Wednesday, November 17, 2010

UnRecipe: The Heat is ON - a Tale of Two Spicy Dishes

Baby, when it's cold outside, all I want to do is eat something warm, cozy and spicy-hot. I recently went through a spicy food craving, but it's funny how "spicy food" isn't a catch-all when it comes to different cuisines. There's specific combinations of foods and heat that enhance the flavor of foods in different ways. Bring on the spice, because it's oh-so-nice!
Who says tofu can't have attitude? - Photo by Wasabi Prime

Mapo tofu is like making chicken noodle soup or meat loaf -- everyone's got a different recipe or method of making it, and there's no absolute correct way of doing it. It's basically ground pork, finely-chopped vegetables that could include onions, mushrooms, carrots or whatever you've got, little cubes of tofu, and a spicy hellfire broth of garlic, ginger, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, dried peppers or chile paste, simmered in a bit of stock. Sprinkle with green onions to garnish and prepare to sweat it out, baby. It's an easy one-pot meal and it's usually served over rice. My version tends to use ground turkey, just to give my arteries a break, and I go heavy on the vinegar because I like that tangy sourness. I've also done version of this that has chopped up kimchee. You really can put anything in this, as it's a very forgiving dish -- the hearty stews often are. I'm used to having it bright orange, due to the heavy hand of "rooster sauce" sriracha. My latest batch didn't quite turn the alarming orange I'm used to, but a few dashes of extra chili sauce makes it all better and I can always cry in the bathroom later.

Rich and spicy enchiladas - Photo by Wasabi Prime 

My other favorite heat is from chipotle in adobo sauce. I don't make these from scratch, I just buy them from the store, and I just love, love, love them. There's usually a can at the ready in my pantry because they're like the spicy little red Swiss Army knife that always saves MacGyver's bacon -- they're great for (almost) everything, yo! The stewed, saucy peppers provide so much rich, deep, smoky heat -- almost sweet at times. They make spicy dishes less knock-your-socks-off hot and more of that satisfying roundness of flavor sensation, like something's been slowly simmered to perfection.

I made enchiladas with the help of the slow cooker, throwing a big, sinewy hunk of pork shoulder into a mix of canned tomatoes and the chipotle peppers and sauce. The pork was covered in a dry spice rub before wading into the slow cooker hot tub time machine and Shazam - when it got to Futuretown, it was shreddable-tender and seasoned in the saucy flavors. The pork was set aside while the tomato/chile sauce was buzzed down in the blender until smooth. I tossed the shredded pork with some cooked down onions and black beans and this was the filling for enchiladas.

When the weather turns cold, these are definitely the things that helps keep me warm from the inside-out. What's your favorite spicy food?

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