Zaru Soba

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Cool and refreshing zaru soba!

Summer is nigh upon us and as the weather heats up it’s natural to crave foods that are cooling, refreshing, healthy, and light. Sometimes when the sun’s beating down and the humidity is creeping up I crave Zaru Soba, a classic Japanese dish of chilled noodles with a cooling dipping sauce on the side. It’s pretty simple to make, very healthy for you, and it’ll definitely refresh you on a sultry day.

The dish is made from soba noodles that have been boiled for three minutes and then drained and washed in cold water to stop the cooking process. They should be a little toothsome, but perhaps not as chewy as Italian pastas cooked classically al dente. The soba should be refrigerated for at least an hour before serving. The most widely available soba noodles are made from a combination of buckwheat flour and wheat flour, but for this version of Zaru Soba I used cha soba, noodles that have been made with powdered green tea, which gives them a lovely emerald hue and an elegance that the more rustic soba lacks. If you have a good Japanese market near you look for the green tea noodles — they are fantastic!

Also, if you have access to a decent Japanese market ask for a zaru, which is a sieve-like bamboo mat that chilled soba is traditionally served on. Although you’re supposed to dip the noodles into the cold men-tsuyu sauce on the side, I’ve seen people pour the sauce over the noodles on the zaru; the gaps between the bamboo slats allows for excess sauce to drip off into the plate below, allowing you to have just enough of the dipping sauce clinging to your noodles. It’s simple and quite ingenious.

Men-tsuyu is a simple sauce made from dashi, soy, and mirin and it’s served chilled. I recommend that you start with your own homemade dashi broth (check out my link below) but you can use the instant powdered variety (Hon-dashi from Ajinomoto is one brand I’ve used). Or save even more time and buy the dip pre-made and ready-to-go; you’ll find it in bottles on the shelf at your local Japanese market. It’s not quite as fresh and tasty as the stuff you make from scratch, but it will do in a pinch, especially if this is your first attempt. I really hope you have access to a decent Asian market, but if your neighborhood doesn’t have one try online at asianfoodgrocer.com, which should have everything you need.

The noodles are topped with lots of sliced scallions and shredded nori (dried pressed seaweed — ya know, the kind you wrap up sushi rolls with). In addition I added a sprinkle of black sesame seeds, a few daikon sprouts, and some little bits of crunchy toasted brown rice (genmai), which is typically tossed into green tea for a rich, roasty flavor but which I like to add to the noodles for a little textural zip.

The men-tsuyu should be served in a bowl on the side, with wasabi as a option to mix into it. A little grated fresh ginger might be a nice substitute if you’d like. Sometimes I’ll also add a little shake of ichimi togarashi, a lovely Japanese chili powder, for a bit of extra heat to the dipping sauce. I used fresh wasabi root grated on a sharkskin-lined paddle designed for that sole purpose, but both fresh wasabi root (and the sharkskin grater) are rare and expensive. Use prepared wasabi in a tube or a paste of wasabi prepared from powder.

Men-tsuyu noodle dipping sauce:

  • 2 cups ichiban dashi (made from kombu and katsuobushi)
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup mirin (Japanese cooking wine)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

Notes on the noodles:

  • cook in rapidly boiling water for three minutes (if it foams turn heat down)
  • drain and rinse immediately under cold running water
  • drain well again and chill for about an hour (or more)
  • put noodles on the zaru (or in a shallow bowl)
  • top with nori, scallions, daikon sprouts, sesame seeds, and/or crunchy genmai
  • serve with wasabi on the side
  • eat up!

Use the recipe for ichiban dashi is my miso soup post: http://spencerhgray.wordpress.com/2012/02/25/miso-hungry/

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Don’t these chilled noodles look yummy?

Ad-hoc Asian Salad

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Today’s salad is a simple (yet miraculous) combination of leftover cold ramen noodles (the fresh kind, not the fry-dried variety), cold grilled skirt steak cut into thin strips, napa cabbage, iceberg lettuce, radishes, cucumbers, carrots, watercress, scallions, crispy garlic, crispy wontons, and a simple sesame-miso dressing (canola oil, shiro miso paste, sesame oil, rice vinegar, Chinese mustard, salt and pepper). It was yummy!

Spinach Noodle Soup with Duck & Dumplings

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Gorgeous noodle soup!

