Tag Archives: Pork

vietnamese pork-stuffed tofu with tomato sauce

“I have always thought about/ Staying here and going out/ Tonight I should have stayed at home/ Playing with my pleasure zone”  -New Order, The Perfect Kiss

plated tofu 1

I never thought this day would come, but I have to admit that I’ve started to see the light as far as being an early riser on the weekends.  I woke up around 8:30 this past Saturday morning, as I have been wont to do lately, blissfully clear-headed and ready to take advantage of the day.  I had turned down a couple offers to go out the night before, preferring to have a mellow evening at home, and was feeling pretty self-satisfied as the day lay before me like a plate of noodles waiting to be sauced.

tofu on plate verticalAs I drank my coffee, I began to contemplate why I have a more “take it or leave it” attitude towards going out these days, despite still being single and (relatively) unencumbered.  It’s not that I don’t like to be social- quite the opposite, in fact.  But these days, I’d much rather be social by going to a barbecue or having a few friends over for dinner than staying out all hours.  It’s not that I don’t have the energy; more that I’ve lost the drive.

It occurred to me that a big part of the attraction for people to go out and hit the bars or stay out late can be summed up in one word: possibility.  The possibility that you’ll meet someone new, experience something new, etc.  It’s a big pull when you’re younger and are in a hurry to get as much living under your belt as you can.  But I realized that when you’re perfectly content with what (and who) you have, you lose that “seeking” instinct (or at least, it gets redirected).

Nowadays for example, perhaps the kitchen is your “pleasure zone”, and as-yet-untried recipes your possibilities.  And maybe you’d enjoy nothing more than to stay in and spend an entire evening making a somewhat fiddly dish like, let’s say, Vietnamese stuffed tofu, while your significant other sits in the other room working on the computer, and you bounce around the kitchen with the Pandora station set to New Order.

Vietnamese Pork-Stuffed Tofu with Tomato Sauce (recipe from Into the Vietnamese Kitchen by Andrea Nguyen) printer-friendly version

plated tofu 2 squareI bought this book a couple months ago, but didn’t know where to begin- everything sounded so good!   The book’s photo of these little pork-filled tofu squares caught my eye, and  I figured they were as good a starting point as any.  I was also intrigued by the tomato sauce since I had never had anything like that in any Vietnamese restaurants.  The assembly is a little time-consuming but not overly difficult, and as the author points out, they make good leftovers when heated up in the toaster oven.

For the tofu squares:
a 1-lb block of medium firm (“regular”) tofu
1/3 lb ground pork, coarsely chopped to loosen
1 scallion, white and light green parts, finely chopped
2 dried shiitake mushrooms, reconstituted, stemmed, and finely chopped
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tbs fish sauce
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cornstarch, dissolved in 2 tsp cold water
canola or other neutral oil for panfrying

For the sauce:
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes, pulsed briefly in the food processor (or drain, reserving juice, and finely chop on a cutting board) *
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbs fish sauce

*The author calls for 1 1/2 cups peeled, seeded and finely chopped ripe tomatoes.  If you have access to good tomatoes, feel free to use them in place of the canned.


Make the filling: In a small bowl, combine pork, scallion, mushroom, egg, fish sauce, pepper and cornstarch mixture and beat vigorously with a fork until well blended.  Set aside.

pork filling in bowl 2Prepare the tofu: Drain the tofu and cut into 1/2 inch thick pieces each about 2 1/4 inches square.  You may have to cut the tofu in half crosswise.  There will be 8, 10, or 12 pieces depending on the size and shape of the block.  Lay a piece flat on your work surface and cut a horizontal slit in it, stopping 1/2 to 1/4 inch shy of the opposite side to avoid splitting the piece in half.  Make sure the cut is equally deep on both sides.  Repeat with the remaining pieces.  (I laid my tofu on paper towel and lightly pressed the squares to get out excess water before stuffing them.)

tofu on plate horizontalStuff the tofu: Hold a piece of tofu in one hand and use the other hand to open it up carefully like a tiny book.  Use a knife or small spatula to spread a layer of filling about 1/4 inch thick on one side (I filled mine a little thicker than this, and still had leftover filling.)  Lower the top flap and press the filling gently into place.  Don’t worry if the tofu tears a little.  As you work, place the stuffed tofu squares on a double layer of paper towel to absorb excess water.

tofu in panFry the tofu:  Preheat the oven to 175 or 200 for keeping the tofu squares hot once they are fried.  Pour enough oil in a nonstick skillet to film the bottom (about 4 tbs) and heat over medium heat.  Panfry the tofu in two batches, frying for 4-6 minutes or until the bottom is golden brown.  Carefully flip the tofu and fry the second side for another 4-6 minutes, or until golden brown and the filling is cooked.  Transfer the cooked tofu to a plate or cookie sheet and place in the oven while you fry the second batch. (I lined a cookie sheet with paper towel to absorb some of the oil.)  Repeat with the remaining tofu pieces.

