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?

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.

Grilled Tempeh & Portobellos

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Very vegan and very delicious.

In the course of my work I’m frequently called upon to make vegan dishes for guests and my coworker Ian (nicknamed Vegan Boy). Here’s one I knocked out the other day, on a whim, and it came out pretty spectacularly, if I may say so myself.

I bought a slab of tempeh, a staple vegetarian food stuff originally from Indonesia, which is a cake of pressed fermented soy beans. Because of its dense, hearty character tempeh makes for a decent meat substitute and can be quite tasty marinated in something flavorful and then grilled.

First I sliced the tempeh into slices about a half-inch thick. I whisked up a marinade composed of about a quarter cup of ponzu sauce, a quarter cup of olive oil, some minced garlic, a little minced marjoram, a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar syrup (a reduction of simple balsamic vinegar from Modena with some sugar added to it), and some salt and pepper. I coated the tempeh slices with the marinade and let it sit for about an hour.

I cut a portobello mushroom into thick slices and marinated those as well. Meanwhile I roasted some broccoli florets in a skillet until a little charred. I also warmed a little homemade tomato sauce in a small pot.

I grilled the tempeh and mushrooms until hot and lightly charred. I put three slices of the tempeh on a sheet pan, topped the tempeh with grilled mushrooms, and then topped the ‘shrooms with a slice of “pepper-jack flavored” soy cheese. I popped the sheet pan into a hot oven (think 400ºF) for about five minutes until the “cheese” melted. I pulled out my vegan creation and pulled out a nice plate.

In the center of the plate I put a little pool of that homemade tomato sauce (a decent store-bought version like Rao’s or Giorgio Baldi’s might work). And then with a spatula I placed my little cheesy tempeh-mushroom creation in the center of the pool. I topped the cheese with some of that roasted broccoli and drizzled a little more balsamic syrup around the vegan grub.

It was damn tasty. At least that’s what Vegan Boy said.

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”.

 

Grilled Veggie Melt

Healthy and tasty lunch!

I cranked out this delightful sandwich last week for a Meatless Monday lunch. I grilled some zucchini, eggplant, and yellow bell pepper (marinated briefly with salt, pepper, olive oil, lemon juice, minced fresh oregano). I slapped those grilled veggies with some tomato, avocado, and some grated “mozzarella-style” vegan rice cheese. The bread was a cheap French roll that I toasted and slathered with a chipotle mayo made from vegenaise and some of the spicy adobo sauce you’ll find in a can of chipotle peppers (smoked jalapeños). That added a nice little kick in the pants.

Take a day or two off of meat. It won’t kill you and it might add a few years to your life. Plus veggies are awesome!

Crispy Vegan Veggie Burger!

Everything about this burger is vegan, except the brioche bun. Oops.

This is not exactly a recipe post as I don’t have a recipe for the veggie patty. It’s just a little something I whipped up yesterday for my friend Ian, whose diet is wholly vegan and usually mostly raw. The patty is made from sticky sprouted brown rice, black rice, mushrooms, and zucchini. I threw in a little garlic and herbs and a tiny bit of flour to bind it all together. I crisped it in olive oil in a very hot skillet and melted a slice of soy cheese (you can see it peeking out of the bun on the right side of the pick) over the top.

I placed the cooked burger on a toasted brioche bun with a slice of killer ripe beefsteak tomato, iceberg lettuce, bread-n-butter pickles, and thinly sliced red onion. A slather of Vegenaise and a drizzle of both yellow mustard and ketchup completed this super-tasty burger.

It wasn’t until Ian took a bite of the burger that I realized that the brioche bun probably had a tiny bit of egg in it. He probably didn’t realize it until he read this post. Oops.

One day I need to come up with a measured recipe for this patty. But that day is not today.

Very Veggie Portobello Sando

A perfect sandwich for meatless Mondays.

A lovely vegetarian sandwich is today’s offering. I grilled a big portobello mushroom (having drizzled it with extra virgin olive oil and seasoned it with salt and pepper and a little onion powder) and layered it with romaine lettuce, baby arugula, avocado, and a slice of killer beefsteak tomato. For bread I used a couple of slices of organic 7-grain with flax seeds from Rudi’s bakery, which I toasted on the grill until warm and just slightly charred. I schmeared the bread with Vegenaise on one slice and some good dijon mustard on the other. It was a lovely creation.

And it was the perfect thing for Meatless Mondays. I’m omnivorous, as the blog title tells you, and I love meat, but a little respite from the carnivorous life is always welcome for your health, for your mind, and perhaps your soul.