Tag Archives: sauces

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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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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