Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Sesame Beef with Mushroom and Soy Sauce Rice

One of my favorite Chinese take out dishes is Sesame Beef with Fried Rice.   Delicious crispy beef with a sweet, yet mildly spiced sauce...wha'ts not to love.  Of course, this isn't an every day meal, but all foods are OK in moderation.  Preparing your favorite restaurant dishes at home allows you to control the quality of ingredients and sodium.

My inspiration for this recipe is a Chinese Bistro in Tallahassee.  It's one of the few places that serves the beef crispy and not soggy from the copious amount of sauce.   Most recipes call for top sirloin steak, but for this dish I used cube steak.  1. it's a cheaper cut of beef  2. the meat has been tenderized which will lessen the chances of over cooking the beef.    

Restaurant Style Sesame Beef
serves 4 or 2 hearty portions


1 1/2 lb. cubed steak, thinly sliced


4 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon dry sherry or sherry vinegar 
a few drops of sesame oil
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vegetable oil

For the Sauce

3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon ginger, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon chili paste (recommended: Sambal Oelek)
2 cups low-sodium beef broth
1/4 cup cornstarch
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1/2 cup sugar or 2/3 cup agave nectar
2 tablespoons tamri or dark soy sauce

Peanut oil or grapeseed oil (use a cooking oil with a high smoke point)

3 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds, for garnish
2 to 3 tablespoons finely chopped scallions or cilantro, for garnish

Toast sesame seeds and set aside.

In a bowl, combine marinade ingredients.  Toss the beef slices in the cornstarch mixture and coat well.  Set aside to marinate while you prepare the sauce.

Meanwhile, mix together all of the sauce ingredients.  Pour them into a small pot and bring to a boil, stirring continuously. Turn the heat down to low and keep warm while you are frying the beef. 

In a heavy-bottomed pot or deep-fryer heat enough oil to come halfway up the sides of the pot, to 375 degrees F.

Fry the beef, in small batches, until golden and crispy, about 2 to 5 minutes. Remove the beef using a wire mesh strainer and drain on paper towels. Season with a little salt, to taste. 

To serve, arrange the fried chicken on a platter and pour drizzle with the sauce. Sprinkle with a generous amount of toasted sesame seeds and garnish with scallions and/or cilantro sprigs.

You can serve this along with brown rice or steamed white rice.  I decided to prepare a quick and easy mushroom rice to go along with the sesame beef.  To round out the meal, serve steamed broccoli on the side.

Quick Mushroom and Soy Sauce Rice
serves 4

2 teaspoons sesame oil1/4 cup dehydrated mushrooms (I used a French wild mushroom mix)

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1 1/2 cups chicken or beef broth
1 cup uncooked white rice
salt and pepper to taste

In a sauce pan, combine the above ingredients and bring to a boil.  Stir, turn down the heat to low, cover with a tight fitting lid and cook for 20 minutes.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Shish Tawook- شيش طاووق

A few days ago I came home to the smell of BBQ wafting in the air - could that be my house?  The smell was enticing, so reminiscent of the grilled foods we enjoyed in the Middle East (especially on Friday nights).  After realizing it wasn't my house, I made a mental note that I must grill as soon as the weather allows.  When it comes to grilling, I prefer a charcoal grill.  Yes,  gas grills are more convenient, but a charcoal grill provide more heat and flavor.  And when it comes to grilling: heat is your friend.

Now it was time to decide on what to grill? chicken, beef, salmon, liver?  I decided to make some grilled chicken kabobs...more specifically, Shish Tawook.  Shish Tawook is a traditional Arabic and Turkish shish kebab, which can also be found in Syrian, Iraqi and Lebanese cuisines, but is made in kabab houses in many cities around the world.  As with anything, recipes for the dish vary depending on family and region.  
My recipe is simple: a yogurt base that is peppered with my favorite spices, lemon juice and OF COURSE tons of garlic.  The key to grilling any meat is to avoid drying it out, so it is important to make the chunks rather large, so the exteriors can brown before the interiors dry out.   

 The key to succulent chicken is to marinate it.  Yogurt or butter milk does a great job of keeping skinless chicken moist, succulent and full of flavor.  I prefer to marinate meats over night or at least 6 hours. I find that's the best way to infuse flavor into chicken.

I kept the menu simple, I served the shish tawook with a lemony sumac salad and grilled pita bread.  I hope you will try this recipe.   

Shish Tawook

2 lbs. chicken breast, cut into 1 inch cubes
1/4 cup yogurt
1/4 cup lemon juice (fresh squeezed)
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons paprika
6-8 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon curry powder (optional)
1 teaspoon Arabic Spice (baharat)
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)


In a large mixing bowl, combine chicken, yogurt, lemon juice, tomato paste and spices.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 6 hours or over night.  If you are using bamboo or wooden skewers this would be a good time to toss them in some water to prevent burning.

