National Noodle Day Chili Noodles

My early thoughts on dinner tonight were German. My father sent me an email wishing me a happy German-American Day. (He considers himself German-American despite the fact most of my ancestors have been in America for centuries.) But although I’d usually be very happy to go searching Seitan is My Motor for something vegan and German, or eat some sauerkraut, I had a pretty hearty lunch and wanted something fairly light for dinner. Then I read in Jes’s blog that it’s National Noodle Day and I decided we were having noodles instead. Now, I know I could have made German noodles – Bryanna even did a post on vegan spaetlze earlier this year – but I got it in my head that I wanted some sort of spicy chili noodle.

I didn’t take pictures of the whole process: I was in too big a hurry. I was starving, and the boys were apparently starving (Mark’s friend Jathan is staying with us) as well. The good news is this is a one-pot dish and ready in about 15 minutes.

I wasn’t fooling around when I decided to make “chili” noodles: chilis are present in three different forms. It wasn’t overwhelmingly hot despite that, though you can adjust the amount of each type of chlii to suit your tastes.

Chili Noodles

3 bundles udon noodles, or 1 lb. wide Chinese noodles, linguine, or other toothsome noodle
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, grated or minced
6 scallions, chopped, white and green parts separated
1 jalapeno or other hot pepper, sliced
1 red bell pepper, cut into 2″ slivers
6 oz. snow peas
1/2 cup tofu, cubed (optional)
6 oz. bean sprouts
1 1/2 cups vegan broth
2 Tbsp black bean garlic sauce (from Asian grocery store)
2 Tbsp chili garlic sauce
3 Tbsp rice vinegar
3 Tbsp corn starch + 1/2 cup cold water
1 tsp chili sesame oil

Cook the noodles to al dente, drain, rinse under cold water, and toss with sesame oil to prevent sticking. Prep the veggies: chop the bell pepper, scallions, and tofu, slice the chili pepper, grate the ginger, and have the bean sprouts and snow peas ready. Whisk together the broth, black bean garlic sauce, chili garlic sauce, and rice vinegar in a small bowl or measuring cup. In another small bowl, whisk together the corn starch and cold water. In the same pot in which you cooked the noodles, heat some peanut oil over medium high heat, then add the ginger and white parts of the scallions. Stir fry for 30 seconds, then add the bell and chili peppers and fry for a minute or two. Pour in the broth mixture and bring to a boil. Toss in the snow peas, bean sprouts, and tofu, stirring to let them warm up. Add the corn starch mixture. The broth should immediately thicken. When it has thickened, add the noodles and chili oil and stir until well combined and noodles are warmed through. Top with the green parts of the scallions.

Honestly I don’t think the photo does it justice; I thought they were pretty good:

I’ll keep this in my repertoire of super-fast meals.

Brachtune quite rudely jumped up on the table while we were eating. Fortunately Jathan is a cat person, although even cat people don’t want cat tails in their noodles.

Brachtune loves books.

Oh, she doesn’t belong on the table, but it’s so hard to say no to her.

I also couldn’t say no to her when she wanted to go on an hour-long walk on her leash Saturday afternoon, and now I’m covered in bug bites. What sort of stupid bug is out biting in October? Isn’t relief from bugs supposed to be one of the great things about fall?

As for German-American Day, I celebrated it by listening to Einst├╝rzende Neubauten all day. Which didn’t make it too different than any other day, but was pretty awesome anyway.

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Miscellaneous Fast Meals

No real post tonight, but I did take pictures of some of the quick meals I put together this week. I got a shipment of Cheezly today, and since I had some soy chorizo in the fridge, I was thinking of going the Mexican route with dinner. Not having any tortillas on hand, and having just had rice last night, I was perusing my stash of grains, trying to figure out which would work best with a Mexican theme. I settled on millet. I quickly learned after googling “Mexican millet recipe” that “Mexican millet” is actually a recipe in Veganomicon, and deciding for once that there’s no need to reinvent the Mexican millet, I grabbed my copy of that and followed it almost exactly.

I ended up not using the soy chorizo at all and instead making a super-fast no-added-fat refried bean dish. I put a can each of pinto and black beans into a small, heavy pot, added half a cup of water, 1/2 tsp Mexican oregano, 1 Tbsp ancho chili powder, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp granulated onion (I’d already chopped an onion for the millet and was feeling really lazy), and 1 Tbsp vegan bacon bits and cooked until the pinto beans were creamy and everything was warmed through. When serving, I topped the beans with nacho Cheezly and chopped onion and tomato.

