Linguine with Salmon & Cilantro Jalapeño Pesto

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Yesterday I saw the most beautiful and the freshest wild sockeye salmon at Costco, but even the smallest package was more than two pounds. I suppose that’s the only drawback to shopping at Costco — everything is in bulk. I roasted the fish for dinner last night. The fish was so fresh that all the ingredients that I needed was salt, pepper and olive oil. Simply preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Wash and dry the fish with paper towel, rub generously with olive oil, salt and pepper; roast the fish for 10 minutes. Peter and I ate as much as we could without bursting and there was still plenty leftover.

Leftover seafood can turn fishy if you reheat it. I usually use it in a salad or just eat it like cold cuts. Today I mixed the leftover salmon in a linguine with pesto sauce. Linguine with pesto sauce is an easy dish that I have often cooked.  It is so simple that even Audrey can prepare it without any help from me.  As I was about to make the pesto sauce, I thought to myself why not be creative and try something different? We live in such a diverse city where cultures constantly influence each other and, as the idiom goes, variety is the spice of life. So I changed my usual pesto sauce to a cilantro jalapeño tahini “pesto.” I can imagine this pesto also as a dip for vegetables or as a sauce to pour over grilled chicken.

Peter and I loved it, but if cilantro jalapeño pesto sounds too adventurous or simply is not your thing, try my basic pesto sauce.

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Cilantro Jalapeño Pesto

Ingredients:

2  to 2 1/2 cups cilantro (a small bunch)

1/2 cup tahini

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1 clove garlic

1/2 teaspoon or more salt

2 tablespoons olive oil (I used the oil that I had fried the garlic chips in)

1 jalapeño, seeded (or more if you like it more spicy)

Preparation:

Puree all ingredients in a food processor.  Sauté the jalapeño in a little oil makes the sauce even more flavorful, but using it raw is fine.

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I made some crispy garlic chips to sprinkle on the pasta. They added extra flavor and a little crunchy texture to the dish. The way to make perfect garlic chips is to use large garlic cloves, slice them into thin slivers, line them up in a single layer at the bottom of a small non stick pot. Put the pot on medium heat and pour just enough oil to submerge the garlic slices. Let the chips fry to a golden color before scooping them out and lay them on a piece of paper towel. Garlic chips burn easily and you should watch over it while they fry.

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Beautiful Beet Sandwich

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Beautiful Beet Sandwich

Peter called in the the middle of the day and said he had a little free time and could we have lunch together. My husband knows there is always food at home. Having been hungry when I was growing up made me anxious when the food supply is low — my two large fridges in the kitchen are always full.  We live 5 minutes from his hospital and usually it means he can easily go back to work 24/7 at a moment’s notice. But today is one of the rare occasions that living close afforded him a quick stolen lunch at home.  I had just made Angela her favorite massaged kale salad when Peter called, and there was left over beet in the fridge from yesterday.

Ten minutes later Peter was home and this tricolored lunch was already waiting at the table as if I had been expecting him to come home all along. I almost felt like a magician. This very satisfying vegetarian sandwich could definitely last him until dinner.

If I didn’t already had the kale salad, I would have used arugula or cucumber. Or I could substitute pine nuts with pistachio nuts, or walnuts.

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Ingredients:

Cooked beet, sliced

Kale salad, click here for recipe

Goat cheese

Pine nuts

Avocado, sliced

Lemon juice or balsamic glaze

Salt and pepper to taste

Bread slices

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Preparation:

Spray goat cheese on bread and sprinkle pine nuts.  Toast in the toaster oven until the crust is crunchy and the cheese soft. Layer sliced cooked beet. kale salad and avocado slices. Drizzle with lemon juice or balsamic glaze or both.

