Many recipes claim to be quick and easy, but few live up to expectations.
With the craziness of the holiday season, I’ve been wanting–and needing—quick-to-pull-together lunches. Given the choice, I prefer not to have cold lunches so sandwiches or salads are out. In the end, I usually have leftovers or cook something easy.
When Stephanie Stiavetti sent me her just-released cookbook co-authored with Garrett McCord, Melt—The Art of Macaroni and Cheese (Little, Brown & Company, November, 2013), I was blown away by the gorgeous photography and creative mac and cheese combinations.
While flipping through the book, I came across a recipe that called for soba, Brussels sprouts and parmesan. It sounds like an odd combo, but if you’re an eclectic cook like me, you probably have these ingredients sitting right in your pantry. The recipe was oh-so brief and simple; I was sold!
I did tweak the recipe a little, using frozen Brussels sprouts instead of fresh ones and the dish came together in barely 15 minutes. Now the true test—did it taste good? Given its simplicity, I was astonished at how tasty it was—the bittersweet sprouts played very nicely with the salty Parmesan and the chewy soba bundled the flavors together well.
This recipe is a winner on so many levels: it satisfies, uses few, easily available ingredients, and is indeed a 15-minute meal.
Soba with Parmesan and Pan Fried Brussels Sprouts
Adapted from Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese by Stephanie Stiavetti and Garrett McCord
The original recipe uses fresh Brussels sprouts but I had frozen ones in the freezer. They added to the brevity of cooking time. If you do use fresh, be sure to remove the stems and outer leaves. Halve them and blanche them for quicker cooking. Wholewheat spaghetti would be an excellent substitute for the soba.
Makes: 2 entree servings
Time: 15 minutes
8 ounces frozen petite Brussels sprouts (about 20)
2 bundles soba (about 6-8 ounces)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Fine sea salt
Coarsely ground black pepper
Chili flakes (optional)
2 garlic cloves, minced
Finely grated Parmesan
Thaw/cook the Brussels sprouts in the microwave on high for about 4 minutes. Drain excess water.
Meanwhile, prepare the soba per the manufacturer’s instructions. Once they are cooked, immediately drain and rinse under cool water for a moment, drain again, and then toss with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Do this regardless of what the noodle instructions say at that point, as some may instruct you not to add oil. Set aside.
Place the remaining tablepoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot and shimmering, add the Brussels sprouts. Season with salt, pepper, and chili flakes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sprouts start to turn golden brown, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Toss the soba in the hot pan for about 30 seconds. Remove from the heat and add an extra glug of oil, if you desire. Plate and shower liberally with Parmesan. Serve immediately.
**Disclaimer: Melt was gifted to me by Stephanie Stiavetti but I think this is a great recipe and it’s a great book!**
My mum loved to throw parties—big ones, small ones, medium ones–and there was always one constant: good food, and lots of it.
Cooking for company often meant days of prep and a kitchen bustling with activity morning till evening. Ma would grind spice pastes for dishes like beef rendang or pork satay. She’d braise turmeric-spiced chicken for hours on the stovetop ahead of the next step–deep-frying them the day of the party (yes, the chicken was cooked twice!). And I, as soon as I could fold neat corners, was roped in to roll lumpia (fried spring rolls) by the dozens. Ma never skimped when it came to entertaining family and friends.
We also had friends over on an ad-hoc basis; neighbors, schoolmates, church friends, etc. came by our house weekly. On these occasions, Ma would make an all-in-one noodle meal. Prep was quick and easy and everyone could serve themselves. Her noodle repertoire ran along these lines: bakmi (egg noodles topped with pork and mushrooms), soto daging (noodles with beef and lemongrass soup), and Indonesian laksa (rice vermicelli noodles doused in a coconut-chicken-turmeric soup).
