Vegetarian Chap Chae for Mom

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A short time ago, we held the 5 year anniversary of our mom’s passing. And for a long time, the siblings and our dad tossed around a lot of different ideas on how we would commemorate Mom. But at the end of the day, it all came down to focusing on what was important to her—-Family and of course, Good Food.

So, on a beautiful and sunny Southern California day, the clan gathered. Aunties, Uncles, Cousins, Children, Grandkids (including Canine Grandkids) all converged upon my sister’s home to honor Mom. We spent time with each other, retold stories of her, cooked, and ate. And boy, did we eat!

It was all quite fitting actually. Mom was the head Foodie of our family and irrefutably the best cook. If we didn’t have a delicious spread for the party held in her honor, she would not have been a happy camper!

Vegetarian Chap Chae

One of the things that made Mom such a Foodie was her wide range of taste and her fearlessness to experiment in the kitchen. In the latter years she went through a big Korean phase—and I’m not only talking about Korean cuisine. I would often come for a visit and find my parents watching Korean soap operas—without subtitles! They claimed they could still figure out the storyline despite the fact that they didn’t understand the dialogue. Go figure.

It seemed fitting that one of my contributions for Mom’s international menu would be Chap Chae–a dish she would often make for Dad and their friends.  I went the vegetarian route but it’s just as easy to add beef, pork, chicken or seafood.

All in all, I think we did Mom proud. I’m sure she would have preferred for us to bicker less during the preparation but hey—we’re her kids! We love, we laugh, we bicker, we eat. :)

We love and miss you Mama!!

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Vegetarian Chap Chae (Jap Chae)

Ingredients:

1 Pound Sweet Potato Noodles
½ Cup Low Sodium Soy Sauce
1 Tablespoon Sugar
2 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil
1 Medium sized Carrot, julienned
2 Small Shallots, thinly sliced
1 Tablespoon Minced Garlic
1 Small Red Bell Pepper, julienned
2 Scallions, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 Cup Shitake Mushrooms, sliced
1 Cup Inoke Mushrooms, cut into 2 inch pieces
2 Cups Fried Tofu, cut into long strips
2 Cups Fresh Spinach Leaves, washed well and drained
¼ Cup Mirin
Black Pepper
½ Tablespoon Sesame Oil
1 Tablespoon Toasted Sesame Seeds

In a large pot, boil the noodles until firm–about 5-6 minutes. Strain the noodles and rinse with cold water. Using kitchen shears, cut the noodles about 4-6 inches in length.

In a small bowl, stir the sugar into the soy sauce until dissolved. Set aside.

Heat a large wok, with the vegetable oil. Add in shallots, carrots, bell peppers, mushrooms and stir fry until tender. Add in tofu, garlic, scallions, spinach and cook for an additional minute. Use the mirin to deglaze the pan and then season with black pepper. Quickly toss in the noodles and half of the soy sauce mixture. Stir fry for an additional 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and drizzle in the sesame oil. Taste and add in more of the soy sauce mixture as needed.  Plate the Chap Chae and sprinkle the sesame seeds over the top.

Zaru Soba and Memories of Japan

Zaru Soba

In 2006, I spent a whirlwind 5 days experiencing Japan.

Not knowing when the next opportunity would arise for me to visit the country, I was determined to see, feel, experience, and of course EAT as much as I could.

Over the course of 5 days, I visited the cities of Kobe, Osaka, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Kyoto, and Kishigawa. That’s  over 1,200+ miles back and forth—-thanks to my Japan Rail Pass.

I attended a major league baseball game, walked around the Hiroshima Peace Park and Atomic Bomb Dome, traversed the busy subways & shops of Tokyo, prayed in shrines, sang at a karaoke bar, stayed at a hostel/ryokan, got lost—A LOT, biked around the streets of Kyoto, attended a Donjiri Festival, meandered around the different hamlets, and above all –engaged with the people of Japan. Needless to say, I barely nicked the surface.

Zaru Soba

But by far, my most precious memory of Japan was when I met Yushiko in Kyoto. That day, my friend Kate and I rented rickety old bikes to explore the old imperial city. As we were wandered around a part of the city infamous for old temples, we spotted a tiny, older woman sweeping the steps of a temple. She looked up as we went by and smiled. After exchanging a few greetings, she stopped and pointed to me and said “Japanese?” I said no, and responded “Vietnamese”. She laughed and began trying a few words in English. It turned out that the “temple” was not a temple at all but was her home. We later discovered that Yushiko was 94 years old (though she looked at least 15 years younger than that!) and that the home belonged to her late husband’s family line.

