Asian Noodle Side Dish

Hello my faithful readers.

I apologize for the infrequency of my posts as of late. I was away for a week visiting my fam on the East Coast (And maybe I’ve been a bit lazy). I have been meaning to post this delicious dish for awhile, but just hadn’t gotten around to it.

A few weeks ago, we wandered into an Asian food store a couple blocks from our apartment. This is one thing I love about living in a big city — pretty much every kind of food (restaurants and grocery stores) you can imagine within a 1 mile radius of our apartment. If I walk down the street, I can get some mouth-watering Middle Eastern food, de-lish Persian, amazing Filipino (I am drooling just thinking about those veggie empañadas), Mexican galore, and probably more I don’t even know about. There are also some fantastic Indian restaurants not too far from us. And those are just the restaurants. There are also some great little grocery stores with amazing prices. Down the street I can get a bag of 10 freshly baked, warm pitas for a dollar. A dollar! You can’t beat it. Oh, and another thing we can get for just a dollar across the street — three 10-packs of little corn tortillas, locally made. Such a good deal.

Anyway, back to the Asian food store. I had never been into this one before, but we wandered in one day and picked up a few things. R works at Trader Joe’s, so we usually get the majority of our groceries from there, but TJ’s recently stopped selling the rice noodles we like. I couldn’t find any rice noodles in this store, but I did find soba noodles. I thought they would do the trick, and they seemed pretty healthy too -they’re made of buckwheat flour. That sounds healthy, right?

A few days later I came across a recipe for soba noodles in a cookbook called The Vegetarian 5-ingredient Gourmet, by Nava Atlas. I happened to have all of the ingredients on hand, so I gave it a shot, and mmmm was it good! I absolutely love the texture of the soba noodles, and the flavors of the sesame, soy, and honey are so delicious together. I chose to add in sesame seeds, as well, but that’s totally optional. I also think that adding in some sauteed tofu would turn this from a side dish into a tasty meal. Or if you’re like me, you could just go back for seconds and thirds, and turn what was meant to be a side into a meal.

Asian Sesame Soy Noodles
8 oz. soba noodles
2 Tbsp. sesame oil
2-3 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. honey or maple syrup
1-2 scallions, thinly sliced
Toasted sesame seeds (optional)

If you want to use sesame seeds, you can just add them in as is, or you can toast them a bit. To toast any kind of seed or nut, just throw them in a sauté pan over medium heat. Don’t leave them alone, though. You don’t want them to burn. Stay by the pan, and stir the seeds often until they get a little color and/or become fragrant. It doesn’t take too long.

Cook the noodles according to the directions on the package.

Combine the sesame oil, soy sauce, and honey in a bowl, and whisk.

Combine the noodles and the sauce and toss well. Garnish with chopped scallions and sesame seeds.

You may not want to share this dish, because it is that good. I think know I could have eaten it all by myself. Enjoy!

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Garlicky Spaghetti Squash

Last year I discovered a delightful thing called the spaghetti squash. I don’t know how I went so long in life without knowing about this yummy veggie. Spaghetti squash is great because you can use it as a replacement for spaghetti in most recipes. It’s way lower in carbs, of course, and has a heck of a lot more nutritional value than real spaghetti. Of course it’s not going to taste like spaghetti. It’s squash, and it tastes squashy. It also has a bit of a crunch to it, but trust me, it’s good.

Add some garlic and cheese, and you have a delicious and simple side dish.

I found this recipe last year from Steamy Kitchen, and it is so yummy! You can basically pick whatever herb you want to put in there — parsley and basil are both great, and I think rosemary would be good too.

Whenever I fly home to visit my parents, I try to make them a new vegetarian recipe to broaden their culinary horizons. My mom was flabbergasted when I became a vegetarian, because growing up, meat was always at the center of meals. You could not have a meal without meat. She never knows what to make me when I come home, so I like to show them that it’s possible to have a perfectly delicious, nutritious, and filling meal with no meat in sight.

Last year I made this recipe and my Dad loved it. He went back for seconds and thirds and probably fourths. It was the first time he had tried spaghetti squash, and he loved it so much that he has even made the recipe himself a few times. Success!

