Tagged: Asian inspired

All manner of Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Burmese, Malaysian, Thai and Japanese inspired dishes

Kimchi fried rice with crispy shallots

Combine a hectic work schedule with an insane social life and you find yourself staring wide-eyed at the calendar wondering where April and most of May have gone. I’m thankful for both, but various things seem to have gathered momentum at the same time and it has taken considerable effort to stay ahead of it all rather than simply hang on desperately in fear of falling off. The time I’ve gotten to spend in my kitchen has been minimal which is such a shame, considering that this is the most enthusiastic time of year, produce-wise.

For us, there has been a lot of quick food or take-out on those few days we’ve been able to sink into the pleasures of staying in (very under-rated in my opinion). There have been a few quick tomato and cheese or peanut butter sandwiches while the bread lasted, or boiled eggs and toast (easily my favourite meal-in-a-hurry) while the eggs lasted. This one heavenly indulgent night was when I didn’t have anywhere to be and could make this potato vegetable which we ate with some rotis. That is the sad state of affairs these past weeks. Amey and I haven’t been getting in early enough to spend decent quality time at the markets. It is times like this when an intelligently stocked pantry can save your life.

Living in a small apartment means that you catch on pretty quick to what is cake and what is icing, metaphorically speaking.  You learn very quickly that a hoarding complex or an over-sentimental attachment to stuff is a one-way ticket to madness. Everything at our place is based on turnover. So to have something new, you have to get rid of something old. We have achieved phenomenal success in applying this rule to practically everything except books and food ingredients. I’m having a harder time with the pantry then the library really, because in a broad sense, the entire apartment is a library. Thankfully, the same cannot be said of the pantry.

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Molly Wizenburg’s Soba in a Nut-Chilli sauce

I was dismayed to find autumn creep up on me rather unexpectedly this year. I kept thinking it was a while, wrapped up as I was in the corn and berries and peas, a very cozy place to be. Yet before I knew it, the days began getting shorter and shadows longer. We are already in mid-September and the good strawberries are all gone. Everywhere I turn I see the pumpkins that are being shoved on to me by eager retailers. The more I want to tuck the advent of Halloween to the farthest corners of my mind, the more I see it everywhere. The slow creeping in of the Bay area Indian summer has only just begun. While I will enjoy the sunshine, I know I’ll hate the heat, thanks to the unwelcome consensus some older folk had of not adding air-conditioning to apartments in the Northwest. Bidding goodbye to favourite foods, incumbent sleepless nights in stifling heat, all these simultaneous realizations just brought me down. Marvin, he of the paranoid android fame, has nothing on me. Such depth of depression can only be fought by deep seas of comfort. The kind that only a generous helping of comforting carbs can provide. Enter the versatile noodle.

I am, and always will be, a sucker for noodles, from any and all cultures. Slurpilicious egg noodles, feathery angel hair or rice noodles, crackling vermicelli, rich ramen; they all weave a spell on me. One glimpse of a plate or bowl of their enriched goodness and I’m lost in their uniform strands. Noodles lured me into the world of Chinese cuisine and I’ve never turned back since. I moved on to happily discover that most cultures had their own brand of noodles. But be they made of flour and egg, or rice, or wheat, I unequivocally love them all. There is something soothing, calming even, about a mouthful of pasta sopped in sauce, or a satisfying ritual of slurping up a bowl of Chinese noodles or Italian spaghetti. As a child, I remember masala Maggi noodles being my answer every time mom said she wasn’t sure what to cook for dinner. I would inhale a packet as a post-school snack with equal unbridled joy. Some of my most favourite memories involve rainy days and Maggi noodles. These were days when you went to school in the pouring rain, doing your damnedest to avoid getting splashed by cars. You sat through lessons, flinching at the lightning and jumping at the inevitable crack of thunder that followed, all the while just wishing you’d never left home. (Some part of your brain also marvelled at the repeated proof that light travels faster than sound…yours didn’t? Well, just nerdy ol’ me then!) Then at four in the afternoon you trudged through the now-pool-like puddles back home, too tired to avoid getting splashed this time. But then you arrived home and were lucky to have your mum there, with dry towels and something hot to eat. But if you were luckier still, she was out running an errand. Because then you got to make your own snack.

