Tag Archives: noodles

LightRefreshingCool: soba noodles with dipping sauce

Shanghai summer, electric with the endless buzz of cicadas, is in full swing. With the mercury hitting — and passing — 35C for days on end, hovering over a gas stove to make a hot meal begins to its appeal. Ice cream and fruit smoothies keep me cool, but what to do for an actual meal?

Enter soba noodles, which I’d prepared before in various ways. This very useful blog post I came across when googling how to cook soba noodles properly inspired me to do it the summertime Japanese way, served cold with dipping sauce.

I’ve made a few modifications from the above-linked recipe based on what I’ve got in the kitchen and to suit my own taste: plates instead of bamboo sieves (which look pretty but look like a pain to wash), peanut/sesame-based sauce rather than the traditional soba tsuyu, and whatever cool toppings I have on hand (or none at all).

The result is a quick-to-prepare and fun-to-eat meal that’s high on flavour and low on heat. And kinda addictive — I’ve had this three times in the past 4 days! The recipe below is my twist on the theme.



15-minute cold soba noodles with nutty dipping sauce

100g soba (buckwheat) noodles (荞麦面)

Dipping sauce
1-2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 tsbp peanut butter or pure sesame paste (black or white)
1 tsp black rice vinegar (鎮江香醋)
1 tsp sesame oil
4-5 tbsp lukewarm water
1.5 tsp sugar
2 tsp light soy sauce

Toppings
1 tbsp finely chopped green onion
Half a carrot, cut into matchsticks
Half a cucumber, cut into matchsticks
Other raw veggies or cold tofu

1. Sprinkle soba noodles in large pot of boiling water. Use chopsticks to immerse all noodles in water, and cook on medium heat for 5 minutes or until cooked through (taste to test).
2. While noodles are cooking, prepare the toppings by cutting up the vegetables. If using carrot and/or cucumber, sprinkle lightly with salt and drizzle with a little sesame oil.
3. In a small bowl, mix all sauce ingredients together with a spoon. Peanut butter may remain in small clumps. Taste and adjust amounts to suit your preference. Place green onions in sauce.
4. Once noodles are cooked, drain into a colander, then rinse under a steady stream of cold water until noodles are cool to the touch. Wash the noodles actively by picking up bunches and swishing them around directly under the water until they are no longer gummy. Or follow these detailed steps. Because Chinese tap water isn’t safe for consumption, either do a final rinse with potable water, or pour (fresh) boiling water over the noodles as a last step.
5. Take small bunches of noodles and place them one by one on a plate or serving platter.
6. To eat, pick up a portion of noodles with chopsticks and dip briefly in sauce, then eat immediately. Serve with cold vegetables.

Serves 1. Increase amounts proportionally to suit additional diners. Each person should get their own bowl of dipping sauce, unless you don’t mind sharing :-)

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In love: light green spaghetti

I’m in love with the zucchini in noodle form.

Although its heavy-handed supermarket packaging upsets the environmentalist in me, I’ve learned to peel back the plastic and see it for the astonishingly versatile vegetable that it is.

Having come across pictures of enviable zucchini noodles, I just had to get my hands on a julienne slicer and try it for myself. After a good long look in my local Trust-Mart last week, I settled for a clunky 8.9 RMB double-ended vegetable peeler/grater that, while decent with the zucchini, birthed bruises on my finger with its half-brained non-ergonomic design.

The great thing about the zucchini is that it’s firmer than a cucumber but not hard like a carrot, making it a delight to handle on the chopping board. Once I got the hang of it, my zucchini-noodling quickly got up to speed. I left the zucchini strands to “sweat” for 15 minutes — not sure if this step is necessary, but I’d rather wait than risk having the stuff go watery on me. Plus, this gave me time to cook the rest of the ingredients.

As zucchini water drip-dropped away, I cooked up some button mushrooms, doufu gan (dried tofu) strips, and the chopped zucchini, and made a simple white sauce. Once this was done, I cooked the zucchini noodles with some green pepper strips, threw everything else back in the pan along with some herbs, and got them nice and cozy with one another.

WOW. I’d thought my ribboned zucchini was good, but this was mind-blowing. These zucchini noodles had the look and feel of spaghetti: firm but yielding with just enough bite, substantial (not watery or mushy) and perfectly al dente. Tastewise, the mild-flavoured zucchini “held” my rather thin cream sauce very well in each forkful, making for delightful slurping.

