Rice Noodle Salad

Summer is waning, I’m sorry to say. Instead of a blast of already-100-degree heat on my face when I leave for work in the mornings, it’s pleasant, even cool sometimes. It’s a bittersweet time of year because although it’s nice to have a relief from the oppressive heat, I hate to see summer end. Fortunately (or not), it’s usually still quite warm to hot during the day, especially when you are cleaning raccoon enclosures. So last night’s dinner was still a welcome almost-no-cook treat.

Rice Noodle Salad

1 package rice noodles – I used wide ones, but thinner ones would work too
1 huge or 3 smaller carrots, cut on a spiralizer or julienned
1 small daikon, cut on a spiralizer or julienned
1 cucumber, cut on a spiralizer or julienned
2 cups bean sprouts
1/2 small head Savoy (or about 2 cups Napa) cabbage, shredded
2-3 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1/2 cup peanuts, crushed

For the dressing
3 Tbsp rice vinegar
3 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp brown sugar
juice of 1 lime
1 red chili pepper, minced

If you really don’t want to cook anything, soak the noodles in very hot water. I’m too impatient to do that and always boil mine for a couple of minutes. When they are al dente, drain them, rinse under cold water, and toss with some toasted sesame oil. Set aside.

Meanwhile, prep all of the vegetables. Whisk together all of the sauce ingredients. Then toss everything together except the peanuts and scallions. I used my hands to mix everything together before realizing that was a really stupid move considering I used a jolokia pepper in the sauce, but for some reason, it didn’t burn. (I’m not convinced what this farmer is selling to Whole Foods as jolokia peppers are really jolokias; they’re not that hot.)

Top with crushed peanuts and scallions. Serve with sriracha.

I also served tofu puffs with a sweet chili-vinegar dipping sauce. Super H sells these tofu puffs, which Mark loves:

I cut them in half and toast them in the toaster oven for one to two toast cycles to warm them up and make them slightly crispy outside:

I make a dipping sauce for them based on a recipe I got off the internet many, many years ago, back when I actually owned one of those evil appliances called a printer and used to print out recipes and store them in a huge, untamed notebook. I think I lost the printout so I can’t tell you where I got the recipe (I think a Thai recipe site) or if I’m even still making it as directed.

Sweet Chili-Vinegar Dipping Sauce

3 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 Tbsp chili-garlic sauce
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
pinch of salt

Whisk everything together.

Serve with the warmed tofu puffs.

Now, about those raccoons. They’re often asleep when I arrive to clean their enclosure.

You learn very quickly to NEVER put ANYTHING you don’t want mutilated within reach of a raccoon. They are extremely devious! Here is one on its back destroying a paper towel I made the mistake of putting down for half a second.

But seriously, how could you possibly be mad at this face?

Or this one?

Answer: you can’t.

Comments (6)

Heirloom Tomato, Avocado, Corn, and Pinto Bean Salad

Mark and I recently returned from a week with his family at Folly Beach in Charleston. Apparently, while we were enjoying a week of absolutely perfect beach weather of sunny, upper 80 degree days and lower 80 degree ocean temperatures (bliss!), the Maryland and Virginia areas were suffering record-setting, scorching 100-degree days around Memorial Day – followed briskly by a cold front bringing in 50-degree nights and 70-degree days the second half of the week. Well, we’re home now and it’s back up to the upper 90s again: summer is here with a vengeance. This week has been weird because I wasn’t able to get to a farmers market over the weekend and I don’t know, I just find it difficult to buy vegetables in stores during the summer, so my refrigerator hasn’t really been stocked properly since our return. I had to go to Whole Foods out of desperation for fresh food today, and it was hot, hot, hot. I found myself looking at some heirloom tomatoes and wondering what I could make for dinner that would fit the weather and my relaxed, happy, tanned, and very warm mood. This is what I came up with:

Heirloom Tomato, Avocado, Corn, and Pinto Bean Salad

1 heirloom tomato, seeded and chopped
1 (or better yet, 2) avocado, peeled and chopped
2 ears corn, cut from cob and cooked
1/2 Vidalia or other sweet onion, chopped
1 cup whole wheat couscous
lettuce leaves, for serving/garnish

For the beans
1 cup dried pinto beans, soaked (quick soaked is okay)
1/2 medium onion, chopped
3 or 4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 dried chili piquin, or other form of heat to your liking (optional)
1 tsp ground ancho chili powder
1 tsp Mexican oregano
1 Tbsp tomato paste
smoked black pepper, to taste (optional)
vegan “chicken” bouillon (or other broth), to cover
or you can cook some beans (they needn’t be pintos, either) by whatever method and recipe you prefer

For the dressing
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp pickled jalapeno juice, or a vinegar you think sounds good
juice of 1/2 lime (about 2 Tbsp)
1 large clove garlic, pressed
1 cube frozen cilantro (Trader Joe’s sells this), or 2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper or smoked black pepper, to taste

First, get the beans cooking. A pressure cooker is s huge help here. Place all ingredients in the pot, with the broth just covering the beans. I cooked them for six minutes in the pressure cooker, then quick-released the pressure, returned to the heat and cooked another 15 minutes or so, boiling off some of the liquid. Careful with those pressure cookers: usually I don’t care if I overcook pintos because I like them refried anyway, but for a salad you’ll want to retain a bit of a bite in the bean. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, cook until tender but still a bit firm.

