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Monday, September 21, 2015

Stir-fried Vegetables and Tofu with Soba Noodles

This is an Asian mash-up. Lemongrass from Thailand, hoisin sauce from China, soba noodles from Japan. You, my dear reader, may be into authenticity but I am not. I look in my fridge, think about other things I've had or seen in recipes, and run with it. I don't believe in overly constraining this cooking thing, especially when I'm trying to clear a bunch of odds and ends out of the fridge.

Though you can use firm tofu straight out of the package, I prefer to use tofu that has been frozen and thawed. Freezing tofu changes its texture, and I like it better then fresh tofu in stir-fries.

For important tips on stir frying, check out this article.

Stir-fried Vegetables and Tofu with Soba Noodles
(serves 4-6)

1 oz. dried shiitake mushrooms
10 oz. soba (Japanese buckwheat) noodles
12 oz. firm tofu (preferably frozen and thawed), cut into 1" cubes
4 Tablespoons vegetable oil (peanut and sunflower are my favorites)
3 large cloves garlic, minced
6 scallions, cut into 1" pieces
¼ teaspoon dried lemongrass
1 large carrot, cut in half lengthwise, and thinly sliced
2 large plum tomatoes, cubed
3 cups snow peas or green beans
6 Tablespoons hoisin sauce
3 Tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 Tablespoon cold water
½ teaspoon black pepper

Before you begin slicing and dicing, rehydrate the dried mushrooms: Cover the mushrooms with boiling water and let sit as you do the prep on all the veggies. When the mushrooms are rehydrated, remove the tough stem and slice the caps.

If using green beans, cut into 1" pieces.

Dry off the tofu, gently pressing out the moisture.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the noodles.

Heat 2 Tablespoons of oil in a large skillet or wok over high heat. Stir fry the tofu until lightly golden. Remove from wok with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add the remaining oil to the wok. Add the scallions and dried lemongrass. Cook until garlic is fragrant. Add sliced carrot. Stir fry for about 3 minutes. Add snow peas/green beans. Continue cooking for another 4 minutes, stirring frequently. While the beans are cooking, get the noodles in the boiling water. They take about 4 minutes to cook. Do not overcook.

Drain the noodles in a strainer and set aside. Add the hoisin sauce and soy sauce to the veggies. Stir to combine. Add in the fried tofu and the noodles. Toss to combine. Make a well in the center to expose the liquid at the bottom of the wok. Add the slurry of cornstarch and bring to a boil, stirring. This will thicken the sauce slightly, helping it to stick to the noodles. Season generously with black pepper and serve hot.

Good as a leftover though the noodles will have a softer texture after reheating.

Photo credit: By FotoosVanRobin (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, September 18, 2015

Red Cabbage plus more Red Stuff

Red cabbage makes me think of fall, and with falling temperatures here in Colorado, my mind is coming around to approaching nippy weather. Red cabbage has an affinity for apples, one of the best fall crops around. So, why not combine a bunch of red things: red cabbage, red apples, and red onion? This sweet and sour cabbage recipe isn't anything particularly new, but I have toned down both the sweet and the sour. Too many sweet and sour recipes are far too sweet for me. If you take down the sweet, you need to tone down the sour too, or the flavors get out of balance.

The long cooking is necessary for 2 reasons:
  1. It takes quite a while for the cabbage to cook to tender. Traditionally, this type of cabbage is cooked under very tender.
  2. The allspice is an aggressive spice and the long cooking mellows it. 

Red X 3 - Red Cabbage with Red Apples and Red Onion
(serves 6-8)

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil (I like sunflower oil)
1 medium red onion, peeled and sliced
½ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground mace
½ medium head of red cabbage, cored and thinly shredded
1 red apple such as Fuji or Gala, cored and medium diced
2 Tablespoons cider vinegar
2 Tablespoons maple syrup or brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Heat the oil in a large covered skillet or sauté pan over medium heat. Add onions until onions are very tender. If you have the time, keep cooking until they start to brown and caramelize because they taste even better with long cooking. Stir them often so they brown evenly. Add the allspice and mace, and stir to combine.

Add the remaining ingredients. Stir to combine. Reduce heat the medium-low, cover, and cook for 30-45 minutes until cabbage is very tender. Check to see that there is still some moisture in the bottom of the pan about ½ through cooking. Add a couple of tablespoons of water if it is dry.

Photo: By Thamizhpparithi Maari (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, September 14, 2015

Cold Cucumber Buttermilk Soup

Every year, cucumber season rolls into my garden and every year I try to figure out how to use them up before they take over my refrigerator. I've cooked them (stir-fry is good and the French do a nice job too). Salads are great, of course (here's an Asian inspired one). Cold cucumber soup is always a delicious solution because cucumbers are hot season, summer vegetables and a chilled soup can be so refreshing. This soup requires absolutely no cooking at all. Just need a blender. It's really a cucumber buttermilk smoothie!

Cold Cucumber Buttermilk Soup
(serves 8)

2 scallions, white and green parts, coarsely chopped
2 pounds cucumber, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
4 cups (1 quart) low-fat buttermilk
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 ½ teaspoons sugar
1 pinch to ¼ teaspoon cayenne (adjust according to your heat tolerance)
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoon fresh lemon or lime juice
2 Tablespoons fresh mint, chopped

1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and small-diced
mint sprigs

For most blenders, you'll need to make this in 2 batches. Put 2 cups of buttermilk, ½ of the cucumber, the scallions, and all the seasonings in the blender and puree until the mixture is smooth. Pour into a large bowl. Repeat with the remaining buttermilk and cucumber. Pour this into the already blended stuff in the bowl. Mix to combine. Cover and place in the fridge for about an hour to allow the flavors to meld a bit. Taste for salt, cayenne, and black pepper. Chilled soups often need more salt because the cold mutes the seasonings. Adjust according to your taste.

To serve, pour into bowls and garnish with a little diced cucumber and a mint sprig.

Keeps in the fridge for a couple of days.