The other ingredients, especially the mushrooms, were excellent accompaniments, which was a relief considering I hadn’t followed a recipe. The tofu, which is mildly flavoured with five-spice, had been a last-minute throw in, but rather than clash with the western flavours, it gave the dish a welcome meatiness (kinda like chicken strips).

The most divine aspect of this meal was that I was getting the pasta satisfaction from a vegetable, and felt completely guiltless about it. Who knew that simply cutting a vegetable differently could transform its identity, and even allow it to unabashedly take the place of something so comforting as pasta?

Next time, though, I’ll try to make it an even lighter, greener spaghetti by getting the zucchini from the wet market, where it is sold wrapped only in its own skin.


Zucchini spaghetti with mushrooms in cream sauce
I’m sure these zucchini noodles would also be at home in a tomato-based sauce, though I like the idea of a creamy sauce because the noodles are already low in calories — if I’m doing all this work to make my own noodles, might as well indulge a little bit :-) Feel free to play around with the toppings, but don’t let their volume overwhelm the noodles.

The noodles
4 medium-sized zucchini, peeled
1 tsp salt

The topping
1 pack (12-16) button mushrooms, thoroughly washed and sliced
2 pieces dried tofu (the less flavoured the better), thinly sliced
1 green pepper, julienned
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

The sauce
1 cup milk (I used whole milk)
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
Salt to taste

Extras
Black pepper
Italian herb mix (basil, oregano, rosemary, etc.)
Red pepper flakes (optional)
Olive oil

1. “Noodle” the zucchini by running a julienne slicer/large-holed grater along the length of the vegetable. With each zucchini, stop when you reach the seeded core. Chop up the cores into small bits and set aside. Place zucchini noodles in a colander and toss with salt. Set a dish underneath the colander to hold drained liquid.
2. Heat 2 tsp oil on a pan and add mushrooms. Sautee 2-3 min until soft, then season with black pepper. Remove from pan.
3. Add tofu slices and chopped zucchini (I added half and saved half for the next meal, but feel free to add all) to pan and cook for 2-3 min in leftover mushroom liquid. Remove from pan.
4. Prepare a basic cream sauce by melting butter on low heat, stirring in flour until smooth (about 3 minutes), and adding milk and cooking on medium-heat heat for another 3 minutes, stirring the whole time. Add salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl.
5. Heat 2 tsp oil in pan, add garlic, green pepper, and zucchini strands. Cook, tossing, for 3 minutes, then mix in the rest of the ingredients. Add herbs, red pepper flakes, and salt to taste. Allow sauce to be thoroughly reheated, then serve with freshly ground black pepper.

Serves 2 as a meal (4 medium-platefuls).


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The obligatory soup noodle post

There’s one of these homemade-Asian-noodle-soup photos in practically every food/cooking blog, it seems, so I might as well add mine now: buckwheat (soba) noodles with plump shiitake mushrooms in homemade stock, drizzled with sesame oil.

To up my vegetable intake for this meal, I fried up some well-salted and -sesamed zucchini ribbons (now my favourite way to eat zucchini :).

There’s something hugely satisfying and — in a land where broth or stock is often another way of saying MSG-water — wonderfully pure about slurping a simple bowl of noodles in stock I’ve made myself.

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Zucchini fettuccine

As part of my hot-weather-inspired aim to replace calorie-dense grains with fresh vegetables (or what is now fashionable to call “slow-carbing”) more often, I made “zucchini fettuccine” on Sunday.

I realized only in recent weeks that some zucchini (西葫芦, xihulu) can be found for quite cheap over here, if you’re willing to give up your notion of them being dark-skinned vegetables. I got 2 of the pale-skinned ones, wrapped in way too much packaging (tray + foam netting around each one + plastic wrap), for 3 RMB at Carrefour. The dark green variety can be found at the Avocado Lady for 3-4 RMB each.

There are several ways to render zucchini into noodle strips, but the only useful tool I had was a vegetable peeler, so that’s what I used, resulting in a fairly wide cut. After peeling off the outer layer, I peeled down the length of the zucchini…

…and stopped when I reached the seed-heavy centre for fear it’d mess with the texture and add too much water. I saved the “cores” of the vegetable for a later meal.

After tossing the strips with some salt, I let them “sweat” for 15 minutes in a colander. Liquid collected in the bowl underneath was discarded.

Some recipes suggested boiling the “noodles”, some suggested frying, some didn’t say to cook them at all. Because the strips were so thin, I decided just to cook them on a pan. I first fried a few cloves of garlic in butter, then added the zucchini, spreading the noodles evenly on the pan. Seasoned with salt and black pepper, then got the noodles out after about 2 minutes.