This was a good, quick dinner. I’d make it again.

The other night I made some sort of quinoa dish that consisted of red quinoa cooked in broth, to which I added sauteed sliced onions, chickpeas, leftover artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, and salt and pepper.

Yesterday I worked from home in order to accompany Miss Brachtune to the vet for a follow-up visit to see if her urinary tract infection is gone (it’s not, unfortunately, but she did get her shots and some more antibiotics). This meant I was able to make a hot lunch, but I was caught up in what I was doing so I didn’t want to take too long cooking it. I made ramen in about 5 minutes. It’s just vegan broth, a spoonful of chili garlic paste, a spoonful of fermented soybean paste, a tablespoon of dried soup vegetables, and half a package of chuka soba. (Wow, they’re really expensive online; they cost half that at Super H.)

I’m afraid that’s all I have for you today. I’m hoping to do a lot of cooking this weekend because after that I have one completely crazy-busy October lined up, including a trip to San Francisco.

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Hot and Sour Shirataki Noodles

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while: I haven’t cooked much. Mark was in LA for nearly a week and Fortinbras came down to hang out with me, but we went out for Indian food and then I lived off those leftovers for a while. I’ve also been swimming every night after work and by the time I’m done, I’m so hungry I just eat whatever’s available. Last night, however, in order to atone for serving the very health-conscious Mark onion rings the night before, I made shirataki noodles, famed for having few (tofu shirataki) to no (traditional shirataki) calories. Whole Foods and Wegmans sell tofu shirataki noodles; you can also get “real” shirataki in Asian grocery stores. One package is generally considered one serving, but honestly they aren’t very filling so I used three packages for two servings.

Hot and Sour Shirataki Noodles

3 leaves cabbage, julienned
1/2 orange, yellow, or red bell pepper, chopped
1 small head broccoli, chopped into small florets
1/4 carrot, grated
1/2 cup snow peas
1/4 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
3 scallions, chopped
1/2 zucchini, cut into ribbons on spiral cutter
3 packages shirataki noodles
1 Tbsp cornstarch + 2 Tbsp cold water

For the sauce:
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 Tbsp lime juice
1 Tbsp water
1 tsp hot sesame oil
1-2 tsp chili garlic sauce
1″ piece ginger, minced or grated

Prepare all the veggies. I totally didn’t intend for them to all be orange and green. I generally like more colourful meals.

Whisk together the sauce ingredients in a small bowl; set aside.

Open the shirataki packages and pour contents into a colander to drain, then rinse with water. The package I had said this helps eliminate the “natural aroma”, and they did in fact smell a little funky.

Place the shirataki in a bowl and microwave for one minute; again this supposedly helps with the smell (which, by the way, isn’t that noticeable unless you put your nose pretty close to the noodles). I also nuked the broccoli for about 45 seconds to pre-cook it.

Heat a wok over medium high heat and then add a bit of peanut or other oil. When hot, add the cabbage.

Stir for about 30 seconds, then add the bell pepper …

… then 30 seconds later, the broccoli and 30 seconds after that the snow peas, stir-frying continuously.

Next add the carrots …

… then the tomatoes.

Add the noodles and zucchini ribbons and stir well.

Pour in the sauce then push the noodles aside.

Whisk together the cornstarch and water in a small bowl.

Pour the cornstarch mixture into the sauce and stir well to thicken.

Add the scallions and stir everything well, allowing the sauce to thicken and coat the noodles.

Serve immediately.

The verdict on this was I didn’t allow the sauce to thicken up enough and it never coated the noodles very well, resulting in rather bland noodles, which is too bad because the sauce was quite flavourful. Also, Mark was hungry about 15 minutes after eating and had to have a cookie for dessert to help fill up. Therefore I’m not sure if calorie-free noodles are really any better than regular noodles: if they don’t fill you up and you end up snacking on other stuff, what’s the point? However, it’s a quick and easy meal and Mark’s always excited when I use shirataki because he thinks it’s very healthy. They filled me up well enough, or maybe the wine helped with that. Next time I’m going to try harder to get flavour into them, though.