Baked Spaghetti Squash
1 smallish spaghetti squash (3-4 lbs.)
2 Tbsp. butter or earth balance butter substitute
2-4 cloves of garlic, minced (The original recipe calls for 2, but I always add more.)
1/4 cup chopped basil, parsley, or rosemary
Freshly ground salt to taste
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375° F and throw the whole squash in. Bake for 60 minutes until you can easily cut into the skin. Let the squash cool for a bit until you can handle it without burning your hands.

If you’re short on time, forget the oven and microwave the squash for 5 minutes or longer… however long it takes until your knife easily cuts through the skin. (If you do choose the microwave route, you will still need to roast it in the oven for 30 minutes after microwaving. Cut it in half lengthwise before roasting.)

Cut the squash in half lengthwise. Get rid of the seeds with a fork. Hold up half the squash, and use the fork to scrape out the insides. It will come out in long strands, just like spaghetti! Isn’t it pretty?

If you’re having a hard time getting the strands out, it probably needs to cook for a bit longer. Stick it back in the oven for a few minutes.

After you’ve scraped til you can scrape no more, set the strands aside and grab a large sauté pan. Heat the butter and garlic over medium heat. Allow the garlic to sauté for a couple of minutes, and then add the squash, salt, and herb of your choice. Mix it all up and then add your cheese. Add more salt as needed. Serve piping hot, and enjoy!

Clean Eating Vegetable Minestrone

This week, summer decided to make a comeback in Chicago. As much as I love the crisp fall weather, I’m not complaining. 74°, sunny, and breezy is OK in my book. So maybe I should be making some recipe reminiscent of summer, but I’m not. I’m making soup again. Deal with it.

This week in our CSA, we got fennel. I had never eaten fennel before, and I’m not gonna lie, I was a little scared of it. I mean, the thing smells like licorice. What kind of vegetable smells like candy? As you might be able to guess, I am not a fan of licorice. Just thinking about it grosses me out. So I was a little nervous to try this soup, which not only includes fennel, but also fennel seed. Double licorice whammy. But I decided to go ahead and try it, because I didn’t want it to go to waste. We also got onions and spinach in our box this week, which I was able to use in the soup as well!

After looking at the title of this post, you might be asking yourself “what is clean eating?” Good question. Let me google that. (I love googling.) Alright, so my sources tell me that clean eating involves eating only fresh, unprocessed, whole foods. For all you meat-eating naysayers out there, don’t worry, you’re still allowed to eat meat. But it means eating meat that is whole and straight from the butcher. No chicken McNuggets for you, my friend. I would also add that no meat could be considered “clean” unless it is from a sustainable source. This means grass-fed, free-range, preferably local, and organic. You don’t even want to know all the junk that goes into the other meats, but that is for another post altogether.

Clean eating also includes eating lots of plants! This does not mean eating french fries and making excuses like “but, it’s a potato.” No, that is not a potato. Though still damn tasty, I know. Eat vegetables/plants in their whole form, straight from the ground, tree, or bush — preferably veggies from your local farmers market, a CSA if you get one, or organic from the store. You get the picture.

Summary: clean eating = don’t eat garbage.

There is a nice little blog post here for more info about clean eating.

Now on to the recipe. I must warn you that this takes a lot of prep time. Lots of peeling, chopping, and chiffonading (more on that later, but don’t I sound fancy?). It probably took me close to an hour in prep work. (Disclaimer: I’m really slow at that stuff.) But don’t worry, it was worth it. After all the prep work, the soup doesn’t take long to cook, and you get the delicious reward of a CLEAN and tasty meal.

A few notes about the recipe:

1. The bulb of fennel we got in our box was reeeally tiny. Itty bitty. Usually fennel has this massive baseball-sized bulb. Not the case here. So instead of the 1 cup the recipe called for, I only got about 1/4 cup. But it turned out totally fine. So any amount between 1/4 cup and 1 cup will be just fine. I’m assuming with the whole cup you’ll get a little bit of a stronger fennel flavor.

2. To crush fennel seeds, you need a mortar & pestle or a coffee grinder. I had neither. Well, I have a coffee grinder, but it was covered in coffee grinds at the time and I didn’t feel like cleaning it out. So I did the really tedious thing and just attempted to crush the seeds up as best I could using a large spoon. It didn’t work so well, and it took a long time and was extremely annoying.