Make the sauce:  Lower the heat slightly and pour off all but 2 tbs of oil from the pan.  Add the garlic to the pan and saute for about 15 seconds or until fragrant.  Add the tomatoes and fish sauce, bring to a simmer and cook for about 5 minutes to blend the flavors.  When the sauce has thickened slightly, taste and season with a little salt to deepen the flavor and a little sugar to balance the acidity.

To serve, spoon the sauce onto a platter (or plate individually) and place the tofu squares on top.

ants on a tree (recipe from “hungry monkey”)

For my newly-minted book club, I had the ambitious idea that not only would I read a food-related book a month, I would also try to post a recipe or two from said book.  June’ s book was Hungry Monkey by Matthew Amster-Burton; go here to see the book review and discussion.  (I actually made the dish a couple weeks ago, but time has a habit of slipping away from me these days, hence the delay in posting.)

Ants on a Tree plated 1

It wasn’t hard to choose a recipe out of this book- I went with Ants on a Tree (not to be confused with Ants on a Log, an entirely different animal) because the author constantly refers to it as his family’s favorite dish, and it’s the one thing his daughter has been willing to eat even through her pickiest phases of toddlerhood.  It’s a Szechuan (or Szichuan, depending on your fancy) noodle dish consisting of seasoned ground pork (the “ants”) and bean thread noodles (the “tree”), and it would give me an excuse to use some of those Szechuan peppercorns I bought a while back at Penzey’s.

noodles in bowlThe nice thing about this recipe, and one reason I imagine it’s become a favorite at the author’s dinner table, is that it’s pretty easy to throw together.  I’m sure after making it a few times and having the seasonings memorized, you could whip it together in a matter of 30 minutes or less.  I love highly-seasoned food, so I did enjoy this dish; my only difference of opinion is that I found it a little too “decadent” (see my note below re: oil) to want to consume it on a regular basis.  Also, I wouldn’t consider this a one-dish meal since it’s just meat and carbs with no veg, so I made a batch of my Chinese-style kale to eat alongside the noodles. We had leftovers, which I would venture to say tasted even better in my lunch the next day.

Making this dish led me to ponder having my own hungry monkey someday, and wondering what his or her unwaveringly favorite food would be.  Until then, I’ll just have to live vicariously through the Amster-Burtons, and raise a forkful of noodles as a salute to Iris and her international palate.

Ants on a Tree (recipe from Hungry Monkey, with a couple tiny tweaks as noted) printer-friendly version

pork in wok8 oz. ground pork
2 tbs soy sauce
1 tbs sugar
1 tbs hot bean paste (sometimes sold as spicy bean paste, or hot bean sauce)
1 tsp cornstarch
6-8 oz cellophane (bean thread) noodles
1-2 tbs peanut or other neutral oil (see notes)
2 scallions, white & light green parts only, thinly sliced (the darker tops can be sliced and used as a garnish)
1 red jalapeño or Fresno chili, seeded and minced
1/4 cup chicken stock (canned or from concentrated bouillon is fine)
1 tbs dark (mushroom) soy sauce
1/4 tsp ground Szechuan peppercorns (see notes)

Notes: You may try to see if you can get away with using less than the 2 tbs oil called for in the original recipe, as I found the end result to be a little on the greasy side (perhaps the pork I used had a higher fat content than what the author normally uses).  Also, the Szechuan peppercorns are listed as “optional”, but if I was of a mind to leave them out, I’d just make a different dish instead; in fact, I would even suggest upping the amount to 1/2 tsp if you’re feeling gutsy.

Directions:  Put some water on to boil.  Meanwhile, combine regular soy sauce and cornstarch in a medium-sized bowl to dissolve the cornstarch.  Add the sugar, hot bean paste and pork, stirring thoroughly to combine.  Refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Place the noodles in a large bowl and when your water comes to a boil, pour over the noodles to cover.  Soak for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, then drain in a colander.

Heat oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet or wok over medium-high heat.  Add the scallions and jalapeño and cook 30 seconds, stirring frequently.  Add the pork and stir-fry until no longer pink, breaking up any chunks, about 3 minutes. (You really want to break up the pork as small as possible, or the meat will all sit at the bottom of the dish, negating the whole “ants on a tree” thing.)

Add the noodles, chicken stock, dark soy sauce and Szechaun pepper.  Cook, tossing the noodles with tongs or two wooden spoons, until the sauce is absorbed and the pork is well distributed throughout the noodles.  Transfer to a large platter and serve immediately, garnishing with a few chopped scallions if desired.


pork potstickers in portland (day 2: 11/14/08: kathy’s kitchen)

gyoza-kale-color-adjustAt long last, here it is: the potstickers post I have been referring to for weeks now!  I have no excuse, as Kathy has already so kindly typed up the recipe for me.  So, as those of you who have been reading know, I visited Portland and Seattle about a month ago, staying 2 1/2 days in each city (see posts on Portland, day 1 & day 2).  My second day in Portland, Kathy taught me how to make guo tieh (literally, “pot stick”; also known in English/ Japanese as gyoza).  She invited her friend Rhonda over to help out, and the three of us had a great time learning and assembling together (not to mention consuming prodigious quantities of wine).   I also made a pot of my “Chinese-style” kale to go alongside, since the gyoza were our main dish. (Since this post is going to be rather long, I’ll post the kale recipe in a seperate blog entry, along with alternate versions of the potstickers.)