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Spicy Peanut Eggplant

Apart from boxed macaroni & cheese and other “foods” of that nature, before I went vegan I knew how to cook exactly one dish: eggplant parmesan. I don’t even remember what inspired me to learn how to cook that, but it was my big speciality. Of course, it went by the wayside when I went vegan, and for some reason I never showed any further interest in eggplant. I think I over-eggplanted on the eggplant parmesan. It’s ridiculous to continue to avoid eggplant as it’s been 11 years now, although I don’t actually avoid eggplant, it just never occurs to me to buy it. That is, until I saw the adorable “purple pixie” eggplants at Wegmans last night. I should have taken a picture. They’re tiny and so cute!

I don’t know why, but I had decided I wanted to make something with the eggplants involving peanut sauce. Maybe because that’s the furthest thing I could think of from parmesan? At any rate, I got home quite late tonight and had a hunch that Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian would contain what I was looking for. I was not disappointed. It had exactly what I was looking for and what’s more, it was nearly instant: Cold Eggplants in a Spicy Peanut Sauce.

Spicy Peanut Eggplant
(lightly) adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian

10 oz small or baby eggplants, quartered or halved then cut into 2″ pieces
4 tsp natural peanut butter
4 tsp soy sauce
4 tsp vinegar
2 tsp Shaoxing (Chinese rice) wine (or try sake)
4 drops stevia (or 2 tsp sugar or agave nectar)
1 Tbsp sesame oil
1 tsp chili garlic paste
thumb-size piece garlic, grated
1 cube frozen cilantro (or a handful fresh, chopped)

Steam the eggplant pieces until tender. Jaffrey suggests 10-15 minutes, however, I checked after 9 minutes and mine were very over-done, so for particularly delicate eggplants, check after 5 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk the remaining ingredients together in a small bowl. Toss with the eggplant and serve cold or at room temperature.

I realized I was going to have much more sauce than I needed, so I cooked a bundle of soba noodles to toss the leftover sauce with:

In cat news, Brachtune likes to sleep in my reading chair:

You are probably wondering why I never take any photos of Brachtune that don’t involve her lounging around in that chair. Well, the fact of the matter is, Brachtune spends a good 95% of her time there.

I spend a lot of my time there as well, such as right now. Since we are competing for the spot, Brachtune is currently standing on me and kneading at my stomach, which is cute but also annoying because she’s always messing with my belly button ring. This is what Brachtune looks like when she wakes up and realizes I intend to claim my chair:

And this is what she does to make herself as super-adorable as possible in hopes that I will change my mind:

It never works. I just scoop her up and put her on my lap and then she sits there purring and drooling all over me. And sitting on my arm when I’m trying to type…

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Drunken Noodles

Tonight when I asked Mark what he wanted for dinner and, gesturing toward the kitchen island covered in produce fresh from the farmer’s market, suggested basil should play a large role considering I had a bunch of it. I was surprised he promptly answered, “drunken noodles”. Surprised because not only is his standard answer “I don’t care,” but because I didn’t know Mark even realized drunken noodles contain basil. Sure, typically it would be Thai basil and I had Genovese, but I have ways around that. Drunken noodles are not a new dish to my repertoire, but I did make them completely differently than I usually do because I didn’t have the wide noodles I usually use, I didn’t have Thai basil, I didn’t have shallots, I didn’t have bean sprouts, and I did have vegetarian fish sauce. Oh, and I don’t usually sneak zucchini into it. It ended up okay, but I prefer my usual version so sooner or later I’ll have to put that one up. In the meantime, here’s what I did tonight, and it was hot enough to work its magic against hangovers (not that I had one) even if it wasn’t as great as usual.

