Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Home is Where the Mabodoufu is

Mabodoufu over brown rice

Japanese mabodoufu is one of my favorite comfort foods. I have fond memories of eating this over white rice on cool winter evenings.

My mother did not cook spicy food so we ate the mildest version using House's deliciously saucy mabo tofu packets; one of possibly 2-3 dishes she did not make from scratch.

While in college, I frequented Sanoya Ramen and was delighted to discover mabo tofu ramen! Ramen in broth with mabo tofu poured on top.

When Bug and I were at the library recently, I stumbled upon a beautiful yet down-to-earth Japanese cookbook by Harumi Kurihara, Everday Harumi. Flipping through the pages, her mabo dofu recipe leaped out.

Ms. Kurihara warns that with the addition of the dashi, her version results in a much lighter sauce than the thicker sauce one typically finds at Chinese restaurants. I enjoyed this lighter version for that very reason.

Recipe for Mabo Dofu adapted from Everday Harumi
6-10 servings

2 c dashi
1/2 c shoyu
2 T sugar
2 T sake
4 T mirin
vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 oz fresh ginger, minced
1 lb ground pork (beef is okay too)
1 c bell peppers, red preferably, but any color will do
4 fresh birds eye chiles, trimmed and sliced (any chile pepper you are comfortable with)
2 lb tofu, rinsed then cubed
1 T potato starch (any thickener will suffice)
1 T cold water
cayenne pepper (optional)

1. Mix dashi, shoyu, sugar, sake, and mirin. Since I used a powdered dashi, the broth was warm so the sugar dissolved quickly. Set aside.

2. On medium high heat, add some vegetable oil to the skillet and fry the garlic and ginger for a few minutes until aromatic. Add ground meat and cook through, then add bell peppers and chili peppers.

3. Stir in the broth mixture and bring to a boil. Add tofu and stir, being careful not to smash the tofu.

4. Mix potato starch and water in a small bowl, then add the starchy liquid to the mabodoufu in the skillet, quickly mixing to avoid clumps of potato starch from setting. Serve.

I prefer my food to be a little spicy, but not searing. A sprinkle of cayenne adds a little heat to this dish on top of the birds eye chiles. Bug adds sriracha to his bowl.

When fresh green beans are available, we may add it. As with many Asian recipes, ground meat is not absolutely necessary. Bug adds oyster sauce to his bowl for a darker, deeper, and saltier flavor.

This recipe has been added to our regular rotation of dinners. Not only is this a good example of a dish that is greater than the sum of its parts, its simplicity is brilliant and the cost is nominal.

- Cassaendra

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Gimme Your Kibbeh

Sittoo Kibbeh
I love kibbeh. How about you?

Driving south along Ridge Road in Parma, it is difficult to miss Sittoo's sign. Perhaps it is the simplicity that makes it so striking. Along the edge of their 6-space parking lot, the maroon sign stands at eye level with "Sittoo's" printed in simple white lettering with a minimalist pen illustration of a stereotypical grandmother - bespectacled, utilizing the "oo" in Sittoo's, hair tied in a bun, and a smile. "Pita & Salads" is subtitled in a black.

For the ~3 years Sittoo's has been at this location, we assumed it was a hippie-health food mart with alfalfa sprout filled tofurkey pita pocket sandwiches based on the "Pita & Salads" advertised on their sign. Grassy pockets aren't a bad thing (no sandwich is complete without alfalfa sprouts!), but that description wasn't exactly enticing Bug to veer off course and walk through those doors.

Our friend, Goksga, mentioned one day that Sittoo's is owned by the same family who owns Aladdin's Bakery, a local Middle Eastern bakery, and Aladdin's Eatery, a local fast casual chain of restaurants serving Middle Eastern fare. My ears perked up when I heard this news.

Bug overcame the mindset that Middle Eastern cuisine consisted of loathsome chickpeas and couscous from his dining experiences the past year and a half at Nate's Deli and attending the Middle Eastern Festival.

After going through the double glass doors of the former pizza joint, you are met by a parlor table displaying a menu with descriptions of each dish in large print. The brown hues give the place a comfortable and classier look.

A few feet beyond the table is a counter similar in set-up to a fast food restaurant with a high stainless counter separating the cashier and the kitchen. Soda and tea dispensers stand to the right. On the counter to the left of the cashier is a tower of cookies and baklava. The place is immaculately kept, not stained with the stench of old grease, rubbish, and soda syrup.

As I ordered our food, I poked around the baklava display and shamelessly snagged a container ($2.95) with the most crushed pistachios, as a snack while we waited for our food to be delivered to our table.

Sittoo Baklava
I've never met a baklava I didn't like

The one item that is a constant, the four times we have eaten there, is their kibbeh ($3.95). Fried in peanut oil, the bulgar wheat and spiced beef parcel is filled with spiced ground beef, onions, and pine nuts, and served with a sprinkle of fresh parsley and yogurt.

Kibbeh is often made with ground lamb and complements hummus and harissa-spiked yogurt.

