marmalade Pottery, Athens GA
Here’s an Italian celebration of “pumpkin” for fall, making it a key part of the sauce for egg pasta or fettucine. It’s a rose or pink sauce known as “rosato” in Italian and is built around caramelized butternut squash. Rose sauces are made with a marinara-style red sauce and finished with cream, mellowing the flavor and producing the delightful salmon-pink color.

First, I make a batch of marinara, part of which is used for the rose sauce. Then I caramelize cubed butternut by frying it in olive oil, cook it briefly with some marinara sauce, and stir in cream. The sauce goes well over fresh pasta, especially an egg-containing fettuccine. I finish the dish with grated Pecorino Romano, the tangy sheep’s milk cheese that I prefer on pasta (I grew up around Sicilians, who used Romano more than Parmesan). Parmesan, or Parmigiano, a cow’s milk cheese from Northern Italy, would also work and would actually be more traditional with this Northern Italian style dish.

(The rest of the marinara sauce can be used for other things, such as with lightly fried medallions of chicken breast for an impromptu Chicken Cacciatore, putting over meatballs, dipping bread sticks, or whatever.)

A wine that several friends and I found paired particularly well with this dish when we test-cooked it a while back it was an Italian “super Tuscan” red, a north-central Italian blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. A Chianti would also work.

The recipe will serve six.

1 large shallot or 1/2 small onion, minced
1 small (1 to 1 1/4 pounds) butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut in 1/2-inch cubes
4 tablespoons olive oil, plus more if needed
1 teaspoon salt, plus to taste
2 tablespoons white wine
2 cups marinara sauce (see below)
12 small fresh rosemary leaves stripped off the stem
1 cup light cream
Grated Romano or Parmesan cheese for serving

Make marinara sauce (recipe below). Prepare onion and butternut.

In large frying or sauté pan, heat the oil with the shallot or onion, and fry it, stirring frequently, until vegetable is softened. Add butternut and fry gently, covered, scraping bottom of pan frequently, adding oil if needed, until squash is tender when pierced with a toothpick. It should start to turn golden brown in places. Add the salt while frying.

When butternut is tender, stir in the wine. Fry for a minute. Add 2 cups marinara sauce plus fresh rosemary leaves. Heat thoroughly. Stir in the cream. Bring back to a gentle bubble. Remove from heat. Add a little hot water if sauce is very thick. Taste, and add salt, if necessary.

Serve over pasta, preferably fresh pasta, boiled in plenty of salted water until just tender to the bite, then drained in a colander. Sprinkle with grated Romano or Parmesan cheese.

Marinara Sauce
4 extra-large cloves garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes (Hunt or Kroger brand preferred)
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, whole
1/4 teaspoon paprika
2 1/2 teaspoons sugar 
Salt to taste (1/2 - 1 teaspoon or more)
2 large fresh basil leaves
Crush garlic with side of a knife. Remove skin. Fry garlic slowly in olive oil in large pot until just starting to turn golden.

Discard garlic pieces. Add fennel seeds, fry for 20 seconds, then add tomatoes, scraping out can. Bring to a rapid boil, then lower heat. Add paprika, sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Simmer 3 minutes. Taste and add salt if necessary. Stir in basil and remove from heat. 


Easy Tailgate Treat: No-Cook Buffalo Chicken Dip

I’m writing this on the day of the first UGA home game of the season in football-crazed – and tailgate crazed – Athens GA. How I started making Buffalo Chicken Dip is a story, since until a year ago I never heard of it.

In the fall of last year, I was invited to cater the food for a ladies’ social group gathering. Their evening’s theme was “tailgating,” not one of my frequent pursuits. Grilling hot dogs and burgers plus plenty of PBR in the cooler at the rear end of the SUV or truck was the sum of my knowledge of that way of life. So I sought out ideas from our younger restaurant staff who were UGA students. “Buffalo Chicken Dip,” which I had never heard of, was their top advice. Thank heavens for Google, where I checked a number of recipes. I threw together something plausible, heated it, took it to the venue and put it a chafing dish. The reports the next day when I picked up the serving pans were very positive.
Dish: Maria Dondero, Marmalade Pottery, Athens GA
The original “Buffalo” chicken wings were a spur-of-the-moment creation from food items on hand at a tavern in Buffalo, New York, in 1964 by the Italian American tavern owner. But the story of why she created it varies. The ingredients she threw together were raw chicken wings that she deep fried, hot sauce mixed with melted butter to dip them in, and on the side celery sticks and blue cheese dressing from the salad bar. Frank’s RedHot claims to be the original hot sauce used.

