Sunday, November 29, 2009


It probably won’t come as a surprise that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  It is a beautiful affair: a day devoted purely to the enjoyment of food, with no religious connotations.  It excludes no one.  Come one, come all, and, please, stuff your face.  And then have another plate.

I am proud to say that when I lived in Philadelphia I produced not one, but two Thanksgiving feasts all by myself in my two years there.  These meals were only for a party of two, but they consisted of all major components: turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and some sort of vegetable.  I never made pie for the occasion, but rather my single baking accomplishment: chocolate chip cookies.  I make great chocolate chip cookies, but nothing else in the line of baked goods (I intend to tackle baking bread soon; stay tuned).  Despite my proficiency in the Thanksgiving staples, I must admit that my role in this year’s Detroit Thanksgiving was supporting, at best.  There is something about Detroit that brings out the laziest side of me.  I lived there for a year before I moved to Colorado, and I didn’t leave the house unless it was absolutely mandatory (i.e. school, work, the library… sad, but true).  After this trip, I can attest that my old habits persist.  As far as the cooking was concerned, I did make somewhat of a contribution helping my mom, but it was probably not what you would expect from a self-proclaimed psycho cooker. 

As happy as I was to be home for Thanksgiving with my family, there was one drawback.  My immediate family was missing some essentials: my oldest brother, his wife, and their smiley baby girl.  We made a feeble attempt to compensate for the absence: we had a brisket in addition to the turkey.  No, food is not a sufficient substitute for the beautiful baby, but it helped to ease our pain. 
We had six people for Thanksgiving, but could have easily fed twelve.  While planning, my mom and I kept insisting that we didn’t want to make too much food, but somehow the menu kept growing.  Initially, we planned on sticking to the basics, not a far cry from the Thanksgiving dinners I have prepared myself.  Then the brisket was added on to the menu.  My adorable grandmother wanted to make the brisket, and this somehow justified its presence.  In turn, this necessitated two gravies.  We knew that we would make a vegetable, but in the dwindling grocery shopping hours, we were unsure if we had decided on roasted Brussels sprouts or green bean casserole.  The only reasonable solution was to prepare both.  My mom makes a pretty traditional green bean casserole, except she uses frozen French haricot verts from Trader Joe’s, which really seem to make a difference.  The Brussels sprouts were roasted with olive oil and finished with a touch of fresh lemon juice and honey.  Then somehow a Caprese salad was added to the mix:  just some bocconcini mozzarella and grape tomatoes drizzled tossed with olive oil, and served over a bed of arugula.  You may be asking yourself: Why we would do such a thing?  Doesn’t it seem unnecessary with all of that food?  Isn’t it a little contextually inappropriate?  These are reasonable questions to which I cannot supply reasonable answers.  I will tell you that it was rather lovely, and a nice change of pace to all of that rich, oven-roasted food.  You know a meal is rich when a salad composed primarily cheese lightens it up.  And of course, we had stuffing and our famous twice baked potato casserole (see Rosh Hashanah post for details).  For dessert, we had an apple pie and a blueberry pie.  Again, ridiculously decadent for six people, but isn’t that what Thanksgiving is all about? 
Not to brag, but it seemed like all the food came out pretty close to perfect this year.  These are pretty standard recipes*, but everything was somehow better than advertised.   Perhaps this was the culinary gods trying to clue me in to how thankful I really should be.  Ultimately, my priority for Thanksgiving is a good meal, but an extra opportunity to appreciate your life and your family should not be overlooked.  And luckily for me, the food was so good that it served as an additional reminder to be thankful for everything I have.  Now that I have gotten the sappiness out of the way, I would like to take this opportunity to tell you that the featured plate is my brother, Ben’s.  We agreed that it was a perfectly lavish Thanksgiving specimen, and we do not agree on a lot.  The other photos are the “before” and “after” shots of our feast.  It honestly makes me a little ill to see the amount of potatoes that were consumed, but it is that exact reaction that indicates that we not only did a great job cooking, but eating, as well.