I recently discovered a Thai noodle dish similar to Ma’s laksa and immediately fell in love with it. With the help of store-bought red curry paste, khao soi is fairly easy to make for dinner guests and tongue-tingly delicious! Because each noodle bowl is customizable, even kids can enjoy it (just start with a mild curry paste). And no one would guess it only takes 30 minutes to prepare.
This is my kind of entertaining.
Thai Red Curry Noodles (Khao Soi)
Khao soi is a popular Northern Thai dish with cousins in Burma (ohn-no-kauk-swe) and Singapore (laksa). A tangle of fried noodles and a squeeze of lime liven up the party, creating a tasty mélange of sweet, sour, salty flavors and lovely contrasting textures. If you’re serving a larger crowd, this recipe is easily doubled or tripled. You can also choose to lay out all the ingredients on the table and let your guests serve themselves.
Time: 30 minutes
Makes: 4 to 6 servings, depending on appetites
Red Curry Gravy
2 tablespoons canola oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots or 1/2 small red onion, chopped
4 tablespoons red curry paste (I recommend Mae Ploy or Thai Kitchen brands)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
2 cups coconut milk, divided
2 cups chicken stock
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
12 ounces dried or 2 pounds fresh egg noodles (Chinese or Italian are fine)
1 cup shredded cooked chicken
2 cups store-bought fried noodles (like La Choy brand)
1/2 small red or white onion, sliced thinly
Chopped green onions
2 limes, cut into wedges
Crushed chili flakes
Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a heavy bottomed pot until it shimmers. Add the garlic and shallots and stir and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the red curry paste and turmeric and stir and cook until the paste turns a few shades darker and fills your kitchen with a pungent aroma, 2 to 3 minutes. Watch it carefully so it doesn’t burn.
Slowly pour in 1 cup coconut milk, stirring to blend, and cook until the sauce bubbles. Let it bubble gently over medium-high heat, stirring often, until a layer of red oil separates from the sauce and rises to the surface, about 3 minutes. Stir in the second cup of coconut milk and repeat the process of waiting for the oil to separate.
Pour in the stock and bring the sauce to a gentle boil over medium-high heat before reducing the heat to a simmer. Add the soy sauce and sugar and taste. The curry should taste a bit too salty (it will balance out when ladled over the noodles) and a tad sweet, with some heat to it. Add more soy sauce if necessary (this will depend on how salty your stock is). Keep the curry warm over low heat.
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Cook the noodles according to package directions. Stir the noodles as they cook to loosen them and prevent sticking. Drain in a colander and rinse with cold water.
To serve, divide the noodles and chicken into 4 to 6 individual bowls. Ladle about 3/4 cup of curry over each bowl. Garnish with fried noodles, onions, cilantro, and green onions as desired. Serve with the lime wedges, and extra soy sauce and chili flakes in little dishes.
Today’s post is part of the monthly Let’s Lunch Twitter blogger potluck and we’re featuring food that’s shared with family and friends in honor of fellow Let’s Luncher Lisa Goldberg’s book Monday Morning Cooking Club (HarperCollins; Reprint edition, September 17, 2013) which just launched its U.S. edition.
For more Let’s Lunch posts, follow #LetsLunch on Twitter or visit my fellow bloggers below:
Lisa’s No Ordinary Meatloaf at Monday Morning Cooking Club
Anne Marie’s Almond Cheesecake Sammy Bites at Sandwich Surprise
Betty Anne’s Sisig Rice, Spicy Pork Belly and Garlic Rice at Asian in America Mag
Eleanor’s Surf and Turf at Wokstar
Grace’s Zha Jiang Mien at HapaMama
Jill’s Homemade Corned Beef at Eating My Words
Linda’s Vegan Pumpkin Pie at Spicebox Travels
Lucy’s Sweet Potatoes with Cane Syrup at A Cook and Her Books
Food is universal. And whether in Beijing or in Paris, food writer and book author Ann Mah shows us that food can forge connections and food can be a lifeline.
Ann’s debut novel Kitchen Chinese was loosely based on her time in Beijing. Now, her new memoir Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love From a Year in Paris (Pamela Dorman Books, September 2013) reflects her experiences living in the city of her (and many a Francophile’s) dreams, Paris.
