Carla Lalli Music's Spicy-Tangy Green Beans and Tofu
Plus: A Trip to Jar, Mariscos Jalisco, Meyer Lemon Blondies, and Drew Droege on Lunch Therapy.
Hope you had a restful weekend! Things are getting a bit crazy here at Amateur Gourmet Headquarters: Craig is gearing up to go to Boston for work, then back here, then we’re going to New Orleans (!!) to visit our friend Ryan, then Craig’s going to Woodstock for another job and then back to Boston. Meanwhile, my podcast climbed the charts last week with the Tejal Rao episode and the Bill Addison “Best Restaurants in L.A.” episode and we actually cracked the Top 20 food podcasts (out of 300). Not bad for a kid from Long Island who had his fourth grade birthday party at McDonalds!
Speaking of McDonalds, did you ever think you could make tofu taste as good as a chicken McNugget? Well: Carla Lalli Music has the trick in her new cookbook, That Sounds So Good. Her recipe for spicy-tangy green beans and tofu is a game changer. I watched her make it on her YouTube Channel and then grabbed all of the ingredients while food shopping last week.
The Recipe: Spicy-Tangy Green Beans and Tofu
This recipe is all about the crispy tofu technique: once you learn it, you can’t unlearn it (and it’ll be hard to make tofu any other way). I first encountered it with Ottolenghi’s black lime tofu with spinach; here, Carla gets even more detailed in how to get your tofu super crispy. The key is slicing it, laying it on a kitchen towel, then placing another kitchen towel on top and pressing it while you prep all of your other ingredients. That gets all of the liquid out.
Then you just get your oil really hot, tear off pieces of tofu, and fry them until golden brown on both sides. You don’t need to coat them in cornstarch if you do it this way. Once the tofu’s fried, you set it aside, drop in your string beans, scallions (I forgot to buy scallions so I used a chopped yellow onion instead), and ginger and cook until everything’s a bit brown. You finish with a sauce made from mirin (you can buy online), soy sauce, gochujang (you can also buy online), and black vinegar (same). The the tofu goes back in.
The results kind of taste like General Tso’s Chicken, but even more complex. And it’s not so healthy that it’s punishing, but it’s healthy enough that you feel virtuous when it’s over.
Adapted from Carla Lalli Music’s That Sounds So Good
14 ounces firm or extra-firm tofu
1/4 cup mirin
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons gochujang (more or less depending on how spicy you like it)
1 tablespoon black vinegar (sherry vinegar is an okay substitute)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 pound green beans, stem ends removed, then sliced in half
1 large bunch scallions, sliced into 1/4-inch thick rounds (both white and green parts)
1 1/2-inch piece ginger, peeled and finely grated
Cooked white rice (for serving)
Start by pressing your tofu. Take the block of tofu and cut it lengthwise into six planks. Lay your cleanest kitchen towel on a cookie sheet, lay the planks on the towel, top with another clean kitchen towel, and top that with a cookie sheet. Put something heavy on top (I used a cast-iron skillet) and let drain like that for fifteen minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together the mirin, soy sauce, gochujang, and black vinegar and set aside.
In a large cast-iron skillet, heat the vegetable oil until very hot (a good test is to stick the handle of a wooden spoon in it: if bubbles form around it instantly, it’s ready). Remove the pressed tofu and tear into 3/4-inch pieces and carefully place in the oil (you’ll need to do this in batches so you don’t crowd the pan). Fry about half the tofu on one side until golden, flip, and then finish on the other side. Use a spider or fish spatula to remove the golden brown tofu to a large plate and season lightly with the kosher salt. Repeat with the remaining tofu.
Now, in that still very hot skillet, add your green beans, scallions, and ginger. It should sizzle loudly when you add them. Season with salt and stir all around and cook on high heat until the vegetables are well-browned (especially the green beans). At that point, add the mirin mixture and stir all around, allowing to thicken for a beat. Then finish by adding back the tofu, stirring all around, and allowing the tofu to absorb the sauce for 30 seconds. Serve immediately over rice.
The Restaurant: Jar
As I mentioned in the intro, there’s lots of stuff going on in our lives these days, and Craig and I may be doing some long-distance relationshipping soon. So on Saturday, we treated ourselves to dinner at Jar, Suzanne Tracht’s iconic restaurant on Beverly. (For those who’ve been following me forever, you’ll recall that Chef Tracht actually came to my apartment for an episode of my old podcast The Clean Plate Club — don’t look it up, it’s not there anymore! — and I made her dinner, which she seemed to enjoy, but I was oh so nervous.)
Jar has the coolest dining room: I’m sorry I didn’t get a picture of it. But maybe you remember it from that scene in La La Land where Emma Stone realizes she hates her hot boyfriend, Finn Wittrock, and leaves to join Ryan Gosling at a screening of Rebel Without a Cause.
Not only is the room chic, but — get this — the chairs are on wheels. Wheels! I love it. You get to roll around while you gorge on sophisticated steakhouse cuisine.
That there is the wedge salad that I started with and it was so perfect: a mini head of iceberg, cold from the refrigerator, doused with blue cheese dressing with actual hunks of blue cheese and thinly sliced red onions on top. We shared the deviled eggs with crab and Craig got the Caesar salad. I washed all of this down with an honest Manhattan — no froufrou additions, no Amaro in it. Just Bourbon, vermouth, bitters, and a cherry, served up.