*I did not include the recipes because there were so many, but feel free to contact me for them.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Psycho Cooker Dines in Detroit

I have briefly returned to my homeland, Detroit, to recharge my battery before finals.  Detroit is struggling a bit these days, but one thing the economy cannot take from it is its eclectic place on the culinary map.  My sojourn to Detroit also served as a brief break from cooking; below is a synopsis of the smattering of meals I had before commencing the great Thanksgiving cook-off. 

 On my first evening in the D, we had my parents’ version of a “small” barbeque: a couple pounds of bone-in center cut pork chops, burgers (with and without cheese), and sundried tomato chicken sausage.  With such delicate fare and small portions (note the sarcasm), a pizza and salad were deemed necessary supplements to the meat spectacular.  Perhaps this meal sounds palatable, but not exactly noteworthy.  Well, we didn’t have just any pizza.  This was Buddy’s pizza, a Detroit institution.  Square, deep-dished, perfectly greasy, with a generous layer of Brick cheese, and tomato sauce stippled on top of it all.  It’s sort of like what would happen if a grilled cheese sandwich and pizza had a shotgun wedding, and a baby with a perfect balance of their respective genetic traits.  They really would have beautiful children.  
On Monday, I met a friend for lunch, and we ate at a bona fide local Jewish deli: Steve’s Deli.  At Steve’s, they pull out all of the stops, and the restaurant is even set up like a long, narrow New York deli.  Although Detroit-style deli may sound like a poor man’s New York deli, I have heard New Yorkers rave about it.  I grew up with it, and it is near and dear to my heart.  In order to protect that heart, I actually chose turkey instead of corned beef, and it was delightful.  I went with the classic combination of Swiss cheese, coleslaw, and Russian dressing.  Jewish fare never ceases to amaze me because it takes questionable ingredients, and sews them together in such a way that results in something delicious.  Let’s break it down: deli-style coleslaw = cabbage, carrot, mayonnaise, a little vinegar, a little sugar (these ingredients probably don’t have you drooling).  And Russian dressing is even worse: mayo, ketchup, and pickle relish.  Honestly, I don’t even know what to say about that.  BUT, if you put it all together and pile it up with some turkey or corned beef, and some Swiss cheese, people will go mad for it.  Of course, the perfect rye bread plays a pivotal role.  My friend had a beautiful sandwich of fresh mozzarella, pesto, and tomato.  It looked amazing and I’m sure it was delicious in a little more conventional way, but I couldn’t let the opportunity for genuine deli slip through my fingers, and I have no regrets.  

I mentioned in a previous post that Detroit seems to have a Greek diner on every corner, and we call them “coney islands” (see the post on avgolemono soup).  I had to make a visit during my stay, but I couldn’t go to any old coney island.  It had to be the best: Greek Islands Coney Island.  They have undoubtedly the best Greek salad in the world.  Perfectly herbaceous chicken breast, grilled to order, baby spinach, radicchio, head lettuce, shredded carrots, kalamata olives*, tomato wedges, peperoncinis*, feta, etc., etc.  With those greens, it may sounds like this place is a little upper crust, but this is not the case.  You can also get an all beef Kosher chili dog for $2.10.  I actually did not get the salad, and went with spanikopita* and avgolemono soup* (see the glossary for a definition or my post on avgolemono soup).  Not only is it authentic spanikopita, but it also comes in its own individual strudel-like package.  Greek Islands does not skimp on the feta, which results in a lovely spinach-to-cheese ratio.  This food is so good that I unfortunately forget to take a picture, but you can see a picture of their spanikopita on their website’s menu. 

These are just a few examples of Detroit’s great food.  Although I am enjoying my time in Colorado, Detroit has a lot of options that would be impossible without its diverse population.  Unfortunately, I have just grazed the surface: Cantonese Chinese and the most spectacular Middle Eastern food will just have to wait for the sequel to this post.  To be continued...

