Saturday, August 25, 2012

Asian Noodle Salad

Oodles of Noodles

Why, oh why, does my cooking pot always hold more pasta than I need for one dinner? A single handful of dried pasta suddenly morphs into a huge, steaming mound. Maybe I'm subconsciously afraid of not having enough, or more likely the issue is a lack of attention when I grab that first handful of uncooked noodles. Not that an extra pile of cooked pasta is a problem, it's more like a headstart on a tasty and quick-to-fix dish. Pasta Frittata is one example, and this Asian Noodle Salad is another favorite. 

Italian frittata? Asian salad? which cuisine can claim the oldest noodle connection? and where did the noodle originate anyway? did Marco Polo really introduce pasta to Italy when he returned from his travels? Google has 4.76 million hits relating to that very question, and I personally like the notion that, "...the noodle was developed independently by different people from all parts of the world."(link)

Back to the dish at hand. The sauce and noodle base work well with a wide variety of crispy vegetables, so don't feel limited by the suggested carrots, celery and green onions. Add some julienned Napa cabbage, baby bok choy shreds, crispy bean sprouts, tiny pea pods, julienned sweet peppers... the list goes on. The crunch of raw or barely blanched vegetables provides the needed contrast to the soft, slippery sauced noodles, but it's the sauce that really shines with mixed notes of sweet, salty, sour and hot.

Add some slivers of cooked chicken and you have a main dish entree. Plate some noodle salad alongside Thai fish cakes and marinated cucumbers for a satisfying summer meal. But don't wait for a day with leftover noodles to try this salad, it rates star billing as a first-time-around preparation.

Asian Noodle Salad

Prep Time:20 min           Cook Time:15 min

1 package soba noodles (or a pile of thin pasta noodles like angel hair)

1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons seasoned rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce (or Ponzu sauce)
1 teaspoon hot chili oil
1 tablespoon mirin sauce 
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 or more tablespoons bottled Thai peanut sauce
1 small knob of fresh ginger, grated
2 garlic cloves, pressed or mashed

1 carrot, thinly sliced or julienned
2 celery stalks, thinly sliced or julienned
5 green onions, bottom 4 inches, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro leaves
3 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted, for garnish
4 tablespoons unsalted peanuts, roughly chopped, for garnish

In a medium stock pot, boil water, add salt and cook noodles until al dente, barely done. When finished, transfer to an ice water bath to cool. Drain and set aside.
In a medium bowl combine, sesame oil, vinegar, soy sauce, hot chili oil, mirin, extra-virgin olive oil, Thai peanut sauce, ginger and garlic. Mix thoroughly. Add the prepared vegetables, cilantro and noodles and toss to combine.
Garnish with sesame seeds and peanuts.

I make extra sauce to hold in the fridge for a day or two. Use it on wraps and burgers or as a meat sauce for chicken or pork.
The noodle salad will hold several days if chilled, but will need additional sauce before serving. In a pinch, just toss with additional seasoned rice wine vinegar and mirin.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Marinated Cucumber Salad: Sunomono ...sort of

Summer heat just hit and while I'm not complaining, I am decidedly less interested in spending time in the galley. It's a temporary condition, the weather and my lack of energy, but luckily we enjoy a variety of no-cook dishes that take almost no effort to prepare. Cucumber salad is one of those favorites.

This is a versatile summer salad, or side dish, or even sandwich condiment, perfect for those days when it's just too hot to cook. Not that I cook many salads, but you get the idea. Delicious with just cukes, onions and seasoned rice wine vinegar, this dish can complement almost any entree flavorwise. Add some soy sauce, sesame oil and ginger to the vinegar, top it with sesame seeds and nori and presto! it's more Asian in character. Pair it with a serving of seaweed salad (wakame) and take the Asian connection a step further. 

Deceptively simple, the salad balances the cool crunch of the cukes, the bite from the pepper and vinegar and the sweetness of sugar so that every bite bursts with flavor. What more can you ask of a simple vegetable dish?

Marinated Cucumber Salad

1 large English cucumber, sliced paper thin, crosswise
1/2 small white onion, very thinly sliced into half moons
1/4 cup seasoned rice wine vinegar
   OR 1/4 cup plain rice wine vinegar + 2 tsp sugar and 1 tsp salt
a few grinds of black pepper

a dash each of soy sauce and sesame oil (optional)

1 tsp minced or grated fresh ginger root (optional)

1 tsp toasted white sesame seeds (optional topping)

1 tsp shredded Nori (optional topping)

Combine all ingredients in a glass or ceramic bowl and mix well. Refrigerate for least 1 hour before serving. 

Adjust the flavor with any or all of the suggested optional flavorings - or come up with some of your own add-in ideas.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Jam and Wine Sauce with Rosemary

Sometimes plain, unadorned pork chops or lamb chops won't do, and when I'm short on time it's a treat to grab a container of sauce from the refrigerator or freezer to liven up the taste. It's also a treat to finally use several of the semi-filled jars and bottles that clutter up the fridge and free-up some space for real food.

