Cooking During COVID-19

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By Linda Morel

Two months after sheltering at home began, my family started craving dishes from favorite ethnic restaurants.

They reminisced about Chinese fried rice, Thai chicken satay, Japanese tofu and the famed tortilla española, the lusciously layered masterpiece eaten in Spain for breakfast, lunch or dinner.


At first, I didn’t take their lamenting seriously.

“How can I reproduce restaurant food?” I asked.

“The worst part of being stuck at home is missing foods from foreign countries,” my daughter said. “I could live without everything else.” 

As the days went by and my family continued waxing poetic about international cuisines, I decided to replicate them to cheer everyone up.

I worried I wouldn’t be able to locate the necessary ingredients. Because of the pandemic, I no longer popped into specialty stores, buying a few hard-to-find ingredients at each place. I was limited to offerings at the local supermarket where, much to my surprise, I was able to get everything I needed. 

Although diving into the unfamiliar was stressful, I found stretching my culinary horizons distracted me from being cooped up. I learned some stunning new recipes that brightened my family’s outlook during the strangest time in our lives. 

Fried Rice | Pareve

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Serves 6 as a side dish

This recipe is a terrific use of leftover rice. If you have 1½ cups of cooked rice of any kind, you can skip the making rice step.

Making Rice

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

½ cup jasmine rice

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

1¼ cups water, or more if needed

In a medium-sized saucepan, heat the oil over a medium flame until warm. Add the rice and sprinkle with salt. Stir until the rice is coated with oil and slightly fragrant, about 2 minutes. Pour in the water and stir until combined.

Cover the saucepan and lower the flame. The water should simmer, not boil. Stir occasionally. If rice begins sticking to the saucepan, add water a little at a time. Check the rice after 20 minutes. If the rice is still hard in the center, simmer a few more minutes, until the grains are firm but not mushy. 

When the rice is ready, remove it from the flame and let it rest for 5 minutes with the cover on. Fluff with a fork. 

Frying Rice

Equipment: a large frying pan with a nonstick surface is a must

1-inch piece of fresh ginger

5 tablespoons toasted sesame oil, or more if needed

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 shallot, peeled and chopped

15 mushrooms, cleaned and sliced 

6 tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce

1 bunch scallions

Peel the ginger. Dice it fine and then chop it. Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over a medium flame. Add the ginger, garlic and shallot. Sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and stir. Sauté until the mushrooms brown. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and the rice. Sprinkle on the soy sauce. Stir until the soy sauce is thoroughly incorporated.

Reduce the flame to medium-low. Spread the rice mixture across the pan and let it fry until the bottom turns golden brown. Flip over the rice in batches and fry until the other side browns. 

While the rice fries, cut off the scallion roots. Rinse the scallions under cold water and dry them with paper towels. Slice the scallions into thin rounds until the stalks turn fibrous and green. Discard the fibrous part and reserve the rings until the rice has browned.

Move the rice to a shallow bowl and sprinkle it with scallions. Serve immediately.

 

Thai Chicken Satay | Meat

Serves 4-6

Equipment: metal skewers

Peanut Sauce

3 tablespoons crunchy peanut butter

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon reduced sodium soy sauce

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice

2 teaspoons dark brown sugar

1½ teaspoons freshly grated ginger

In a small bowl, whisk together all ingredients. Add 1 tablespoon of water and whisk again.

If the mixture is too thick, add 1 tablespoon of water at a time and whisk until the mixture reaches a sauce-like consistency.

Right before the chicken is ready, move the sauce to a small pot and heat over a low flame to warm.

Thai Chicken

2½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs

¼ cup canned, full fat coconut milk

2 tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce

2½ teaspoons curry powder

1½ teaspoons turmeric

3 cloves garlic, minced

⅛ teaspoon paprika

1 heaping tablespoon freshly grated ginger

1 tablespoon dark brown sugar

1 tablespoon chicken broth

⅛ teaspoon chili powder

Kosher salt to taste

Nonstick vegetable spray

Cut the chicken thighs into 1-inch pieces as equal as possible. Reserve.