After we return home from any significant travel, Regina and I always require food that is Asian, that is healthy, that is comforting, that welcomes us back to our normal lives. When we got to Culver City from Portland on Monday, I cranked out this superb noodle soup to get us back in the swing of things.

It totally revived us from a very tiring day of travel. Flying with an eight-year-old and a three-month-old along with all the extra crap that accompanies an infant (crib, carseat, etc) can wear a man down!

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I’d never had these Taiwanese spinach noodle before Monday. Now I’m a convert!

Last time I went to Ranch 99 (the closest big Chinese supermarket to our house) I picked up some of these Taiwanese dried noodles infused with spinach, which gives the pasta a gentle emerald hue. In size the noodles are very similar to ramen, except straight instead of curly.

From the freezer I pulled out some excellent homemade chicken stock (although decent canned chicken broth would work, if you want to emulate this dish) and simmered about eight cups of it with a glug of dark soy sauce, a big pinch of white pepper, a couple of big spoonfuls of xao xing cooking wine, a nice big slice of ginger, a crushed garlic clove, a three-inch piece of lemongrass stalk, a tablespoon of sugar, and three or four scallions. After about an hour I strained the broth of the all the solids and checked for seasoning. I added a bit of salt.

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Chock full of healthy greens and super-tasty!

For the toppings I blanched a little gailan (Chinese “broccoli”) and some very thin and young yu choy in a little boiling salted water. After two minutes in boiling water I shocked the greens in an ice bath to halt the cooking. I drained the greens and cut them into smaller pieces.

I then poured some hot water over a few fresh shiitake mushrooms; I soaked the shrooms for about two minutes and drained them. I stemmed them and cut the caps into thin slices. For garnishes I cut some scallion greens, picked and washed some fresh cilantro leaves, and coarsely chopped some watercress.

I picked up half a duck from the Chinese place around the corner on the way home from the airport. This duck I cut up into bite-size chunks.

I made a few quick wonton-style dumplings with a filling of ground veal, ginger, garlic, green onions, and cilantro bound together with a beaten egg and some corn starch. I seasoned the filling with a pinch of salt, some ground white pepper, a tiny drop of xao xing, and a little bit of soy sauce. I folded up the filling in some standard wonton wrappers and sealed them with a little brushed egg wash. I then simmered the dumplings in some of the seasoned chicken broth for about three minutes, removed them from the hot water with a skimmer, and then held them in a bowl of room temperature water so that the cooking would halt but they would remain moist.

I boiled the noodles for about three minutes (they were still kind of al dente) and drained them very well. While they were still hot I put the noodles into bowls and topped them duck meat, yu choy, gailan, shiitakes, cooked dumplings, watercress, scallions, and cilantro. I poured scalding-hot broth over the whole thing and garnished with a bit of ground white pepper and some crispy fried shallots (an Asian product that you can find in the dry-goods dept of any good Chinese, Thai, or Vietnamese market). Regina eschewed hot sauce but I threw in a huge dollop of sambal oeleck for some real heat.

This noodle soup with healthy and hot and low-fat and absolutely restorative!

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Man, nothing beats a hot noodle soup.

Feeding the Family

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A casual dinner by the Willamette River.

Regina, Bennet, Vivian, and I visited my father and step-mother in Portland, Oregon last week. Dad and Joan have an absolutely gorgeous place by on the east bank of the Willamette River. Their house is set on a bluff overlooking a wide expanse of perfect lawn that leads down to the river bank. My father is a dedicated plant man and he’s got stunning vegetable beds, fruit trees, and grape vines growing vigorously on their property. Kale and tomatoes, lettuces and potatoes, rosemary, lavender, fig, eucalyptus, red chard, bartlett pear, apples, and more. In the eight years they’ve been in Oregon they’ve managed to create and maintain a home that is inviting and charming and that’s a reflection of their progressive thoughts on nature, food, health, light, and community. And on a late summer afternoon there’s nothing better than sipping a glass of my Dad’s homemade white wine and watching rowing sculls flit across the river’s surface, competing occasionally with the wake-making antics of jet-skiers. Birds loop in the blue skies, adopted fuzzball cats get fresh with your legs, a breeze stirs the perfect green beans clinging from their trellis, the occasional passenger jet carves contrails impossibly high above us. It’s all so perfect. So perfect, in fact, that Regina and I got married on these fair premises last summer.