*See glossary for definitions

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Braised Chicken, Provençal-Style

I do not consider myself a ravenous carnivore.  Besides the infrequent cheeseburger, I don’t really eat red meat.  Unlike a lot of people, USDA Prime steak doesn’t make me swoon.  I get bored after a bite or two.  However, chicken on the bone is one delicacy I cannot part with.  I just love it.  In fact, as tactless as it may be, on Thanksgiving, carve the bird and give me what remains; I will involuntarily hum as I eat out of sheer happiness.  This gem of a recipe is perfect for chicken on the bone.  Make adjustments as necessary; besides potentially dry white meat, it will come out fine.  Boneless, skinless chicken thighs are actually quite nice, although they sacrifice aesthetic appeal.  But, please, keep modifications to yourself, and spare me the heartache.  I inherited my poultry-bone-picking genes from not one, but two grandmothers, and my love runs deep.  Aside from the chicken controversy, this dish is pretty straightforward: tomatoes, olives, garlic.  It’s a classic combination for a reason, and that reason is that it’s utterly delicious.

1 ½ to 2 pounds of chicken pieces (I used thighs and drumsticks, skin removed)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 teaspoon anchovy paste (optional)
1 clove garlic, minced
½ teaspoon dried rosemary
½ teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1-14 ounce can of diced tomatoes
½ cup chicken stock, white or red wine, or water
½ to ¾ cup good quality olives, coarsely chopped (I used Kalamata olives* and Greek green olives)
¼ cup chopped flat leaf parsley

§  In a large deep skillet, preheat olive oil over medium-high to high heat until very hot (about 3 minutes).  Add chicken, seasoned with salt and pepper, and allow to brown, about 5 minutes per side.  Remove from pan and set aside; reduce heat to medium.
§  Drain all but about a tablespoon or so of oil from the pan.  Add onion and anchovy paste (if using) and some pepper and salt if you are not using the anchovies.  Sauté until softened, about 8 to 10 minutes. 
§  Add garlic, dried herbs, red pepper flakes, tomatoes, and salt/pepper (easy on the salt: olives and anchovy paste are salty).
§  Allow mixture to simmer (increase heat if necessary) for a couple of minutes and add stock. 
§  Bring it back to a simmer and return chicken to the pan. 
§  Cover the pan, and allow to simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.  Turn chicken every 5 minutes or so.  Scatter olives across the chicken and cover the pan to allow the olives to heat through, while the rest of meal is finished.  Garnish with parsley.  (If you want a more traditional preparation, add olives to tomato mixture before the chicken is returned to the pan.  I personally don’t like gratuitous cooking of olives.)

§  Serve with soft polenta (I added Parmesan and parsley to mine.  See my post on grits for details) and zucchini sautéed in live oil with garlic.  Couscous, rice, crusty bread, or extra vegetables are all appropriate accompaniments (add some eggplant to your zucchini and you will be oh-so-Provençal).

Comments:  The quality of the olives is paramount.  Go to Whole Foods, or another quality market, and indulge in the olive bar.  It will be priced at $7.99-9.99 per pound, which sounds like a lot, but a third of a pound of olives goes a long way.  I like to think of it as an affordable luxury.  Also, olives with pits will always taste better than those already pitted.  Just whack them with the side of your knife, like you would a garlic clove.  The firmness of the olive will dictate how hard you need to hit it.  Generally, black olives take a lot less force than green.  Like I said above, traditionally the olives should be cooked with the chicken, but I really don’t like that, especially with black olives, which get too soft.  However, each cook has to make his/her own judgment.  I did remove the chicken skin to avoid the temptation.  It obviously won’t get crispy in a dish like this, so I might as well spare my arteries.  Because if it’s there, crispy or not, I will eat it. 

