H-Mart In Instagram and Dubu Jorim (Korean Braised Tofu)

The new year has brought new things. Otis, my spunky 3-year-old, is now in pre-school for the first time. We got a lucky break because the class had been full, but one little boy had to leave and we slid right into his spot. I was nervous about how Otis would react on his first day (and I was feeling pretty emotional about the change too). But when we walked into the classroom, Otis saw the appropriately-sized tables and chairs, the books and the trains. He turned to me and said, "This room looks great, mommy. It's going to be a wonderful day." He had a serious case of perma-smile when he found out that music, MLK-friendship-hand-painting and swimming was in store for him too. And that was that. No tears, no meltdowns, no drama. 
I chatted with his teachers for a few minutes and when I turned around, Otis was having a very intense discussion with another classmate about train track construction and switching points on the line (he knows a lot about trains). I waved goodbye, picked up Theodore (the 17-month-old), walked outside, and got into the car. Then I did what any mother would do on her son's first day of preschool. I went to H-Mart
The Korean super-store supermarket has everything you could possibly need if you were on the hunt for authentic Asian ingredients. It's also worth noting that they have the best prices on herbs, greens, pomegranates, bitter melon, bok choy and avocados. 
Our local H-Mart also has an amazing organic tofu stand, where tofu is made fresh daily (there's silky sliced, fried, and firm block). I picked up a 2-block tray and it was still warm. Like I said, it's the real deal and it's fresh.
I found a 1 pound bag of Korean red pepper. They didn't seem to stock anything in a smaller size, so I have a lot of it. But it won't go to waste because this is the same red pepper used in kimchi and bibimbap, and I'd like to make both. I picked up a bunch scallions and all the other ingredients I had at home.
It took me under 20 minutes to put the whole dish together, and then I marinated it overnight. The tofu absorbed so much flavor and it was really delicious. I ate it plain and then tried it with some sushi rice. Both were great.
Dubu Jorim is a very popular dish in Korea and often packed for school lunches with a few other side dishes and some rice. And that's kinda perfect since Otis started school this week. I think a Korean-style meal box (dosirak) is definitely in his future.

Dubu Jorim: Traditional Korean Braised Tofu
(Adapted ever-so-slightly from Blogging Over Thyme)
2 lbs. block of tofu will serve 4 (with rice) or 2 very hungry people.

Marinade: Yields roughly 2 cups
Serve chilled

The ingredients are simple and the preparation is straight-forward. This recipe marinates the tofu for 6-8 hours, which allows the flavors to meld together (in the most delicious way). But other methods serve the braised tofu immediately, with the sauce spooned right on top. Be sure to use authentic, finely ground Korean red pepper (which is widely available at Asian supermarkets).

1/2 cup soy sauce
3/4 cup water
1 tablespoon Korean red pepper powder (finely ground)
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
3/4 cup scallions, sliced
1 teaspoon lime juice
1/8 cup toasted sesame seeds

Combine all the ingredients in small bowl and let them sit for 10-15 minutes (while you prepare and braised the tofu).

Pan-Fried Tofu
2 blocks of firm tofu, sliced into thin rectangles (about 1/2- inch in thickness)
vegetable oil

Slice the tofu into thin rectangles and then pat them dry with a paper towel.
Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat with a few tablespoon of vegetable oil (until there is a layer of oil coating the pan). Once the pan is hot, add the tofu, spreading it out in the pan so that the pieces are not touching each other. (It will take more than one round to get all the tofu braised). The tofu should sizzle when it hits the pan.
Sear tofu on each side for roughly 3-4 minutes, until it's light brown on both sides. Remove the tofu and place it on a paper-towel lined plate to absorb any excess oil. Repeat until all the tofu is seared. Allow the tofu to cool to room temperature.
Place the tofu on a baking dish, or any other container with a large surface area (and relatively high sides)--you can do this in two layers, if necessary. Pour the marinade over the tofu, cover, and refrigerate for roughly 6-8 hours. Turn the tofu once or twice during this time, so that all of the piece get marinated properly.
Best served chilled by itself, or with some sushi rice.

Red Pepper Soup & Portobello Mushroom Grilled Cheese

A couple of weeks ago we spent an afternoon in Central Park. We wandered through the park, marveled at the beautiful scenery and the (still) falling leaves. We ended up at the Alice and Wonderland sculpture near 74th street, where I used to hang out when I was in high school.
The Alice in Wonderland sculpture always reminds me of a painting my father made for me the year I was born. He is a mathematician so the painting has a geometric angle. The piece has an incredible yellow and black tile floor, doors of all shapes and sizes, plastic keys, the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat and Alice herself. I really love this painting.
Anyway, the sculpture and painting got me thinking about childhood and this post is dedicated to Childhood Classics.  (For another Childhood Classics click this previous post).
Nothing say "childhood classic" like tomato soup and grilled cheese.  Well, this recipe is a twist on that classic-- Roasted Red Pepper Soup and Portobello Mushroom Grilled Cheese on Sourdough Bread.  The recipe was featured on Top Chef, Season 2, when contestants were challenged with "updating a childhood classic for T.G.I. Fridays."  This was the winning entry.  I did not adapt the soup at all - it follows the Top Chef cookbook verbatim. I very, very loosely followed the  recipe for the grilled cheese sandwich.
Roasted Red Pepper Soup (Courtesy of Top Chef: The Cookbook)
3 medium red bell peppers
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium carrot, diced
1 medium celery rib, diced
1 large red onion, diced
Two 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes in juice
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves, plus more for garnish
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream
Roast the red peppers and coarsely chop.  For suggestions on how to roast peppers, click here.
In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Add the carrots, celery, and onion. Cook until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes.  Add the peppers, tomatoes, basil, vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer, lower the heat, and simmer until the tomatoes begin to break down, 25 to 30 minutes.
Remove from heat, transfer to blender, in batches, and blend until smooth.  I use an immersion blender which simplifies this step significantly.
Return the mixture of the pot (if you used a blender), add cream, and stir until combined.  Serve, garnished with basil. 

