29 September 2009

Zaru Soba at home

Soba noodles are my favorite food (tied with peaches or pizza), but this fast food, ubiquitous in Japan—at every train station, even!—is hard to find at U.S. Japanese restaurants. Zaru Soba means cold, soup-less soba noodles with toppings and a dipping sauce. It somehow manages to be incredibly delicious, attractive, and healthy, all at once.

Good soba noodles are at least 80% buckwheat. The remaining ingredient is usually whole wheat. In this country you can buy delicious, good-quality 100% buckwheat noodles from Eden Foods. Although they are wheat free, they are not gluten-free because they are made on equipment that processes wheat. Or you can go to your local Asian grocer and peer at the Japanese or Korean writing on the soba and hope for the best. The darkest, thickest noodles without food coloring and with buckwheat/soba listed as the first ingredient will probably be your best bet. Just so you know, organic soba does not mean tasty or good soba.

Once you've got your hands on a package of Pure Pleasure, treat it like pasta that cooks super fast. Keep tasting it until it's al dente. Then drain it immediately and rinse it with water until it's as cold as possible. UPDATE: The Black Moon website suggests soaking it in ice water for a few minutes, and I've found that works really well. Now you have various options, but I will give you my two favorites:

1) With Dipping Sauce:

Yamaki brand Soba Tsuyu (straight) is my favorite dipping sauce. The "straight" description means that it's not a concentrated tsuyu, so you don't need to add water before serving. Concentrated tsuyu is more cost-effective than straight, but that doesn't mean it tastes better. Can't tell if your bottle is straight or concentrated? If it's concentrated there is sure to be a chart on the back with numbers or pictures showing the ratio needed of water to concentrated tsuyu. It's probably 2 to 1 or 1 to 1. Don't worry about it, you can add more water to taste. If you want to know what the word "straight" looks like in Japanese, follow the Yamaki link at the beginning of the paragraph and check out the white lettering in the red stripe on the left of the bottle. In fact, you can just print out a picture and take it with you to the Asian market.

Anyway, put the soba into a bowl. Top with various optional condiments like toasted sesame seeds, shredded (kizami) nori (Yamamotoyama is a good brand), sliced scallions, and grated daikon radish (they look like enormous white carrots). Take out a miso-soup size bowl and fill it half-way with soba tsuyu. Stir in some wasabi if you like. Now take your chopsticks and gather up a few strands of the soba. Drop or dip them into the tsuyu, then slurp them into your mouth. CHEW.

2) Dipping sauce is too much trouble? Just top your soba with a ton of sesame seeds and shredded nori and eat it like that.

UPDATE: If you have good soba, the water you boil it in will turn thick and cloudy. Save some of it when you drain the noodles, and when you're done eating the noodles, reheat your soba water and pour it into your bowl of dipping sauce (with all the goodies you added) to make a soup. This soup will be very tasty and nourishing and you will feel good. Japanese people often do this, at least in restaurants.

Mmmm... buckwheaty goodness.

25 September 2009

Quick Quick Chickpeas

If you've got light, buttery beans like chickpeas, a different flavor combination is much better. After a thorough draining and rinsing, my beans heat up in the microwave. When they're nice and warm, I toss in a bit of extra virgin olive oil and squooze on some fresh lemon juice.

Then, because I need maximum brain dilation for school, I blizzard them with chili pepper. Not necessarily recommended for all those happy brain-sloths out there!

I think a bit of toasted and mortar-and-pestled cumin might be nice on them too.

Quick Quick Kidney Beans

A speedy, not-so-bad-for-you side dish to accompany starches or vegetables:

Take a can of kidney or red beans—any beans with a deep earthy flavor. Drain them and rinse them very thoroughly. Meanwhile, heat up a little oil or broth in a pan. Add the beans plus several shakes of your favorite spices. Old Bay Seasoning, originally conceived for red meat, works quite well here, as do tomato sauce/ pizza spices like oregano, basil, thyme, and black pepper. Don't add salt because canned beans come already heavily salted. Cook, stirring, until warm and serve immediately.

Keeps well and improves in flavor each day.

24 September 2009

How to Pick a Fry Pan

There are a lot of fancy-shmancy fry pans on the market right now, and sometimes it can be hard to figure out what to choose. When George and I were getting married and had to make up a registry, we didn't know anything. Now, five years later, we know. So I'll tell you.

Get a Cast Iron Fry Pan.

The only exception to this rule is if you don't have an oven or a friend/ neighbor who would lend you their oven for a few hours per year.