Yushiko invited us to come in and to view her garden. I was floored and so excited by her generosity. At one point, she motioned us to go through this old wooden door through a stone wall. We didn’t know what to expect but as I pushed the door which looked like it hadn’t been used in years, tears swelled up in my eyes. It was amazing– just as how I would have imagined the “Secret Garden” would look like. It was so peaceful and serene. Kate and I stayed in there for a few minutes just marveling at the beauty around us and feeling so lucky that this kind soul had invited us into her home.  We stayed and chatted with Yushiko for nearly 30 minutes and although she said she was “too old” for us to take photos with her– I just know that I will never forget her face and the precious time we spent with her.

 

 

A quick snapshot of Yushiko’s garden and home. Trust me, the photo does not do justice at all.

Of course it just wouldn’t be me if I didn’t mention any of the food we encountered during my time in Japan. And OH…THE…FOOD.

 

 

Japan 2006 Collage

Noodles, Sashimis, Bento Boxes, Donburis, Sweets, Sakes, and snacks of all kinds. Oh man….my mouth is watering just thinking about it all.

Soba Noodles

 

 

Since we’ve been having such warm weather lately and because my travel bug has been itching like crazy, I decided to make one of the dishes I ate a ton of when I was in Japan–SobaSoba are noodles made of buckwheat flour and can be served either hot or chilled–-Zora Soba is my personal preference.

 

 

Dashi

At the heart of Zaru Soba is the tsuyu–or dipping sauce. The tsuyu is a pungent mixture of dashi, shoyu, and mirin but its strong flavors matches so well with the mild soba noodles. You can definitely make your own dashi broth but I kind of “cheat” and use instant packets. Go ahead…judge me all you like :)

Zaru Soba

Zaru Soba is typically served with tons of nori, scallions, and wasabi. I also like to have a side of tempura with it for a offset of temperature and crunch. Oishii!!!

But one thing is for certain….Whether hot or chilled, loud slurping while eating your Soba is mandatory. True Story.

<Sigh>….I miss Japan. And until I can find my way back to the beautiful country, I will have to console myself with Nihon goodies such as ramen and this soba.

And for the immense generosity and experiences I had in Japan–-Arigatou gozaimasu!

Kyoto: 2006Snapshot of me on a bridge in Kyoto after a full day of biking around the town.

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Zaru Soba
Serves 3-4

Ingredients:

1 Package Dried Soba Noodles (approximately 9 ounces)

Tsuyu (Dipping Sauce):
1 Tablespoon Dried Dashi Soup Stock (or Dashi packets)
¼ Cup Low Sodium Shoyu (Soy Sauce)
¼ Cup Mirin
2 Cups Water

Accoutrements:
½ Cup Scallions, chopped
Seasoned Nori, sliced
Wasabi
Tempura Shrimp and Vegetables (optional)

Prepare the tsuyu. In a small saucepan bring the water to a slow boil. Add dashi soup stock and simmer for 4-5 minutes. Add shoyu and mirin and simmer for an additional 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and cool.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook soba noodles for 3-4 minutes or accordingly to package instructions. Drain the soba and rinse well with cool water. Shake of the excess water and plate the noodles. Top with nori and serve with scallions, wasabi, and tsuyu.

Spicy Prawns with Ginger Peanut Noodles

Spicy Prawns with Ginger Peanut Noodles

I was thrilled at the chance to participate in this month’s 24×24 with Foodbuzz—particularly since the theme was focused on budget friendly meals. And not only did our meal need to be budget conscience but we had to use items already found in our pantries. Sounds like the making of a good cooking show to me.

I began thinking of things that I ALWAYS have on hand either in my cupboards or fridge and came up with the following things:

  1. Dried pastas
  2. Fresh Garlic and Chili (whether chili sauce, paste, or even fresh chili peppers)
  3. Some type of protein in the freezer (usually shrimp or chicken)
  4. Canned vegetables
  5. Condiments (Remember, I’m a condiment monster.)
  6. Booze (Um……self explanatory.)

