Sesame Street

If I remembered being a toddler, I’d probably recall a few instances of frustration when things didn’t go right – like when I couldn’t figure out for the life of me what letter came after Q in the alphabet, and damn that song because it didn’t always help, either. I’d remember not being able to fit the plastic red square into the oddly shaped “toy”.

I’d remember wanting Bugsy, our albino Siamese kitten, to love me so badly that I’d just pick him up and squeeze him to pieces, dragging him across that shaggy yellow carpet like a rag doll, until one day he scratched the side of my face off. Okay, that’s a little of an exaggeration, but nonetheless Bugsy ‘disappeared’ shortly after that incident and I still feel a little guilty about that.

Being a toddler isn’t much different than being an adult, in a lot of ways. We screw a lot of shit up and smile afterwards, hoping our cuteness makes it go away (that worked better then than it does now). We throw tantrums here and there when things don’t go our way, and sometimes we look back on those incidents and laugh, but sometimes we just shake our heads in disbelief. We get excited about the little things, and sometimes the big picture escapes us.

Occasionally, great ideas aren’t always as well-executed in practice as they were in theory. But often, trying again (and sometimes again and again and again) leads to success.

But being a toddler was so much easier than being an adult, wasn’t it? If only we all had someone bigger than us, wiser than us, more adult than us, to make all those big choices in the big people world. Like what retirement fund to choose, or whether to bring an umbrella to work today, or what to tell the crying patient in your office, or how to get the damn trash people to just take our freaking box that’s been sitting outside all weekend.

Or how to cook soba noodles. Yeah, seriously. How to boil water, open a package, dump the dried buckwheat sticks into said boiling water, wait 5 minutes, and drain the now-soft noodles, and rinse them in cool water afterwards. You wouldn’t think it’d be that hard, wouldja?

But a couple of weeks ago, it was. I missed a c-rucial step.  You see, the buckwheat noodles were divided into three groups, each tied together by a thin strip of paper the same color as the noodles (translation – I didn’t see them). The water boiled, the package was opened, and the sticks were dumped into the water, but the paper ties caused a minor problem: the noodles didn’t separate, causing three large chunks of glop, and realizing this error right after dumping the noodles into the water was just 1 second too late, and past the point of no return. Some penne in the pantry saved the day, but all the while I knew this dish needed to be right, and it wasn’t.

So I put on my big girl pants, I procured another package of noodles and tofu along with more sesame seeds, I swallowed my pride, and I tried again. And man, am I glad I did. Admitting defeat and trying again is so grown up, don’t ya think?

Black Sesame Otsu
adapted, barely, from Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson; serves 4

okay, I have a new cookbook addiction, which doesn’t happen often. and to you carnivores out there, I am sorry to report that I am again tossing another tofu recipe onto this site. I promise a meat-heavy dish is in your future. but for now, i am really happy about soba noodles, black sesame seeds, and tofu. I probably could have eaten the paste all by itself, actually.

printable version

time commitment: 30 minutes

1 t pine nuts
1 t sunflower seeds
1/2 c black sesame seeds
1 1/2 T natural cane sugar
1 1/2 T soy sauce
1 1/2 t mirin
1 t toasted sesame oil
2 T brown rice vinegar
1/8 t cayenne pepper
Fine-grain sea salt
1 package organic soba noodles
1 package extra-firm tofu
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 bunch green onions, white and light green parts, thinly sliced

Cut the tofu into thin, bite-sized pieces. Put on a towel-lined plate and let sit out to release some of the moisture.

Toast the pine nuts and sunflower seeds in a large skillet over medium heat until golden, shaking the pan regularly. Add the sesame seeds to the pan and toast for a minute or so. Remove from the heat as soon as you smell a hint of toasted sesame. Transfer to a mortar and pestle and crush the mixture; the texture should be like black sand. Stir in the sugar, shoyu, mirin, sesame oil, brown rice vinegar, and cayenne pepper. Taste and adjust if needed.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the soba, and cook according to the package instructions until tender. Drain, reserving some of the noodle cooking water, and rinse under cold running water.