I just want to say that when you read this recipe it may seem like a lot of work, but if you have a friend or two over, it actually goes very quickly.  We made a batch of pork and a batch of seafood potstickers, and with three of us wrapping it only took about half an hour.  It’s a fun and impressive dish to make for a party if you have helpers… or you can offer to let people take some home for their labor!  They also freeze well, so it’s worthwhile to make extra as long as you’re taking the trouble.

Guo Tieh (Potstickers) with Pork (recipe courtesy Kathy Lee, with ever-so-minor tweaks by Noëlle)gyoza-on-tray-color-adjust

1 1/4 lbs unseasoned ground pork
1 bag frozen chopped spinach, thawed in a strainer and squeezed dry
4-5 scallions, minced (white and green parts)
1 large or 2 small cloves garlic, very finely minced or put through a garlic press
3 tbs cornstarch
1 tsp baking soda
soy sauce to taste- about 4 tbs recommended
sesame oil to taste- about 2 tbsp recommended
2 packages round gyoza wrappers, thawed if frozen
vegetable oil for frying (2 tbs per pan of potstickers)


 Directions:  Place the pork in a large mixing bowl.  Adding water a little at a time, stir pork in one direction.  Continue adding water until the pork stirs easily and is sticky.  Stir in the spinach.  Put the cornstarch and baking soda in a small dish and add just enough water to dissolve; stir this mixture into the pork along with the soy sauce and garlic.  At this point, you can put the filling in the fridge if you’re not going to assemble the pot stickers right away.  

When you’re ready to do the assembly, stir in the scallions and sesame oil.  (Noëlle suggests frying up a small ball of the meat mixture to taste if it is seasoned to your liking before filling the gyoza; adjust seasonings as needed.) 


To wrap the potstickers:  Line a couple cookie sheets with wax paper.  Put a small dish or glass of water at your “work-station”.  Place a wrapper in your hand and put a spoonful of filling in the center (better too little than too much; you don’t want the potstickers to break open).  As you go, you’ll get a feel for how much filling your wrappers can accomodate without being overstuffed.  With your free hand, dip a finger into the water and moisten the edge of the wrapper. 


fig. 1: "pleating" the gyoza wrapper

 Now, there are two ways to seal the potstickers, the easy way and the “fancier” way.  For the simple method, just fold in half, press the edges together to seal, and indent the bottom (the “fat” part).  To seal them the way we did, fold in half but don’t seal the edges; grasp the wrapper as if it was a taco that you were holding shut at the top.  Basically you are going to pleat one side of the “taco”, leaving the other side smooth.  Fold over a little flap of wrapper towards the center, making a little “pleat” (see fig. 1).  You can either do two or 
fig. 2: the finished product

three pleats on each side of the center.  You should end up with this (see fig. 2):  the top is pleated while the bottom is not; this gives them a nice shape for nesting them in the pan.  

*Note: if you have made extra potstickers and want to freeze them, leave them on the wax paper and put them in the freezer until they are frozen enough not to stick together; you can then put them in a freezer bag.

Frying the potstickers (go here for boiling instructions):  Put 2 tbs vegetable oil in a cold non-stick skillet.  Add potstickers to the pan in a circle, nesting them snugly against each other, until the pan is full (see below).


Place the pan on the stove over medium heat.  Do not use more heat or the wrappers will burn!  Let sizzle.  After about 5-7 minutes, gently lift a gyoza and peek at the underside to check for browning.  Total browning time will be between 8-12 minutes, depgyoza-flip-cropending on your stove, skillet, etc.  Once the gyoza are nicely browned, fill a glass with cold water and add to skillet.  Stand back, as this may cause oil to splatter.  You want the water to cover the potstickers about 3/4 of the way.  Cover the skillet to steam (ideally your skillet will have a lid, but use a plate if necessary).  After a few minutes, check the water level.  When all the water has cooked off, remove from heat.  Cover the skillet with an inverted plate the same size or larger than the skillet.  Put an oven mitt on.  Put the oven-mitt hand on the plate and, holding the skillet with the other hand, invert skillet.  Voilà a beautiful plate of golden brown potstickers!



Dipping Sauces for Potstickers 
For dipping sauce, Kathy uses a mixture of soy sauce, rice vinegar, and chili sauce; combine to taste.  I make a similar sauce but sometimes add a dash of sesame oil.  The Lee family uses another dipping sauce comprised of nothing but soy sauce and copious amounts of minced garlic!  I also like sweet chili sauce, a thick, syrupy bottled sauce (you can make your own by cooking down sugar syrup and chili sauce; sometimes the bottled kind has high fructose corn syrup).