With that list, it became a no brainer for me………. I was going to make some type of pasta for this challenge.

 

 

Nini and Nina_9.24.11

I decided to make Ginger Peanut Noodles for lunch with my nieces and served it with some spicy grilled prawns. Stephanie and Nina are always such willing taste testers for my experiments. And don’t let their age fool you, they’ve got quite the refined palettes. Oh—and in case you missed the photo above, Bella was trying to squeeze in on the taste testing, too.  She heard “peanut butter” and came running.

I’ve made these Ginger Peanut Noodles on several occasions with just items pulled right out of my pantry. The type of noodle can be substituted with whatever you have on hand as I’ve used spaghetti, fettuccine, and even chow mein—anything goes! For this particular preparation we happened to have some red bell pepper which added great texture and freshness. However, thinly sliced cucumber, zucchini or even bean sprouts would be great in it, too.

Bella is still focused on the fact that I just said “peanut butter”.

 

 

Bella_9.24.11

 

 

As for the protein, I happen to prefer prawns with this but chicken, pork, or even tofu would be just as delicious. Just use the same marinade for whichever you choose.

 

 

Spicy Prawns with Ginger Peanut Noodles

This entire meal comes together in about 30 minutes and is perfect for a weeknight dinner or when you’re short on time during the weekends.

Fast? Budget friendly? Yummy?

Now that is a Trifecta of Goodness.

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Spicy Prawns with Ginger Peanut Noodles
Serves approximately 6

Ingredients:

Prawns:
1 Pound Prawns, shelled, deveined with tails on
1 Teaspoon Red Chili Flakes
1 Tablespoon Sriracha Chili Sauce, or chili sauce of your choice
1 Tablespoon Fresh Garlic, finely minced
1 Tablespoon Low Sodium Soy Sauce
1 Tablespoon Sesame Olive Oil
2 Tablespoon Vegetable Oil

Noodles:
¾ Cup Smooth Peanut Butter
1 Tablespoon Honey
1/3 Cup Low Sodium Soy Sauce
¼ Cup Rice Wine Vinegar
1½ Tablespoons Sesame Oil
1½ Tablespoons Sambal Chili Paste
2 Tablespoons Fresh Ginger, finely minced
1 Tablespoon Fresh Garlic, finely minced
1 Teaspoon Lime Zest
½ Tablespoon Fresh Lime Juice
¼ – ½ Cup Hot Starchy Water (from boiling the pasta)
1 Whole Red Bell Pepper, thinly sliced
2 Scallions, cut into 1 inch strips
1 Pound Linguine
*Top with ¼ Cup Toasted Sesame Seeds and ½ Cup of Crushed Roasted Peanuts

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Cook linguine noodles barely over al dente.

Combine the prawns with all of its marinade ingredients together in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate.

In a blender, combine the first 10 ingredients of the noodles together. Blend until smooth. Add the starchy liquid from the pasta water until you reach the desired consistency—about ¼ – ½ Cup. Set aside.

Bring a grill pan or a large skillet to medium high heat. Lightly cover with cooking spray and cook prawns for 1-2 minutes on each side until they are opaque and golden. Remove to a clean plate and cover.

When then noodles have cooked, drain well and return to the hot pot. Ladle in a few spoonfuls of the peanut sauce at a time until the noodles have been thoroughly coated. Toss in the scallions and bell pepper slices. Plate with a mound of the peanut noodles, prawns, and sprinkle the tops of each plate with sesame seeds and crushed peanuts.

Bún Thịt Nướng (Vietnamese Grilled Pork over Vermicelli Noodles)

Bún Thịt Nướng (Vietnamese Grilled Pork over Vermicelli Noodles)

Our Mom was THE BEST cook…..seriously. She had a knack of creating such delicious flavors out of the most modest ingredients. And like most Vietnamese mothers, along side your serving of dinner, you would get several quick-tongue remarks and sharp attitude. :)

Lately, I have been finding myself missing my Mom a lot. And when those times come, I tend to gravitate towards recreating dishes and flavors that came out of her kitchen. Truth be told, most of my “mom-meal knock offs” aren’t 100% authentic. But that sure isn’t do to lack of trying! She was so quick maneuvering around the kitchen–throwing a little of bit of this and a little bit of that into pans that we could never keep up. Let’s not even begin to get into how she never measured!