When the beans are cooked, drain them if necessary, reserving any liquid. I had about 3/4 cup liquid.

Make the dressing by whisking all of the ingredients together. Set aside for flavors to blend.

Cut the corn from the cobs and boil in water to cover for 10 minutes or until corn is tender. Drain, again reserving the cooking liquid.

To make the couscous, combine the bean cooking liquid, corn cooking liquid, and, if necessary, enough water to make 1 1/4 cups of liquid. I love it when I think to use cooking liquids for other purposes. If you aren’t using dried beans and/or fresh corn, you can use broth or water to make the couscous. Heat the liquid to boiling and pour over the couscous. Cover and let sit for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork.

Prepare the salad: chop the tomato, avocado, and onion. Gently toss the vegetables with the beans, corn, and dressing. I use my hands.

Line each serving dish with lettuce leaves. Put some couscous on the lettuce, then top with the bean and veggie mixture. If you have it, sprinkle with just a touch of smoked salt flakes. Garnish with lime wedges, to be squeezed over the salad, and serve a hot sauce like Tabasco on the side.

Mark seemed quite impressed with the presentation of this meal. I told him it just looked nice because of the lettuce leaves, but he said it went beyond that and looked very “fancy”. I don’t know that it really looked all that fancy, but when I later asked him if he liked the way it tasted he said it tasted “like summer” and was (I was to quote him) “summertastic”. I don’t know if it’s just one of those married people things where we can read each others’ minds (it happens), or if I’m just good at making meals that say exactly what I want them to say, but “like summer” was exactly what I was going for. He also requested the leftovers for lunch tomorrow, so I know he liked it. I only had one avocado, but I think the one thing that would have improved this salad would have been a second one. I probably really should have made 1 1/2 to 2 times as much couscous for this amount of salad as well.

Our vacation was on one hand very comfortable and very normal: we spend a week at the beach with Mark’s family every year and it’s always wonderful, but on the other hand a little unusual for both Mark and me in that a) Mark didn’t touch a computer for 7 days and b) I didn’t touch my camera for nearly 7 days. We both did uncharacteristic amounts of relaxing. But here are some pelicans, also relaxing:

And here is a very cool, very old tree.

Now for a raccoon update. The bad news: Rachel Raccoon never collected two of the three babies. The good news: because I volunteer with a local wildlife organization and had been in touch with a raccoon rehabilitator about working with her even before the raccoon/attic incident, I got a crash course in feeding very hungry, very vocal baby raccoons, and then drove them to the rehabilitator myself. And Sunday I started helping the rehabilitator on what will be a regular basis, so I got to visit my babies again, and I’m going to help raise and eventually release them! They’ve been named Rica and Rowena – they are both little girls – and I’m not sure which one this is on my lap just after a feeding, but look, her eyes are open now!

Working with raccoons has been a great experience. When they are babies, they’re a lot like cats, and are very affectionate and sweet. I’ll keep you posted on Rica and Rowena’s growth over the upcoming months. I feel terrible they aren’t with their mother any more, but they’re in great hands with the rehabilitator and I intend to be the best (part-time) surrogate mother I can be, and in five months when they are old enough to be released, they’ll not only be in a great location, but right next to a county park that has special meaning to me and Mark. So that’s almost as good as their being in my yard, and really, probably safer for them in the long run. We have a LOT of wildlife around here, which I absolutely love, but we DO live in a suburban neighborhood. The park is probably nicer for them.

Finally, tomorrow will mark one year from the day we met Gomez and Torticia. I can’t believe it’s been a whole year already, although at the same time I can’t imagine a life without them. We were really, really, really, really lucky: these cats are simply the most wonderful, perfect cats in the world. I can’t tell you how much I love them. As a tribute, I’ll be making a donation to the Northern Virginia SPCA this week in the same amount I paid for them last year (I’d give even more if rabies vaccinations didn’t cost a gazillion dollars, leaving me broke this month…) because I love these cats, I love the SPCA for bringing them into my life, and I want the SPCA to continue to bring other people and cats and dogs together to form bonds like I have with Gomez and Torticia.

(One of Mezzie’s nicknames is actually “Perfection”. He’s just simply perfect. He’s not just a cat, he’s the Platonic ideal of a cat.)


(I’ve mentioned before that I turn most songs into songs about Tigger. I still do; Tigger still gets sung about far more than anyone else, but Torticia has three songs. The Kinks’ Victoria is really “Torticia” (Torticia was my queen!). Simon & Garfunkel’s Cecilia is also really “Torticia” (Torticia, you’re breaking my heart!). But for one song, I don’t have to change the lyrics because her (nick)name is already in it: YOU’RE THE ONE FOR ME, FATTY – YOU’RE THE ONE I REALLY, REALLY LOVE!)

