I recently realized that I haven’t used the rice cooker (to cook rice) in a long time. Weeks, probably more than a month. Which is a little eerie to me, given that I remember proclaiming at the dinner table just a few months ago that I can’t live without rice. I’ve always loved the stuff and eaten lots of it. Something changed, though, in recent weeks — maybe the decline of its appeal has something to do with the onset of warmer weather, or my resolve to up the ratio of (less tasty but more healthful) brown to white rice from 1:1 to 3:1, or even the fact that our rice cooker is scratched at the bottom, making for imperfect pots of rice and an annoying wash job. I guess I’ve also been moving away from Chinese-style stir-fries in my exploration of new foods and ways of preparing food, making other carbs more likely candidates at the dinner table.
Whatever the case, I think diversification is a good thing, especially in light of news of an impending drought-induced rice crop failure (even though wheat hasn’t exactly been safe from rising prices, either…). The knowledge that I’ll still have my fill of rice at the restaurant table makes me feel okay about continuing to neglect our unopened 2.5kg bag of organic brown rice. To this end, I made two “new” noodle dishes over the weekend, both of which turned out quite deliciously and make for light — but satisfying — summer fare.
Saturday — Penne with canned corn and chickpeas
This was born out of a last-minute realization that the crisper was empty (save for two mushy tomatoes) and our leftover pasta sauce moldy. Thankfully we’ve been pretty well-stocked with canned things, so the dish was pretty much a no-brainer. Garlic and olive oil could stand alone in a plate of pasta if there’s reeeally nothing else, but here I’ve thrown in corn, chickpeas, and the least mushy third of a tomato.
Turns out corn and chickpeas are a winning combo! The corn’s crunchy sweetness balanced wonderfully with the salty, soft nuttiness of the chickpeas, while the tomato and olive oil ensured sufficient moisture on the tongue. We had this with a side of mashed sweet potatoes, a healthier alternative to both regular mashed potatoes and sweet potato fries — and much quicker to whip up than the latter. We found the recipe here, along with other tempting sweet potato ideas I want to try.
Sunday — Soba noodles with black sesame paste
I picked up a fresh jar of black sesame paste at Carrefour on Sunday, and as I was randomly browsing food blogs and recipes in my afternoon idleness I found a way to incorporate it into dinner… with soba noodles!
The noodles were a bit annoying to cook, sticking to the bottom of the pot and turning very soapy, almost gooey… so once they were cooked I had to rinse them under cold water. Just googled “how to cook soba noodles” and it turns out rinsing under cold running water is a critical step -__- Also, having more water in the pot would’ve helped with the sticking.
I was dubious when I first realized how the dish was going to look — black and grainy and not very visually appealing. But the carrot sticks added some colour and crunch that made the whole thing a little more presentable and just… well, complete :)
I’d made nutty cold noodles a couple times last summer, but tasty as they were, I always felt a little sickened afterwards knowing how much Skippy peanut butter (and in turn hydrogenated veg oil) I’d consumed in one sitting. This is a lighter, more healthful alternative that I plan to make again and again… at least until the arrival of cold weather makes raw carrot the last thing I want to put in my body.
Penne with corn and chickpeas
200g penne pasta (or your favourite pasta)
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 can whole kernel corn, drained
1 tomato, diced
4-6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
Dried seasonings such as basil, oregano, rosemary, parsley (I use an “Italian seasoning” mix)
Crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package instructions, then drain and toss with a bit of olive oil to keep from sticking.
2. While the pasta is cooking, heat oil on a pan. Add garlic and chickpeas when oil is hot; fry for a few minutes until chickpeas become soft, then add corn and tomato.
3. Reduce heat to low and add cooked pasta to pan. Drizzle with more olive oil and season with salt, pepper, and your choice of herbs.
Mashed sweet potatoes
For a sweet version, leave out the paprika and cumin and add some honey or maple syrup, and replace the salt with brown sugar.
2-4 sweet potatoes depending on size
1-2 tbsp butter
1 tsp salt
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp cumin
1. Wash, peel, and dice sweet potatoes.
2. Bring a pot of water to a boil, then add sweet potatoes. Cook until soft (5-8 minutes depending on size of pieces — pick one out with a fork to taste test), then drain.
3. In a large bowl, use the back of a spoon to mash the sweet potato along with butter, salt, paprika, and cumin.
Serves 2-4 as a side.
Soba noodles with black sesame paste
Thick black sesame paste is thinned out with soy sauce, vinegar, and a bit of water. Green pepper and tofu are thrown in for added nutrition and texture, but you can be creative with these additional ingredients (chopped up broccoli could also work well). Regular (white) sesame paste and thin Chinese wheat noodles are viable substitutes in this recipe.
1 package (~300g) dry soba noodles
2-4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 green pepper, sliced into thin strips
3 five-spice tofu squares, rinsed and sliced into thin strips
A few stalks of scallion/green onion, chopped up
2 heaping tbsp black sesame paste
4 tbsp potable water (i.e. not tap, if you’re in China)
1 tsp vinegar
2 tsp sugar
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
1-2 tsp chili garlic sauce (optional)
2 medium-sized carrots, peeled
1 cucumber, peeled (optional)
1. Bring large pot of water to a boil (do not skimp on the water). Put noodles in pot, return to a boil, and cook until soft. Drain and rinse vigorously with cold running water. (See here for detailed instructions!)
2. While the noodles are cooking, fry garlic in 2 tsp of oil (more if not using non-stick pan) on medium-low heat. Before the garlic browns, add green pepper and tofu and fry for another 3-5 minutes until hot through.
3. Mix sesame paste, vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, and chili sauce in a bowl. Put the cooked noodles into the pan and coat evenly with sauce mixture. Toss with heat on low until noodles are hot through (especially important if you used Chinese tap water to rinse noodles). Add more sesame oil if noodles are sticking.
4. Cut carrot and cucumber into thin “matchsticks” ~8cm long; drizzle with a bit of soy sauce and sesame oil. Serve on top of the noodles with a sprinkling of scallion.