We Just Need To Veg: Asparagus Fried Rice, General Tso’s Tofu Sammies, Chocolate Shortbread Sandwich Cookies

10 Apr

Stephen and Ben, doing important work

It’s time for a Spring cleaning: after a Winter so cold my absurdly pale skin sloughed off in dry, flakey sheets and turned as red as volcanic lava and my arm hair stood permanently on goose-pimply end, all I wanted to do for months was wrap myself in a cocoon of whale blubber and go about my day, clutching a vat of hot cocoa and cursing Zephyrus and Boreas while bargaining with Horae.

But since harvesting a cocoon’s worth of blubber is above my pay grade, I settled for wrapping myself in a cocoon of caveman eats. Generally an omnivore who leans toward vegetarianism, my inner carnivore took control of my appetite this Winter, and ruled with a bloody fist.

Stephen will generally eat what’s put in front of him, but he finally cried “Uncle” a few weeks ago on our meat-heavy fare. After requesting no more beef, I innocently prepared a Baconalia. This week, he clarified: “Please, no more meat. Let’s eat something that didn’t require a trip to the slaughterhouse.”

When I couldn’t talk him into leg of lamb, I relented. And I have to say: it felt (and tasted) good. And after a trip with Ben to the Captain Lawrence brewery and much sampling of their offerings (I highly recommend the Smoked Porter and the Espresso Stout — so much personality and flavor), we also needed a detox.

Deep-fried detox

A Willcox-Repsher detox, by definition, is still indulgent. Click on for our Asparagus Fried Rice, General Tso’s Tofu Sammies and Chocolate Shortbread Sandwich Cookies. NB: The recipes are all a bit daunting-looking, but easy to execute. If you plan ahead, they can be pulled together in about 20 minutes.

Asparagus Fried Rice

Makes 4-6 servings

Adapted from Eileen Yin-Fei Lo


  • 1 1/2 cups long grain brown or white rice
  • 12 spears of asparagus, tough ends cut off, sliced into bite-size pieces
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1 TBSP vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock
  • 1 TBSP soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. mirin
  • 1/2 tsp. dark sesame oil
  • 1/2 small yellow onion, chopped fine
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • small handful of canned water chestnuts, rinsed, drained, chopped fine
  • 3 scallions, sliced fine
  • small handful of fresh cilantro, minced
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Method for Asparagus Fried Rice:

  • Rinse rice in cold water. Place in medium sized sturdy pan, add a healthy dash of kosher salt, 3 cups of cold water and heat over high heat until boiling. Reduce to low simmer and cover for 30 minutes.  Fluff with fork and set aside. (This can be done a day ahead).
  • Bring salted water to boil in a medium-sized pot. Prepare an ice water bath. Place asparagus in boiling water, reduce to simmer and cook until just tender, about two minutes. Drain and plunge into ice water bath. Remove when cool and set aside. (This can be done a day ahead).
  • In small bowl, beat egg, egg white, 1 tsp. vegetable oil, salt and pepper. Put wok or large saute pan over high heat, add eggs and scramble with a fork. Cook through. Remove to cutting board, chop and set aside.
  • In a small bowl, mix stock, soy sauce, mirin, sesame oil and pepper. Add remaining 2 tsp. vegetable oil to pan used to cook eggs, heat again, add onion and cook until softened, about three minutes. Add garlic, water chestnuts and asparagus, cook for about two minutes. Add rice and eggs, stirring to combine. Add soy sauce mix, scallions and cook for about two more minutes. Garnish with cilantro.

Nutritional breakdown for Asparagus Fried Rice: About 225 calories and 4 grams of fat per serving. Decent low-fat sources of iron, protein. High in fiber if you use brown rice.

Cost breakdown for Asparagus Fried Rice: About $1.20 a serving.

Verdict / In the Future: Fried rice is like a Sunday movie marathon — it’s pure, simple, sating comfort. It tastes like easy childhood afternoons in the sun. It’s perfect Spring food — playful, grain-y, veg-y, sweet, salty and with a protein kick and lashings of tasty heat and fat peaking up just as things get predictable.