This week I scanned the refrigerator shelves and wondered where all of those little partially-filled jars and bottles had come from? When did they arrive? No doubt it was long ago, when my back was turned or I had stepped out of the galley, or they were beamed up from a parallel universe. And what do I with them? I'm too frugal to casually toss them away, though it's a tempting thought. The recent collection included several jars of jam, a variety of flavors that I didn't even remember sampling. No problem, those jars with their little dabs of jam add amazing flavor to a simple wine sauce and glaze for chops. Even better news, the sauce keeps well when chilled or frozen. The wine? I used the last bit from a container of Black Box Merlot, though I must admit leftover wine isn't a big problem around here.

Oops! forgot to crumble the dried rosemary so the sauce will be crunchy

Jam and Wine Sauce with Rosemary: 
the base recipe with my recent adjustments noted in red italics

1½ cups dry red wine (merlot)
1½ cups cherry jam (15 oz) or a mixture of fruit jams 
½ cup raspberry vinegar or a cider vinegar and seasoned rice vinegar mix
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves,
or 2 teaspoons dried rosemary, crumbled - this is important, whole leaves are unpleasant to chew and stick between your teeth
¼ teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
¼ cup thinly sliced green onions, white & green parts

For the sauce:
Use a 10 or 12-inch frying pan over high heat; bring wine, jam, vinegar, rosemary and pepper to a boil. Stir often until reduced to a scant 2 cups. This will take 10 to 20 minutes. Stir in the green onion slices.
Let sauce cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes. Pour equal portions into 2 microwave-safe containers, about 1 - 2 cup size. Seal and freeze or use immediately.
To thaw, loosen lid on one container of sauce, but leave loosely in place on top of the container. Cook in a microwave at full 100% power, stir occasionally, until thawed (2 or 3 minutes).

To use as a pan sauce or glaze with meat:
Pan sauté pork or lamb chops in 2-teaspoons of olive oil or a butter and olive oil blend in a 12 or 14” frying pan over medium-high heat. Brown chops on both sides, keeping the center pink, about 5-6 minutes total. Remove to warmed plates and keep warm.
Discard fat from the pan but keep any browned bits. Pour a container of Jam and Wine Sauce into the pan and stir over high heat, scraping up the fond, until heated through and reduced further to desired consistency. (1 to 3 minutes)
Spoon equally over or around meat, or dip chops in sauce and serve additional sauce on the side. Season to taste with salt.

Note: Recently served over pork pieces with accompanying coconut rice and green salad with nuts and red grapes. Two thumbs up.

Update January 4, 2013
This jam has been delicious as a topping for savory Cheese Wafers (link) and Parmesan Puffs (link). It's just sweet enough to balance the flavor of cheese and the bite of pepper - sweet but not too sweet.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Lime and Thai Chili Prawns

Prawns, Prawns and More Prawns (or shrimp perhaps)

Prawning used to be considered hard work, but it’s easier and considerably more fun now that we have a pot puller. (link) An empty prawn trap doesn’t weigh all that much, but when lowered 300 to 400 feet underwater at the end of a sinking line, well it grows a lot heavier. Believe it! Add the drag from a single 24-inch sunstar (multi-armed starfish) and it feels like you are pulling a barn door through heavy, sticky mud when you retrieve the pot. Even without a starfish, a good catch of prawns requires major muscle effort, and that’s just the first pot! Now the motorized pot puller supplies mechanical muscle and saves ours.

But I just run the skiff and let the Capt have fun pulling the prawn traps. Then it’s my job to pinch their little heads off, clean them, separate them by size and finally cook the catch.

Photo: a typical lunch of just-cooked prawns and green salad
Peel-and-eat is a typical use for the smaller shrimp, or they might fill a taco or quesadilla, flavor a soup or bisque, add interest to a pasta dish or decorate a salad (think Shrimp Louis). Very large prawns deserve something a bit more special, a preparation to complement their natural flavor without overwhelming it.

This week we enjoyed a new recipe, a tangy combination of prawns, lime and Thai sweet chili sauce. What was so special about prawns and sauce? Sweet heat with a bit of sour plus just-harvested seafood – now that's a winner! It also took mere minutes to prepare once the prawns were cleaned, and that's always a bonus.

Prawns with Lime and Sweet Chili
Adapted from The Essential Seafood Cookbook

Serves 3-4

24 extra large prawns/shrimp
2 cloves garlic, crushed (or use garlic paste)
2 tablespoons Thai sweet chili sauce
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 green onions, chopped (use green and white sections)
grated lime zest (as desired)

Remove heads and peel 24 very large raw prawns/shrimp, cut in half lengthwise and devein.(see note below if using smaller shrimp)

Combine crushed garlic cloves, Thai sweet chili sauce, lime juice and olive oil.

Add the prawns to the marinade and toss well to coat . Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Remove the prawns; barbecue, grill or sauté until just cooked through, brushing with some of the remaining marinade. If pan sautéing, add remaining sauce just before prawns completely finish.

Top with minced green onions and a sprinkle of grated lime zest.

Note: if using large or even medium prawns use them whole. Don’t bother halving the smaller ones lengthwise or they might cook too quickly. 

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