3. If you’re at all like me, you looked at this recipe and said “what the heck is chiffonade?” Yeah. Here’s a video. Actually, chiffonading was kind of fun! I had so much fun that I decided to chiffonade my basil in addition to my spinach. Enjoy.

One more thing… look at this carrot. Monster carrot, right? With this baby I got an overly heaping cup-full of diced carrot. Sorry, had to share.

Alright, I’m done now. On to the soup, I promise.

Veggie Minestrone Soup (8 servings)
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 medium carrots, peeled, cut into 1/2″ pieces
1 cup diced fennel bulb
1 cup diced red onion (or really whatever onions you’ve got laying around)
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1/4 tsp. fennel seeds, crushed
1 1/2 cups  (or 1 can) cooked cannellini beans (white kidney beans), rinsed and drained
2 cups fresh plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/3 cup uncooked quinoa
Freshly ground salt and black pepper to taste
1 cup fresh spinach, cut chiffonade
1 Tbsp. basil, thinly sliced
2 oz. parmesan cheese, finely grated (aboutt 1/2 cup) (optional)

In a large, heavy bottomed pot, heat oil over medium heat. The following is not a picture of oil heating up in a pot. It is a picture of your new best friend. I love this thing — so great for measuring out tablespoons of liquid. Much easier and much less mess this way. I got mine at Bed Bath & Beyond.

Once your oil is heated up a little bit, add carrots, fennel, onion, garlic, bay leaves, thyme and fennel seeds, and cook, stirring often, until vegetables are tender, about 8 minutes.

Add 6 cups water, beans, tomatoes, and quinoa. Heat to boiling then reduce heat to low and simmer until quinoa is tender, about 20 minutes. Remove bay leaves and season with salt and pepper. Stir spinach and basil into soup just before serving in bowls. Garnish each with 1 Tbsp cheese, if desired.

In the end you get a beautiful soup, packed with veggies. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this did not taste at all like licorice. You can taste the fennel, but it’s very subtle and adds a nice flavor to the soup. Isn’t it pretty?

Enjoy vegan:

Or not so vegan:

Either way, I think you’re gonna like it.

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa!

Have you ever made your own salsa? No? Me either. But, last week in our CSA we got tomatillos! If you don’t know what a tomatillo is, google it.

Aren’t they cute?

Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture because my husband actually made the salsa when I wasn’t home, so I didn’t get to take any pictures until the finished product. Bummer.

If you jump over to my “getting to know you page,” you’ll see a link to our CSA farm’s website. Each week before pickup, I get an email letting us know everything that’s coming in our box. They also include some yummy recipes for inspiration. Last week they included a recipe for tomatillo salsa, so of course we had to try it.

Like I said, I didn’t make this one myself, but apparently it was super easy and pretty quick to make! It turned out so delicious and made quite a bit of salsa. But it didn’t last long. Between the two of us, we finished it off pretty quickly.

The recipe calls for 3-4 medium tomatillos. We got about 10-15 small ones in our box. At first, Ric put in 6 or 7 tomatillos, but he said it was wayyyy too spicy with the jalapeno, so he roasted the rest of the tomatillos and used all of them. It was still spicy in the end, but not so much that your mouth is on fire, and your nose is running, and you’re sweating profusely. That is bad spicy. This is good spicy. Enjoy!

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa
8 ounces (3 to 4 medium) tomatillos, husked and rinsed
Fresh hot green chiles to taste (1 or 2 serranos or 1 jalapeno), stemmed
2 large garlic cloves, peeled
6 sprigs of fresh cilantro (thick bottom stems cut off), roughly chopped
1/4 small white onion, finely chopped
Salt

Roast the tomatillos, chile(s), and garlic on a rimmed baking sheet 4 inches below a very hot broiler, until blotchy black and softening (they’ll be turning from lime green to olive), about 5 minutes.  Flip them over and roast the other side.  Cool, then transfer everything to a blender or food processor, including all the delicious juice that will be on the pan after roasting. Add the cilantro and 1/4 cup water, then blend to a coarse puree. Scoop into a serving dish. Rinse the onion under cold water, then shake to remove excess moisture.  Stir into the salsa and season with salt, usually 1/2 teaspoon.