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Open Sandwich with Smoked Salmon, Fresh Pesto and Pickled Onion

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I made a quick run to Costco to buy bulk food for a friend, who is hosting a large party tomorrow in Tahoe. Angela is in up there in Tahoe at a writers’ workshop and I will be driving there first thing in the morning to attend some of the panels. Instead of succumbing to the temptations of buying oily chips and the sugary drinks for the road trip, I prepared the most delicious sandwiches using the multigrain bread with seeds that was freshly out of the oven from Costco. I used home made fresh pesto simply because it is the easiest thing to do and it tastes so much better than what you can buy from a store.  For lunch today, I made an open faced version of the sandwich that reminded me of the ones I had in Budapest last summer when I was filming Marco Polo. But the resemblance stops when it comes to flavor and texture. My smoked salmon pesto sandwich is so delicious and healthy that you should definitely try it. Or if you are a vegetarian, try my favorite vegetarian open sandwiches by clicking here

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Open Sandwich with Smoked Salmon, Fresh Pesto and Pickled Onion

Ingredients:

Fresh multigrain bread from Costco or any other bread of choice

Wild Alaskan smoked salmon

Cucumber slices

Fresh pesto, click here for recipe

Pickled onion, click here for recipe

Pine nuts

Olive oil spray

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Preparation:

Spray the sliced bread with a little olive oil and toast it until crust is crunchy. Spread the bread with pesto, layer with cucumber slices and then salmon. Top with smoked salmon and sprinkle with pine nuts.

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Spicy Thai Peanut Dip

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There was a large pile of unopened mail waiting for me at home upon my return from China a week ago. It took me a few days to sort them all out.  It’s quite a chore, but sometimes there are pleasant surprises within the pile.  A couple of days ago, I opened a package and found a bottle of Pic’s Really Good Crunchy Peanut Butter and a bottle of dry roasted peanuts from New Zealand.  Our whole family have been enjoying the peanut butter in the past couple of days. We love the pure and intense peanut flavor in this very simple and delicious peanut butter with only two ingredients – peanuts and sea salt. I have written in previous blogs about my love for peanuts, be it peanut chocolate fudge or peanut chocolate ice cream pie or noodles with Asian peanut sauce. There is definitely a peanut loving gene in my body.

I made a spicy Thai peanut dip for the okra that I found in the farmer’s market. I blanched the okra in boiling water for less than a minute. I then rinsed it in cold water and drained it. Within 10 minutes there was a simple, satisfying low carb meal on the table. You can use the dip for any number of vegetables of your choice: carrots, celery, turnip, cucumber… You can even use it as a sauce for noodles.  

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Spicy Thai Peanut Dip

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons peanut butter (I used Pic’s Really Good Crunchy Peanut Butter)

1 1/2 tablespoon light soy sauce

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

1 teaspoon hoisin sauce

1 teaspoon xylitol or sugar

1 teaspoon lime juice

1 to 2 teaspoons Sriracha (depending on how spicy you want the dip to be)

1/4 teaspoon minced garlic (optional)

1/4 teaspoon grated ginger (optional)

1 teaspoon pure sesame oil (optional)

Chopped green onion, crushed peanuts and chili peppers for garnish

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Preparation:

Using a big spoon or your fingers, mix all the ingredients together. Garnish with chopped green onion and chili flakers.

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Caprese Salad

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Caprese Salad

Audrey and I spent 5 weeks in China where we worked on a Chinese comedy about the art of traditional Chinese cooking. I played a character by the name of Tom, which in Chinese sounds like Mother of Soup汤母, and Audrey played the young version of my character in the flashback.  We stayed in a hot spring resort in the boondocks of Xing Yang by the Yellow River.  Everyday, the production brought us two three-tiered lunch boxes with staples such as stir fried tomato with eggs, bell pepper with shredded pork, braised eggplant or mutton radish soup. After two weeks, Audrey groaned whenever those shiny tin boxes were delivered to us and she craved for caprese salad and pizza. When I had a day off, we drove for an hour to the nearest large city of Zheng Zhou in search of them.  We found pizza in a shopping mall, but no one there had heard of caprese salad.

