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?

Super-Healthy Krunchy Kale Salad

Super-healthy krunchy kale salad is good for the body and easy on the eyes.

Super-healthy krunchy kale salad is good for the body and easy on the eyes.

This salad is very easy to make and it’s a great introduction to kale for people who are convinced they don’t like greens. It’s also damn good for you, kale being chock full of vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B6, calcium, magnesium, folate, iron, dietary fiber, thiamin, and protein. So now you have no excuse for not eating this salad!

To make the salad take a bunch of Tuscan kale (the kind with the very dark green, petal-shaped leaves that are flatter than the standard curly-leaf kale) and pull the leaves off of the stems. The stems can be quite bitter and are too chewy to be pleasant anyway, so discard the stems. Wash the kale thoroughly in cold water and then spin dry in a lettuce spinner (or drain and pat dry very well with a clean towel. With a sharp knife chop the kale into relatively fine shreds. Don’t worry about it being uniform; nobody’s judging you on your kale-kutting. Put the kale into a mixing bowl and squeeze one lemon over it. Add two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, one garlic clove (smashed and finely minced), about a teaspoon of kosher salt, and a bunch of cracked black pepper. Using your hands toss everything very well. Let the salad sit in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

After an hour or so add a half cup of finely sliced red cabbage, a half cup of crushed pita chips (I use Waleed’s brand.), a quarter cup of crumbled aged manchego cheese, about two tablespoons of crushed almonds (slivered is fine), and about a tablespoon of chopped cilantro. Toss it all together and then check your seasoning — adjust salt and pepper to taste. Now eat it! And feel that healthy goodness course through your body.

Today’s Salad: Supercrunch!

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It’s getting warm, which means it’s time for Today’s Salad!

Today’s salad is a precocious, super-crunchy combination iceberg lettuce, Upland cress, radicchio, celery, French radishes, Persian cucumbers, Kumato brown tomatoes, chopped up aged Beemster cheese, and crushed crunchy pita chips (from Waleed’s). The dressing is lime juice, white wine vinegar, honey mustard, white honey, extra virgin olive oil, kosher salt, and white pepper.

It was delicious and texturally fun. And great on a warm day!

Today’s Salad: Poached Egg & Arugula

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Honestly, a poached egg improves just about anything!

Today’s salad is a healthy little number. I poached an egg and perched it atop a mound of wild arugula, chopped cooked turkey bacon, shaved red onion, and little croutons made from toasted Ezekial bread (a sprouted-grain loaf). The dressing is a simple combination of a little white wine vinegar, dijon mustard, lemon juice, agave nectar, and extra virgin olive oil. A scattering of chives and bit of bright green basil oil completed the dish. It was light and lovely.

Easy Tasty Vegan Pizza

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Spicy veggie (and vegan) pizza is a snap to make.

This isn’t much of a recipe post, but more of a suggestion. I whipped up this lovely vegan pizza the other day and it exceeded expectations. Now I’m not a vegan (I’m OMNIVOROUS, baby!) and my tolerance for fake vegan cheese has its limits, but this pizza, notwithstanding the “cheddar-style” rice-based “cheese product” that melted inconsistently over the top, was just dynamite. I’m not going to measure it all out for you this time, but this what I did, more or less.

I had half an Italian eggplant, which was peeled. I diced the eggplant and salted it with a sprinkle of kosher salt. I let that sit for about 20 minutes and then I rinsed the eggplant and dried it well by squeezing it gently with a paper towel. I then sautéed the eggplant in olive oil until nicely browned. Also, I blanched some Tuscan kale in boiling salted water for two minutes. I dropped that into an ice bath to cool it down and then I drained it. I chopped it up nice and fine. I then chopped a little onion and browned that quickly in a pan. I preheated the pizza stone in my oven for 30 minutes at 550ºF (do it on a sheet pan, totally fine).

I took a nice, very flat whole wheat pita and I drizzled a little bit of olive oil over one side. I then spread over it a little homemade tomato sauce (a good jarred one is fine) and then added sparingly a little of each topping: kalamata olives, cooked eggplant, sautéed onions, blanched kale, fresh tomatoes, and pickled jalapenos. I added a few torn pieces of pre-sliced cheddar-style rice (or soy) cheese. I baked it on the pizza stone for about ten minutes. It was, how you say, AMAZEBALLS!

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Yummy and satisfying.

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!

Tapas Partay!

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A little blurry, but oh, what a spread!

Last week Regina and I had a couple of great friends over for an early dinner. Well, all dinners are early when you have an infant, but luckily our friends are obliging and understanding. Of course when I put out a spread like this of course they are obliging! Mitch supplied the wine and Stef made a excellent blueberry pie to finish the meal with.

Starting from the bottom left and travelling a meandering path up the table in a vaguely clockwise direction the dishes are as follows: garlic aioli with a touch of saffron, garlicky sautéed mushrooms, paprika-dusted fried chicken wings, roasted purple cauliflower with shallots and a hit of sherry vinegar, marcona almonds, pickled peppadew peppers (say that five times fast!), lightly sweetened olive oil crackers (in the wax paper), assorted olives, patatas bravas (crispy fried potatoes), grilled lamb riblets, grilled ribeye with roasted garlic, lobster with saffron sofrito, grilled bread for pan con tomate, membrillo (Spanish quince paste), assorted cheese platter including cabrales, idiazabal, some kind of hard Basque cheese that I’ve forgotten the name of, and some nice Spanish chorizo (not to be confused with the Mexican stuff), clams with garlic and white wine and diced chorizo, and finally at the bottom right a plate of hand-shaved slices of one of the world’s great cured meats — Jamon Iberico “pata negra” — a dry-cured ham made from these cute little black pigs that feast on acorns.

Eating like this — with a wide assortment of small plates with complementing and contrasting flavors and textures and colors — is so enjoyable and delicious and fun and communal that I wish we could feast like this every night! I’d be 300 pounds, but I’d be happy as a clam cooked with white wine and chorizo.