Portobello Mushrooms Grilled Cheese
2-3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 large red onion, thinly sliced
2 large portobello mushroom caps, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly group pepper
1-2 tablespoon of unsalted butter
3 fresh sprig of thyme
1 loaf of sourdough bread (8 slices)
1 cup grated provolone cheese
1 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
In a medium skillet, combine extra-virgin olive oil and red onion.  Cook until the onion starts to soften, about 5 minutes.  Add thinly sliced portobello mushrooms and cook until they begin to soften.  Add balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper to taste, butter and sprigs of thyme.  Cook on medium-low flame for at least 15 minutes, mixing occasionally.  
Remove the thyme sprigs and turn off the flame.
Cut sourdough bread into 8 slices (or more/less, depending on how thin/thick you like your grilled cheese).  Add some cheese and mushrooms to each sandwich.  Lightly butter a griddle or skillet and cook each sandwich until golden brown and cheese has melted.  You can also use a panini press to get the job done. 
Serves 4.
Now dunk your sandwich in the soup and enjoy memories of childhood!
I added a little bit of mustard when I made left-overs...but not recommended if you serve with the soup.

Lentil Overload: Side and Soup

The word legume is derived from the Latin word legumen which is believed to come from the verb legere "to gather."  Well-known legumes include peas, beans, lentils, lupins, carob, soy, and peanuts.  For almost 6,000 years of human civilization, legumes have been an important source of protein and used when meat sources weren't available. Being a vegetarian, legumes are a great addition to my diet. 

These two recipes are wonderful.

The first comes from the Williams Sonoma Vegetarian cookbook.  We just got a boat load of red onion and red peppers in our CSA share, so this zippy little lentil salad is perfect for this week.  I also have left over feta cheese from the Pumpkin-Feta Muffins I made a few days ago.  Perfect! I'm a huge fan of the vinaigrette that coats the lentils.  Oh, it is yummy.  This side dish is also versatile: Baby Otis loves the lentil salad when it is pureed into a soup.  The lentils can also be added to noodles for a flavorful pasta salad.  You can try small white (navy), pinto or black beans if you want to change things up.  Fresh goat cheese can be substituted for the feta if you are craving something more creamy. 
The second recipe comes from Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa series).  One of our closest friends Andrew's sister-in-law recommended this recipe and I can see why.  It's flavorful, rich and (as an added bonus) it uses our CSA leeks, onions, carrots, garlic and celery.  Like the Lentil Salad, it can be pureed if you desire a smoother consistency. It is also an easy protein-rich baby food...you know, if that's your thing. 
Lentil Salad with Red Pepper, Mint and Feta (Courtesy of Williams Sonoma Vegetarian)
1 cup (7 oz) dried lentils
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
5 tablespoons red wine vinegar, plus vinegar to taste
2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon of cumin
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small red onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded, deribbed and finely diced
1/4 cup (1/4 oz) chopped fresh mint, plus mint sprigs for garnish
6 oz feta cheese, crumbled

Rinse the lentils and drain, then transfer to a saucepan and add water to cover by 2 inches.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, until the lentils are tender, 15-20 minutes.  Remove from the heat, drain immediately and place in a bowl.
In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, the 5 tablespoons of vinegar, garlic, cumin and salt and pepper to taste.  Add to the warm lentils and toss together to coat evenly.  Add the onion and bell pepper and gently.  Let stand for 20 minutes at room temperature.
Season to taste with more salt, pepper and vinegar, if necessary.  Add the mint and toss to mix well.  Add the feta (save a bit for garnish). Transfer to a platter or individual plates.  Garnish with mint sprigs.  Enjoy!
Serves 6

Ina Garten's Lentil Vegetable Soup (Courtesy of the Barefoot Contessa)
1 pound French green lentils
4 cups chopped yellow onions (3 large onions)
4 cups chopped leeks, white part only (2 leeks)
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
1/4 cup good olive oil, plus additional for drizzling on top
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3 cups medium-diced celery (8 stalks)
3 cups medium-diced carrots (4 to 6 carrots)
3 quarts vegetable stock
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 tablespoons red wine or red wine vinegar
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In a large bowl, cover the lentils with boiling water and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Drain.

In a large stockpot on medium heat, saute the onions, leeks, and garlic with the olive oil, salt, pepper, thyme, and cumin for 20 minutes, until the vegetables are translucent and very tender. Add the celery and carrots and saute for 10 more minutes. Add the vegetable stock, tomato paste, and lentils. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 1 hour, until the lentils are cooked through. Check the seasonings. (I had to add a little bit more salt.) Add the red wine and serve hot, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with grated Parmesan. 

Serves 8-10.