Ma Po Tofu—Without the Pork Bits

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Winter is not giving up a tough fight in these last few days of its demise. I am eagerly awaiting the spring equinox as if magically all will be warmer and sunnier on my side of the earth. The morning light is showing itself earlier so that when I walk out the door at 7:15 a.m. to accompany Mila to school we no longer walk in the dark.

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Despite the cold, even the birds are beginning to think spring is here. I am stirred awake by their morning chorus at 5 a.m. It’s a wild guess because I don’t actually rise out of bed to check the time. It is still nocturnally dark out at this time so I snooze for at least another hour to their songs. I love this bit of my day.

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I crave spicy and stewy-ish types of meals in cold weather and this very simple Ma Po tofu dish hits the spot. My small bag of special fermented black beans, heidouchi (黑豆豉), given to me by my aunt in Taiwan is tucked in the freezer to use for dishes like these—definitely not to be confused with Mexican black beans please! They are basically dried out soy beans fermented with salt. It’s not quite the same as the jarred black bean sauce which you will find easily in the Asian grocers but you can use it as a replacement. These beans are pungent and natural. They really offer an umami tone to any dish. Have a poke around in the Asian grocery stores to see if you can find some and give it a try! They can easily be added to poultry, seafood, meat and vegetable dishes.

Ma Po Tofu- Without the Pork Bits


• 500 grams soft tofu, cut into 1 inch cubes
• 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
• 1 teaspoon Szechuan peppercorn
• 1 tablespoon fermented black beans(豆豉)
• A knob of ginger, freshly grated
• 3 cloves garlic, smashed
• 1 tablespoon spicy doubanjiang(豆瓣酱), fermented bean paste
• 1 teaspoon Five Spice powder
• 30 grams wood ear black fungus mushrooms, rehydrated (in tepid water for an hour) and chopped—optional
• 1 cup vegetable broth or water
• 1 tablespoon cornstarch, mixed with 3 tablespoons water
• A couple of scallions, chopped


Add oil in a wok or large cooking pan over medium heat.

Fry the Szechuan peppercorn and black beans. Stir for about a minute then add the ginger, garlic and the spicy fermented bean paste. Stir until fragrant.

Add the chili powder, five spice powder, and the wood ear black fungus mushroom. Stir for about another minute.

Add the vegetable broth and bring it to a low boil.

Slide in the tofu. Stir gently making sure not to break the tofu into smaller bits.

Drizzle in the cornstarch water mixture, cover the wok and let it simmer for 5 minutes.

Garnish with chopped scallions when ready to serve.


I toned this recipe down but it’s probably still spicier for those who are not accustomed to the citrusy numbing tones of the Szechuan peppercorn. Usually this is topped over a bowl of rice.

Chinese Style Cucumbers—Smashed!

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There’s something very curious going on with the weather. We still have a good month to go before spring but it’s been off with the coats and on with the sunglasses for the past few days this week. Maybe not so curious after all but more frightening, something called global warming.

It’s hard to think about doomsday when it’s all very cheery with the sun shining upon the kids at play in the park and cool looking couples with their shades on sipping their mid day drinks with no intent on leaving their sunny spots on the terrasse. This city is filled with smiling tourists and French families on the school winter break from the other zones in France lending to this collective positive vibe.

Meanwhile I can’t get a spot on that terrasse cause it’s too damn crowded so I’m home taking it out on the only thing I could find in my fridge—cucumbers! So there you have it, a crunchy and refreshing cucumber garlicky salad on a fine, warm winter’s day.

Chinese Style Cucumber—Smashed


• 1 large organic cucumber, peeled and cut length-wise, de-seeded
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon sugar
• 3 cloves garlic, smashed
• 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
• 1 teaspoon soy sauce or tamari sauce (gluten-free option)
• 1 tablespoon sesame oil
• 1 red chili pepper, sliced thin, use accordingly


After washing the cucumber, peel the skin, de-seed, and cut it lengthwise. I like to keep some of the skin on for the added texture and color so I alternate between peeling the skin on and off the cucumber.

Pat it dry.

Lay the cucumber cut side down on a chopping board and with a cleaver (using the flat side) or a wide surface knife lay it on top of the cucumber and smash down on it with your other hand. Once you’ve smashed down on all the length of the cucumber, chop into bite size pieces to separate them.

Transfer it to a strainer and add the salt and sugar. Be sure to mix well.
Optional: Let it sit in the strainer above a bowl for 10-15 minutes. Discard the liquid.

In a small bowl combine the cucumber and the last five ingredients, then toss.

Ready to serve.