The sauce was a resurrection of discarded veggies from the previous day’s vegetable stock production: 2 cups of boiled carrots and onions puréed with 2 tbsp canned pasta sauce.

Very orange, but holla at the beta-carotene.

Here’s a shot of the final vegetable-on-vegetable action. Not sure why the sauce in this one looks redder than the one above, but natural lighting ftw.

The zucchini fettuccine was very tasty! While it didn’t quite attain the chewiness of boiled pasta, it had the familiar slurp and a pleasant crunch. If I had boiled it for a minute before putting it on the pan it would’ve softened up much more, but I found the crisp texture refreshing. The garlic, salt, and butter were key to lending it the aroma and flavours of something far more decadent than zucchini. I only used two zucchinis (minus the seeded core) for two people, but we could’ve easily each done with twice — or even thrice — the amount. While it worked well with the sauce as a light, simple dish, it could also be great in a creamier sauce, perhaps with some sautéed button mushrooms?

Aahh, I love pasta. It’s among my favourite carbs and one of those foods I can keep eating and eating as long as it’s in front of me… which drives it easily into the realm of guilty pleasures. So I’m happy to now have a way to make my pasta and eat it too. As much as I want. Heh.

(Oh, and I learned of the existence of mandolines and julienne peelers a few days ago while looking up instructions for noodling zucchini. That must be how restaurants churn out 青椒土豆丝 (green pepper and potato strips) and carrot/cucumber matchsticks for cold dishes like they were nothing! Ahh!!! To think all this time I was trying to achieve those juliennes with a kitchen knife! Mandolines look a bit scary and hard to clean, but I’ll gladly settle for a julienne peeler, which I’m now resolved to acquire at all costs (well… ideally under 25 RMB).)


Zucchini fettuccine

Recipe to come when I’ve tried this out a few more times…

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Stonesoup’s carrot soup

Growing up with a grandmother whose favourite food is soup, I used to have a bowl of it (most often Cantonese slow-cooked soup or fish broth, but occasionally a can of Campbell’s to placate the kids) at every evening meal. When I left for college, of course, that habit died out (save for a month of dieting on Campbell’s 120-calorie chunky soups), and when I came to Shanghai with my boyfriend, soup drinking became an even rarer event, since he is not a fan.

Soup still has a place in my heart, though: tomato shrimp bisque is a family Christmas tradition, and nourishing my body via slow-cooked soup is a must-do when I visit my grandma once a year. When I started my current job, I happily discovered that the City Shop downstairs sells three varieties of hot (well, it’s usually just warm) soup: vegetable (5 RMB), pumpkin (8 RMB), and cream of mushroom (12 RMB). The smooth, sweet, creamy pumpkin soup is nothing short of wonderful, and paired with a whole-wheat roll (2 RMB) and small yogurt (2 RMB) makes for a cheap, delicious lunch.

I’ve been meaning to attempt to make it at home, but pumpkins are heavy, bulky, and a struggle to peel, and I shudder to imagine the buckets of full cream it’d take to achieve the desired consistency. So when I came across Stonesoup’s super simple carrot soup that claims to rival pumpkin soup, I was intrigued. (I’m also always looking for good ways to use carrots, since I only enjoy it raw or when boiled til super soft/tasteless.)

With nothing in the crisper this morning but carrots and onions (yes, I keep my onions in the fridge), today seemed like a good day to dig up the recipe and give it a whirl.

The recipe calls for 2 brown onions, 1 bunch baby carrots, 1 tin tomatoes, dried chili flakes, and soy sauce. I had regular carrots and plain pasta sauce, which would have to do. I threw in a few small cloves of garlic, as one commenter suggested.

After cooking the veggies, tomato sauce, and water until the carrots became soft, I needed to cool the mixture down a little before pouring it in my cheap plastic blender. So I left it under the fan for about 10 minutes.

I then processed it in two batches.

The result was flavourful, and looked pretty, but did not resemble pumpkin soup at all in taste. Even though I only used maybe 3 heaping tbsp of tomato sauce, the acid completely overwhelmed the carrot’s sweetness, and adding sugar didn’t seem to help much. The chili flakes were a mistake that I should’ve seen coming, as I expect a soup of that colour to be soothing and sweet; this was spicy and tart.