Drunken Noodles

1/4 package wide rice noodles (I used long, thin-ish, Pad Thai-ish noodles, but I usually use short, wide noodles that are nearly square)
1/2 onion, sliced
1/4 tsp anise seed -> Thai basil has a somewhat anise flavor compared to European basil, so I use anise seed for flavor when I don’t have Thai basil. Add it only if you don’t have Thai basil, and use it sparingly.
1 zucchini, sliced into ribbons/noodles on spiral slicer (optional)
1 yellow (or other color) bell pepper, chopped
1/3 pint orange cherry tomatoes, halved
2-4 small Thai peppers (I used cayenne because that’s what I had on hand), sliced
1 cup basil, Thai if you can get it
3 Tbsp dark soy sauce
2 Tbsp thin (light) soy sauce
2 Tbsp vegan fish sauce (or extra soy sauce)
2 Tbsp sambel olek (or to taste)
1 Tbsp lime juice
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
zest of 1 lime
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, grated
2 drops stevia or 1 tsp sugar


The reason I decided to make zucchini “noodles” is really just that I have a lot of zucchini. I buy it by the ton at the farmer’s market so I can relate to the “way too much zucchini” problem that people who are actually capable of growing things have. Also, I’ve recently converted Mark into a zucchini fan. (Score!) If you don’t have a spiral slicer or you don’t have an abundance of zucchini or you aren’t married to Mark or you just think it’s weird to put zucchini in drunken noodles, well, just omit it. It is weird.

Cook or soak the noodles according to package instructions, then drain.

Chop the bell pepper and tomatoes; slice the onions and hot peppers. Grate/zest the ginger and lime.

In a small bowl, whisk together the “fish” sauce, soy sauces, ginger, lime, sambel olek, stevia or sugar, and sesame oil.

Heat a wok over medium high heat, then add some oil. When the oil is hot, add the onions, and if using, the anise seed.

After a minute or two, add the bell pepper and stir fry for another minute or two.

Add the tomatoes and stir fry for a couple of minutes.

Add the rice noodles …

… and, if using, the zucchini “noodles”.

Then stir in the sauce.

Finally stir in the basil and make sure everything is warmed through.

Drunken noodles are very fast to prepare! I’ve never actually tried them as a hangover cure, but they are tasty even when you are feeling fine!

(They’re even tastier when I’m using my normal recipe, however.)

In other, semi-related news, as someone who makes her own tempeh and tofu, I found this slideshow and article in The Atlantic pretty interesting. I’m slightly disturbed by the fact they used to use their feet to make tempeh – all the more so because the reason is feet are “very dirty” – but that’s apparently illegal now anyway.

In completely non-related news, but I bring it up because I mentioned the book in my last post, yesterday this article popped up in my feed reader and I found it completely bizarre. For one thing, it’s an opera about physics. For another thing, I’m currently reading the book its based upon. And it’s not like the book is new (it was published in 2005); I’ve had it on my shelf for a few years and just randomly started reading it last week. So the timing is weird. Not quite as weird – and a much happier coincidence – as the time David Foster Wallace committed suicide while I was reading Infinite Jest. The opera is moving to Barcelona after Paris, and I’d love to go see it there because I also just finished reading two books that take place in Barcelona, but considering I’ve already been to Australia this year, I think I’m going to have to catch it at the Guggenheim in NYC in January. (By the way, if you are at all interested in string theory, quantum mechanics, particle physics, extra dimensions, and all that fun stuff, in addition to Warped Passages, I highly recommend The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene – who happens to be vegan!) (Hey, look, I managed to make this paragraph somewhat relevant to a vegan blog!)

In cat news, is Brachtune not the utmost adorable thing in the world when she’s sleeping??? She lies with her face flat on the chair:

She’s such a cutie!

She always wakes up when I’m taking her picture though.

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Tamarind Rice Noodles with Mock Chicken

So there’s a new Korean grocery store in town: a new location of Lotte Plaza. I don’t usually shop at Lotte because Super H is closer and better, but I’d heard the new location was super-fab. So you know where I was on Saturday!

The new Lotte Plaza IS much better than the other location I’m familiar with, however, it’s no Super H-killer in my opinion, and as Super H is closer to my house, Super H still reigns supreme for me. (Lotte DID have a lot more Indian ingredients than Super H has, I must admit, however, I have an Indian grocery store nearby that I like.) However, I bought a TON of stuff for little money and I did score some cool things. One thing that I got at Lotte that I have never found at Super H is vegetarian fish sauce. Now that is not to say there is no vegetarian fish sauce at Super H. I’d be surprised if there isn’t. I’m always claiming Super H has “everything but ___________”, where the blank is some esoteric ingredient I’m looking for for months, then finally resort to buying online, and then find at Super H before my package even arrives. But Super H can be a little overwhelming and I guess I miss things.