The wife of a U.S. diplomat, Ann’s dream comes true when her husband lands a plum posting in Paris. Unfortunately, her dream is put on hold when her husband is sent to Iraq for a year and she has to fend for herself in a new country with nary a support system in place.
Living in a foreign country is never easy. When Ann lived in China, she found herself under scrutiny because she looked like everyone else but she identified with being American. In France, she grapples with the language, deals with the awkwardness of adapting to local customs, faces the challenge of meeting new people, and above all she nurses her longing for her husband.
Not one to wallow in her loneliness (at least not for too long!), Ann devises a plan to distract herself and so begins her investigation into the history and origins behind French favorites like steak frites, cassoulet and boeuf Bourgignon. Through her travels to regions all over the country–Brittany, Alsace, Savoie, etc.–Ann slowly overcomes these hurdles as she meets fascinating people and learns to make herself at home in her adopted country.
Just like its title, Ann’s book is chock full of lessons about food and love. Plus, the stories she regales us with—whether she’s making soupe au pistou with a group of gossipy, middle-aged women or learning the process behind the true cheese used in traditional French fondue (hint: it’s not Gruyère!)—are a delight for both the avid, and the armchair, traveler.
I’ve asked Ann to share some thoughts about her lovely book and her publisher Viking/Penguin is graciously giving away a copy. All you have to do is leave a comment about a favorite regional dish you’ve had while traveling (in another country, in another state, doesn’t matter!) and I’ll randomly pick a winner!
Pat: Your feelings of being apart from your husband really resonated with me and this beautiful book came about because of that separation. Loneliness often pushes us to do things we wouldn’t otherwise think of doing if we were in a comfortable place. Do you think it would have happened if he hadn’t gone to Iraq? If you had a choice, would you do it all over again?
Ann: This book grew out of the year I spent alone in Paris and I don’t think it would have happened if my husband hadn’t gone to Iraq. So, yes, there was a major silver lining to the experience. That being said, as much as I loved writing and researching this book, I wouldn’t choose to be separated from my husband again, especially now that we have a baby daughter.
Pat: You lived in Beijing and then in Paris. Would you say there were similarities in your experiences in the two countries although they are wildly different?
Ann: I think there were more similarities than differences — I loved exploring the regional cuisines of both places — and I noticed that both are quite fond of tripe! In both China and France, I was very grateful to be able to speak the language.
Pat: History and culture are clearly important to you as is evidenced in your book. Each dish in each chapter is painstakingly researched. How did you go about it? How did you find all your subjects to talk to and interview?
Ann: My favorite thing about traveling in France is discovering the connection between place, culture, history and food. I love the way a recipe can grow from the land and be cooked for centuries. I was able to connect with local chefs, home cooks, bean farmers (and more!) via friends and acquaintances — and also via my secret weapon, the local tourist office. French people are very proud of their region (justifiably so!) and eager to share what makes it special.
Pat: You speak Mandarin and then you picked up French quite quickly before you headed to Paris. What was it like learning a new language as an adult? Did knowing the language help with adapting to the local culture and making friends?
Ann: I always wanted to speak French so studying it was a labor of love. I think that’s half the battle in learning to speak a new language. My ability to speak French was invaluable in meeting people and discovering the local cuisine, especially in rural France where very few people speak English.
Pat: You write about all the different dishes with equal passion (even andouillette which you professed not to like). Did you have a favorite?
Ann: I love all the dishes in the book (even andouillette, which I love in theory, if not in taste). My favorite dishes in the book are the ones that were made for me by home cooks — crêpes in Brittany, soupe au Pistou in Provence, and choucroute garnie in Alsace. Granny’s version is always the best, of course!
Pat: What’s it like to be a diplomat’s wife … really?