Why You Should Get a Cast Iron Fry Pan:

  1. The NYTimes agrees with me.
  2. Because they last forever, you can use your grandparents' fry pan and your grandkids can use yours.
  3. They don't have aluminum, so you don't have to worry about their giving you Alzheimer's.
  4. They distribute heat way better than your average fry pan. Your cooking will become more impressive.
  5. You can stick them in the oven.
  6. They are super-easy to clean with a rag or a Dobie pad. You don't need to soak them. If the non-stick quality comes off because you soaked them or scrubbed too hard, no problem! Just season them again and you're ready to go.
  7. Maybe they don't look pretty, but they do look rustic and authentic. They will always look timeless.
  8. It is nearly impossible to destroy them. George and I have done very bad things to them and they survived.
  9. They are inexpensive. As in, a 10" skillet with lid is $40.
  10. They are made in the USA.
  11. They stack more easily than woks.
  12. You can use any utensil on them that you want! No more melting plastic spatulas.
  13. If you are iron-deficient, these might be just what the doctor ordered.
George and I have used all sorts of non-stick or fancy Le Creuset fry pans and there is absolutely no question in our minds that cast iron is the way to go. So go out and get a set!

21 September 2009

Fake Meat For Everyone

It's no secret that I crave fake meat. I CRAVE it. But I know it's a flaw, so thank goodness George knows how to cook fake meat so that it seems like authentic high-quality repast. Recently for breakfast he cooked me up something so delicious and simple that I had to share it with you, my faithful readers. Seitan and peppers are a match in heaven. Seitan IS wheat gluten, so those with the Celiac monster need to move on, nothing to see here. Just so you know, I blanket this dish in chili pepper because I've found that chili pepper and hot tea are the best way to wake up my brain in the morning (not recommended for the sensitive or irritable).

Seitan à la George

1 package traditionally flavored seitan
2 small frying peppers
leftover cold rice, as much as you want
olive oil
low-sodium soy sauce (shoyu)

1. Cut peppers into strips. Chop up seitan into bite-sized chunks.
2. Sauté seitan and peppers in oil until peppers are floppy and seem done.
3. Add rice and some soy sauce for moisture. Cook until you drool.
4. Serve hot.

08 September 2009

Almond Cabbage Noodles

Do you ever need to soothe yourself with food? Maybe your stomach has been hurting or you just don't feel well. When this happens I frequently crave Chinese bean curd soup with vegetables—from a downscale Chinese restaurant. Ha! I know what you were thinking. You thought I had a recipe for Chinese soup. Only in my dreams! I don't even want to know what they put in those broths. Please don't tell me if you know.

However sometimes a close second in comfort to Chinese soup is noodles. I'm talking about those peanut noodles you can get for take-out at some downscale Thai restaurants. But George and I find noodles made with almond butter more comforting. In a lot of stores almond butter is outrageously expensive, but in various places we've found it comparable to peanut butter in price and at Costco it was so cheap we bought 2 huge jars. Of course, you can use peanut butter instead if you want (not the nasty sugar-infused kind but the natural kind that you have to stir).

If you're gluten-free I recommend using Tinkyada brown rice spaghetti (everyone says it's the best) and of course wheat-free soy sauce.

Almond Cabbage Noodles

3 Tablespoons almond butter
2 Tablespoons sesame oil (This should be dark and Asian. Kadoya is a decent brand)
2 Tablespoons low-sodium shoyu (soy sauce that's not tamari)
2 Tablespoons mirin (if you don't have mirin you can subsitute 2 Tbsp. sake and 2 tsp. sugar)
1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon sugar
about 10 ounces whole wheat angel hair pasta or spaghetti, broken into pieces,
1/2 Napa (Chinese) cabbage

1. Whisk together almond butter, sesame oil, shoyu, mirin, apple cider vinegar, and sugar in a saucepan. Warm it up.
2. Cook pasta.
3, Meanwhile, peel outer leaves off the cabbage until you reach fresh looking crisp white leaves without black marks. Rinse, then shred the cabbage by putting it on a cutting board and thinly slicing into it starting with the tops of the leaves and working your way toward the root. Don't use the root.
4. Place shredded cabbage in a nice big collander in the sink.
5. Drain boiling water from the pasta into the collander with the cabbage. The cabbage should wilt.
6. Put pasta, cabbage, and sauce all together in the newly drained pasta pot. Mix thoroughly. Serve warm.
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