What with cross-country moves here and life changes there, I think you must be tired of me proclaiming “I have news!” all the time, but in the off chance you aren’t, I have just one more piece of news that I’m thrilled — and still a little in disbelief — to be sharing: There’s going to be a Two Red Bowls cookbook! It’s all still in the works, but here are some of the firm details: There will be a little more than 80 recipes, with a few of my very favorites from the blog and the rest new. It will come out sometime in the fall of 2018, published by Rodale. My dad will try to buy every copy.
I went back and forth for a long time about whether to write a book. I didn’t want to do it unless I had an idea for a book that I loved, I couldn’t do it anyway unless I had the time, and for awhile, working full-time at my law firm, I had neither. But then this little man came along and my firm’s very generous maternity leave policy meant I’d have several months at home (which meant, if not exactly more free time, at least more time at home during daylight and shooting hours!) And I noticed that a lot of what cropped up on this space, predictably, were things that would make for a book I’d want sitting in my kitchen. They were dishes I grew up eating in the South in a Chinese household, or things B2 grew up eating in Hawaii in a (half-)Korean household, or a mish-mash of my favorite Asian flavors from those experiences plus Western ones, too. That became the basic idea behind the book: I wanted to put together a collection of recipes that celebrates food as a way to preserve our individual traditions and memories, but also as a way to bridge those different cultures, which aren’t always as different as they seem. It’s not so much fusion as it is an exploration of the funny things different cultures have in common, like the parallels between Korean fried chicken and Nashville hot chicken, or pierogi and potstickers. And so the book is tentatively titled, for now, A Common Table.
So yeah! A month or two before B3 came, I sent a proposal out into the world. And for the past few months, I’ve been in the kitchen (sometimes with a snoozing B3 strapped to my chest) cooking, baking, and snapping photos of all of our favorite things. I recognize the slight craziness of deciding to shoot a cookbook during my maternity leave, and more than a little part of me is scared about finishing up the manuscript this summer after my leave is up and I’m (a phrase that strikes fear into my heart) a working mom. But hopefully you’ll bear with me if things go a little slow around these parts from time to time. I’m so excited to share this book with you, and so very grateful to you for making it possible. It’s still hard to believe that anyone besides B2 likes to read this blog, let alone would read or cook from a book I made. Thank you so much for being here.
Finally, what you actually want to read about — this soup! I first had Taiwanese spicy beef noodle soup (or niu rou mian) on a sleepy December day just after Christmas a few years ago, when a friend of mine took me to an amazing Taiwanese restaurant in Arcadia. Amid the sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaves, popcorn chicken, and juicy soup dumplings, the noodle soup she ordered for us was the last to catch my eye, especially when it arrived in an unassuming bowl of dark, murky broth, but it was the one that overshadowed everything else once I took my first bite — all that deep dark murkiness comes from an impossibly flavorful, long-simmered broth, both savory and brow-sweatingly spicy, with tender chunks of beef and a pile of chewy noodles swimming underneath. I’ve been dreaming about it ever since.
A homemade version of niu rou mian seemed fitting for this post, not only because it would be a perfect long-life noodle dish for Lunar New Year next week, but because it’s one that could have easily fit into the book. Andrea Nguyen, when writing about her recipe for this soup, noted that it reminded her of how she makes Vietnamese bun bo hue; the soy sauce reminded a little bit of soy-braised jangjorim, but I especially like how the method is uncannily similar to beef stews like beef Bourgignon. The beef gets a quick sear for flavor, then it switches places in the pot with aromatics, which get briefly sautéed before they all simmer together with spices, tomato for a little acidity and sweetness, and a healthy glug of wine to brighten it all up. Plus, it’s born of a good memory, like so many recipes in the book are, and, most importantly — it is absolutely delicious.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for being here, reading, and for making this exciting new project possible. I can’t wait to share more with you!
- For the beef soup:
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 lbs beef chuck, tri-tip roast, or flank steak, sliced against the grain into 1-inch chunks
- Salt and pepper, to taste (I used about ¼ teaspoon each)
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon molasses (optional; you can also replace the granulated sugar with brown sugar)
- 2 cups diced onion (about 1 large onion)
- ½ cup garlic cloves, peeled and smashed (about 1 head of garlic)
- ½ cup sliced scallions (about 3-4 scallions), plus more for serving
- 3-4 tablespoons spicy chili broad bean paste (doubanjiang, the same as used in zhajiangmian; look for pixian doubanjiang for the highest quality, but more common brands like Lee Kum Kee will do you just fine)
- 2 teaspoons grated ginger
- 2 quarts water
- ½ cup Shaoxing wine or sake
- ½ cup diced tomato (about 1 small tomato)
- ½ cup soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons Sichuan peppercorns
- 3 pieces star anise
- ½ teaspoon five spice powder
- To serve:
- 4-6 small heads baby bok choy, ends trimmed but intact (about 4 cups)
- 1 lb noodles of your choice, enough for 4-6 servings
- ½ cup sliced scallions
- ½ cup coarsely chopped cilantro
- Heat the vegetable oil in a large 5-quart Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat, until shimmering. Add the steak, season generously with salt and pepper, and cook, turning the beef occasionally, until browned on all sides, about 5-6 minutes. Add the sugar and continue to cook 1-2 more minutes, stirring continuously, until the sugar caramelizes.
- Remove the beef from the pot. (I find tongs like these to be super handy for this.) Add the onion, garlic, scallions, and ginger to the pot and cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring, until onion just begins to soften. Add the spicy bean paste and stir to evenly distribute.
- Add the beef back to the pot, along with the water, cooking wine, tomato, soy sauce, peppercorns, star anise, and five spice powder. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat to medium-low and let cook at a bare simmer for at least 2 hours and ideally 3, skimming any scum off the top as it forms. (Note: You can make Steps 1-3 the night before and let the stew chill in the refrigerator overnight at this point; this is what I did.)
- When you’re ready to eat, you can remove the beef from the broth and strain out any other solids from the broth; I tend to leave them in for ease (or, more accurately, laziness). If needed, reheat the beef and broth on the stovetop while you prepare the bok choy and noodles. If the soup has cooked down too much, add a cup or so of water to dilute it a bit.
- For the bok choy and noodles, bring a medium pot of water to boil. Add the bok choy and simmer for 3-4 minutes, or until bok choy is tender and leaves are dark green. Remove with tongs and add the noodles; cook the noodles according to the directions on the package. Divide the noodles, bok choy, beef, and broth evenly between 4-6 bowls, then top with scallions and cilantro and enjoy! If serving for fewer, make just enough noodles as needed and save the remaining bok choy, beef, and broth for another time -- the flavor will only improve with time. The beef soup will keep for 3-4 days.