If she was out, there was hot milk in warming mugs, a pot of water on the stove and a note saying you could make a snack for yourself, with heaping warnings to b-e-v-e-r-y-c-a-r-e-f-u-l with fire. You peeled out of wet clothes into something warm & dry, made sure the kid sister had done the same and was staying out of trouble, (a minor feat since she made up for my lack of trouble by being twice as troublesome; who says there isn’t balance in the world?) watching cartoons with her mug of Bournvita. Then, you headed to the kitchen. There, with mom not hovering over your shoulder, you could decide whether your noodles were going to have peas or tomatoes or carrots or soy, and there were no arguments over having them plain if you so wished. After (carefully) prepping the veggies, you (carefully! since you were very obedient and responsible) boiled the water, cracked the two-minute noodles and shook the tastemaker into the water, added the extras and waited the eight to ten minutes it took for all of it to actually come together. Then you carefully ladled the noodles into two plates, slathered your own with tomato-chilli sauce (because really what doesn’t taste better with it? It’s like bacon for vegetarians) and put some ketchup on your sister’s since she wasn’t addicted to chilli like weirdo you. You called her for her plate and then made your way to the other room where it was quiet, the only sound being the pitter-patter of the rain. You grabbed a favourite Enid Blyton or Nancy Drew and sat on the sofa, slurping down the barely steaming noodles, chasing around the peas with your fork absorbed in your book in this heaven of warmth and security. The rain cocooned everything and was, quite suddenly now, more friend than antagonist, at least until you had to go to school again the next day. Those days seem so far away now and though my repertoire of noodle preparation has certainly expanded, the feeling that eating it brings is almost still quite the same. The early love of ramen has also filled me with curiosity to try all kinds of noodles. To battle the fall blues, I decided to try to rekindle a good mood with soba.

I’d bought a packet of soba, wanting to try out a recipe I’d read on Orangette, the kind that you just know will be fabulous when you read about it. The fact that I’d never eaten soba didn’t faze me one bit. I’ve never met a noodle I didn’t like. Soba are Japanese style thin noodles served warm in broth or cold with some dipping sauce. They taste a bit nutty with a nice bite. I had also bought this jar of sunflower seed butter to try. This is much more fluid than peanut butter at room temperature so I thought of using it in this recipe since it seemed well on its way to make a good sauce already. It has a milder flavour in comparison to peanut butter which worked really well as a sauce base. The old habit of chucking vegetables at my noodles also kicks in automatically and before I knew it I had chopped some of what I had at home, the last of some asparagus, a celery stalk or two and some scallions. The heat of the chilli combined with the nutty sunflower butter provided the lifting of spirits that I was looking for. I now have a new recipe added to my list of comfort foods.

Soba in a Nut-Chilli sauce
Adapted from Orangette
Serves 2-3

Soba noodles – 1/2 to 3/4 pound
Sunflower seed butter – 1/2 cup
Lemon – 1, zest and juice
Indian Chilli Sauce – 2 tbsp (alternatively use Sriracha or Sambal Olek – 1 tbsp)
Mayonnaise – 3 tsp

Hoisin – 1/2 tsp (optional)
Soy sauce – 2 tsp
Garlic – 3 cloves, finely minced
Ginger – 1/2”, cut into fine matchsticks
Celery – 2 stalks, diced small
Asparagus – 3 stalks, chopped small
Scallions – 2-3, chopped small
Sesame seeds – 1-1/2 tsp
Dark Sesame oil – 1/2 to 1 tbsp
Salt, if needed
Coriander for garnish

– To a saucepan on medium heat, add the sesame oil. Toss in the ginger and garlic and saute for a minute or so.
– Add the scallions, asparagus & celery and saute (until the asparagus is cooked, about 5 to 7 minutes if the asparagus is small). Move the veggies off the heat.
– Toast the sesame seeds and place aside.
– In a large bowl, prepare the sauce by combining the sunflower seed butter, chilli sauce, soy sauce, mayonnaise, hoisin, lemon zest and lemon juice. Stir to mix.
– Bring a large pot of water to boil. Then add the soba noodle bunches and turn the heat down to a simmer. Gently boil the noodles for about three minutes. Then drain the noodles in a colander and give them a quick wash under cold running water to remove excess starch off the strands, gently separating the strands.
– Place portions of  the noodles into the large bowl containing the sauce and gently toss to coat all the noodles with the sauce, adding more and incorporating until you have the right sauce-to-noodle proportions to your liking. Sprinkle over the sesame seeds.