Anyway, I was very excited about the vegetarian fish sauce because I’m always thinking, “man, I need vegetarian fish sauce!” I’ve made a few different versions, but I generally get annoyed with the extra step and just sub soy sauce. However, once I procured the stuff, it quickly became one of those, “what the heck do I DO with THIS?!” ingredients. I suddenly had NO idea why I would possibly need fish sauce in my life. This also happens to me when I order from May Wah. I get a huge batch of pretty realistic meat analogs and realized I have NO IDEA what to do with “meat”. It’s like I don’t even consider it something one would want to eat. I know I sometimes make or use mock meats, but it’s usually more as a garnish (kind of how the vegetable-loving Thomas Jefferson advised eating meat). I always end up completely baffled by the fake meat and it takes up space in the freezer for months. (Except the fish filets: Mark and I love fish sandwiches.)

So anyway, the point is I guess I’m far enough along in this vegan journey that I don’t need and really don’t even know what to do with fish sauce. Nonetheless, I bought it and it was exciting and I was determined to use it, so I made up the following recipe, which is kind of pad thai without peanuts, I guess.

I am slightly annoyed when I come across vegan recipes that call for things like vegetarian fish sauce that are really hard to find, so I don’t really like posting stuff like this. So I went looking for ideas for better homemade vegetarian fish sauce and I plan on working on that over the next couple of weeks, so that if I DO come up with more recipes that use my store-bought stuff, I can give you a good alternative to make at home. Which is a little dumb when you think about: I can’t think of what to do with the huge bottle of I have of the stuff, so I’m going to…make more? In the meantime, just use soy sauce in this recipe if you don’t have vegetarian fish sauce.

Tamarind Rice Noodles with Mock Chicken

4 oz wide rice noodles (banh pho)
2 large shallots
4 cloves garlic
3 Tbsp vegan “fish” sauce or soy sauce
2 tsp tamarind concentrate
1/4 cup water
2 drops stevia or 1 tsp brown sugar
2 carrots
1 medium onion
1 hot chili pepper
1/2 small Napa or savoy cabbage
8 oz vegan “chicken”, shredded
2 cups bean sprouts
4 green onions, chopped
cilantro
1 lime, quartered

I see I managed to block the package of “chicken” with the onion in the ingredients photo. Nice job, Renae. I got it in the tofu section of the Asian grocery store and it’s just chicken-style seitan, though this brand is very soft, so use something more tender than chewy or firm.

Soak the noodles in warm water for half an hour or until soft. I usually get impatient and start heating the water, though I don’t bring it to a boil. If you do heat the water, watch the noodles – they’ll get soft quickly.

Drain them when they are al dente.

To make the sauce, place shallots, garlic, water, tamarind concentrate, stevia or sugar, sriracha, and “fish” sauce or soy sauce in a small food processor.

Process until smooth.

Stack leaves of cabbage together …

… roll them up …

… and slice. This will shred or chiffonade it.

Do all the prep work: slice the hot pepper, chop the onion in a medium dice, chop the carrot and green onions, and remove and “fluff” the “chicken”.

Heat a wok over high heat, add some peanut oil and heat for 30 seconds. Add the onions and stir fry for 1 to 2 minutes.

Add the carrot and hot pepper; fry for two minutes.

Add the “chicken” and stir.

Add the cabbage and fry for two minutes.

Turn down the heat and mix in the noodles.

Add the sauce and stir thoroughly.

Add the bean sprouts and half the green onions; mix.

Top each plateful with more green onions and cilantro to taste. Serve with lime wedge.

In other news, Mark got a friend for Atticus Fish this weekend. Meet Aughra!

He’s named after this fella!

Aughra supports the use of vegetarian fish sauce!

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Sma-Ramen

I don’t really have an intro for this one. I wanted to use up the rest of the cheddar Teese and dreamt up a sort of Smark-Os made with ramen. (I didn’t actually look at the Smark-Os recipe until after I’d made this dish and was surprised how similar they are.) When Mark asked what it was I said, “it’s Smark-Os made with ramen, so I guess it’s smark-ramen…smar-ramen….Sma-ramen!” (rhymes with shamen!)