Naturally that was the first thing we ate when we came home. And we have been enjoying it almost every other day. A little deprivation does wonders to renew your appreciation of something you took for granted. I have been jet lagged and there is so much to catch up around the house after a long absence. This caprese salad is not only delicious, it is also the easiest meal to make.  The trick is to buy the best quality tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. Drizzle with the best quality balsamic cream or glaze and olive oil.

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Caprese Salad

Ingredients:

Cherry tomatoes (halved)

Fresh baby mozzarella balls (halved)

Fresh basil leaves

Extra virgin olive oil

Balsamic Glaze or balsamic cream

Salt and pepper

Preparation:

Half the cherry tomatoes and the mozzarella balls. sprinkle with fresh basil leaves. Drizzle with balsamic glaze and extra virgin olive oil.

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Stir Fried Chicken with Peppers

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An old friend of mine has been visiting from Hong Kong, and I have been eating out with her a great deal in the past few days. Today, we both had a craving for some simple home cooked Chinese food.

As we prepared the chicken stir fry and the poached Chinese greens for lunch, we talked about our kids. Angela was three when she was one of the flower girls at my friend’s wedding. We blinked and now Angela is going to college. When I was young, I used to chronicle time by the films I made.  After I had the girls, time has been measured by their milestones or the particular challenges they faced at a certain stage of their lives. With old friends, we mark time by the memorable gatherings throughout the years — and often times they are about the special food we have shared. “Remember that amazing handmade soba noodle in Niseko?”  It seemed like only yesterday, but it was six years ago that my friend and I brought our families together on a trip to Niseko. We hold on to the memories as time slips through our fingers like sand. I miss the family trips we used to make.  Nowadays, the girls are no longer interested in traveling with their parents. They are forming intense and meaningful friendships that will hopefully accompany them for the rest of their lives, same as the ones I share with my old friends from my youth. Even though my friend lives on the other side of the ocean, the time and distance that separate us seem to disappear as soon as we manage to get together.

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Our Hokkaido trip 6 years ago

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I have not been able to catch a smile like this for a long time now. It’s reserved for her friends only.

I don’t know if today’s simple lunch will be one that we remember years from now, but it was comfort food that we both missed. I make stir fried chicken variations a couple of times a month because it’s simple and versatile.  You can almost add any vegetables to the dish and make it a meal. We made ours with a mix of jalapeño and sweet pepper because we both like spicy food. I also added a little celery for a little crunch.

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Stir Fried Chicken with Peppers and Celery:

Ingredients for the sauce:

1 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce

2 teaspoons rice vinegar

1 tsp fish sauce

1/2 tsp cornstarch

1/4 tsp sugar

Ingredients for the marinade:

1 tablespoon Shao Xing cooking wine

Thinly sliced ginger

1/2 teaspoon cornstarch or tapioca starch

Ingredients for the Stir Fry:

1 chicken breast, cut into bite size

2 stocks celery, sliced to match the size of the chicken pieces

1 red jalapeno, sliced

1 green jalapeño, sliced

1/2 red bell pepper, sliced

3 tablespoon cooking oil, separated

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon grated ginger

Preparation:

Marinate the chicken breast pieces in wine, ginger and cornstarch for 30 minutes.

Combine all ingredients for the sauce and set aside.

Heat a large wok over high heat. When the wok is very hot, add half of the oil, then add the chicken without the marinade. Stir fry, stirring until the chicken turns opaque. With a slotted spoon, remove the chicken and set aside. Reduce heat to medium.

Add the remaining oil to the wok; add the garlic and ginger, stir for 20 seconds. Add all three kinds of peppers and the celery, stirring over medium high heat until tender crisp, about 3 minutes.

Return the chicken to the wok, add the sauce, mix well and cook another 30 seconds to one minute. Serve immediately with rice.