Actually, this would have been a fine outcome if I had expected tomato soup — it had a great consistency for being cream-free, and would’ve been satisfying with some crusty bread or as a sauce. In fact, I might use the leftovers (the recipe yielded 4 bowls) with some pasta and see what happens :-)

This is definitely down for a second attempt. Next time, though, I plan to use fresh tomato (tinned is expensive here), cut out the chili, and have some fresh-baked bread at the ready. Will post an adapted recipe if it works out!




Update (2011/07/10): The leftover soup worked wonderfully as an alternative pasta sauce, which I used with penne and some corn niblets. A much more pleasant way of facilitating my carrot intake than mixing pasta with diced carrots, and makes cooking pasta at home even more cost-effective. (This puree does contain a bit of pasta sauce, but I’ll bet it’d work just as well with some fresh, cooked tomato.) Next time I’ll throw in an egg and see if it doesn’t up the creaminess factor.

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Counting Carbs

Recently I’ve been trying to reduce my carb intake in the hope of losing a few pounds before summer really gets going. This has involved avoiding grains (bread/noodle/rice) every few meals, and trying to control myself when the meal does involve them.

It’s HARD — harder than cutting out meat, for sure. Our bodies just looove carbs. Other than subbing sweet potato for rice/noodles/bread, I haven’t found another way to get full in their absence. And when I do try to go without for a meal, I often end up scrounging around for sweets or biscuits afterwards. Bleh. I think moderation, rather than elimination, is the key.

So in that spirit, here are my top eat-in carb picks for Shanghai that I would be sad to give up entirely (especially since it took me a while to discover some of these):

6) PITA
Made by MediterraneaN Bakery and sold at City Shop as well as the bakery’s restaurant location, this stuff is soft and thick and pillowy and always made and sold on the same day (according to the label…). Perfect fresh with hummus or bean dip or falafel or plain tomato/cucumber/egg drizzled with olive oil, and great toasted the next morning with some honey & Trader Joe’s almond butter (while it still existed in our fridge… anyone planning a visit from the States? :D).

The pitas come in three sizes, ranging from 11-12 RMB/pack for the white and 13-15 RMB/pack for the rye. So, not cheap, but a definite tall step up from the thin, stale 99c deals I lived on during my internship summer in NYC. It’s affordable maybe once a week, and my love will persist only until winter anyway, when dips and raw foods lose their appeal.

City Shop, multiple locations. Haya’s Mediterranean Cuisine, No. 415 Dagu Road

5) BROWN RICE
Sean has spent the last few years trying to convert me to brown rice. I’d had one foot in the door for a long while, compromising with 1:1 ratios in the rice cooker, but I think at this point I’m pretrty much done with white rice at home. We still have a bit left from our last purchase, which I’m going to save for fried rice (the ultimate Chinese comfort food really requires soft and fluffy nutrient-free white rice, I’m sorry), but other than that, we’re gonna stick with our recent excellent brown rice discovery.

I know I’d whined about making rice in a previous post, but we just opened this bag and it’s really good. The 2.5kg bag—about 30 servings—goes for a shockingly reasonable 45.9 RMB at City Shop. Compared with the crap we used to get from the bulk section of Carrefour and Trust-Mart at something like 15 RMB/500g, this larger bag not only makes more economic sense, but has a superior texture (think chewy rather than tough) doesn’t stick as much to the bottom of the pot, and is organic to boot. (Their organic white rice sells for the same, if you haven’t made the switch.)

City Shop, multiple locations

4) NANG
I’d never had nang, the Xinjiang flatbread, before coming to Shanghai, but boy am I glad we crossed paths here. This frisbee-shaped white-flour bread deserves love not for its nutritional properties but for its versatility and overall pleasurability (if that’s a word). Typically eaten at Xinjiang restaurants with cumin-coated lamb skewers, it also works terrifically with stir-fries (both soy sauce- and tomato sauce-based), dipped in olive oil Italian-style, with falafel, curry, anything cumin-y, or even just on its own, when it’s fresh and still hot.

Sadly, not all nang are created equal. You can get Xinjiang food all over town but I’ve only found one spot that does it right. Luckily for me and Sean it’s only a block away from his workplace, and the dudes out in the front know him well. Their 3 RMB savoury nang is loaded with sesame seeds on top and fragrant with scallion baked into the bread; on more days than not, its outer crust is soft and springy and the middle of the disc is thin and crunchy and the whole thing will make a plastic bag moist with condensation. A million miles ahead of others’ perpetually cold, hard, bland offerings.