This dish makes great leftovers.  I store the chicken, sauce, and polenta separately because it gives you more options.  For example, when you walk into your apartment starving, you can grab a drumstick and eat standing in front of the refrigerator.  But that is purely hypothetical.  Also, you can fry up the extra polenta and serve it with eggs or vegetables (again, see my most on grits for details).  If you’re tired or lacking creativity, you can recreate the whole meal by piling up the three components in a bowl; give it a quick spin in the microwave, and dinner is served.

*See glossary for details

Monday, November 16, 2009

Where the Soup Has No Name

Oh, this soup made me so happy.  Only for the few brief moments when I was allowed to directly interact with it (aka cooking and eating it), but every little bit helps when you’re bogged down my professional growth plans, exams, final papers, take-home finals, portfolios, and being sick on top of it.  The illness was the catalyst for the soup.  Besides a little extra sleep and vitamin C, soup was the only remaining attack-strategy I could summon.  If you read my previous post, you will know I was planning on making something fool-proof, one of my old standby recipes that I have up my sleeve which can always be counted on to satisfy (I’ve been holding out on you, but I’ll reveal those secrets eventually). 

Instead, I embarked on a massive experiment that had optimal results.  This was particularly risky because this is ultimately a modified version of my mom’s vegetable soup with some pasta added.  My mom happens to make the most wonderful vegetable soup, and I was most likely setting myself up for disappointment, as I was innately expecting a similar flavor.  By some miracle of the forces that be, the soup did indeed resemble my mom’s soup in flavor.  There is a subtle, but crucial distinction between a bunch of ingredients swimming together in a pot and an actual soup, where a multitude of ingredients come together as a whole.  You’re not thinking about the components as you scoop up each spoonful because the ingredients take on a group identity.  This recipe epitomizes just such a magical merger.

1 small onion, diced
3 carrots, diced
1 plump garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon dried oregano
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
hot sauce or hot pepper flakes to taste
2-14 oz. cans reduced chicken broth (you may want a third on reserve)
1-14 oz. can diced tomatoes (don’t drain)
½ to 2/3 cup orzo pasta
2 small zucchini, chopped (or one large)
small crown of broccoli, chopped (don’t worry about keeping it in florets)
5 small mushrooms, quartered and sliced

Optional garnish: baby spinach, cheese (parmesan, mozzarella, feta all work)

§  In a soup pot, sauté onion, carrots, and garlic in olive oil over medium to medium-high heat, until they start to soften (8-10 minutes).  Season with salt and pepper.
§  Add 2 cans of broth, can of diced tomatoes, dried herbs, and hot sauce.  Bring mixture to a gentle boil. 
§  Reduce to a simmer.  Add orzo, cook, stirring occasionally to prevent pasta from sticking to the bottom.  And cook for about 8-10 minutes.  It will not be fully cooked.
§  Add the zucchini, broccoli, and mushrooms.  Let the soup simmer gently for about 15-30 minutes, or until all vegetables are tender.  Stir occasionally and check for seasonings, adding more if needed.  If the soup is too thick, add a little more broth or water (I probably added an extra ¾ of a cup, but this will depend on how much pasta you use).
§  To serve, put a handful of baby spinach in the bottom of the bowl and pour soup over it.  Stir so it wilts and finish with cheese, if desired.
§  When reheating soup, you may want to add a tablespoon or two of broth or water to thin it out, but this is purely based on preference.

Comments:  I really loved this meal, and now that I have the skeleton down, I can use the basic foundation for other delicious soups.  In the future, I might add more vegetables; it could definitely handle more zucchini, more carrots.  Celery would be nice; peas, cabbage, green beans, anything would do.  Actually, with a lot of extra vegetables, the pasta could be eliminated all together, but I think that the starch released by the pasta adds a nice body to the soup.  However, I don’t really know what to call this soup.  It’s not a chicken soup, because it has no actual chicken in it.  It’s loaded with vegetables, but it’s not a vegetable soup, because it’s made with chicken stock and tons of pasta.  So the soup will remain nameless, but lovely nonetheless.  