Ann: I don’t know any other type of marriage, but I suspect being a diplomat’s wife is like being anyone’s spouse — there are ups and downs and lots of compromise. And the added bonus: lots of adventure — and an intimate familiarity with moving boxes and packing tape!
Don’t forget to leave a comment about a favorite regional dish you had while traveling for a chance to win a copy of Mastering the Art of French Eating! Last day to enter: Wednesday, November 6, 2013.
(This giveaway is open to residents of the U.S. and Canada)
Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of Ann’s book to review but I am writing about it because I truly love it!
I’ve been on a meatball kick lately, which is a little strange since I’m not a huge meat-eater. Maybe it’s the cooler weather. Maybe it’s all the spaghetti and meatball recipes I keep seeing. Who knows?
That being said, I didn’t want my meatballs to be too stodgy so I decided to lighten them up.
Scouring the Web and my cookbooks, I found suggestions for using extra fillers (breadcrumbs, oats, rice), adding beans, hiding veggies in the meatballs, etc. Then it came to me: why not add tofu just like the Japanese hamburger recipe in my cookbook (pg. 153).
After experimenting with ingredients and proportions, I first tossed the resulting meatballs into my favorite tomato sauce with spaghetti. My husband and son gobbled dinner up none the wiser!
About a year ago, my friend Jill O’Oconnor interviewed me for an article she wrote for the San Diego Union Tribune about Asian ingredients. We had talked about various ways to use Asian ingredients in very American recipes and she developed a recipe for Asian Turkey Meatballs with Honey-Tamarind-Chili BBQ Sauce.
Inspired by Jill, I decided to tweak her sauce and came up with my own sweet, sour, and spicy version.
Asian Meatballs with Sweet and Spicy Tamarind Sauce
These half-tofu-half-pork meatballs are awesome as party appetizers. I’d make several batches because they will go fast, especially when chased with a cocktail or beer. They’re that good. And your guests will never know they’re made with–gasp–tofu!
Time: 45 minutes
Makes: 30 1-inch meatballs
7 ounces firm or medium-firm tofu
1 pound 4 ounces ground pork, turkey, or beef (not super-lean please!)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons chopped green onions (1 stalk)
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Line two baking sheets with foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray.
Place the tofu in a non-terry dish towel or sturdy paper towel. Over the sink, wring out as much excess liquid as possible. Do this a few times until the tofu is dry and crumbly.
In a medium bowl, combine the tofu, ground pork, soy sauce, green onions, cilantro, sea salt, black pepper, and mix until smooth. Hint: use your hands! I like to microwave a little of the mixture and taste it to see if it needs any more seasoning.
Roll into 1-inch balls and place them on the prepared baking sheets about an inch apart.
Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes, until the meatballs are golden and cooked through. Toss cooked meatballs with warm sauce and serve.
Sweet and Spicy Tamarind Sauce
Makes about 3/4 cup of sauce
1/3 cup wet tamarind (about 3 ounces)
3/4 cup water
2 cloves garlic, minced finely
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger (About 1-inch chunk ginger, peeled and grated)
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons palm sugar (or light brown sugar)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 to 3 teaspoons sambal oelek (chili paste)
In a medium saucepan, combine the tamarind paste with water. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat and stir until the paste softens into a thick puree. Add the ginger, garlic, sugar, soy sauce, and chili paste. Keep stirring to prevent the sauce from burning or sticking, until the sauce becomes thick and sticky, about 10 minutes. Press this mixture through a fine sieve into a large bowl or deep dish to remove any solids. Gently toss the cooked meatballs in the warm sauce.
This sauce can also be made a few days ahead of serving and reheated when needed.
- Asian Meatballs with Sweet and Sour (GAPS/Paleo) (thesourpathisthesweetest.com)
- The Vietnamese Meatballs At ShopHouse Are Crazy Delicious (Lucky Peach Magazine: Not So Much) (arugulafiles.typepad.com)
- Asian Inspired Turkey Meatballs w/ Rice Noodles (haven-int.org)
When my husband was deployed for one year last year, he was entitled to a two-week R&R (rest and relaxation) trip which meant the military would fly him anywhere in the world. Many choose to go home but we decided to entrust Isaac to the grandparents and rendezvous in Vietnam.