Heap generous amounts into bowls and garnish with coriander (cilantro) to serve.

Cook’s notes:
The soba is delicious, a bit chewy than most noodles, similar (though bit more al dente) to whole wheat spaghetti. Giving it that quick gentle wash in cold water makes the noodles barely warm when you toss them in the sauce. The nuttiness of the sunflower seed butter gathers a little sweetness from the mayo and hoisin, tartness from the lemon juice and combines with the chilli sauce to form a luscious sweet-and-sour sauce with a passive heat that you just feel at the back of your throat. This is a truly customizable recipe so by all means, feel free to throw in your own substitutions. I think some sort of nut butter and the lemon juice is key here. The rest of the ingredients could change around in quantity and inclusion (even without the hoisin and mayo for example, this is a marvellous sauce.) Molly of Orangette worried about over dressing the noodles. Amey and I could have happily gobbled up more sauce, so I guess this point is entirely dependant on your own tastes. The crunch of sesame seed was too subtle a contrast in texture for me. The next time I intend to add crushed peanuts. Also, I’ll add some carrots, they will really go well with this sauce.

I love developing on my childhood taste of food, it changes but never quite entirely. The chilli in the sauce kept me from putting in tomato-chilli sauce this time, but only just. Reminiscing like this also sometimes makes me wish I’d had a more fun with the food making times, like setting my Mom’s kitchen calendar on fire. But then maybe she wouldn’t have let me into the kitchen after that! My reminisces also get me thinking about you, dear reader. What are some of your favourite childhood food memories?

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Vegetable Clear Soup

Labor day weekend is almost done as I write this. Can’t say it was one of the best ones. Friday night saw us spend a lovely evening with friends, but after that it all went downhill. I haven’t been in this much trouble with the gods of sniffles in years. The weather in the city has been yoyo-ing between searing hot days and cold nights and while the week was tough, I succumbed to it, good and proper this weekend. Between the sniffing and the sneezing, it was hard to find the inclination to cook or eat these past three days. Mostly I just spent the days on the couch, swathed in tissue and reading my collection of Jane Austen. There is something curiously bracing about reading of long rambling walks among the countryside, of solitary thought and of a simpler time (though not so much to the people that lived in it, I imagine). But it might have not been the best thing to read at this time. My impatience for the protagonists of the novel to get their act together and move along only aggravated my already low spirits. This is not how a long weekend should be for anyone. Thankfully though, the one bright spot, there was soup.

It may seem incongruous to speak of hot weather and soup in the same sentence, but in my life there is never a wrong time for soup. Especially when it this simple, soul-cheering fair, packed chock-full of immunity boosting vegetables. There are various claims it makes of being a clear soup, though I’m not quite sure this falls in that category. In my head the words clair zoop are always pronounced in the nasal tones of a French maitre d’ out of a 60’s movie…but I digress. I don’t think it is a clear soup because I can’t see through it. But then whoever said that I definitively know what a clear soup is? Certainly not me.

This is a vegetable broth-based soup, with celery and carrots and cabbage among other things. On account of the soy sauce and the vinegar in it, it has been christened a Chinese clear soup by Amey’s family. It would certainly not be out of place served as a precursor to a Chinese meal, the flavours here are pretty consistent with that cuisine. However, the umami of the soy and clear tang of vinegar combine with the mingled flavour of various vegetables to make this a soup that can hold body and soul together very well indeed. In my case it was the beginning and end of several of my weekend meals. I kept asking Amey to make fresh batches of it. For some reason, in an allergy fogged world, these flavours were the only ones that didn’t taste like cardboard. And as far as its health benefits, my mom would approve. Especially since she wasn’t here to fuss over her sick child. I miss her terribly when I’m sick. But Amey and his soup were wonderful at taking care of me too.