Butternut Squash With Wild Rice Medley

Roasted Butternut Squash With Wild Rice Medley

Roasted Butternut Squash With Wild Rice Medley

Happy Thanksgiving y’all! Hollering out to my compatriots worldwide…I just feel like shouting out. It’s a day to remind us to be grateful for the love that surrounds us and the abundance of food that keeps us alive so let’s be loud about it.

I’m so far away from all the festivities of family, long weekends, parades, football playing on the t.v. set (who really cares but it has its role on this day) , turkey basting, the savory and sweet scents wafting through the house like living in a gingerbread house with a dash of falling salt snow. Then there’s the stuffing recipes, oh! and the classic tempting pecan pies, pumpkin pies, sweet potato mash— might as well throw in the marshmallow fluff. Every which way you turn in the kitchen there is some side dish or dessert to stick your nose or fingers into until the big bird is ready to be served. Alas, stuffing ourselves silly with these cornucopia of Thanksgiving ritualistic delights, then spending the long weekend recovering from food coma.

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So you see I am slightly nostalgic about this day although I really hadn’t had a thought to prepare a Thanksgiving meal for today since we will be acknowledging and celebrating Thanksgiving with friends on December 1st ( a Saturday) due to the work and school schedule tomorrow. I can’t cash in on all the U.S. holidays over here in France but it’s alright because overall we get more holidays in France than in the States.

There is a warmth that flows through my blood on this cold and grey looking Thanksgiving day and it’s my duty to share that with my kids and my French hubby. Our usual ritual is to go to a local American diner-themed restaurant called Breakfast of America where we are transported momentarily to the States and milkshakes are the first call to order as we continue our own family tradition living in Paris and give thanks to what we have today.

Butternut Squash With Wild Rice Medley


• 1 butternut squash
• 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
• A pinch of ginger, freshly grated
• 1 tablespoon honey
• 250 grams wild rice
• 240 grams or 1 cup green lentils, cooked
• 30 grams butter, divided
• 1 garlic clove, grated
• 1/2 small cauliflower, grated
• 1 teaspoon curcuma(tumeric) powder
• 1 tablespoon nut oil
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 1 bunch flat parsley, chopped
• 60 grams of pecan, roasted and brown sugar coated
• 2 tablspoons brown sugar


Roasted Pecans

In a small pot melt the butter (15 grams) and the brown sugar together.
Stir in the pecans and try to coat all the pecans with the syrupy mix.
Pour it onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper so that it’s ready to go in the oven.

Butternut Squash
In a small bowl, mix the balsamic vinegar, ginger, and honey together.
Halve the butternut squash and score the flesh with a knife.
Pour the sauce mix over the butternut squash before placing in the oven.

Cauliflower Fluff

In a pan, heat up 15 grams of butter.
Add the grated garlic and cauliflower. Cook for about 8 minutes.
Add the curcuma and stir. Take it off the stove until ready to add to the wild rice medley.


Pre heat your oven to 170°C.

Then place the pecans in the oven for about 10 minutes to roast.
Take them out, let it cool, and place it aside until ready to use.

Pre heat your oven to 200° C or 400° F. Place the butternut squash in a baking pan with the flesh face up and place it in the oven for 45 minutes.

Wild Rice Medley

Combine your cooked wild rice and lentils.

Add your olive oil and nut oil.

Then toss in the cauliflower fluff and the parsley.

Add salt and pepper according to your taste buds.

Once the butternut squash is roasted, take it out and place some of the wild rice medley in the groove, garnish with the roasted pecans and serve.


If your butternut squash is small enough you can serve each half individually. If it is a large butternut squash, you can quarter it with a knife or tear it apart with your hands (make sure not to burn yourself!). Then plop a few spoonfuls of the wild rice medley on top and it’ll be ready to serve.

Risotto with Patty Pan Squash

It’s a bird…It’s a plane…It’s a patty pan! For those who don’t know, it’s a summer squash that has an eye catching disc-like shape, kind of like a flying saucer. Well, it certainly caught my eye. I mean, I’ve seen it before but never dared to buy it. It’s pretty and all but who knows what it’s like on the inside.

Mushroom and corn risotto served in a scallop shaped  patty pan.

Mushroom and corn risotto served in a scallop shaped patty pan.

I am just resigned to own this vegetable since it turned up in my AMAP ( CSA ) basket this week so I started to procure recipes from my fellow Amapien members. There’s a photo of my AMAP pick-up spot here. It seems like most people like to make gratins out of things that are tasteless. I was beginning to wonder if this was what my scallop shaped squash had to offer me.