Sittoo Kibbeh open
I don't now what you are going to eat

Bug is a big fan of kofta since his visit to Istanbul Turkish Grill. His order of spicy kafta sandwich ($5.99) was prepared with finely ground beef formed and grilled on a skewer then nestled in a pita with onions, tomatoes, hot sauce, pickles, and lemon tahini dressing.

No words were uttered by him, at least intelligibly, as he savored the first half of his wrap. The portion may appear small, but the kofta are generously sized and pitas have a way of filling the belly.

Sittoo Beef Kofta2

When I caught a glimpse of my platter, Sittoo's Combo ($6.99), my first thoughts as the rice-noodle pilaf moved toward me was Rice-a-Roni and disappointment. Skimming my fork over the grains, I took a small bite and found the pilaf to be lightly salted and nutty, firm but not undercooked. Hooray!

I love grilled food, so it should come as no surprise that a well prepared dish of grilled meats would be nothing short of fantastic. The chicken was perfectly charred (not burnt!) and moist, the beef was peppery, moist, and tender, and the kofta was spiced and firm.

Sittoo Combo
Sittoo's Combo

As I broke the crispy falafel in half, I was surprised to discover a green-yellow mashed filling. In my previous experiences, the filling has always been grey-brown. I must have eaten it at the wrong places. As I peruse through the photographs on Google images, there are numerous pictures displaying a green-yellow filling.

To complete the ensemble, crunchy salad greens, cucumbers, and peppers with tomatoes, parsley, and a citrus dressing gave the seriously delicious grilled spiced meats, curried falafel, and pilaf some bounce.

Our visits to Sitto's and Istanbul Turkish Grill have ignited a culinary spark in Bug to make Levantine cuisine. Having already made hummus several times, kibbeh and kofta won't be far behind.

- Cassaendra

5870 Ridge Rd
Parma, OH 44129-3643
Tel: (440) 885-2525

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Fall Festival

When I see a banner with the words, "cultural" and "festival," I instantly think of food. The Tremont Arts and Cultural Festival took place a couple of weekends ago (Saturday - Sunday, 09/18 - 09/19/2010).

In previous years, there were tents with a handful of artists selling their work and a scant few food tents. This year there was a lot more of everything - artists, stores, organic and locally grown vegetable vendors, food vendors, and civic organizations; a festive atmosphere versus a neighborhood shindig.

Of course, I made a beeline toward the busiest area - the food corridor.

TACF No Whey
No Whey

I wasn't able to familiarize myself with several of the stands like No Whey Chocolate because they were busy, so I could not get in to snoop. Of course, when I took this picture, it didn't catch the 3 people who swooped right in after I put my camera down.

A few of the food stands were represented by churches, community organizations, and politician campaign booths, while others were area restaurants like Dish, Tremont Treats, and Grumpy's.

TACF Pizza
No pizza

I wanted to try the Greek pastries, Russian cookies, empanada, gyro, freshly made kettle corn, and, and, and... We brought $10 so I had to spend our money wisely.

TACF Original Gyro
No deniro for a gyro

While I like empanada, I wanted to try something different. The potato balls seemed intriguing and only $2. Who can say no to a cute ball of potato?

TACF Learn Quest
Potato balls and empanada

Of course, I burnt my tongue on my first bite. The potato was a little sweet and tangy. I hope this doesn't sound too insulting, but it reminded me of those McCain Smiles (no, not the Congressman) sold in the frozen food section.

TACF Beef Potato Ball
Beef potato ball

Ordinarily, I would have scarfed the beef and left Bug with the potatoes, but the opposite occurred as I bugged Bug to eat the beef so I could have the potato back.

TACF Beef Potato Ball Morsel
Beef potato morsel

When we walked through Lincoln Park after the stalls had closed for the evening on Saturday, the sign at the Korean Christian church tent posted a marinated beef platter for $5. When we returned on Sunday, the sign read bulgogi platter for $6. I felt a little ripped off.

TACF Bulgogi Plate
Bulgogi $6.00

The meal was all right. When we were seated, it reminded me of sitting at Ala Moana Park eating a plate lunch, just without the potato macaroni salad, sand, and 80 degree weather.

We didn't walk through each of the avenues. Many of the vendors who were not artists were stores that advertised fair trade items or exotic-to-Northeast-Ohio items from far flung regions like Southeast Asia, Africa, and South America, as well as church shops that sold Russian and Greek idols and souvenirs.

TACF City Buddha
City Buddha tent

There were a number of political booths for politicians and agendas. The one that I remembered but did not stop at was the tent with a sign condemning capital punishment.

TACF Vegetables
Vegetable man in stand

TACF One World
One World stand

TACF Arts Crafts2
Chalk art

TACF St Theodosius
St Theodosius gift shop of Eastern European treasures

Aside from vendors were several tents that gave free health screenings and one from the Cleveland MetroParks Zoo. A woman was giving a presentation as we walked in to the festival area, informing the crowd of children about owls.

A cute owl

I was delighted to see the felt goods artists with their lovely cloche and purses, with Bug standing behind me with a wary eye. Above all, I enjoyed seeing the festival grow as much as it has with thousands of visitors, and the presence, as well as acceptance, of a broader variety of dishes.

- Cassaendra

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