Udon Noodle Salad

I’m heading to New York next week for three days of eating before we fly to Southeast Asia. When soliciting suggestions on where to eat, my friend Caroline recommended Budakkan and said she loved the chilled udon noodles with peanut sauce. Then she forwarded me the recipe. Then I made it. It was good.

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But seriously, it was really good. I have no idea if this recipe comes close to the dish served at Budakkan – having never been there – but it doesn’t really matter when it’s this good. I’ll be making this again soon since Eric and I ate it like we’d never see food again.

As for New York, I have a short (ok, long) list of restaurants in mind. I want to eat at some classics – a Jewish deli, maybe Shake Shack – and some not-so-classic restaurants – Budakkan, perhaps? If you know of a must-try, leave it in the comments.

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Udon Noodle Salad

Adapted from Caroline’s recipe, which came from her sister, which came from who-knows where. I made a couple modifications – a bit more vinegar and Sriacha – so I wrote the recipe as I made it.

For Peanut Sauce:
2 teaspoons peanut oil
5 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons minced ginger
1 cup water
2 tablespoons light soy sauce (I used Bragg Liquid Aminos)
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2/3 cup chunky peanut butter (preferably a nice, natural peanut butter that is not loaded with sugar)
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup (not the fake stuff made with corn syrup)
6 tablespoons rice vinegar
4 teaspoons Sriacha

to Serve:
10 oz udon noodles
1 cucumber, halved across, sliced into matchsticks
2 cups bean sprouts
1 orange  or red pepper sliced into matchsticks
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
several lime wedges

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In small saucepan, saute garlic and ginger in peanut oil over medium-low heat. Add the water, soy sauce, and coriander, and bring to a boil. Add peanut butter and turn heat to low. Whisk together until combined, then mix in the maple syrup, vinegar, and chile sauce. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

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Meanwhile, prepare Udon noodles according to package instructions and then set aside. Combine noodles, sliced vegetables and sauce, with fresh squeezed fresh lime juice and chopped cilantro.

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Rosemary White Bean Dip

Oh, the holidays. Just yesterday, a messenger delivered two cheesecakes to our office. Tomorrow, I’m expecting our first fruit cake. This is always a tough time of year for healthy eating.

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Fortunately for me, I hate fruit cake – no temptation there. Pumpkin mousse cheesecake? Yeah, that’s a different story. Two things have kept me from digging in so far this week:

1) I checked the nutrition label immediately – at 420 calories for one tiny slice, that cheesecake doesn’t look so enticing anymore, and

2) I stocked up on veggies at work. Lots of veggies. And to keep them enticing, I have been bringing in this bean dip.

I’m pretty much obsessed with this bean dip right now. It’s so good, so easy, and unlike other bean dips (ahem, hummus), it tastes better with veggies than it does with, say, pita, so it’s healthy to boot. Yeeeah.

Rosemary White Bean Dip

2 cans Great Northern or white cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
3 stalks of rosemary, stripped from the stalk
juice and zest of one lemon
3 cloves garlic
3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

In a food processor, combine the beans, rosemary, garlic, salt and pepper, and lemon juice and zest. As it is processing, pour in the olive oil. Serve with red peppers, cucumbers, and mushrooms.

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Mushroom Risotto

I have been meaning to try a mushroom risotto for about a year now. I’ve had that Arborio rice sitting in my pantry for a good 12 months or so; I’ve just been lazy, you know? You hear about what hard work risotto is, how time-consuming the recipes are, and I just never find myself at that perfect intersection of wanting to make it and having enough time.

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The Saturday before I left for Colombia, I found myself with the time and motivation and a bundle of mushrooms to boot, so risotto was finally in the cards. We served it alongside a really nice peppercorn and rosemary crusted pork tenderloin, the recipe for which I’ll share at a later date.

The recipe was really tasty, and you know what? Risotto is not that hard! It is time consuming, though. I always thought that risottos had to have loads of heavy cream to taste so creamy delicious, but apparently the starchiness of Arborio rice makes it taste so decadent. I didn’t add any cream (only a bit of parmesan) and it tasted really great – proof that you don’t need loads of fat for things to taste good. I also added spinach to add some green and nutrients. Just barely wilted, these leaves don’t really add much flavor compared to the mushrooms, but they certainly up the health factor. Next time, I’m going to try this with barley or brown rice and see what the effect is.

Mushroom and Spinach Risotto

adapted, generously, from Food and Wine

1/2 cup dried porcini mushrooms
6 cups stock (I used a store bought, organic chicken broth, but I can imagine homemade would be amazing)
4 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, roughly chopped
1/4 pound shiitake mushrooms, roughly chopped
2 cups Arborio rice
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3-4 ounces fresh baby spinach, or more to taste
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Soak the dried porcini mushrooms in 2 cups boiling water until softened, about 20 minutes. Save the water.

In a saucepan, warm the stock to just under a boil. If it starts to boil, that’s fine – mostly, you want it warm so that the risotto cooks continuously rather than starting over every time you add more stock. Keep it on low heat.

In large saucepan (I used my big soup pot), melt the butter. Add the onion and garlic and cook for a few minutes. Add the rice to the pan and cook, stirring, until coated.

In a separate pan, cook the cremini and shitaki mushrooms in butter on medium, slowly carmelizing them. Let these guys cook away on low heat the entire time you’re cooking the rice. , stirring, until they are softened, about 4 minutes.

Add the white wine to the rice and simmer until it has almost evaporated. Add the reserved mushroom water, and 1 cup of the hot stock. Stir constantly until the liquid is completely soaked into the rice. Then add another cup of stock. Stir. Repeat. Continue this process until all the stock has been used up and the risotto is plump and tender.

At the end, stir in the mushrooms, Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, and spinach. Serve.

Colombia Preview

I came back from Colombia on Tuesday evening to a cold but fresh Chicago. The cool air actually felt good. Clean. Thin. A far cry from the thick, sticky humidity of the Colombian coast. I’m covered in mosquito bites that I can’t stop itching, and I apparently still smell of the coconut oil rubbed all over my skin and hair just a few days ago on the beach in Taganga.

I’m still working on sorting through my photos (and videos!), but I thought I’d share a couple of the fabulous meals I had in Colombia. The fish was out of this world (and cheap!), and I’m sad to say I did not get a picture of any of the arepas I feasted on in the streets. Or empanadas. My favorite part of being in Colombia was the fresh tropical fruit. Mangos, pineapples, papayas… and those are just the fruits for which I know the English translation. There are all kinds of other crazy fruits that people sell – cut up for you in easy to eat pieces – and I have no idea what they were. Still, mango is my favorite, and I ate it every single day. Once it came dusted with salt, pepper, and lime juice. Seriously delicious.

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