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Always superb salmon can be found in the Northwest.

When we visit I usually try to cook one good meal for my family; we only seem to have time for one as we always have so much on our plate — other friends and family to see, zoos to visit, and breweries to tour. We like to eat outside, watch the sunset, play board games as we nibble dessert, and perhaps sip a little cheap sherry (that would be only my father and me) as we yak about our lives, politics, and what-have-you. This past week talk of politics, the food industry, my much-missed absent sisters, and (naturally) The Olympics dominated. We try to make the most of what Dad and Joan’s garden has to offer, we take a casual pace, and we enjoy each other’s company.

Joan and Jeff (my bro) contributed some excellent Coho salmon — each filet about a pound, very lean, but very fresh. Full of pin bones, even though I yanked out most of them. I patted-dry the fish very well, cut the filets down to individual pieces, and seasoned them with sea salt, pepper, and a big pinch of some random Penzey’s spice mix (maybe like a poultry seasoning) that Joan had in her cooking arsenal. I cooked the filets by first searing the fish skin-side down in a very hot skillet with some olive oil. After the skin was crisped I then flipped the pieces and cooked the other side about a minute. I then transferred the par-cooked pieces to a baking dish. The baking dish I popped into the oven and finished the fish at 375º F for about five minutes.

The fish was just cooked through, moist and delicious.

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A simple salad — romaine, tomato, radish, etc.

Our salad was definitely a family affair. Jeff contributed a perfect large Persian cucumber from his yard-garden, Joan added a bulb of fennel and a head of fresh romaine from her lettuce bed, and just that morning I’d gotten a few excellent tomatoes, celery, and radishes from the small but very inviting Milwaukie Farmer’s Market. At the market I also picked up some great local and organic goat-milk feta cheese. I whipped up a simple cider vinaigrette with some garlic, shallot, and a bit of minced fennel frond (and S&P, of course).

I (mostly) peeled, seeded, and chopped the cuke. I shaved the fennel and soaked it briefly in cold water to firm it up. I cut, soaked, and spun-dry the romaine. Cut the tomatoes, finely cut some celery, shaved some radishes, crumbled the sublime and creamy feta. I tossed everything together with some of the dressing. Basically a Greek-style salad with no olives or peppers, it was light and refreshing and complemented the fish perfectly.

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Potatoes fresh out of the ground are the best!

Dad dug up some potatoes from a mixed patch that yielded some good glossy reds, some Peruvian purples, and a few starchy Russet-style baker-types. After hosing them down, drying them off, and cutting the spuds down to similar sizes (think 3/4-inch thick cubes, about) I tossed them (in a big bowl) in melted butter and olive oil. Over the top I sprinkled generous amounts of kosher salt and cracked black pepper. I also threw in some minced herbs from Joan’s herb pots — fresh rosemary, a bit of fresh lavender, lemon thyme, marjoram, and parsley. A couple large cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped, completed the potato seasoning. I spread the taters in a roasting pan and cooked them at 400ºF for about 35 minutes, until the potatoes were browned and crisp on the edges but soft in the middle. I turned and tossed and moved the potatoes around a couple of times during the roasting to ensure even cooking.

Everyone loved the potatoes, and it’s a good thing I made a whole lot as we ended up eating them the next day as well! The dish wasn’t particularly hard to make or inventive. It’s  all about fresh potatoes. Fresh potatoes are heads above your typical grocery store spuds. They are moister, richer, earthier, and butterier. Just excellent. And according to Dad, pretty much toil-free as a home crop.

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Very simple sauteed green beans.

Earlier that day Joan had picked some green beans. I trimmed these and blanched them in boiling salted water for about four minutes until tender. I shocked them in a ice bath to stop the cooking and then then drained them very well. I cut the beans into two-to-three-inch lengths. About five minutes before dinner time I heat up a big sauté pan and lightly browned (over medium-high heat) some chopped onion and garlic in a combination of butter and olive oil. I threw in the beans and cooked them for another minute. I added a splash of white wine (New Zealand Sauv Blanc), stirred the beans, and served them.

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Excellent lemon-garlic fettucine with butter, parmesan, lemon zest, and fresh breadcrumbs.

