July 24, 2014

Norwegian Wood + Wood Ear Noodle Recipe

Midori's cooking was far better than I had imagined it would be, an amazing assortment of fried, pickled, boiled, and roasted dishes using eggs, mackerel, fresh greens, eggplant, mushrooms, radishes, and sesame seeds, all done in the delicate Kyoto style.
"This is great,' I said with my mouth full.
'O.K., tell me the truth now,' Midori said. 'You weren't expecting my cooking to be very good, were you—judging from my looks.'
'I guess not,' I said honestly.
Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami
Doesn't that meal sound amazing? I would love to have Midori cook for me every day. But this passage also brings up another important consideration: Do we judge cooks by their looks? And should we?

We've all heard the saying, "Never trust a skinny chef." But my parents aren't hefty people, and they're two of the best chefs I know. So no, I do not judge a cook by his or her BMI. Instead, I take note of the way they talk about food. Do their eyes light up? Do they get breathless and start talking in run-on sentences about their favorite type of doughnut? Do they carefully lift strawberries to their noses in order to sniff out the best box?

These things, I think, are good indications that someone is a good chef.

Speaking of looks, what's this funny looking thing on the left?

Wood ear mushrooms! And indeed, they do look like trees' ears, if trees had ears. A package of these dried fungi will last you for ages. One of my favorite ways to prepare them is with noodles...specifically, bean thread noodles (also known as glass noodles, made from mung bean). Besides their soft, delicious texture, what's cool about these noodles is that they're gluten-free.

Available for purchase in Asian grocery stores and at Whole Foods, all you have to do to prepare cellophane noodles is soak them in water for about 30 minutes before stir-frying. You also need to soak the wood ear mushrooms before cooking them.

My parents always stir-fry this kind of noodle with shredded cabbage, and sometimes shrimp or some other protein. This recipe is infinitely adaptable to your tastes. I happened to make mine with wood ear mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, cabbage and scallions because that's what I had on hand at the time.

Improvise, and enjoy!

Norwegian Wood-Inspired Wood Ear & Cellophane Noodles
handful of wood ear mushrooms
handful of dried shiitake mushrooms
3 bundles of dried cellophane noodles
1/2 head of cabbage
1 clove garlic
2 scallions
sesame oil and soy sauce
pinch of sugar
a small spoonful of chili sauce

Soak the wood ear mushrooms and shiitake mushrooms in a large bowl of warm water, so they are submerged, until soft (approx. 30 min). In a separate bowl, soak the noodles in warm water as well (should also take about 30 min.).

Meanwhile, slice the cabbage and scallions, and mince the garlic.

Heat a large wok and drizzle with oil. Add in the cabbage and garlic and cook until wilted, approx. 15 min.

Drain the mushrooms and slice them into bite-sized pieces. Add them into the pan with the cabbage.

Stir and continue to cook over medium-high heat. Drizzle with sesame oil and soy sauce. Add a pinch of sugar along with the hot sauce.

Drain the noodles and cut them into approx. 6" length strands (I just made a few rough cuts, no need to be too precise). Add them to the wok and stir fry until soft, another 20-30 minutes.

Taste and add more soy sauce as needed. Throw in the scallions in the final few minutes. Serve immediately (with more hot sauce, if desired).

July 10, 2014

The BFG's Not-Snozzcumber Soba Noodle Salad

"It starts always with a tiny little seed of an idea, a little germ, and that even doesn't come very easily. You can be mooching around for a year or so before you get a good one. When I do get a good one, mind you, I quickly write it down so that I won't forget it because it disappears otherwise rather like a dream. But when I get it, I don't dash up here and start to write it. I'm very careful. I walk around it and look at it and sniff it and then see if I think it will go. Because once you start, you're embarked on a year's work and so it's a big decision."
—Roald Dahl
In high school, one of my friends called me Big Friendly Girl, like the the Big Friendly Giant (BFG), because I was taller than most of my classmates.

Every time she'd call me that, I would think about snozzcumbers, which make their appearance in this gem of a book. Supposedly, they resemble cucumbers, but they taste horrific. I've never had a snozzcumber, but I imagine it to be something akin to what happens to a cucumber when it has grown moldy after languishing in my refrigerator too long.

One of my favorite ways to eat cucumbers is in the form of a cold noodle salad. Now that summer is upon us, I just want to feast on frozen grapes, cucumbers and watermelon all day. I despise humid weather, but there is one saving grace of blistering heat: it makes me appreciate the flavor of cold noodle dishes that much more. The following recipe is something that Sophie and the BFG would like as much as frobscottle, methinks. I hope you enjoy it, too.

The BFG's (Big Friendly Girl's) Cold Soba Noodle Salad
1 small bundle of dried soba noodles (I used these)
drizzle of rice wine vinegar
pinch of salt
a drizzle of sesame oil
1/2 Japanese cucumber (the skinny kind), chopped
1 scallion, sliced
1/2 boiled egg (find tips for making the perfect hard-boiled eggs here)

Cook the soba noodles according to instructions. Drain and rinse in cold water. Place in a large bowl.

Season with rice wine vinegar, salt and sesame oil. Mix in the scallions and cucumber. Top with the boiled egg. Go ahead and eat freely. The roar of the air conditioner will drown out the sound of your slurps.