For my entree, of course I had to get a steak. I had the ribeye, which many on Twitter pointed out was enormous. I know! But I don’t eat steak that often and I love a rib-eye because it’s the most flavorful cut (all of that fat in there helps). I got it with a green peppercorn sauce and for the sides we chose the purple baked potatoes (a signature Jar item) and the Brussels sprouts with kimchi.
It was all scrumptious and we washed it all down with two glasses of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which I always remember from Kim Severson’s memoir, Spoon-Fed. She said it’s the main thing she misses about drinking.
The Meyer lemon tart that we had for dessert may have been the best thing we ate the whole meal, and that’s saying a lot.
It’s hard to explain what made it so good, but it was creamy as a custard, but still solid enough to hold together. Plus it looked super cool as a rectangle: almost like a more educated lemon bar.
If you live in La La Land and you’ve never been to Jar, you owe it to yourself to go. It’s a meal worth singing about.
Jar, 8225 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90048, (323) 655-6566.
The Rest: Mariscos Jalisco, Meyer Lemon Blondies, and Drew Droege on Lunch Therapy.
When I had Bill Addison on Lunch Therapy on Thursday, I was mortified that after ten years of living in L.A., I still hadn’t been to Mariscos Jalisco: one of the most revered food destinations not only in the city, but maybe the state (it’s pretty much on every “best of L.A.” list and the first place Bill takes out-of-towners).
That’s why the next day, I hopped in my car, got on I-5, and drove the 20 minutes south to Boyle Heights. What greeted me was a white truck and just a small line of people waiting outside. I went to the window and asked how many tacos de camaron (their signature item) I needed to make it a lunch: the woman at the window said some people order one, some two, some even five. I went with three.
Reader: I must tell you, trying to avoid hyperbole, that this wasn’t just the first best bite of a taco I’ve ever had, it may be one of the best first bites of ANYTHING I’ve ever had. Imagine a hot deep fried corn tortilla, filled with shrimp that get deeply caramelized on the edges, topped with creamy avocado, and then finished with a zesty and bright salsa. I loved, loved, loved it so much. I can’t believe it took me ten years to experience it.
I won’t beat myself up too much, though. We all need to be kinder to ourselves in 2022. That’s why I’m also trying not to be too cruel to myself about screwing up this press-in tart crust that I attempted yesterday from Martha Stewart:
Where did I go wrong? Well, for one, I was in a rush, so I didn’t refrigerate the dough the way you were supposed to, I forgot to actually bring it together as a disc and just pressed in the powdery bits, and then instead of freezing I baked it right away. It was a tart fiasco (I was planning on making a Meyer lemon tart, inspired by Jar, to serve with dinner).
Instead, I wound up making something that I think I liked even better: these Meyer Lemon Blondies from the Kendall-Jackson website (I just Googled “Meyer Lemon Blondies” and wound up there. You can find the full recipe if you click the link.)
The recipe’s as simple as pinching Meyer lemon zest into a bunch of brown sugar, adding melted butter and some eggs, then flour and baking powder and salt. They come out almost fudgy and absolutely alive with Meyer lemon. It’s a great quick thing to make if you have a surplus of lemons and tarts make you nervous.
Speaking of a tart that makes me nervous, Drew Droege is on Lunch Therapy today! (Just kidding, he doesn’t make me nervous!) If you don’t know Drew — and how could you not — he’s famous for his Chloe Sevigny impression on YouTube…
… as well as his critically acclaimed plays Bright Colors & Bold Patterns and Happy Birthday Doug, plus appearances on Search Party, Bob’s Burgers, and Drunk History. Our conversation covers a lot of ground — including his Catered Fit lunches, his childhood in South Carolina, and his time at The Groundlings — but most importantly, we deal with his time as a waiter at a Brazilian steakhouse. This revenge story cracked me up:
Listen to our whole conversation here:
And, as always, if you enjoy it, please leave a nice review.
Now for some links that caught my eye recently:
I’m thrilled that Luisa Weiss, pioneering blogger behind The Wednesday Chef, is now doing a Substack of her own called Letter from Berlin… up first: A Savory Vegetable Tart (Letter from Berlin);
Iron Chef’s coming back? Allez cuisine! (Deadline);
One non-food thing I’ve really been enjoying lately is the podcast Soul Food, where they pick a song and then interview lots of people whose lives have intersected with it in some way. I listened to the “Life on Mars?” episode when I drove to Mariscos Jalisco and truly loved it (Soul Food);
Nigel Slater makes baked roots with curry cream (The Guardian).
That’s all for this week, folks!
In case you missed it, I relaunched my paid subscribers-only Thursday newsletter last week and made it exactly like my Monday newsletter. So there was a new recipe: Orecchiette with Broccoli, Garlic, Lemon, & Pecorino…
A restaurant write-up (Blair’s in Silver Lake). And The Rest included my weekday salads plus different links to lots of stuff on the web.
So if you enjoy the Monday newsletter and would like to get a similar newsletter on Thursdays, here’s a discount code that gets you 20% off forever:
The tofu recipe was great. Thank you.
Tofu tip from a vegetarian. If you want really "meaty" texture, freeze and thaw the tofu before you cut and press it. You'll be surprised how that freezing really impacts the texture. I can't wait to try this recipe, I'm a gochujang fangirl!