While the noodles are cooking, season the tofu with a pinch of salt, toss with a small amount of oil, and cook in a large skillet over medium-high heat for a few minutes, tossing every couple minutes, until the pieces are browned on all sides.

Reserve a heaping tablespoon of the sesame paste, then thin the rest with 1/3 cup of the hot noodle water. In a large mixing bowl, combine the soba, half of the green onions, and the black sesame paste. Toss until well combined. Add the tofu and toss again gently. Serve topped with a tiny dollop of the reserved sesame paste and the remaining green onions.

Club Soba

Part of having a food blog means you talk about the foods you ate (or didn’t eat) as a child. Generally, that implies a certain amount of discussions involving your favorite dishes, a secret recipe, or in some cases, those dishes you still can’t seem to stomach even after almost 30 years of watching family members eat it – collards would be that dish for me, as I’ve mentioned recently, although I just might have to give them a try again, thanks to a reader’s suggestion.

Might would be the key word there…

Sometimes, I forget about all the little things I used to eat growing up, and occasionally dishes creep ever so sneakily back into existence. Dishes such as fried onions, which are not to be confused with onion rings. You see, I think of onion rings as battered and deep fried, eaten with a generous dollop of ketchup or some fat-laden dipping sauce, and they’re especially yummy with a juicy steak cooked ‘on the barbie’, if you catch my drift. Onion rings are outta this world; don’t get me wrong.

But here, I’m referring to the unbattered version. The thinly-sliced, slightly caramelized, and pan-fried in just a tad of oil type of circular onions, or shallots actually. Even better when they’re fried to a crisp, mostly black and crunchy, still sweet and juicy in the middle.

Now, growing up these onions were not served over a bed of Asian-flavored soba noodles and centered between lime-marinated shrimp. But hence my point – the onions were what really did it for me in this dish, and for the longest time I couldn’t put my finger on why, but then it hit me. I remembered those slippery caramelized onions, some soft and some crispy, that my dad used to make to serve alongside dinner. Remember – he doesn’t like green veggies, so he slides in potatoes and onions when he can. I don’t complain.

And while I’m certain these onions would be nothing short of remarkable without the accompaniments, the shrimps and noodles aren’t half bad either. Soba noodles, made from buckwheat flour (which is gluten-free and has nothing to do with wheat), have a taste distinct from traditional pasta in that they’re nutty and earthy. They’re high in protein and fiber, and they love to be mixed in a bowl of soy sauce and other Asian flavors and topped with these crunchy shallots and garlic, not to mention the shrimpies.

Ever tried soba noodles? Have a favorite soba dish? Share away :)!

Soba Noodles w/ Shrimp & Crispy Shallots
Adapted, from Food & Wine, March 2010; serves 4

a perfectly healthy dish for a weeknight dinner that utilizes a sometimes-forgotten noodle and those scrumptious fried shallots and crisp garlic.

printable version 

6 ounces soba noodles (Eden Organic, preferably)
1/4 c sunflower oil (or canola)
3 T low-sodium soy sauce*
3 T tamari*
1 t agave syrup
2 large shallots, thinly sliced and separated into rings
6 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 lime, juiced and zested
1 lb large shrimp, shelled and deveined
2 scallions, finely chopped
1/4 c chopped cilantro
1/2 t crushed red pepper
Lime wedges, for serving

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the noodles and cook, stirring, until tender, 4 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water. In a medium bowl, combine 2 tablespoons of the oil with the soy sauce, tamari and agave syrup. Add the noodles and toss.

In a skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the shallots and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until golden brown and crisp, 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the shallots to paper towels. Add the garlic to the skillet and cook over low heat until golden and crisp, 2 minutes. Transfer the garlic to the paper towels.

Light a grill or preheat a grill pan. In a bowl, combine the lime zest and juice with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Stir in the shrimp and season with salt. Grill the shrimp over high heat, turning once, until glazed and just white throughout, 3 minutes. {to save dish-washing, you can also saute these in the skillet you used above}

Arrange the noodles on a large platter. Sprinkle with the scallions, cilantro, crushed red pepper and the fried shallots and garlic. Arrange the shrimp on top and serve with lime wedges alongside.

*gluten-free available