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Avocado Toast with Kale Salad & Fennel Salad

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Audrey’s soon to be alma mater, The Hamlin School, put on a lovely musical The Wizard of Oz. I went to see it last night and was pleasantly surprised by how good it was, especially considering the fact that they only had two weeks of rehearsal. The girls looked like they were all having a lot of fun, singing and dancing their hearts out.  I have always believed that anyone can act if he or she is given the right part.  And these kids proved me right. They were all impressive in playing the characters they were assigned to do.  According to Audrey, she had the most embarrassing part in the whole show — Toto the dog. She was in a thick furry dog suit, bouncing around and sweating like crazy.  I could tell that there were moments she subconsciously wanted to hide when she was on stage. I told her afterwards that, like anything in life, the only way to enjoy something is to give it all. According to Angela who went to see her in today’s performance, Audrey was having a great time prancing around with confidence.  

I made some yummy avocado toast with massaged kale salad and lemon olive oil marinated fennel salad for lunch — a perfect light meal to enjoy two hours before curtain time. Massaged kale is one of Angela’s favorite salads, while the marinated fennel is Audrey’s favorite. The ingredients are deceptively simple, but the result is refreshing and tasty.

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Ingredients:

4 slices of bread of choice

2 avocados, separated

1 bunch lacinato kale, stemmed and sliced

1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon fresh squeezed lemon juice, separated

2 tablespoons olive oil, separated

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon or more toasted pumpkin seeds

A pinch lemon zest (optional)

A couple of mint leaves (optional)

A few slices of radish (optional)

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Preparation:

Make the massaged kale salad according to instruction in this link

Make the marinated fennel according to the instruction in this link.

Mash 1 avocado with 1 teaspoon of lemon juice and a pinch of salt.

Toast the bread slices.

Spread mashed avocado evenly on the 4 pieces of toast.

Top the toast with kale salad or marinated fennel. Add thinly sliced avocados. Top with thinly sliced radish or mint leaves and sprinkle on the pumpkin seeds.

The recipe makes 4 servings.

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Healthy Mini Tarts with Fresh Berries

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The last week of May in San Francisco is absolutely my favorite time of the year. Today is a warm and sunny day that signals the coming of summer. Audrey and I will be going back to China to visit my parents when school breaks.  She will also be playing my character on screen in the flashback scenes.  We went shopping for summer clothes for our upcoming trip.  In a little boutique on Union Street, I saw the prettiest skirt in the whole wide world but they didn’t have my size. “I’m so fat,” I lamented. Audrey stopped me right there and said, “Don’t ever say things like that about yourself.  You are beautiful.” Did I sense some sort of a role reversal? She totally sounded like the mother between us when she said that.

After we were done with shopping, we came home and made these simple and delicious tarts with patriotic colors to celebrate Memorial Day.  They are healthy and quite guiltless to enjoy. For those of you who are allergic to gluten, They are also gluten free!

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Healthy Mini Tarts with Crispy Almond Flour Crust & Fresh Berries

Ingredients for the Shells:

1 cup almond flour

1/4 cup oat bran

1 1/2 tablespoon honey or molasses

2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch of salt

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Ingredients for the Creamy Filling:

1/2 cup nonfat Fage or other Greek yogurt

1/2 cup 1/3 less fat cream cheese

3 tablespoons xylitol or sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Fresh berries to top it off

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Preparation:

Pre-heat oven to 325.

Grease muffin pan well with coconut oil (grease only 8 cups and not all 12 cups)

Mix all dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Mix all the wet ingredients in another bowl. Fold wet into dry and knead until well mixed.

Separate the dough into 6 to 8 equal balls. Press into 8 muffin cups to create the shape of the tart shells. If you make 8 mini tarts, the shells will be thinner and shallower. If you make 6, the shells will be thicker and deeper.

Bake for 13 to 15 minutes. Let cool.

Cover the muffin pan with a cutting board and flip them over. Pat the back of the muffin pan with your hands to loosen baked shells from the pan.