Before putting chicken on the grill make sure to bring it to room temperature, by removing it from the refrigerator no more than 20 minutes beforehand.  In this case, remove from the fridge, shake off any excess marinade, then skewer and set aside.  This will ensure that it cooks evenly and quickly.  

Grill over medium hot coals or until the chicken is opaque with no traces of pink, 7 minutes per side.   Serve with toasted pita bread, basmati rice or Middle Eastern Salad.

Here you will find my favorite dressing or sauce to serve with grilled meats.

Sumac Dressing

¼ cup lemon juice
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sumac powder 
1 large garlic clove
salt & fresh pepper to taste

Smash the garlic clove with a pinch of salt and mash using a mortar and pestle or the back of your knife until you have a paste. Add to a bowl with the lemon juice and sumac, and whisk in the olive oil. Season to taste with pepper.  

You can easily turn this into chicken wraps:   take one pita, spread with sumac dressing, top with romaine lettuce and few pieces of onion and chicken, wrap and enjoy!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Vegetarian Quiche

A few days ago I was invited to accompany my friend H to a women's circle she attends on Thursdays.  I was delighted to go, but wanted to take a "Thank You" gift for the hostess.  Since the gathering was held at early in the morning I knew I would not be able to wake up early enough to bake (you see, I'm not a morning person).  Sounds like a great time to bake a light vegetable quiche.

Despite their reputation as a fancy French entree, quiches are actually very easy to make. Once you've mastered the general technique, you need never serve the same quiche again!   Quiches are made from a combination of eggs, liquid, and cheese baked in a pastry shell. As long as you beat the egg mixture well, cook the fillings before adding them to the pie, and follow the baking times and temperatures carefully, you will have success.

I decide on a simple vegetarian quiche.  Since it's early in the day, I wanted something light that wasn't going to leave the guests ready for a nap.  

I will post my recipe for the pastry dough at a later time as I failed to take photos as I made the crust.  I wanted to make something decorative, but it wasn't a pretty as I envisioned, but it was delicious non the less.

Vegetarian Quiche
served 6-8

1 recipe for single crust pie
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese or Parmesan cheese (use what you have on hand)
1 small carrot, finely diced
1/2 cup frozen spinach, thawed and drained
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 medium bell pepper, chopped
1 teaspoon olive oil 
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
1 cup milk or half and half
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper (or less)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
pinch of nutmeg (optional)


Line unpricked pastry shell with a double thickness of heavy-duty foil. Bake at 450 degrees F for 8 minutes. Remove foil; bake 5 minutes or until the pastry is set and dry.  Remove from oven. Reduce heat to 325 degrees F.

In a skillet, saute the onion, green pepper, spinach, and carrots in olive oil. Add the 1/2 tsp. garlic powder, salt, pepper and nutmeg; mix well.  

Remove from heat, stir in cheese and flour.  Sprinkle mixture over the bottom of the pastry shell.

In a bowl, beat eggs and remaining half teaspoon of garlic powder. Add the milk or half and half; mix well. Carefully pour over vegetables. 

Bake for 40-45 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Let stand for 5 minutes before cutting or refrigerate over night.  Serve at room temperature.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Cumin-Scented Stir Fry

During the week, there is at least one Asian inspired meal on the table. Whether it's lettuce wraps, pot-stickers or Asian Slaw Salad.  Last night I tried out a new Asian dish. It was speedy to prepare and  took less than 20 minutes to get dinner on the table!  Best of all it was healthy.  If you aren't interested in chopping your veggies, then feel free to pick pre-cut veggies from your local grocery store.

Cumin-Scented Stir Fry
Serves 4-6

1/2 lb. boneless skinless, chicken breast, thinly sliced
1/4 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce, divided
2 teaspoons cornstarch, divided
3 tablespoon medium-dry Sherry or a mixture of rice vinegar and sugar or apple juice
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided

2 tablespoons minced peeled ginger, divided2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/8  teaspoon hot red-pepper flakes, or more to taste
4 celery ribs, sliced diagonally 1/4 inch thick, leaves chopped and reserved separately
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1/2 c. broccoli florets, steamed or frozen
1/2 white onion


Slice chicken across the grain about 1/8 inch thick.  Toss chicken with 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 teaspoon cornstarch, 1 teaspoon garlic, 1 teaspoon ginger and a pinch of salt.  Allow to marinate while you chop the veggies.

Stir together rice wine, remaining soy sauce, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon cornstarch.
Heat wok over high heat until smoking, then pour 1 tablespoon oil down side and swirl to coat. Add chicken in 1 layer and cook, turning occasionally, until browned, less than 1 minute. Transfer to a bowl.
Add remaining oil to wok, then add ginger, garlic, cumin, and red-pepper flakes and stir-fry 15 seconds. Add celery, onion, broccoli and carrots then stir-fry 3 minutes, then add chicken and juices and stir-fry 3 minutes. Stir rice-wine mixture, then pour into wok and stir-fry until sauce is bubbling, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in celery leaves.
Serve on a bed or steamed rice or brown rice.