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: https://spencerhgray.wordpress.com/2012/02/25/miso-hungry/

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Don’t these chilled noodles look yummy?

Chopped Veggie Picnic Salad

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A bounty of veggies!

I was inspired to make this salad by my father, a man who believes in eating not only in a heathy manner, but in a way that reflects his environmental concerns. To that end he eats small portions, mostly vegetables, and he eschews beef and gluttony. My dad is a vigorous man and will undoubtedly outlive me, due in no small part to his dietary habits. Now I can’t really embrace that particular lifestyle; I’d say my job doesn’t permit me to eat healthfully, but that’s mostly a cop-out. I just like food of all kinds and I like to eat. I’m OMNIVOROUS, after all, and I probably wouldn’t be cooking for a living if I didn’t like to eat just about everything!

My father is partial to chopped salads and a few months ago during his last visit he made an especially tasty salad of all kinds of things including cauliflower and tofu and cabbage and carrots and tomatoes and about thirty other veggies. This recipe is a bit like that — it’s complicated but easy to make, it’s got all kinds of things going on but works in a balanced way, it’s refreshing but filling, and it’s very open to interpretation. Don’t like cabbage? Substitute with fennel. Don’t like bell peppers? Throw in a summer squash. Don’t like carrots? Throw in fresh corn. Don’t like zucchini…you get the picture. Be creative, use what you have in the fridge, use as many vegetables as you can get your hands on.

Anyway, if you make this recipe don’t feel you have to stick to these quantities. Use what you’ve got and don’t be a stickler. Just keep the general idea of the salad and dress it accordingly. I made the salad vegan, but if you want to use regular mayonnaise in the dressing, have at it!

By the way, it’s called a Picnic Salad because you can dress it in advance and serve it casually. Dress the salad early and then stir in the nuts and corn chips right before serving. One note: the salt in the dressing might pull some moisture out of the veggies and it may be a trifle wet after sitting for a couple of hours; just drain off a little of the excess liquid if you notice that occurring.

You will need:

  • 1 1/2 cups vegenaise or regular mayo
  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons toasted white sesame seeds
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh basil
  • 3 cups chopped purple cauliflower
  • 3 cups chopped raw white mushrooms
  • 2 cups coarsely chopped watercress
  • 2 cups coarsely chopped iceberg lettuce
  • 1 1/2 cups of chopped pressed (and/or smoked) tofu
  • 1 1/2 cups coarsely shredded carrots
  • 1 cup chopped purple cabbage
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 zucchini, chopped
  • 1 hothouse cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped
  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 1 cup crushed cashews
  • 1 cup crushed blue corn tortilla chips

Now do this:

Whisk together vegenaise, vinegar, olive oil, mustard, sesame seeds, salt, honey, pepper, and basil. Refrigerate until your salad is assembled.

Toss to combine all of the remaining ingredients above except the nuts and corn chips. Toss with the dressing until nicely coated. Allow the salad to sit, refrigerated, for at least an hour. Drain off any extra liquid and toss in the cashews and blue corn chip. Serve and eat!

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!

Chef Baby Chow

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Chef babies eat very well! For an early lunch Vivian had a lovely soup I knocked together from a variety of tasty leftovers.

Leftover pho broth, steamed broken jasmine rice, Savoy cabbage, gailan (Chinese broccoli), baby arugula, cilantro, scallions, and Japanese flowering fern. She loved it!

For dessert the Viv had fresh strawberries and some very sweet red grapes.

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Grilled Portobello Mushroom Sandwich (Vegan Styleee)

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Yummy vegan sando!

I made another vegan sandwich at work today. This time I started by marinating a big portobello mushroom in olive oil, white wine, garlic, herbs (dill, chives, tarragon), and a bit of worcestershire sauce. I grilled it, sliced it, and layered it on toasted Ezekial bread with yellow mustard, chipotle-flavored Vegenaise, baby spinach, sliced tomato, sliced red onion, and a slice of “cheddar” veggie cheese.

I’ve got to say, it was pretty tasty although I’m not a vegan. I just had a small bite; I loved everything but the soy cheese. Honestly fake cheese gives me the shivers. I made it for my vegan coworker Ian and he deemed it “a damn good sandwich”.

 

The Classic Wedge

While lacking in any actual nutrients, a good wedge salad can be utterly delicious!

It seems amazing that I haven’t posted anything in six weeks! Up until this point I’ve been very attentive about giving my OMNIVOROUS public new posts to chew on, but to say I’ve been busy is an understatement of the first order. Not only do I have my job (the one that provides me with, ya know, money) but I have my son and my little baby girl (currently seven months old) occupying a tremendous amount of my time. Also, I have my dear wife Regina, who I neglect at my peril. She’s got a black belt, after all!

So the blog has been back-burnered for a spell, but I’m back. I really hope to get a few new posts up this week. They might be kinda shy in the content department, but I’ve got to reestablish a groove and even if it’s just a pic of a pretty rockin’ salad, I’ve gotta get started somewhere.

To whit: this mediocre picture of an extra-delicious Classic Wedge Salad, or as Bennet referred to it — a Wedgie Salad, which sounds, shall we say, less than appealing.

I made this crisp and refreshing salad a couple of weeks ago with a slice of crunchy, mild iceberg. When I prepare iceberg lettuce for wedges I trim out the core from a whole head and then I hold the lettuce globe upside-down under the faucet. I turn on the tap to a gentle stream and fill the hole in the lettuce with running cold water (filtered water is better if you’re dubious about your tap water). I’ll place the iceberg upside down like that in a bowl and let the water refresh the lettuce for about 15 minutes. I then invert the head and drain out the water over a colander. I like to place the the lettuce (in the colander) in the fridge until super-cold. When I’m ready to make the salad I cut the head into nice wedges.

This time I garnished the salad with boiled eggs, decent hothouse tomato slices, some old-school California-grown canned black olives, some hearts of palm, Pederson applewood-smoked bacon, and chives. The dressing is my homemade Easy Blue Cheesy dressing.

Of course you can make it however, but I also recommend as toppings sliced radishes, cornichons, pickled red onions, gribenes (crispy chicken cracklings), Persian cucumbers, blanched green beans, fried olives, crumbled egg, chickpeas, red bell pepper confetti, and crispy fried basil. Other great dressing choices are homemade buttermilk ranch, 1,000 Island, homemade catalina, green goddess, or a good balsamic.

You can eat this salad whenever you want, I’m not going to stop you. However, I think it’s perfect as a precursor to a steak dinner or a lobster boil. Something classically American.

 

The recipe for my Easy Blue Cheesy dressing can be found in this post:

https://spencerhgray.wordpress.com/2012/09/23/todays-salad-greens-blues/

The omnivore has returned!

Baby Heirloom Tomato Salad with Bocconcini & Avocado

Very pretty and pretty damn tasty salad.

Over the weekend I picked up this assortment of stunning baby heirloom tomatoes. It was a gorgeous mixture of little reds and greens and yellows and oranges — all pretty and all delicious. I whipped up a salad of these tomatoes, which I halved and tossed with bocconcini (little balls of fresh mozzarella), shaved celery, red onion, and avocado. The dressing was a combination of white wine vinegar, dijon mustard, honey, fresh garlic, extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, and cracked pepper. For a little herbal kick I added some minced chives, parsley, cilantro, and fresh mint.

This is quite possibly the last week I can get great local tomatoes and I’ve been making the most of it, eating them every day. If you can still find some decent tomatoes in your area, I suggest you do the same. Right now.