One last thing: if you haven’t seen it yet: Vegan Black Metal Chef. And if you liked that, Black Metal Library rockers. My day has been filled with an inordinate amount of black metal, which I don’t even like…unless it’s about vegan food or books!

Comments (8)

Strawberry Spinach Salad

I don’t know if I have mentioned before that the company I work for was founded by an Indian American and although we are very diverse, many employees are Indian and consequently a pretty high percentage of us are vegetarian (although I’m the only vegan I know of). What this means is I can generally eat a surprisingly high number of dishes at potlucks and other gatherings.

Today was our annual Thanksgiving potluck and once again I was instructed to bring a salad. When I found my week packed with extracurricular activities, though, including a late night the day before the potluck, I was alarmed. How was I going to put together something stunning – it’s important to me to take any chance I can get to make vegan food that appeals to omnivores and lacto-ovo vegetarians – that either required no time to prepare or would keep for a couple of days?

So earlier this week, I entered some panicky search terms into google and one of the first things that came back was this Strawberry Spinach Salad, which seemed quite promising. There was little prep work and I could do it all in advance except the final assembly. Tuesday night when I had a little extra time, I went shopping and bought the ingredients, then sliced the strawberries, candied the pecans, and pre-measured the dry ingredients for the dressing. Wednesday night I made the dressing in all of a minute, found a serving bowl, and set everything aside to remember in the morning. And this morning, I packed everything up in reusable grocery bag, stuck the strawberries in the fridge at work, and 5 minutes before I needed to, tossed the salad.

So here it is: my take on Strawberry Spinach Salad: a pretty, crowd-pleasing side dish that can be almost completely made in advance and in minimal time. I was told to scale this for 10 people, however, you could cut this in half for a single family.

Strawberry Spinach Salad

1 lb baby spinach
2 lbs strawberries, hulled and sliced
3 cups candied pecans (recipe follows)

Dressing:
1/4 cup red onion, minced
2 Tbsp sesame seeds
1 1/2 Tbsp poppy seeds
1 – 2 Tbsp white sugar (depending on the type of vinegar you use; use less for sweet balsamics)
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup vinegar – I used a fig balsamic, but regular balsamic would be fantastic, as would any wine vinegar. This is the salad for those fancy vinegars you never know what to do with!

For the candied pecans:
3 cups pecans
1/2 cup white sugar
oil
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
pinch of salt

First candy the pecans: Heat some oil in a cast iron skillet over medium low heat, then add the rest of the ingredients and push them around for a while, until the sugar has caramelized and the nuts are crunchy and delicious. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. You may want to make extra of these because they are addictive. I made a ton and almost didn’t have enough to take to work because someone – whose name rhymes with “Mark” – ate them all.

To make the dressing, whisk all of the ingredients together until emulsified. Let the flavors blend for at least an hour; store in the refrigerator if it will be longer than that.

Lastly, to assemble the salad, just toss everything together. Most of the commenters on the original recipe said it will get soggy, so don’t add the dressing until the very last minute. I served the dressing on the side.

All my advanced preparation nearly backfired when our power was out for 15 hours on Wednesday, but fortunately my refrigerated items all seem to have survived. Try mandarin orange slices if strawberries are out of season. I’m horrible locavore in the winter, and was lucky to find pretty delicious strawberries at Wegmans.

This got rave reviews from my co-workers, including from the CEO. Everyone was calling it “Renae’s Special Salad”, but really it’s just something I found on the internet and copied. Yes, I’m one of those crazy cooks who makes untested recipes for dinner parties and potlucks. But come on, how could I possibly go wrong with this recipe? It’s spinach, strawberries, candied pecans, and a balsamic vinaigrette – how is that not a perfect salad? Mark said he usually hates fruit in salads but he really liked this.

I’m incredibly shy, even though I’ve worked at the same place for 6 years and everyone is super friendly, but I can be lured from the safety of my cubicle for Indian food, of which there is always an abundance at our potlucks, much of it vegetarian. I raved so much about the rasam – one of my all-time favorite soups – a co-worker brought in that he gave me all the leftovers! Yay!! Even the Indian food-wary Smark loves rasam! It’s delicious!

Torticia liked it too!

And finally, we’re heading to LA on Thanksgiving. I know there are a gazillion vegan options there, but what should I definitely not miss? What bookstores do I need to go to? Thrift stores? Any other attractions?! It’ll be my first time there and although I’m going to miss these kittens something terrible, I can’t wait. Did I mention I’m seeing both Grinderman AND Einst├╝rzende Neubauten while I’m there? Oh, and my dear Fortinbras. And the vibrant V. I’m so excited I can barely contain myself!

Comments (6)

Next entries » · « Previous entries