Sma-Ramen

2 large shallots or 1/2 large onion, minced
6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 stalk celery, minced
1 carrot, minced
1/2 tsp red chili pepper flakes
1/8 tsp fennel seeds
2 cups vegan “beef” broth
1 14.5 ounce can tomato sauce
2 frozen basil cubes, or 1/4 tsp dried basil
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 package vegan ramen noodles (chuka soba)
1/3-1/2 cup shredded vegan cheddar cheese – use a nice melty sort
vegan Parmesan or Dragonfly’s Bulk, Dry Uncheese Mix, for topping (optional)

Mince the shallot or onion, celery, carrot, and garlic. Shred the “cheese”.

Heat some olive oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add the shallots and fry for two minutes. Add the garlic and fry for a few seconds. Add the carrots and celery, as well as the red pepper flakes and the fennel seeds. Fry for 7 minutes or until veggies are soft.

Add the “beef” broth and bring to a boil.

Add the tomato sauce and basil; bring to a boil again. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Add the ramen, breaking into pieces if so desired. Cook for two minutes.

Add the shredded “cheese” and stir. Cook for three more minutes.

Swirl the ramen around a chopstick to help it break up and cook evenly.

Ramen should take about 5 minutes to cook thoroughly.

Serve, sprinkling with vegan Parmesan or the “uncheese” mix if desired.

This was darn tasty and very fast. Vegan “hot dogs” would not be unwelcome in this dish.

The Toonse continues to wear her cone. One thing that makes me feel especially bad for her is she can’t properly groom herself and I know that’s got to be driving her mad. That and having had a fractured wrist when I was 13, I know how frustrating it is to experience the itch you just can’t scratch. And at least I could stick a pencil down my cast! So I think it’s important for me to give her at least a couple of hours a day without it, even if I have to stand over her and monitor her constantly the entire time to make sure she doesn’t dig at her ears. Which she does, almost immediately after I remove the cone. But I cleaned her up real good tonight and afterwards she wasn’t quite as itchy. And she had the chance to eat a meal without having to awkwardly maneuver her mouth out of the cone, and then clean herself up to her satisfaction afterwards.

I know she really appreciated the break.

When she has the cone on, I can tell her mouth feels really itchy because she wants to clean it so badly.

I don’t think I really gave much thought before to how a cat would feel if deprived of the opportunity to groom herself.

I think they’d feel much the same as I would feel if I weren’t allowed to shower.

So I feel it’s important to give her this chance each day.

Until it results in this:

Also,

Happy Birthday, handsome. I miss you, buddy.

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Quick & Easy Udon in a Ginger-Peanut Sauce

Udon is a frequent meal when I’ve been working late. Not only is it very quick and easy, but in a lot of incarnations it is served at room temperature, which means I can run around feeding the cats and taking care of other chores while I’m making dinner, without worrying too much about timing. By the time I sit down to dinner, I like to be done with everything I have to do for the day and simply relax. This meal was very much improvised, so the measurements given are even more “suggestions only” than usual.

Easy Udon in a Ginger-Peanut Sauce


Those little round things are dried chickpeas but you are to pretend they are peanuts, okay? I’d already ground all the peanuts I had in the house when I decided to take this photo, so they are stand-ins.

2 bundles of udon (2 servings)
1/4 cup roasted peanuts
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp sesame oil
2 Tbsp seasoned rice vinegar
2 tsp chili garlic paste
1 2″ knob of fresh ginger, grated
1 small clove garlic minced or pressed, or 1/2 tsp garlic powder
water to thin as necessary

For garnish
1/2 half cucumber, julienned
black or white sesame seeds or lightly crushed peanuts
additional ginger
red chili flakes
chopped scallions
crispy fried onions

Prepare the udon as directed on the package. Drain and rinse under cold water.

Place the remaining ingredients (other than the garnish suggestions) into a food processor and process until smooth.

The garnishes are all optional, but if you have a cucumber, cut it in half, then cut one of the halves lengthwise.

Scoop out the seeds with a small spoon.

Cut the halves lengthwise again.

Chop into sticks.

Cut the sticks in half.

Mix some of the sauce with the noodles. You will probably have more sauce than you need; you just want a nice coating on the noodles.

Toss with the sesame seeds or crushed peanuts if using.

Top with cucumbers, extra ginger, and/or chili pepper flakes if using.

I remembered I had leftover fried onions from Thanksgiving and decided they’d be an interesting garnish as well.