My trip from Seattle took about 17 hours. His, two days. But that’s beside the point.
Because this is meant to be a brief post–we are moving yet again, but at least it’s only across town this time!—I’ll get to the point. One of my favorite experiences on that trip was a cooking class at the Morning Glory Cooking School in the picturesque town of Hoi An along the central Vietnam coast. I wrote about it here.
And this gorgeous mango salad is testimony to it. Every time, I make it–and it’s quite often–I think of the blissful (and childless) two weeks my husband and I spent in Vietnam, lovers without a care in the world, taking comfort in each other and in the moment that was now.
Hoi An Mango Salad
Adapted from The Morning Glory Cookbook by Trinh Diem Vy
The key to this vibrant salad is selecting a mango in the right stage of under-ripeness—you want mango slices that are slightly tart and still have some crunch (I don’t like them too sour though). Don’t focus on color as it’s not the best indicator of ripeness. Squeeze the mango gently and it should give ever so slightly but not too much. If it’s too squishy, the mango will be too sweet and mushy, and is better eaten out of hand. The breed of mango doesn’t matter as much–Ataulfo, Tommy Atkins, Kent, any of these will do.
Time: 20 minutes
Makes: 4 to 6 appetizer servings
1 medium (about 13 ounces) underripe mango
1 teaspoon chili paste
1 small clove garlic
2 teaspoons sugar (palm or white are fine)
2 teaspoons roasted sesame seeds
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon lime juice (1 key lime)
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 small onion, sliced and soaked in water to remove its bite (about 1 cup)
1 ½ cups Vietnamese mint (rau ram or laksa leaf) and mint leaves
2 tablespoons fried shallots
Peel the mango with a vegetable peeler or sharp paring knife. Hold the mango firmly down on the chopping board (or in one hand if you are comfortable) and use a paring knife to make vertical incisions down the mango from stem-end to tip, about half-an-inch apart. Do this on both sides of the seed.
With the vegetable peeler (or the nifty knife below), “peel” strips of mango away from you.
In a mortar and pestle, grind the chili paste and garlic together. Place the chili-garlic paste in a large bowl and add the sugar, 1 teaspoon roasted sesame seeds, vegetable oil, lime juice, and fish sauce. Mix well.
Add the shredded mango, onion, half the mint leaves and toss until the ingredients are well coated with dressing.
Turn onto a serving tray and garnish with remaining mint leaves, sesame seeds and fried shallots.
My earliest memory of eating vegetables involves my mother chasing me around the living room balancing a plateful of stir-fried spinach and rice in one hand, and desperately trying to shove dinner spoonful-by-spoonful past my uncooperative lips with the other.
I must admit I’ve come a long way since then. In fact, I even consider myself a flexitarian, preferring a larger portion of vegetables to meat (which, by the way, is the Asian way).
I’ve come to love previously abhorred greens such as ladies finger (okra), mustard cabbage, and choy sum (Chinese flowering cabbage). Even spinach, my childhood nemesis, tastes sweet on my adult tongue!
The trick, I’ve learned, is to select the freshest specimens you can find, and to cook the vegetables well. This means no wilty leaves, or brown, mushy spots on your bok choy. And heaven forbid you should overcook your broccoli! These tactics are even more important now that I have a child. As many a parent has come to realize, little people are the most persnickety of vegetable eaters.
I have some tips to offer any mom or spouse with a veggie-cynic on their hands, none of which involve hiding zucchini or Brussels sprouts (a technique I don’t quite approve of). However, I don’t disapprove of embellishing with ingredients that will make vegetables more palatable for naysayers big and small.
1. Roasting can make even the most banal of vegetables as addictive as candy (just think of the roasted kale chips craze). Roasting turns kale, cauliflower, broccoli crisp and crunchy and concentrates their sweetness through caramelization.