Since Buffalo Chicken Dip, loosely based on Buffalo chicken wings, is a recent creation and many approaches exist (though most are served hot), I assumed artistic liberty. Today when I made mine, with sweltering heat outdoors, I prepared a cold rather than a hot, baked dip. I also intentionally kept its preparation simple, using supermarket ingredients in the quantities in which they’re sold. Tailgating features hearty over gourmet, and who needs to labor putting a dip together on game day?

The recipe makes about two quarts. That will feed a lot of tailgaters or party guests. Based on the ingredients, the dip should keep in the refrigerator for at least a few days.  

Serve with corn chips for dipping, ideally with low salt so the dip-chip mouthful isn’t too salty.

1 pound cream cheese
4 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
16 ounces (1 pint) sour cream
3 tablespoons Frank’s RedHot sauce (or Louisiana hot sauce), plus more for serving
1 tablespoon vinegar
1-1/4 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 green onion, white and green parts
3-inch piece of celery stalk
1 rotisserie chicken, typical supermarket size

Place cream cheese, wrapping removed, in a large mixing bowl to warm and soften. With wooden spoon or firm spatula, mix cream cheese well till soft. Add crumbled blue cheese, sour cream, hot sauce, vinegar, salt and pepper.

On a large cutting board, using a chef’s knife, very finely mince together the green onion (roots and ragged tips of green parts removed) and the celery. Add this to the bowl.

Using rubber gloves, or well cleaned hands, remove the skin from the rotisserie chicken (save skin and bone to make broth for a different dish). Pick meat off the bones, and feel the meat well to detect any bits of bone or cartilage. With the chef’s knife and cutting board, chop the chicken very finely, part at a time. Add it to the bowl.

Mix thoroughly. After a few minutes’ rest, taste and if slightly under salted, mix in a little salt. Refrigerate until needed. (Keep cold in an insulated bag if going to the tailgating party on a hot day. Have the hot sauce bottle with the chicken mix, since you will need it for serving.)

To serve, place about half the dip in a shallow bowl. Sprinkle lightly to heavily with hot sauce, depending on the preferences of the group. Accompany with corn chips (low salt is better for this use) or other dipping items.


Arroz con Pollo (Spanish-Caribbean Rice with Chicken) has a long history

Cooking meat with rice, vegetables, and seasonings goes back to ancient Persia, where the dish was termed “polo.” This became “pilaf” when it travelled west with the Turks and “pulao” when the Mughals took it east into India. Pilaf is the term used in the Arab countries as well as Turkey. The cooking method (as well as rice) came to Spain during the Arab/Moorish period in the Middle Ages. From that introduction it has since evolved into Paella (where seafood and vegetables are cooked with the rice and saffron in a wide, shallow cooking pan called the “paella”) and travelled to the New World as chicken cooked in rice, “Arroz con Pollo,” and even influenced Louisiana’s “Jambalaya.”

Here’s a version of Arroz con Pollo from the Caribbean, where pigeon peas (“gandules” in Spanish, “pwa” in Haitian Creole), beans, or other legumes are added to the chicken in the rice. Annatto seeds, rather than the much more expensive saffron, give the yellow color. The recipe looks fussy, but ultimately this is a one-pot dish.

The recipe serves six to eight, but leftovers keep well and reheat well in the microwave.

Make chicken broth with chicken bones and skin. Skim off fat, and strain broth through a sieve. A recipe of the rice will require about 3 cups of broth. Commercial chicken broth can be used, but try to get the low-salt variety.

The meat
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thigh (or equivalent weight after cutting thigh meat off the bones (about 3 pounds thigh with skin and bones) before cutting, and use bones and skin for broth, above)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed hot pepper flakes or cayenne

Cut off (and save for cooking) excess fat and any tough parts from chicken. Cut meat into 1-inch pieces. Marinate with the seasonings listed while preparing the remainder of the dish.

The rice
1 tablespoon whole annatto seeds, microwaved in bowl with 3 tablespoons sunflower or canola oil for 1 minute. Then microwave for 20 seconds at a time until orange color is clear in the oil. Strain out seeds before using the colored oil.

2 cups Basmati or Mahatma long-grained rice
3 tablespoons grease from rendering chicken fat plus olive oil as needed
1 medium-large onion, diced
1 medium-large green Poblano or large Anaheim pepper, cored, seeded, and diced
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 of a (10-12 ounce) package frozen field peas, or Crowder peas, or 1/2 can “gandules,” drained
2 Roma tomatoes, chopped coarsely, 2 tablespoons ketchup, or 1/2 cup drained canned diced tomatoes
The annatto oil (see above)
2 bay leaves
3 whole cloves
2 teaspoons salt (1/4 teaspoon less if salted broth is used)
2-3/4 cups chicken broth, homemade unsalted, or low-salt commercial

Rinse rice well and drain it. Set aside to “dry.”