I was adamant on keeping its shell as a decorative serving piece so all I had to do was stuff it, right? I love eating rice with most anything so I decided on making a risotto since it’s creamy in its own right and not in a gratin-like way. It turned out to be a great combo. I kept the patty pan flesh cooking in its shell and simply scooped it out when cooked and left it inside. I then filled the shell up with the risotto and stirred it around to mix it up.

Patty pan squash tastes like a yellow squash to me. It has a very moist flesh so it helps keep the risotto light and loose.

Bon appétit!

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Risotto Patty Pan Squash


• 1 patty pan squash per person if you want to stuff it in its shell (patîsson in French)
• 1 medium onion, diced
• 1 cob corn, boiled and cut into kernels (1 tin of corn kernels will work too)
• 300 grams risotto rice
• 75 milliliters white wine
• 1 liter vegetable stock or your stock of preference
• 2-3 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese, grated.
• 1 tablespoon butter
• 200 grams crimini mushrooms, cleaned and chopped (champignon de Paris rose is what I get in France)
• 1 lemon, zest
• 3-4 sprigs of flat parsley, leaves only


Slice the top of the pattypan off so that it forms a lid. Scoop out the seeds. Place the pattypan cut side up in a baking dish with a half inch of water and drizzle some olive oil over the pattypan.

Boil a liter of water to prepare your stock so that it is ready when you start to cook the risotto.

Place your mushrooms in a baking dish, drizzle some olive oil and add the parsley to the mix and toss.

Let the boiled corn cool down. Stand the ear up on a flat side (cut it flat if need be) and hold the top of the ear with your hand while sawing downwards to cut off the corn. This will give you about a half cup of corn kernels. Place it aside until ready for use.



Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius (350 Fahrenheit).

Place the pattypan in the oven and let it cook for 35-40 minutes.

I place my mushrooms in the oven at the same time. It cooks more or less about the same time.

Roast the pattypan and mushrooms in the oven while starting the risotto (cook time is about 30 min).

In a large pan, heat up some olive oil over medium heat and then add the onions. Cook them for about 10 minutes. Do not brown them!

Add the risotto rice and stir with a wooden spoon. Move it around until the rice turns translucent.

Add the white wine. It will sizzle and it should start to evaporate. Continuously stir the rice (patience is the key to making risotto). Apparently, stirring releases its starch which gives it the creamy factor.

As the rice starts to dry up, add a ladleful of simmering stock and continue to stir. When it starts to thicken up and get starchy, add another ladleful of stock and stir slowly.

Keep repeating this process until the rice is cooked. Most or all of the stock will have been used.

When it is cooked, add some lemon zest, stir in the butter and then the Parmesan cheese.

Take the roasted mushrooms and combine it with the risotto. Add the corn kernels and stir.

Place the cooked pattypan on a serving dish or individual plate.

Take a spoon and scoop the flesh around in the pattypan.

Fill the patty pan with the risotto while mixing in the flesh inside the patty pan.

Adjust with black pepper.

Garnish with a little sprig of parsley and serve.


You’ll have to buy a patty pan for each person if you want to serve and stuff the risotto in it. Otherwise, you can just scoop out the flesh of the one patty pan and combine it with the risotto towards the end and serve the portions directly on your plates.

White Bean Spinach Soup

When it comes to white beans, I think cannellini.   I usually go for the ones in the tin and never really think much about them.  Then one day Lady Jo asked me, "what's a white bean?"  It seems like a simple question but it's a loaded one.  I answered definitively, "Cannellini", quickly followed by "Non?— oh, you mean haricot blanc?", then with a tinge of doubt,  "Flageolet?"

Well, a month later I find myself with a sack of white dried beans my husband picked up at the market and they were not any of the white beans mentioned above.  These are called Soissons beans and resemble a lima bean.

Apparently this variety of bean is culitvated in Soissons located in Aisne, a department north east of Paris.

These Soissons beans turned out to be plump and flavorful.  Now the question is to soak or not to soak your dried beans beforehand.

White Bean Spinach Soup


• 500 grams dried white beans
• 1 onion, chopped finely
• 3 cloves garlic
• 1 bay leaf
• 1.5 litre stock
• 150 grams spinach


Soak white beans in water overnight.


In a large Dutch oven, add some olive oil and sauté the onions and garlic until the onions becomes translucent and turn golden.

Add the stock and beans, cook until boiling point, then turn down the heat, cover and let it simmer for about two to two and a half hours or until the beans are tender.

Add the spinach and keep the lid on.   Let it cook until it wilts, stirring occasionally.

Let the soup cool.  Scoop out the spinach and half of the beans and put it in a blender and whiz it up into a soup.  

Pour it back in with the rest of the beans.  Reheat on low temperature before serving.