2. Pickling vegetables is another great way to get them to slide easily down your child’s throat. My son devours pickled cucumbers and carrots by the bushel.
3. Experiment with umami-laden ingredients like oyster sauce, soy sauce, fish sauce, miso, anchovies, and pickled veggies to amp up the flavor in a salad or stirfry. (My recipe below uses both soy sauce and pickled radish). And trust me, sambal terasi/belacan (shrimp paste and chilies) can transform ho-hum spinach into yum-yum!
4. Toss vegetables like cauliflower, eggplant, okra into curry and they will soak up all that tasty goodness.
5. If all else fails, add bacon.
6. Oh, and here’s one more suggestion: buy Joe Yonan’s latest book, titled coincidentally, Eat Your Vegetables.
What’s your secret trick or dish that has been known to win over the most hardened of vegetable-haters? Please share below!
Haricots Verts with Preserved Radish
Haricots verts and preserved radish are an unlikely combination but this dish is a hit with both my 3-year-old son and husband. Read: there are never any leftovers! I adapted this recipe from Steamy Kitchen’s green bean stir-fry recipe. On a whim, I used haricots verts, also called filet beans, the green bean’s slender French cousin (crikey, even their veggies are skinnier!). These beans are very tender and “beanier” in flavor when young but can turn tough if allowed to mature.
As for the preserved radish, you can buy either the sweet or salted kind at the Asian market—it will say on the bag. It doesn’t make too much of a difference as both are preserved with salt and sugar. I know it’s a big bag but you’ll use it up in no time in pad Thai, omelets and numerous stirfries! If you can’t find preserved salted radish, use more garlic or add some chopped shallots.
Time: 15 minutes
Makes: 4 to 6 servings as part of a multicourse, family meal
1 pound haricots verts, trimmed
1/8 cup preserved salted radish
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/8 teaspoon sugar
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the haricots verts and parboil until crisp-tender, 4 to 5 minutes. (You can also microwave (3 to 4 minutes) or steam them for the same amount of time.) Don’t overcook as you will be stirfrying them later. Drain in a colander and rinse under cold running water.
While the beans are cooking, soak the preserved radish in a small bowl of water for a couple of minutes to get the excess salt off. Squeeze them dry then mince.
Swirl the oil into a large wok or skillet and heat over high heat until it starts to shimmer. Add the preserved radish and garlic and stir and cook until the garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute. Toss in the cooked haricots verts and drizzle with soy sauce and sesame oil. Sprinkle the sugar and stir and cook until the beans are coated with sauce and heated through. Serve immediately with hot cooked rice and/or a main dish.
This post is part of the monthly Let’s Lunch Twitter blogger potluck. This month, we celebrate the launch of Washington Post food and travel editor, and fellow Let’s Luncher, Joe Yonan’s latest cookbook, Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook (Ten Speed Press, August 6, 20123).
For more Let’s Lunch veggie-centric posts, follow #LetsLunch on Twitter or visit my fellow bloggers below:
Annabelle‘s Farmer’s Market Gazpacho at Glass of Fancy
Cheryl‘s Egg-Drop Broccoli with Ginger-Miso Gravy at A Tiger in the Kitchen
Eleanor‘s Green Beans Two Ways at Wok Star
Grace‘s Vegetable Tempura at HapaMama
Jill‘s Fusilli with Corn Sauce at Eating My Words
Joe‘s Guaca-Chi at Joe Yonan
Linda‘s Chocolate-Zucchini Twinkies at Free Range Cookies
Linda‘s Gateway Brussels Sprouts at Spicebox Travels
Lisa‘s Totally “Free” Veggie Soup at Monday Morning Cooking Club
Vivian‘s Kangkong (Water Spinach) with Fermented Beancurd, Chili and Garlic at Vivian Pei
What’s your secret trick or dish that has been known to win over the most hardened of vegetable-haters?