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Roasted Halibut with Miso and Wine

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When I was filming in China, I was able to spend time in my parents’ kitchen now and then, baking them healthy desserts without the use of measuring utensils. Sometimes it turned out beautifully and other times it was a disaster, but my parents were always pleased with whatever I cooked for them and dutifully ate everything until the last bite. My mother has been getting increasingly forgetful. If I prepared the same dish that she had liked the week before, she would exclaim that she had never tasted anything this delicious ever in her life.

Whenever I had a free day from filming, I would sit with her and listen to her telling me stories from her past.  On some days, she would tell the same story a number of times. As the present becomes hazier, her focus has turned more and more toward her childhood.

During the Japanese invasion of China, my grandparents left to study in England when my mother was four and my aunt was two.  My mother lived with her maternal grandparents and her schizophrenic uncle while her sister lived with another branch of the family. 

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My maternal grandmother had this picture taken in a photo studio before leaving for England

My mother’s uncle was an extremely talented artist who had a teaching position in an art school, but every winter he would take a few months off because that was the season when his schizophrenia became severe. During those months, my mother would have a playmate.  According to my mother, her uncle loved her more than anyone else in the house. During his winter craze, he would either put her on the handle bar of the bike and ride around the streets in lightning speed, or he would hold her in his arms and tell her that he would throw her down from the balcony. He told her not to be afraid because she could fly. He told her that she would be rewarded with sweet roasted chestnuts if she let him throw her. “He would try to hang me over the railing, and I would giggle and hold onto him with all my strength,” my mother said without any sense of drama. If my mother’s childhood experiences happened today in America, she would need a life time of therapy to overcome the trauma. I wonder if her generation is more resilient because life was harder.

When time came for me to say good-bye to my parents, I was very sad, though I was also anxious to get home to my daughters and Peter in San Francisco. My parents and I never hug or say I love you.  That’s how we have always been.  But as I was getting into the car this time, my mother pulled me into her for a hug as if she felt this might be the last time she would see me.

I pulled a Chen, as Peter would say; I read the departure time wrong by an hour. The airline called me to say that they were closing the check-in desk, but I begged them to keep it open for another 15 minutes and told them I would not need to check in any luggage.  I sprinted from the car to the check-in desk and the airline staff rushed me through the border control, security and all the way to the gate. However, after five hours of waiting on the tarmac, the flight got canceled. I called my mother and told her about the cancellation. “You poor girl,” she said in her soothing and sympathetic voice as she has done countless times in my life whenever I told her about anything that was frustrating or disappointing. Then she brightened up, “No worries.  Just come home.” I wondered if she would remember this call and be really surprised when I went back to her apartment.

My mother was expecting me when I arrived, remembering clearly that I had called about the flight cancellation. Sheepishly, she said to me, “I’m so sorry. I forgot to say a prayer for you as I always did before you’d fly. I will pray for you tonight and everything will be all right for tomorrow.” She felt as if her negligence must have somehow caused the mechanical problems of the plane. My mother grew up in a missionary school taught by a British missionary and she believes firmly in the power of prayers. 

I have been home in San Francisco for a while now, but I have been too jet lagged and behind on so many things to make a dish worth blogging about until today. This simple roasted halibut with wine and miso is easy and delicious. You can enjoy it with rice, or some sliced cucumber, or by itself. I used the crunchy Japanese rice seasoning as garnish, but it actually is a crucial ingredient that enriches the taste and the texture of the dish.

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Roasted Halibut with Miso and Wine

2 pounds fresh halibut, cut into desired size

1 1/2 tablespoon red miso paste

1 1/2 tablespoon Shao Xing cooking wine or Japanese mirin

1 teaspoon cooking oil

Cooking spray to grease the baking pan

Garnish with:

Nori Katsuo Furikake (Prepared sesame seed & seaweed)

Chopped spring onion

Chili flakes

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Preparation:

Marinate the fish in the miso, wine and oil mixture for 30 minutes to an hour.