In the can of coconut milk, there will be a layer of cream at the top. With a spoon, mix that cream into the contents of the can. Pour it into a large-sized bowl and add the soy sauce, curry, turmeric, garlic, paprika, ginger, brown sugar, chicken broth and chili powder. Stir until combined. Add the chicken pieces. Stir gently until the chicken is completely coated.

Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator for 6-12 hours. Place a colander in the sink and move the chicken to the colander, letting the marinade drain. Push the chicken pieces onto the skewers. Sprinkle with salt.

Cook on a barbecue grill or in an oven broiler: 

Grill: Spray the grill rack with nonstick spray before heating to avoid flammable conditions. Preheat the grill to medium high. Place the skewers on the barbecue rack. Turn skewers occasionally until the chicken is cooked through, about 12-15 minutes.

Insert a knife into one of the larger pieces. Chicken is ready when the juices are clear, not pink. Move the skewers to a platter and drizzle warm peanut sauce over the chicken. Remove the skewers before eating.

Broiler: Spray the broiler pan with nonstick spray. Place the skewers in the broiler pan. Preheat the broiler. Move the pan to the broiler. Turn the skewers occasionally until the chicken is cooked through, about 10-15 minutes. Insert a knife into one of the larger pieces. Chicken is ready when the juices are clear, not pink. Move the skewers to a platter and drizzle warm peanut sauce over the chicken. Remove the skewers before eating.

 

Sizzling Tofu with Ginger | Pareve

Serves 3-4

Equipment: a pan suitable for stovetop and oven cooking

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

2 inches of fresh ginger, peeled, diced and chopped fine

2 cloves garlic, chopped fine

1 tablespoon reduced salt soy sauce

½ teaspoon white wine

2 tablespoons maple syrup

Nonstick vegetable spray

1 (14-ounce) package of soft tofu, cut into 2 or 3 slabs, depending on thickness

1 bunch of scallions

In a small saucepan, place the oil, ginger and garlic. Heat over a medium flame until just bubbling. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Add the soy sauce, wine and maple syrup. Stir to combine.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a stovetop and ovenproof pan with nonstick spray. Arrange the tofu in the pan. Cover the tofu with the ginger mixture. Marinate at room temperature for 2-4 hours, turning every 30 minutes. Sauté the tofu over a low flame until bubbling.

Using oven mitts, move the pan to the preheated oven and continue cooking there covered for 15 minutes, or until the sauce thickens slightly. Serve immediately.

 

Spanish Tortilla (Tortilla española) | Pareve

Serves 6-8

Equipment: 2 large nonstick skillets

2 pounds baking potatoes, about 4-6

2 large onions 

½ cup olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons, or more if needed

6 eggs

Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

Peel the potatoes and onions. Cut them into ⅛-inch slices. Pour ¼ cup oil into each of the two skillets. Briefly heat the oil over a medium flame. Add the potato slices to one pan, and the onion slices to the other. Sauté until the potatoes and onions brown, about 15-20 minutes a piece. Add more oil, if needed. The onion slices will break into rings as they sauté.

Cool the potatoes and onions to a warm temperature. The recipe can be made to this point a couple of hours in advance. 

Whisk the eggs in a large bowl, adding the salt and pepper. Using tongs, move the onions and potatoes to a bowl and stir to combine. Add 2 tablespoons of oil to one skillet, if needed. Pour the egg mixture into that skillet. Cook over a medium-low flame until the sides have started to solidify and the bottom is golden brown, about 8-10 minutes.

Loosen the tortilla with a spatula. Carefully slide the tortilla onto a round platter, larger than the skillet’s circumference. Place the skillet upside down over the tortilla. Turn over the platter so the uncooked side of the tortilla slides onto the bottom of the skillet. Return the skillet to the flame.

Continue cooking until the tortilla is cooked through in the center, about 4 minutes. Slide the tortilla onto a serving platter. Cut it into 6-8 wedges and serve immediately.

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