New Year Zaru Soba

This semester, my classes at the GTU are rather ecumenical – two on Judaism and the Old Testament and two on Buddhism. So, I am celebrating the Jewish New Year with a Buddhist-inspired New Year Japanese dish: a vegetable-rich zaru soba.

On my favorite show, Midnight Diner, a wise and mysterious restaurateur opens his little establishment at midnight and closes at 7am. A group of delightful locals, as well as one-timers, from the nightlife scene around Shinjuku show up and he makes them the most delicious meals. Watching the show requires a dialectic approach, as almost nothing is vegan, but the care and meaning behind each dish is evident. Here’s the opening sequence:

Every season has a last-episode special in which all the diner guests are treated to soba in hot broth to celebrate the New Year. Since I usually cook soba from dry, I love soba soups. But this week I managed to get my hands on fresh, locally made soba, and it turns out that high-quality noodles are like revenge: best served cold.

I sliced up a few vegetables, quickly blanched some green beans, put some nice fresh medium-consistency tofu in the mix, and made a hasty dipping sauce that turned out phenomenal. Perhaps it’s not the authentic soy-based dressing for zaru soba, but the more I read about the adaptations and permutations of Buddhism in the West the more I’m at peace with there being lots of variations of Buddhism–with big doses of Orientalism and Occidentalism thrown into the debate. For a really interesting take on all this that hits home, read the book I’m currently reviewing, Emily Sigalow’s American JewBu. This doesn’t mean we should stop talking about colonial influences or ask questions about what gets lost (or gained, or fabricated) in translation. But the changes to this now-global religion and many cultures that came to the US are highlighting the futility of having shrill authenticity fights when we could employ our time eating tasty noodles.

This recipe also pays homage to my favorite Japanese Buddhist restaurant, and possibly my favorite vegan restaurant in the city: Cha Ya. They have a really lovely cold soba salad there, as well as delicious soba soups with mountain vegetables, noodles, or kitsune (fried tofu.)

Anyway – less blather, more recipe. Happy Jewish New Year! ユダヤ人の新年明けましておめでとうございます

  • 1 tbsp Nama Shoyu
  • juice from 1 lime
  • 1 heaping tbsp good quality miso
  • 1 chopped garlic clove
  • 1/2 tsp grated ginger
  • 1 cup fresh, uncooked soba noodles
  • 1-2 big handfuls baby spinach
  • 2 Persian cucumbers
  • 5 radishes
  • 4 tbsp green onions
  • 5 crimini mushrooms
  • 1/2 cup green beans
  • 80g medium-consistency tofu
  • 1 tbsp cooked corn kernels

First, make the sauce. Mix the first five ingredients well in a small bowl and set aside.

Thinly slice cucumbers, mushrooms, and radishes; mince green onions; cut tofu into cubes. Layer spinach leaves on a nice, wide plate.

Boil water in a pot. Drop the green beans in for about 30-45 seconds, then get out with tongs (keep the water boiling) and drop in ice-cold water to chill and preserve crispness.

Then, drop the soba noodles in the boiling water. Cook for about 2 mins, then drain and cool under running water. Place on top of the spinach. Arrange the cucumber, green onions, tofu, green beans, mushrooms, and corn on or around the noodles. Drizzle sauce on top.

Edamame-Green Pea-Avocado Spread

The world is full of horrors, and I’ve been writing and talking and agitating about them for weeks, but people have to eat, so here’s a new recipe. I wonder if you remember the Great Green Pea Guacamole Controversy of 2015. After Melissa Clark put the original recipe on NYT cooking, households and friends were torn apart. Jenn Segal theorizes that the reason this provoked such strong feelings has to do not only with the aura of old-fashioned health foisted on children, but also with a craving for authenticity and the overall sense that white people have unduly laid claim to Mexican food.