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Turkey and Artichoke Stuffed Shells

I am a recovering Giada de Laurentiis super-fan.  Unless you went to college with me, you were probably unaware that such a thing existed.  When I first started cooking, there was a part of me that truly felt that Giada was my personal culinary tutor, and quite possibly, my best friend (if only she knew me).  Rationally, I was aware that this was all untrue, but on a visceral level, I had other beliefs.  I watched Everyday Italian at 4:30 pm, daily.  Nothing could deter me; the show brought out a degree of concentration I only wish I could achieve in grad school. 

Thankfully, I have grown out of this specific psychosis.  A lot has changed since I first fell in love with Giada and the Food Network.  I quenched my thirst for basic information, and have since broadened my spectrum of cooking resources. And personally, I think the Food Network (including Giada) has changed tremendously in the last five years.  It has moved towards the mass appeal of the everyday cook, focusing on quick and easy recipes for weeknight dinners.  I mean no criticism of this; the Food Network gets people cooking by making it accessible and entertaining, which is great.  But I do miss the days when Giada wore an apron and her hair tied back, while making pastry dough and marinara sauce from scratch.  And it’s not because I do this all the time myself (I used jarred sauce in this recipe; don’t judge me), but I want the people I admire to do better than me.  With that being said, I will conclude the sob story, because I still watch and enjoy the Food Network when given the opportunity.  Ultimately, the preparation of this recipe is in homage to Giada, who truly did play a huge role in teaching me to cook, and I’m sure many others as well.  There have got to be other people out there like me, right?


1 (12-ounce) box jumbo pasta shells (recommended: Barilla)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 large yellow onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 pound ground turkey
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus 1/2 teaspoon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus 1/4 teaspoon
1 (8 to 10-ounce) package frozen artichokes, thawed and coarsely chopped
1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese
3/4 cup grated Parmesan
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (I omitted the basil and added extra parley)
5 cups Arrabbiata* Sauce, recipe follows
1 1/2 cups grated mozzarella (about 5 ounces)


Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and partially cook until tender but still very firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 4 to 5 minutes. Drain pasta.
Meanwhile, in a large heavy skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and the garlic and cook until the onions are soft and starting to brown, about 3 minutes. Add the ground turkey, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is slightly golden and cooked through. Add the artichoke hearts and stir to combine. Remove from heat and let cool.
In a large bowl combine the cooled turkey mixture with the ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, eggs, basil, parsley, and the remaining salt and pepper. Stir to combine.
To stuff the shells, cover the bottom of a 9 by 13 by 2-inch baking dish with 1 cup of Arrabbiata sauce. Take a shell in the palm of your hand and stuff it with a large spoonful of turkey mixture, about 2 tablespoons. Place the stuffed shell in the baking dish. Continue filling the shells until the baking dish is full, about 24 shells. Drizzle the remaining Arrabbiata Sauce over the shells, top with the grated mozzarella. If freezing, cover tightly with plastic wrap and place in the freezer for 1 day and up to 1 month.
To bake, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Bake until the shells are warmed through and the cheese is beginning to brown, about 60 minutes (20 minutes if shells are unfrozen.)

For Giada’s arrabbiata sauce recipe, click here.

Comments:  I probably should have followed the recipe.  On a rare occasion, that’s a good idea.  But I didn’t feel like spending the money on pancetta and basil.  And I certainly didn’t have the time to whip up that arrabbiata* sauce after studying motor speech disorders all day.  So I used jarred marinara sauce, and added a good teaspoon of hot pepper flakes to the filling instead.  In hindsight, I’m pretty sure that a spicy sauce with a salty low note of pancetta* would have been better than the sweetness of marinara (note: Giada's arrabbiata calls for pancetta, but most recipes do not).  Regardless, homemade sauce would have been better.  Plus it’s so much fun to make when I have the time.  Despite, the hot pepper flakes in the filling, the dish was not spicy, although this may have been due to my impending cold.  The artichokes were a major selling point on this recipe, but they didn’t really add much flavor.  I think mushrooms and spinach would have been better.  And I’m kicking myself because I used frozen artichokes for the first time in my life, like the recipe called for, mind you.  Now I’m wondering if the lack of flavor was due to the recipe or the frozen factor because I’ve never been disappointed by a canned artichoke heart.  I will try not to lose too much sleep over it. 