At the Milwaukie Farmer’s Market I also picked up a pound of very good organic linguine infused with lemon and garlic. First step in making this dish was toasting some homemade fresh breadcrumbs. I cut the crust off of a chunk of stale baguette and then cut the interior of the bread into smaller pieces, about a half-inch in size. I put the bread into a food processor and pulsed it down into crumbs. I then sautéed the crumbs in butter and olive oil until nice-and-crunchy; I pulled the crumbs from the pan and held them until later.

I set up a pot of salted water to cook the pasta. I set up another big sauté pan and melted a generous plug of butter in a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. Into the oils I added two cloves of coarsely garlic & once minced shallot. I cooked the garlic and shallot about a minute until softened and then turned off the gas. When the water boiled I cooked the noodles to al dente.

I drained the noodles but I retained a half-cup of the pasta-cooking liquid in a measuring cup. I put the hot drained linguine into the butter-olive oil mixture and tossed it well. I turned the heat up to high and added the cup of pasta-water. I threw in a handful of chopped red chard and about 5 basil leaves, which I tore up by hand. Over the noodles I added two tablespoons of lemon zest and the juice of one lemon. Using a pair of tongs I mixed the noodles to get everything together and then tested for seasoning. I added a bit of salt, a whole bunch of black pepper, and 1 cup of grated parmesan. I killed the heat, stirred the cheese in, and transferred the pasta to a big serving bowl. Finally, as a garnish, I topped the linguine with a big handful of toasted breadcrumbs. Voila! Garlic & lemon linguine with butter, chard, basil, parmesan & crisp breadcrumbs.

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Sitting down to a fine meal with fine people (clockwise from left): Jeff, Bennet, Regina, me, Vivian, Joan. (Missing from this photo: Dad, who took the pic, and my sister-in-law Kate, who had to work.)

Jeff brought some homemade beer (pretty yummy!) and we also drank lemonade and one of my personal faves — Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc (pretty decent and relatively cheap NZ white). For dessert we had this delicious crostata made from organic nectarines and a partially whole-wheat crust, which came out a tiny bit tough. I made a basic pate brisée but I think I screwed up the proportions of fat-to-flour. C’est la vie. Even the best of us screw up from time to time. Best of all, we topped off the crostata with vanilla ice cream from Graeter’s out of Cincinnati. Good, ole-fashioned iced cream.

Seriously, is there anything better than good food and family? Well, the view helped too. And the wine.

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Fresh nectarine crostata. Yummy!

Green Tea Soba Noodle Salad

Light, refreshing noodle salad “japonaise”.

This is a little something I whipped up today for my own lunch. The squiggly green things are soba noodles infused with green tea, which accounts for that lovely verdant hue. I’m not really going to get into a deep, well-measured recipe, as I made this dish in an off-the-cuff fashion. But, in short, I’ll describe my method. Try to keep up.

I quickly cooked a handful of smallish peeled-and-deveined shrimp (U-31-35, if you can dig it) in approximately six cups of a quick poaching liquid made up of 70% water and 30% dry white wine with a piece of fennel, two celery stalks, a slice of white onion, a pinch of sugar, and a good amount of kosher salt (think 2 or three tablespoons). Brought it to a boil, added the shrimp, reduced heat and simmered for three minutes. Killed the heat and covered the pot for four or five minutes. I drained the shrimp and dropped them in ice water to cool completely.

While I did all that I also boiled the green tea soba noodles until al dente. I rinsed them in cool water and then drained them. I tossed the cooked noodles with a tiny bit of toasted sesame oil to keep them from sticking together and to impart some of that nutty loveliness into the noodle. I popped the noodles in the fridge for about 30 minutes to cool.

I cut the shrimp into two symmetrical halves lengthwise and chucked them in a big bowl with some of the noodles. I added a little sunflower oil, some daikon radish sprouts, some slivered fresh ginger, a bit of soy, a bit of ponzu, a couple splashes of dashi broth, a nice scattering of sesame seeds, a pinch of sugar, a little salt & pepp, some chopped green onions, a big dose of furikake, and some of these little tempura crunchies I find in the cooler at the Japanese market. I don’t know what they’re called, but I believe they are used as a sort of soup crouton. I like them in salads.