新疆风味 (Xinjiang Fengwei), 51 Maotai Road (btwn Zunyi Road and Loushanguan Road)

3) PASTA
Oh, pasta. You live to keep me fat, but I love you anyway. At least you try to console me with an affordable whole wheat variety, even though I suspect you’re not wholly whole wheat coz you taste so damn good, i.e. like regular pasta. (I remember whole wheat pasta in the States being awful!)

Also unlike in the States, where pasta is any broke college kid’s go-to for a home-cooked meal, pasta is a bit of an indulgence over here. Depending on where you shop, a box of this particular brand costs 18-20 RMB, and the cheapest can of pasta sauce will set you back ~20RMB. I’ve been trying to go without pasta sauce for quite a few weeks now…

City Shop, Carrefour, Trust-Mart, multiple locations

2) MANKATTAN WHOLE WHEAT HIGH FIBER BREAD
This is the daily bread that I trust to be the most healthful supermarket option, being 100% whole wheat and high in dietary fiber. (The “whole wheat bread” from Carrefour’s in-store bakery is pretty good, though nowhere near 100% ww, if at all). When you get this within one or two days of its production date, the bread is soft and supple, though best when toasted.

At 6.8 RMB/pack of six slices, it’s a little pricey compared with other store-bought loaves, but at least I feel like I’m eating something that’s relatively good for me. And yes, it’s Mankattan with a K.

Carrefour, Trust-Mart, multiple locations

1) SWEET POTATOES
My new obsession. Since sweet potatoes began to act as a substitute for the above (as well as other carbs including potatoes), I’ve been trying out new ways to prepare it beyond boiling it whole and eating with honey, which had been our embarrassingly uninspired method back in winter 2009 until we quickly got sick of it (oh, and got scared off by purple sweet potatoes “bleeding” into the water).

We’ve been willing to overlook their homely appearance and being a pain to wash and peel, knowing that sweet, orange flesh awaits just beneath the surface. They’re cheap, they keep, and are also versatile, perfectly happy to lean either way (sweet or savoury) and star in multiple forms (as fries with aioli, mashed with butter and paprika, fried up in a hash with some cumin… mmm).

Veggie markets and supermarkets

What’s your favourite carb (or six) you can’t live without?

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Noodletime

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
Olive oil
Salt, pepper
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.

Serves 2.



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
Sesame oil

Sauce:
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)

Topping:
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.

Serves 2.

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The well-fed poor man: Spaghetti with fried eggs

I stumbled upon a “minimalist” pasta recipe on NYTimes a few months ago, tried it, and was immediately hooked. It is essentially a healthier version of carbonara, but even without any meat or dairy, this dish is surprisingly rich. Although it’s supposedly known as “poor man’s spaghetti”, we tend to think of this dish as a treat, partly because it uses a fair bit of oil, and partly just because it’s so damn good it feels wrong.

I’ve always loved cream-based pasta (mmm fettucini alfredo) but have tried to avoid it ever since I realized how fattening it is. So I was happy to find such a simple recipe that gave me that creamy-pasta fix without any cream or butter or cheese. It can’t be mistaken for the “real thing”, that’s for sure, but this leaves me feeling full and light rather than full and heavy.

Here’s my modified, somewhat healthier take on the recipe posted by Mark Bittman, though I’m sure his is delicious as is. My version uses less oil, more garlic (without wasting it!), and adds a couple servings of vegetables for a well-balanced meal/so I don’t have to eat a salad on the side.


Spaghetti with fried eggs

1/2 pound spaghetti (whole-wheat if you like)
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 head garlic, lightly smashed and peeled
4 eggs
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Vegetables of your choice, diced (I like broccoli, onion, green pepper, tomato, carrots)
Various seasonings

1. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Begin the next step, and start cooking the pasta (and carrots, if used) when the water boils.
2. Heat 1 tbsp oil in pan; cook vegetables and season. Transfer from pan to serving dish.
3. Combine garlic and 4 tablespoons of the oil over medium-low heat. Cook the garlic, pressing it into the oil occasionally to release its flavor; it should barely color on both sides. Transfer the garlic to the dish of cooked vegetables or use in garlic bread.
5. Fry the eggs gently in the oil, until the whites are just about set and the yolks still quite runny. Drain the pasta, and toss with the eggs and oil, breaking up the whites as you do. If the pasta has been sitting for a while, keep the heat while doing this. Season to taste, and serve immediately with vegetables either mixed in or as a side.

There are lots of other “poor man’s pasta” recipes online but a lot of them ask for bacon or cheese, based on the assumption that you’d have them lying around in the pantry or freezer. That’s kinda bougie if you ask me.

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