Total time from beginning to boil the water to sitting down with a glass of wine and a book? 15 minutes, and that included making a batch of soy milk at the same time, dealing with the cats, raking in Christmas packages left by UPS, taking all those pictures, talking to Smucky via AIM, and being extremely tired.

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Zaru Soba

I’ve always wanted to try fresh shiso (a.k.a. perilla, a.k.a. beefsteak plant), the Japanese herb variously described as minty and basil-y. For a while, I seemed to keep coming across recipes that called for it. Unfortunately, it is one of the few things I’ve never seen at Super H, or elsewhere around here. So I bought seeds and tried to grow them. Twice they didn’t even bother sprouting. Then I went to San Francisco and enviously looked at the fresh shiso in the Japantown grocery. I almost bought it just to taste it, but I thought eating it plain and by itself would be pretty weird, so I instead bought yet more seeds from Soko Hardware. Those seeds did sprout, however, they didn’t grow more than an inch tall before dying. So I was very excited to come across both green and red shiso plants at the nearby herb store this spring. And weirdly, my shiso plants are just about the happiest plants I have right now! I realized, though, that I’d better get to eating them before I kill them.

Of course, now that I’m ready to harvest them, I have no idea what all those wonderful shiso-inspired dishes were. And since I’m not that familiar with the taste, I’m not able to dream up my own concoctions. So after considering this conundrum for quite a while tonight, I eventually decided to just make zaru soba topped with a lot of shredded shiso, to familiarize myself with the taste.

Soba are Japanese buckwheat noodles, often served cold (really, room temperature, I believe) in the summer with a dipping sauce. For the dipping sauce I would need dashi. Usually for dashi, I just soak some kombu into water for a while.

Sometimes in addition to kombu, dried shiitakes are suggested for vegan dashi.

I may be the only vegan on the planet, other than my husband, who hates mushrooms. At least it seems that way. But every now and then I’ll get brave and try something mushroom-related. Soaking a dried shiitake in my dashi seemed pretty innocuous, although I will not be attempting to eat that nasty thing after it’s served its purpose.

You can simply soak the kombu and optional shiitake in room temperature water for several hours or overnight. I use a kombu piece about 4″ square per 4 cups of water. I was in a hurry tonight, so instead of soaking, I simmered it gently for about 20 minutes, then removed the kombu and shiitake.

The resulting dashi can be stored in the refrigerator for about three days, or frozen.

Zaru Soba

1 bundle (about 3.5 ounces) soba per serving

Dipping sauce (tsuyu) (makes enough for 2-3 servings):
1 cup dashi
2 Tbsp dark soy sauce
2 Tbsp light soy sauce
2 Tbsp mirin
a couple of drops of stevia (or 1 tsp of sugar)

Toppings (choose any or all):
chopped scallions
toasted sesame seeds
shredded or torn nori
chiffonaded fresh shiso leaves
wasabi
shichimi (Japanese 7-spice powder)
grated ginger

Cook the soba until al dente, being very careful not to overcook. Rinse under cold water very thoroughly, washing and rubbing it between your hands to remove any starch.

The “zaru” in zaru soba refers to the bamboo serving dish or basket the cold noodles are usually served on. If you have one, neatly arrange one serving of noodles on each zaru, otherwise use a pretty plate. I’m always interested in plating my meals in an attractive manner, even when only serving myself, but it seems particularly imperative with Japanese foods. So pick something nice! Sprinkle the soba with a few sesame seeds and top with some of the shredded shiso and/or nori. Set aside.

Whisk together the sauce ingredients; taste and adjust accordingly to your preference.

Place about 1/2 cup into each individual dipping bowl.

Place each of the toppings on individual serving dishes. Each diner adds the individual toppings to their dipping sauce or noodles, then dips a chopstick full of noodles at a time into the sauce.

One thing I did learn tonight that I didn’t realize before, is that the “sesame leaves” sold in the produce department at Super H are really Korean shiso! They look a little different – are flatter and darker in color – although it may be that what they have are just not as fresh as my living plant. They sell them shrink-wrapped on styrofoam so it’s hard to tell and I never really knew what to make of them.