Another strange thing: I ended up with about third of the pasta shells unused.  The filling was depleted, and the pan was packed with 25 shells, yet I had leftover shells.  I threw them out because I could not for the life of me think of a purpose for par-cooked jumbo shells.  I suppose I over stuffed the shells and would have been able to fit more into the pan if I had packed them a little more delicately.  Between the frozen artichokes and the excess shells, I will be pondering the mysteries of this recipe for years.  All in all, the pasta was pretty tasty: hearty and satisfying.  Rumor has it that I may have even scarfed down a few shells cold.  I was just irked because I knew it could have been better.  Sometimes, mediocrity is harder to swallow than failure.  My next recipe better be foolproof.  Every cook needs an occasional confidence booster, and the psycho cooker is currently in such a state.

*See glossary for definitions

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Curried Chicken and Napa Cabbage Stir Fry

As the semester winds down, the intensity of school only accelerates.  For a normal human being, this would result in simplified cooking, or picking up sandwiches.  Not the Psycho Cooker.  This week, a massive neuroscience exam was my most significant burden; I now know the difference between the medial and lateral geniculate bodies of the thalamus, and some of their subsystems.  Please, curb your rampant jealousy; I can sense it from here.  I promise, it wasn’t quite as much fun as it sounds.  In the midst of studying, I decided that making a stir-fry was mandatory for both my physical and mental health.  Besides, I had half of a Napa cabbage that I couldn’t bear to waste.  Thus, my reward for memorizing thalamic nuclei was cooking, even if the pan didn’t start sizzling until 10 o’clock at night.  I’m sure my neighbors were thrilled to have the smell of curry wafting through their apartments as they got ready for bed. 

Curried Chicken and Napa Cabbage Stir-fry (adapted from Marc Bittman’s recipe)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil, divided
1 tablespoon garlic, minced, divided
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated, divided
Handful of chopped scallions
About 3 cups shredded Napa cabbage (about a pound)
6 button mushrooms, sliced (about ¼ pound)
½ cup frozen peas, thawed (just let them sit out during cooking)
½ pound chicken breast, chopped in about ½ inch cubes
about a tablespoon curry powder (optional)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Hefty drizzle of Sriracha* (only if you want it spicy; I probably used a couple teaspoons)

Toss chicken with curry powder (if using) and set aside.
Next prep the rest of the ingredients so the stir-fry can be prepared smoothly (this is called “mise en place*”).
Heat half of the oil over high heat for 3-4 minutes. 
Reduce heat to medium-high and add half of garlic and ginger.  Give the pan a quick shake to distribute, and immediately add the mushrooms, scallions, and cabbage.  Allow to cook for 5-8 minutes, until cabbage and mushrooms have softened.  Remove vegetables from pan.
Add the rest of oil, garlic, and ginger to pan.  Allow to cook for a few seconds, and add the chicken.  Allow to cook for 5-8 minutes, or until cooked through.  Then add the peas, cabbage mixture, soy sauce, and Sriracha.  Toss to combine.  If the mixture looks dry, add about a ¼ cup of water.  Eat as is, or over white or brown rice.

Comments:  This. Was. Fantastic.  The delirium of the eons spent at the library probably augmented this, but I’m pretty sure I would enjoy it any night of the week.  Next time, I might double the cabbage and mushrooms; they were that tasty.  Tofu would have been sublime in this (curried, seared tofu: what could be bad?), but I did enjoy the heartiness of the chicken.  If you’re not a fan of curry, leave it out.  The ginger, garlic, and soy will bestow enough flavor.  However, I LOVED the curry.  This is only the second time I’ve actually cooked with it, and I find that it makes food intensely fragrant, but not overpowering on the flavor front.  When it hits the pan, it’s like getting an olfactory hug.  In fact, I may start carrying around a vile of curry powder and take whiff when I am stressed.  Perhaps it exists in an eau de toilette. 