Heat a large pot and over medium heat and fry the fat and trimmings from the chicken, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom of the pan. Remove golden fried bits. Add enough olive oil, if needed, to total about 3 tablespoons grease in pot. Add onion and Poblano pepper. Fry until starting to turn golden, stirring frequently. Add garlic and fry for 1 minute. Add marinated chicken and fry, stirring often, until raw color is gone. Add frozen (or canned, drained) field peas and tomato or ketchup. Cook until peas are hot.

Add rice, the annatto oil (strain out seeds by pouring oil through sieve), bay leaves, cloves, salt, and chicken broth. Stir well, then do not stir again until rice is fully cooked. Bring to boil. Cover tightly, reduce heat to lowest setting, simmer 20 minutes without opening lid. Turn off heat and let sit, still covered, 10 minutes.

Open lid, remove bay leaves and cloves. Fluff the rice and serve. Optionally a few chopped cilantro leaves can be sprinkled on the rice. Accompany with lime wedges to squeeze on, plus hot pepper sauce.


“Mongolian Beef” is tasty though not Mongolian

That frequent dish at Chinese restaurants exotically labeled “Mongolian Beef” has little connection to Mongolia, or even to China. Yet it can be delicious and is fairly easy to make. The successful dish and its name are both Chinese-American restaurant creations.

I was drawn into Mongolian Beef by Garrett, a young friend who often cooked with me a few years ago. He wanted to learn how to make it, one of his favorite restaurant dishes, so he could cook it for his family. After some research, I sketched a recipe. We tested beef and chicken versions and preferred the beef. More recently I used it to teach my teenager cooking class how to cut meat and cook stir-fries. It worked for them, too.

The dish is hearty and very tasty. It should be accompanied by unsalted white rice, as it would be in a Chinese restaurant.

“Flat Iron” steak (beef shoulder top blade steak), available at supermarkets, is easy to slice thinly across the grain. It’s a fairly tender yet an economical and tasty cut of beef, convenient for home cooking. Other lean beef can be used, as long as you cut it thinly across the grain.

Hoi sin sauce, a thick sweet Chinese sauce and condiment made from soybeans, is the principal seasoning, supported by soy sauce, hot pepper flakes and sesame oil. (Hoi sin sauce, soy sauce and sesame oil are available at Asian grocery stores, such as Fooks Foods, 2026 So. Milledge Avenue, Athens.)

The recipe serves four to six with rice
“Mongolian Beef” with Sweet Chilies

1 pound beef “flat iron” (shoulder top blade) steak or eye of round
1 teaspoon cornstarch for beef
2 teaspoons canola oil for beef, plus more for frying
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 pound broccoli crowns
6 medium-large scallions
2 large cloves garlic, chopped

Sauce mixture:
2 tablespoons hoi sin sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed dry red pepper

Prepare beef by trimming off tough or fatty parts. Cut flatiron steak down middle lengthwise, or cup eye of round into four pieces lengthwise with the grain. Slice across grain 1/4-inch thick. In a bowl, mix meat well with 1 teaspoon cornstarch, 2 teaspoons canola oil, plus sesame oil.

Prepare other ingredients: Cut stems off broccoli. Cut top into evenly sized flowerets, each with a piece of stem. Cut off roots of scallions and any ragged tips of greens. Slice white and green parts 1-1/2 inches long. If scallion bulbs are fat, slice them in half lengthwise. Chop, but do not mince, garlic. Mix sauce ingredients together in small bowl.

Heat wok or large frying pan over high heat. Add about 3 tablespoons oil. Briefly fry garlic, stirring, about 10 seconds. Immediately add beef. Stir and fry, scraping bottom of pan. When meat has mostly changed color, but still shows some pink, remove from wok and return it to its bowl.

Add a tablespoon of oil to wok. Stir and fry broccoli, sprinkled lightly with salt plus 3 tablespoons water for about 2 minutes, until turning dark green. Add a little water if sticking to bottom. Add meat back and heat until bubbling.

Stir sauce mixture in its bowl then add it to wok. Bring to a boil, stirring. Remove from heat and add scallions. Stir several times to heat scallions. Taste and add salt if needed.

Serve with white, unsalted rice.

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