General Tso's Tofu Sandwich

General Tso’s Tofu Sammie

Makes 8 servings

Adapted from Tyler Kord via The New York Times

Makes 6 big servings

Ingredients for the Sauce:

  • 1 1-inch chunk of ginger, peeled and chopped roughly
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 2 TBSP white vinegar
  • 2 TBSP mirin
  • 1/2 tsp. dark sesame oil
  • 1 small Chinese chile
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. sugar

Method for the sauce:

  • In a small blender, pulse all of the ingredients until well-processed. Set aside. This can be done up to two days ahead.

Ingredients for pickles:

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1-inch chunk ginger, peeled and sliced thin
  • 1/4 tsp. dark sesame oil
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 4 red Chinese chiles, separated
  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 scallion, sliced thin
  • 1 cucumber, peeled, split in half, seeded, sliced crosswise
  • 1 carrot, peeled and sliced into large batons

Method for pickles:

  • In a blender combine garlic, ginger, sesame oil, sugar, salt and one chili and pulse until smooth. Add vinegar, stir and pour over cucumbers and carrot. Stir. Add scallions and three chiles and set aside. This can be done up to two days ahead — the extra pickles will keep for a few weeks.

Ingredients for edamame puree:

  • 1/2 cup shelled edamame
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • water

Method for edamame puree:

  • In a blender, pulse shelled edamame, salt and enough water to form a paste. (I needed 1/4 cup). Set aside. (This can be done up to two days ahead).

Ingredients for the tofu:

  • 1/4 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. chili powder
  • 1 tsp. Old Bay seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic salt
  • vegetable oil, for deep frying
  • 16 ounces firm tofu, drained and squeezed between paper towels to remove excess water; slice into 8 even pieces
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 3 TBSP corn starch
  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
  • Mayo, to taste
  • 8 rolls
  • Sesame seeds

Method for tofu:

  • Mix salt and other spices in a bowl and set aside.
  • In a saucepan, heat oil to between 350 and 375 degrees.
  • Whisk together egg whites and cornstarch until smooth. Put panko in a separate bowl.
  • Sprinkle tofu on both sides with salt mix. Dip into egg white batter, shake off excess, dip in panko, shake off excess. Being mindful of the hot oil, fry the tofu in batches, being careful not to crowd the pan. Fry until golden brown, about 3-5 minutes. Drain on paper towels and keep warm on baking sheet in a 250 degree oven, if desired.
  • To assemble these bad boys, slice rolls in half, adding dollop of edamame puree on one side and mayo on the other. Dip each piece of fried tofu in the sauce, and throw in the rolls. Add pickled veg and garnish with sesame seeds.

Nutritional breakdown for General Tso’s Tofu Sammies: About 300 calories and 8 grams of fat per sammy. Fantastic source of low-fat protein. Good source of calcium and iron.

Cost breakdown for General Tso’s Tofu Sammies: Assuming that you have many of the spices, vinegars and oils on hand already, this should run about $2 a pop.

Verdict / In the Future: Indulgent-tasting, quirky, fun to eat — and an amazing contrast of fried, soft and crunchy textures. The egg-white dip was a revelation — I’m going to try deep-frying veggies in it too! But if you don’t love salt, then go easy on the salt rub. You will definitely have leftover pickles and General Tso’s sauce — I used the extra sauce for sautees.

Chocolate Shortbread Sandwich Cookies

Inspired by recipes from Flo Braker and Real Simple

Makes 18 sandwiches

Ingredients for the cookies:

  • 2 cups AP flour, plus extra for dusting
  • scant 1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup + 2 TBSP confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Method for cookies:

  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, salt.
  • In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar using the whisk attachment. Start on low and mix until sugar is incorporated; crank it up to medium-high and whip until the butter and sugar is aerated and fluffy; waves and ripples will appear. Add the vanilla dn blend.
  • Reduce speed and slowly add cocoa-flour mix. Blend until just combined.
  • Turn out onto a clean, flour work surface. Form the dough into a ball, flatten it into a disk and roll the dough out using a rolling pin until the dough is about 1/4-inch thick. Using cookie cutters (any shape, really as long as they’re about 1 1/2-inches in diameter — I used fluted rounds), cut out about 36 circles and place on parchment paper-lined baking sheets.
  • Reroll any extra scraps and continue to cut out circles until you’ve used all of the dough. Cover tightly with saran wrap and put in fridge for 1 day (at least 2 hours).
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees, unwrap cookies and place in oven. After about 9 minutes, flip the baking sheets around so all of the cookies are baked evenly. Cook for another 5-7 minutes (until just set — they’ll still be a bit soft) and remove from oven. Allow to cool on sheets before handling. Resist the urge to fiddle with them; until they’re cool they’re still soft and liable to tear. Set aside until ready to proceed.

Ingredients for peanut crunch:

  • 1 cup of unroasted, salted peanuts
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds (white if possible)
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar

Method for peanut crunch:

  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  • Chop the nuts coarsely. Different size peanut chunks are fine, don’t stress.
  • Place egg white in a medium bowl and add the nuts. Stir with spatula. Add sesame and sugar and stir again until everything is evenly mixed and the egg white is well distributed.
  • Spread layer on parchment-paper lined baking sheet.
  • Pop in oven for about 7 minutes. Toss the nuts with the spatula and pop in oven for another 5 minutes. Check them again and toss. It’s important to redistribute the nuts so that everything toasts evenly. When the mixture smells roasted, the sugar has caramelized and everything is a golden bronze hue, remove from oven and allow to cool.

Bronzed beauties

  • This yields almost two cups, way more than you’ll need for the recipe, which is great because you will be busy stuffing the morsels in your mouth as you make the cookies and trying to figure out ways to hide any extraneous crunch from Stephen and Ben so you can eat it all yourself. Alone, this makes an excellent snack, surreptitiously munched at midnight when your husband is in bed and you can finally watch Bravo without being mocked. Don’t ask me how I know.

Ingredients for white chocolate buttercream:

  • 6 TBSP melted butter
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 5 ounces white chocolate chips (there are people who deride white chocolate as being “not real” and faux chocolate; from a technical standpoint, they have a point. From a human/yum standpoint, they are humorless dullards who need to occasionally spice up their lives with some over-manufactured cocoa butter, milk “products” and this weird fatty substance called lecithin)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Method for white chocolate buttercream:

  • Melt butter slightly, and put in medium bowl.
  • Add sugar and mix with hand beater, set aside.
  • Place white chocolate in a bowl that will sit over the medium saucepan with the spa-warm water, without actually touching the spa-warm water. Stir until most of the chocolate is melted. I had to turn my burner on to achieve this. It took a few minutes of careful stirring.
  • Alternatively, nuke the chocolate carefully in the microwave.
  • Add chocolate to butter and sugar mixture and beat until combined and smooth. Add 1/2 cup of the peanut mix and proceed.

To assemble everything:

  • Stir in about 1/2 cup of the roasted nuts into the buttercream.
  • Set 18 sandwich cookies (the worst looking side face-up) on work space. Using a small offset spatula, spread a dollop of the buttercream mixture onto the ugly side of the chocolate shortbread cookie and proceed down the line. Once all of the buttercream has been distributed (any leftovers make great stir ins for oatmeal or cracker/flatbread/pretzel dip), top off with 18 shortbread cookie halves, making sure the prettiest side is face-up.

Nutritional breakdown for Chocolate Shortbread Sandwich Cookies: Holy crap, I just did the math and these are really not good for you. Lovers of denial, shield your eyes. At about (depending on how heavy you go on the buttercream) 225 calories and 10 grams of fat a pop, they are an unusually fulsome little treat. Their insanely high butter content provides you with a dash of calcium and protein, so there’s that. Also, the dusting of nuts provides trace niacin and manganese. Ahem.

Cost breakdown for Chocolate Shortbread Sandwich Cookies: If you buy butter by the pound when it’s on sale, as I do, these will run you about $0.60 a cookie.

Verdict / In the Future: All of these elements stand alone beautifully. The cookies are great by themselves, as is the crunch. And the buttercream is a work-horse — I even occasionally use it on my breakfast toast if I can find any hormonal / weather-related / capricious / random reason to rationalize it.

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