The noodle salad was fantastic! Very refreshing, super-light, and substantial. Perfect for a hot summer day.

Make this dish. If you don’t know some of the words I use above, Google ‘em and figure it out! Happy cooking, y’all!

Green Tea Soba Noodle Salad

Light, refreshing noodle salad “japonaise”.

This is a little something I whipped up today for my own lunch. The squiggly green things are soba noodles infused with green tea, which accounts for that lovely verdant hue. I’m not really going to get into a deep, well-measured recipe, as I made this dish in an off-the-cuff fashion. But, in short, I’ll describe my method. Try to keep up.

I quickly cooked a handful of smallish peeled-and-deveined shrimp (U-31-35, if you can dig it) in approximately six cups of a quick poaching liquid made up of 70% water and 30% dry white wine with a piece of fennel, two celery stalks, a slice of white onion, a pinch of sugar, and a good amount of kosher salt (think 2 or three tablespoons). Brought it to a boil, added the shrimp, reduced heat and simmered for three minutes. Killed the heat and covered the pot for four or five minutes. I drained the shrimp and dropped them in ice water to cool completely.

While I did all that I also boiled the green tea soba noodles until al dente. I rinsed them in cool water and then drained them. I tossed the cooked noodles with a tiny bit of toasted sesame oil to keep them from sticking together and to impart some of that nutty loveliness into the noodle. I popped the noodles in the fridge for about 30 minutes to cool.

I cut the shrimp into two symmetrical halves lengthwise and chucked them in a big bowl with some of the noodles. I added a little sunflower oil, some daikon radish sprouts, some slivered fresh ginger, a bit of soy, a bit of ponzu, a couple splashes of dashi broth, a nice scattering of sesame seeds, a pinch of sugar, a little salt & pepp, some chopped green onions, a big dose of furikake, and some of these little tempura crunchies I find in the cooler at the Japanese market. I don’t know what they’re called, but I believe they are used as a sort of soup crouton. I like them in salads.

The noodle salad was fantastic! Very refreshing, super-light, and substantial. Perfect for a hot summer day.

Make this dish. If you don’t know some of the words I use above, Google ‘em and figure it out! Happy cooking, y’all!

Sunday Picnic Salad

Sunday Picnic Salad is Divine!

I love this kind of old-fashioned, mayo-dressed salad. I’m a fan of potato salad, I love egg salad, and I get downright passionate about macaroni salad. This Sunday Picnic Salad is a revelation in that it combines all three old-school salads in one harmonious synthesis. It’s like the holy trinity of side salads — potato, mac, and egg — and it can be both super-casual or casually elegant. It’s perfect for a lazy Sunday picnic, perhaps as a side for cold fried chicken or deviled ham sandwiches or smoked trout. And it makes a great potluck addition.

It’s creamy, it’s flavorful, it’s tender, it’s easy, and well, it’s cheap. Make it!

This recipe yields about 8 cups of salad; it’ll be more than enough as a side for 15 people or more at a church picnic, kids party, beach blanket lunch, or what-have-you.

 

You Will Need:

  • 2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups uncooked macaroni (approximately 4 ounces)
  • 7 hard-boiled eggs
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup yellow mustard
  • 1/3 cup sweet pickle relish
  • 1/4 cup chopped black olives
  • 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 2 tablespoons minced chives
  • 2 tablespoons minced dill
  • 2 tablespoons minced parsley
  • 1 tablespoon minced tarragon
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus additional if needed
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper

Sunday Picnic Salad is even delicious on Tuesdays!

Now Do This:

Boil the potatoes in their jackets until fork-tender and then drain. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle (maybe five minutes), gingerly peel off the skin and cut the potatoes into a large dice. Put cut potatoes into a large bowl.

Simultaneously, you can boil the macaroni according to package directions. Drain well and add still warm to the potatoes. Peel the boiled eggs and coarsely chop. Add to the potatoes and pasta.

In another bowl mix the mayo, the vinegar, the mustard, and the relish. Pour this dressing mixture over the warm ingredients and combine well. Add all the remaining ingredients and  fold into the salad. Cover and allow the salad to sit at room temperature for about thirty minutes for the flavors to meld. Refrigerate until needed.

Right before service check for seasoning and add a bit more salt if necessary.

 

Enjoy your salad! Happy Sunday!