Vegetable clear soup

Makes 4 to 6 servings

(All the vegetables below to be chopped into similar bite-sized pieces)

Capsicum or green pepper – 1 , cored and diced
Celery – 2 stalks, diced
Carrots – 2, diced
Cauliflower – 1/2, broken into florets and chopped
Green Beans – 1 cup, chopped
Cabbage – 1/2, diced
Scallions – 1 bunch, chopped
Broccoli – 1 cup florets, chopped
Vegetable Stock – 3 to 4 cups
Vinegar – 1/4 cup
Canola Oil – 2 tbsps
Sesame Oil – 1/2 tsp
Soy Sauce – 2 tbsp
Corn Flour – 1/2 tbsp
Ajinomoto – a pinch (optional)
Salt to taste

– Parboil the vegetables.
– Heat the canola oil in a large pot. Saute parboiled vegetables for a few minutes.
– Add sesame oil, salt, soy sauce and ajinomoto if using. Saute for a few more minutes.
– Add vinegar and the vegetable stock and heat.
– Combine the corn flour and a little of the warm stock from the pot to make a light paste in a small bowl. Add this to the soup pot and mix well. Cover and bring the soup to a boil.
– Lower heat and simmer the soup until vegetables are cooked.

Serve with chilli vinegar and maybe cilantro for garnish.

 

Cook’s notes:
Quite frankly, regardless of the ingredients list,  this is a clear-out-your-fridge kind of soup, which means that practically any kind of vegetable would work fine in here. I’m a strong supporter of carrots in this soup. They add a lovely counter-balance to the vinegar and soy sauce. The sauce I speak of here is the Indian soy sauce variety. Remember to watch the salt if you use the American supermarket kind. They are certainly saltier. The ajinomoto here is optional. (I know this is a touchy subject with tons of discourse on it. I read this article on it recently. By all means, do not use it if you don’t want to.)
Very often, we will also boil some noodles and add them to this, making it a sort of all-in-one meal, a noodle-in-vegetable soup delight. If you do this make sure you start the noodles in separate boiling water but drain them and stir them in with this soup to let them finish cooking. They will absorb the flavoured broth and take on a light brown sheen that will complement the flavour and colour of the soup (which by the way, will be the colour of dark root beer). If it is all just too much vegetable for you, add any bits of cooked meat you may have on hand. Chicken would work particularly well. Keep the pieces small and consistent with the rest of it and they will work just fine.This is a lovely soup for fall, when the weather turns cooler. In my case, I’m always happy to have it on my plate, rain, shine or sniffles.

Annie Somerville’s Green Gulch Special Scrambled Eggs

The rain is leaving us as spring waltzes in but it certainly isn’t leaving quietly. In the night, my little kitchen was flooded in moonlight but as I looked up, swift grey covers silently stole in and blocked her from my view. The next morning, formerly azure skies were swathed in threatening grays and mauves. People who had put away their winter wear were sent scrambling for their coats and spent the day wishing for the sun again. But despite the shocked gasps that I’m going to incite from that quarter, I’m not sure I’m ready for the rain to leave us just yet. I do like the sun but I’m going to miss winter’s quiet monochrome days this time around. It’s perfect for staying in and studying, which I’ve needed to do. Nevertheless, foodwise, I am looking forward to spring and summer’s bounty of fresh produce, which in the Bay Area is tremendous.

Before then, we continue to make the best of staples and our small pantry. Greens restaurant here in San Francisco always seems to have wonderful menus no matter what the season and their head chef Annie Sommerville’s cookbook Field of Greens is one of my favourite places to go looking when I want different flavours. This light and lovely scrambled egg breakfast is simple, with ingredients quite different from what I’d normally put in scrambled eggs. The sesame gives it varied smoky nuance and the ginger brings a lovely mild heat.

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Amey’s Chinatown Hakka Noodles

Plan a visit to San Francisco and chances are good that Chinatown will pop up on your itinerary. It’s a favourite with tourists. Yet unlike most tourist frequented areas, this also has a very strong local pulse. There are times in the day that this pulse becomes an aggressive beat, sort of like watching hundreds of people scramble to Iron Maiden’s Run to the Hills. Stand in one place and you are liable to get bowled over by carts unloading or old grandma’s armed with shopping carts. For Chinatown, among other things, is also a veritable treasure trove of a market.

Living in the next neighbourhood as I do, I had never really spent much time in Chinatown since the very first time I lived in the city. I passed through it often yet never lingered much. The tourist attractions hold none for me and the markets, bakeries and restaurants confused me. I have a comfort zone with food which I tentatively push and expand a little at a time, and will certainly not do under any duress. And the stress of trying to figure out what was in a particularly enticing bun always reduced me to a bundle of nerves. And in that condition, I reach for the old and familiar not the new and untested. So Chinatown and I went on like those ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing.()
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