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Pork-free Ramen Soup

Like most starving students, there was a time in my life during which I practically lived off instant ramen. Ten packs for $1? You can’t beat that with a (chop)stick! Then one day I happened to look at the nutritional label more carefully than my usual cursory glance to make sure no animal ingredients had made their way into the Oriental flavor and was flabbergasted to discover it had about 800 grams of fat in it. Okay, I may be exaggerating, but I realized how really, really, really bad those things are for you – I don’t think I had realized before then that those noodles are fried before packaging – and that was the end of my ramen-eating era.

But ramen is fun, fast, and tasty, so I quickly found another way to guiltlessly enjoy it, and the good news is it takes barely any more time to prepare than those cheap packages. The bad news it costs about ten times as much, but when you’re talking about ten times ten cents, it’s not really that big of a deal. Plus I have many more options than just the one vegetarian but mysterious “Oriental” flavor.

I usually make kimchee ramen and I suppose one day I will give you a recipe for that. However, after seeing a photo of some ramen in New York on Slashfood yesterday, I did things a little differently tonight.

Here are most of the ingredients I used:

The essential part is chuka soba, which is unfried ramen-style noodles, which I get for $1.99 (two servings) at my Asian grocery store or Whole Foods. The fat content per serving is listed as 0.5 grams. The other “weird” ingredients here are vegan ‘beef’ bouillon and Soy Curls. Oh, and I suppose the Shaoxing wine might strike some people as weird, but it’s also optional, as are the Soy Curls.

I usually put a few cubes of tofu in my kimchee ramen, but a) I don’t have any tofu right now and b) I was going for a different ramen tonight and thought the Soy Curls might stand in for the traditional pork. Soy Curls are a neat product consisting of nothing but the entire soy bean. You soak them in hot water for a few minutes and they magically take on a nice, chewy, “meaty” texture that works very well when you want a less-processed, tasty meat substitute. I got them from Vegan Essentials. If you don’t have any Soy Curls, you could use cubed tofu, or just omit it.

Also, I pretty much consider it a sin to not have several heads of garlic in the house, and in fact, I’d normally put a lot more vegetables in this sort of soup, but my husband and I are leaving early Saturday morning for a week-long vacation and I’ve been trying not to leave myself with a lot of perishables. I used the last of the garlic last night, so I had to use garlic powder tonight. If I’d had them on hand as usual, I’d also have grated some carrot and chopped some cabbage and put them in to cook a couple of minutes before the ramen. I also tend to keep dehydrated vegetable flakes on hand for making this soup nearly-instant, however. I often make ramen soup for lunch when I’m working from home because it’s a nice hot lunch but it doesn’t take me any longer to prepare than heating up leftovers (which is what I usually do for lunch in the office).

Finally, as with most of my recipes, most of the measurements below are approximate. I hadn’t even planned on writing this one up when I began, so I wasn’t paying much attention to what I was doing and am just guessing after the fact. Just add stuff and taste it as you go along and see if you like it – that’s what I do!

Pork-Free Ramen Soup

4 cups water
2 tsp Better Than Bouillon vegan ‘beef’ (this is half the strength recommended for that amount of water) or other vegan soup flavoring (diluted if it’s salty)
3 Tbsp tomato paste
3 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp shaoxing wine (Chinese rice cooking wine) or sake (optional)
2 tsp sesame oil
1-3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed or 1 tsp garlic powder
2 Tbsp dried vegetable flakes (for soup, such as these) (optional)
2″ piece of fresh ginger, grated
1-3 tsp chili garlic sauce or sambel olek, depending on hotness of sauce and your tolerance
1/4 cup shredded daikon (grated carrots and/or chopped cabbage would also be good additions)
1/2 cup Soy Curls, reconstituted and shredded (or chopped tofu)
1 package chuka soba (two servings)
2 scallions, chopped

Bring water to boil and whisk in bouillon, tomato paste, soy sauce, wine or sake if using, sesame oil, garlic or garlic powder, vegetable flakes, and ginger. Add the chili sauce to taste – we like ours quite hot – and then the Soy Curls or tofu and any non-dehydrated veggies. Bring to a boil and add the chuka soba, breaking it up into pieces if you like. Cook for three minutes. Break up clumps of noodles by sticking a chopstick into them and stirring to loosen. Stir in half of the scallions. Place noodles and broth into two bowls, top with remaining scallions. Enjoy!

Cheap, easy, fast, and delicious!

And a parting photo of Tigger being inquisitive, because I know you miss him when he’s not in every picture:

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