Pre-heat oven to 425.

Line a baking dish with foil and spray oil before laying down the fish.

Roast for 13 to 15 minutes or until fish is browned on the outside and opaque in the inside.

Garnish with Nori Katsuo Furikake, green onion and chili flakes.

Serve hot.

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Dan Dan Noodles

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I have written in a prior blog about my Sichuan ancestry and the spicy food that was a part of my upbringing. Dan Dan Noodles is a Sichuan street food that became well known all over China. Traditionally it is made with ground pork, but today I made it with 99% fat free ground turkey in an effort to curb our red meat consumption. It turned out to be absolutely delicious. I made it for lunch, but Peter asked me to make it again for dinner. I was watching a beautiful film called Five Days in Maine at the SF Film Festival when I received a text from Peter, “ These noodles are so fantastic that I can’t stop eating them.” 

This is a dish best made with fresh ramen, which gives it the extra chewiness and elasticity. I bought mine at a Chinese supermarket on Clement Street. It comes in a package of 2.2 pounds divided in 4 bundles.  Each bundle is about 2 servings. You can replace it with other noodles or pasta such as fettuccine if fresh ramen is not available.  

I usually make Dan Dan Noodles with a spicy pickled mustard called 榨菜 Zha Cai, but today I used a crunchy pickled lettuce that comes in a jar from the Chinese supermarket.  It adds flavor and crunch to the minced meat.

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Pickled Wo Sun, a Chinese lettuce stem

Dan Dan Noodles

Ingredients:

4 oz 99% fat free ground turkey or ground pork, beef, or chicken

1/3 cup Chinese pickled lettuce, chopped (Chinese market, see photo)

1 teaspoon pickle juice from the same jar

1 teaspoon sesame oil

3 tablespoons chopped green onion

1 teaspoon, grated or finely minced ginger

2 teaspoons dark soy sauce

1 1/2 teaspoon Shao Xing cooking wine

1/2 teaspoon tapioca or corn starch

8 to 9 oz fresh ramen noodles (Asian super market)

1 tablespoon oil

2 tablespoons ground peanuts

1 cucumber, thinly sliced

sliced red chilies, sesame seeds & chopped green onion for garnish

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Sichuan peppercorn & chili

Ingredients for Chili Oil:

3 tablespoons oil

2 cloves crushed garlic

4 to 5 dried red chili, chopped or 2 teaspoons chili flakes (more if you like it very spicy)

1 1/2 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorn 

Ingredients for Sauce:

1 tablespoon +1 teaspoon soy sauce

1 heaping tablespoon tahini sauce

2 teaspoons dark sweet rice vinegar (Chinese market)

1 teaspoon sugar

2 coves garlic, peeled and very finely minced

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Preparation:

Mix the first 9 ingredients in a bowl, cover with saran wrap and set aside in the fridge.

Heap up the oil in a small pot on high. When the oil is piping hot, add the chili, Sichuan peppercorn and crushed garlic. Close the lid and turn off the stove. Let the oil sit on the stove for 5 minutes before filtering out the chili, peppercorn and garlic and keep only the oil in a bowl.

Whisk together all the ingredients for the sauce with the chili oil. Set aside.

Boil a large pot of water to cook the noodle to el dente. Rinse in cold water and drain completely. (Fresh ramen cooks fast. Make sure you check the doneness often.)

Heap up 1 tablespoon oil in a wok or pan on medium high. Stir fry the minced meat mixture until done.

Mix the noodles, the chili oil sauce, the cooked minced meat together. Top with chopped green onion, chili flakes, sesame seeds. and serve with cucumber slices.  Mix about 3 tablespoons chili oil sauce with the noodles first and taste it before using the rest of the sauce just in case it’s too strong for you.

You can also mix the noodles with the chili oil sauce first. Separate into two serving bowls. Then top them with the cooked minced meat and the rest of the other goodies.

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