You either love cherish its distinctive taste or avoid it all costs.
If like me, you’re in the former camp, then you will much enjoy “Salt & Pepper Cod with Turmeric Noodles,” which features more than one cup of the feathery herb with the unmistakable sweet, grassy, anise taste.
Take it from me: The cook you want to be is the one who makes this straightforward Vietnamese noodle dish. It’s a riff on one Baraghani fell for in Hanoi, especially with its liberal use of dill and turmeric, flavorings so familiar to him from his Persian heritage.
Some ingredients like caviar and truffles are unabashedly luxe.
Others like celery decidedly relegated — rightly or wrongly — to mundane.
Winter melon, though, is that rarity that falls equally into high- and low-brow camps.
Like tomatoes, these huge green-skinned melons, which can grow as large as 40 pounds, are actually a fruit that’s most often treated as a vegetable.
As a kid, I still have memories of many a Chinese restaurant Lunar New Year banquet at this time of year, where a waiter would gingerly carry a heaving half winter melon to the Lazy Susan on our table. Its skin would be intricately carved with Chinese characters for a grand presentation and its chasm filled to the brim with bubbling soup fortified with ginko nuts, shredded dried scallops, and the melon’s flesh. It was the epitome of special occasion.
In contrast, I also fondly remember my mom regularly making a much simpler version at home, cutting the melon into chunks to simmer in canned chicken broth with slivers of ginger, and sometimes a little bit of pork or chicken. It was not only an economical way to stretch a meal, but her way of trying to ward off colds and flus, as winter melon is high in Vitamin C.
Whether prepared fancifully or frugally, winter melon is a taste of home for me.
Even though it can be prepared many ways, including in candy and poached in a dessert soup, I’ve mostly had it in savory soups. That’s why this recipe for “Braised Winter Melon” immediately caught my eye as a novel method I just had to try.
That was the startling remark my husband exclaimed upon digging into “Sesame-Crusted Tofu with Spicy Dipping Sauce.”
And if you know his nickname is Meat Boy, then you know that is truly saying something about this entirely plant-based dish.
Crispy as can be, these pan-fried, sesame seed-coated planks of tofu get dunked into a spicy, garlicky sauce for a dish so addictive that even those wishy-washy about tofu will clamor for seconds and thirds.
This fabulous recipe is from “The Woks of Life” (Clarkson Potter, 2022), of which I received a review copy.
It’s the first cookbook by Bill, Judy, Sarah, and Kaitlin Leung, the New Jersey family who shot to fame with their eponymous The Woks of Life blog. It started out in 2013 as simply a personal way for them to document their family history through food. It has since turned into a sensation, growing into the most popular online English-language resource for Chinese cooking.
It’s a collection of 90 plant-based Chinese recipes that are a breeze to make. They’re perfect for anyone who’s vegetarian or vegan or for any home cook who wants to add a veggie-centric dish to a family-style spread.
Get your chopsticks at the ready for everything from “Baked Crispy Tofu Nuggets,” “Char Siu Baos” (made with button mushrooms instead of pork), and “Egg-Less Egg Drop Soup” (with yuba sheets standing in for the strands of eggs) to “Three-Cup Scrambled Tempeh” and “Creamy Red Bean Ice Pops.”