So, on one recent weekend, I found myself recreating a meal that we often had growing up– Bún Thịt Nướng or Vietnamese Grilled Pork over Vermicelli Noodles. It’s not a dish that I eat (or more like “order“) often these days but when I do get the chance to enjoy it, I am reminded of how it really is a great depiction of Vietnamese cuisine. An extremely savory and mutli-layered flavor protein, combined with tons of fresh herbs, pickled veggies, cold noodles, various textures, and all enhanced by a spicy nước chấm (dipping sauce). And like many Vietnamese dishes, Bún Thịt Nướng is not difficult to make but it does take some time preparing as there are many steps and components to the dish.

I spend most of the time below describing steps to preparing the pork so if you have any questions, about the condiments in particular, feel free to shoot me an email. Since I was too lazy to pull out the grill, I ended up using my tried and true All-Clad grill pan to cook the pork. It worked fairly nicely but if you want the true authentic flavor, I’d recommend using an outdoor grill with with one of those wire mesh grilling baskets. You can pick one up for really cheap at most Asian grocery stores. You can’t beat the slightly charred flavor produced by cooking it that way. Plus, if you’re ever in Việt Nam, you’ll see that it’s the way my peeps do it.

I was quite pleased with the final dish. The warm grilled meat over the cold veggies and noodles are a perfect pairing–particular for warm summer days. And although I know it wasn’t exactly like Mom’s, I am sure she would have been quite proud.

Until next time Friends……Always cook with your heart :)

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Bún Thịt Nướng
Serves approximately 4-5

Ingredients:

Thịt Nướng (Pork)
2 Tablespoons Fresh Garlic, minced
3 Tablespoons Shallots, minced
3 Tablespoons Lemongrass, very finely minced (sả bằm)
2 Green Onions, chopped
3 Tablespoons Cilantro, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon Brown Sugar
1 Tablespoon Honey
1 Tablespoon Fish Sauce (nước mắm)
2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
1 Teaspoon Fresh Cracked Pepper
1 Pound Pork Shoulder, sliced into 2-3 inch strips

Accouterments
1 Package Vermicelli Noodles, prepared according to package directions
1.5 Cups Slightly Pickled Carrots and Cucumbers*
2 Cups Fresh Lettuce, roughly chiffonade
1.5 Cups Fresh Bean Sprouts
1 Cup Fresh Cilantro Leaves
½ Cup Roasted Peanuts, crushed
½ Cup Green Onion infused Oil (hành mơ)**
1½ Cups Dipping Sauce (nước chấm)***

Thịt Nướng (Pork): In a large bowl, add honey, fish sauce, soy sauce, and sugar. Mix until the sugar is dissolved. Add the rest of the marinade ingredients to combine. Add pork and mix to ensure that the meat has been thoroughly covered. Refrigerate for 30-45 minutes.

While pork is marinating, prepare the accouterments:

*Pickled Carrots and Cucumbers: Cut carrots and cucumbers into small matchsticks and place in a small bowl. Cover them with Rice Wine Vinegar and a pinch of Sugar.
*Scallion Oil (hành mơ):
In a sauté pan, slowly heat ¼ cup of canola oil. Add ½ cup chopped scallions. Cook the scallions on very low heat until they are wilted but still bright green. Approximately 2-3 minutes. Pull from heat and set aside.
*Dipping Sauce (nước chấm):
Combine ½ Cup Fish Sauce, ½ Cup Sugar, ½ Cup Fresh Lime Juice, ¼ Cup Warm Water and stir until sugar is dissolved. Add 1 Teaspoon Chili Paste. Adjust amounts to desired to taste.

Remove pork from the refrigerator 5-10 minutes before grilling to take the chill off the meat. Heat your grill pan to medium-high and lightly cover with cooking spray (or prepare outdoor grill). Grill meat for approximately 1-2 minutes on each side until browned. Since the meat is thin, it does not take long to cook.

To Assemble: In a bowl, place the cooked vermicelli noodles, lettuce and bean sprouts. Plate the warm grilled pork on top of the bowl, alongside with the pickled veggies and cilantro. Brush the meat with the scallion oil and sprinkle with the crushed peanuts. Serve with your preferred amount of nước chấm.