Being a cheerleader for carbohydrates, I served this over white rice.  Brown rice would have been my first choice, but it needs about hour to cook at this altitude and I didn’t have that kind of time.  However, once I had my first bite, I realized that this dish would have been utterly perfect without any rice at all.  This is a bold statement as there are few low-carb dishes that I find palatable.  The best thing about this dish is that you could apply the technique to other quick-cooking vegetables and proteins, and switch up the flavors to make an infinite array of healthful and delicious stir-fry options.  There will definitely be more to come in the psycho-kitchen.

*See glossary for definitions

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Soba Noodle Salad with Vegetables and Tofu

I have been a little indulgent lately with my recipes.  Personally, I think that everything could be significantly less healthy.  I avoid processed foods in my recipes, and try to incorporate some sort of nutritional value and balance, even if it is merely broccoli as a consolation prize to healthfulness (see previous post).  However, I will acknowledge the abundance of cheese, and frequent use of simple carbohydrates.  In a temporary attempt at balance, I made a cheese-free dish, full of whole grains, fiber, and raw vegetables: soba noodle salad with vegetables and tofu (mind you, those are buckwheat noodles).  I honestly love tofu, and in this dish, it is simply cubed and tossed in (no roasting or frying). So if you are generally skeptical of tofu, this is probably not for you, but I think you could easily substitute another lean protein (chicken breast, pork loin?)  I found this recipe online; it’s from Cooking Light Magazine, but I made a few changes due to personal preference.

Soba Noodle Salad (adapted from Cooking Light Magazine)


¼ cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted (plus extra for garnish)
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
3 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 teaspoons dark sesame oil
1 garlic clove, cracked
1 teaspoon Sriracha*

8 ounces uncooked soba noodles
3 cups very thinly sliced Napa (Chinese) cabbage
½ red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1 cup shredded carrot
Chopped scallions for garnish
1 package firm tofu, drained and cut into ½ inch cubes


Put a pot of water onto boil and cook soba noodles according to the directions on the package.
To prepare dressing, combine first 8 in a small bowl; stir with a whisk.  If you have time, you may want to prepare the dressing first so you can allow it to sit and the garlic flavor can infuse.  Remove the garlic clove before assembling the salad.
To prepare salad, combine noodles and remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Drizzle with dressing, tossing well to coat.  Garnish with scallions, extra sesame seeds, and extra Sriracha if desired.


The final product has a clean, fresh flavor, but it’s a little flat.  The original recipe calls for orange juice, which I omitted because I don’t like it.  However, a tablespoon or so of citrus juice (perhaps lime) may have rounded it out.  As the salad wasn’t particularly spicy, I feel the dressing could have handled two teaspoons of Sriracha.  However, this is easily amended by an extra drizzle, as garnish.  If you want it more garlicky, you could grate or paste a small garlic clove and add it to the dressing, but I enjoyed the purity of the flavor as is, with just a hint of garlic.  Be warned: tossing the ingredients will cause the tofu to break up a little bit, making for a less than pristine aesthetic.  The original recipe also calls for bean sprouts, which I regret omitting.  They would have added a nice dimension.  This recipe makes a HUGE quantity, almost too much.  I see no reason why this recipe couldn’t be halved.  But for grad students entrenched in midterms, the quantity has a practical aspect.  Readily prepared soba noodle salad has its selling point during midterms, even if I was tired of it by the sixth portion.  Sometimes, just sometimes, the perfect meal must be sacrificed for school.  Oh, well.  At the risk of sounding immodest, I am generally adept at avoiding such tragedy.

*See glossary for definitions.