I can see both sides of this upheaval, and trust me, I’ve had my share of being on the purist side since coming to the U.S. in the context of what passes as “hummus” in the New Country (and keep in mind that, as a member of the food colonizers group back in the Old Country, I’m on very shaky moral ground here, so in the quest for authenticity and oppression it’s turtles all the way down.) Not only do the odd garlicky concoctions here taste nothing like hummus should, and have all kinds of odd toppings, some of them are called “hummus” when they have no chickpeas at all! What drives me bonkers about this is that the Arabic word for chickpea is hummus, so saying “white bean hummus” is like saying “white bean chickpea.” Just call it a bean spread and be done with it! In short, purists protesting pea proliferation, I get you, and in my defense, I have a winning excuse for why I made this delicious thing pictured above: Vegetable delivery day is tomorrow and I’m out of avocados.

The virus has been a powerful teacher in many areas of life, and in my cooking life, it taught me to use frozen vegetables. Getting fresh produce was difficult in the first few weeks, though the good folks at Albert & Eve performed truly heroic feats to feed their customers. The errors in judgment were mine–I hadn’t realized we would be eating all our meals at home, made from scratch (my food is so much better than delivery food), and I also hadn’t realized that there were three of us now, and the little one has, sometimes, a big appetite. So, the vegetables would sometimes run out before delivery day, and that’s when I started to rely on frozen beans and peas to supplement. They are cheap, tasty, easily available, and nutritious.

This dip is not the pea-guac recipe that’s been going around, in which the ratio strongly favors the avocados. Truly, given how few peas they add, it’s surprising that anyone noticed, let alone got upset. This thing, on the other hand, is mostly a bean spread, with the one avocado I had at home smashed into it for a little bit extra fat and creaminess. Also, I put in a lot more herbs, because I like things very herby, and I added za’atar, because if we’re throwing tradition down the wayside, let’s at least make it tasty. I’ve nattered on too long. Here, make this and be your own hero.

  • 1/2 package frozen, shelled edamame
  • 1 package green peas
  • juice of 2 limes
  • Big handfuls: fresh cilantro, parsley, and chives
  • 1 large avocado
  • 1 heaping tbsp good quality za’atar
  • sprinkle of salt

Place edamame and peas in a small pot and cover with boiling water. Cook for 3-4 minutes, or until beans and peas are soft. Drain water. Place edamame and peas in food processor bowl with lime juice and herbs. Process to desired consistency (I like this a bit chunky, but without visible bean bits.) Transfer mix to a container and mash in the avocado. Mix with za’atar and salt. Serve on bread, lettuce leaves, a grain bowl, a salad, whatever float your boat.

P.S.: Yes, I baked the walnut sourdough. 50% whole wheat, 50% all purpose flour, 80% hydration, and for both loaves (1kg flour total): 150g starter, 24g salt, 200g chopped walnuts.

Green Vinaigrette

A nice, light, summery dressing for Buddha bowls and salads – pictured here with the little bowl I made for lunch. You can play with the relative amount of herbs or the kind of vinegar you use.

  • 3 cups herbs: combination of parsley, cilantro, and mint
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup water
  • pinch of salt

Blend and refrigerate.

Mango Chutney

Visiting my great-aunt Carmella always felt a bit like diving into an E.M. Forster or a Rudyard Kipling book. She and her late husband, Uncle Eli, traveled extensively abroad on account of his business, and each time they returned to Israel there was lots of stuff reminiscent of literary colonialism all over the place: African fabrics, wooden sculptures, ivory miniatures, soft pillows and throws, that sort of thing. Even the few objets d’art evoking similar connotations that my grandparents had (a spectacular person-sized Thai lamp comes to mind!) turned out to be gifts from Carmella. Carmella’s gorgeous condo in Jaffa was lavishly furnished with items from all over the world. Long before I learned about the ills and suffering wrought by British colonialism (to which I was a ridiculously late newcomer, given that I *lived* in former colonies, one of them British, all my life!) I tended to romanticize this exotic stuff, and so enjoyed the beauty of the Indian handcrafted goods and the chinoiserie.

Part and parcel of this exotic lavishness was the snack tray, which always featured terrific delicacies I’d never seen before: imported cheeses, savory tinned things with foreign packaging, fancy crackers, you name it. Nary a commonplace chocolate in sight. Once we showed up and were treated to a tray of cheeses and a magical jam-like substance. Carmella, who always spoke to you assuming you knew what she was talking about, saw my face light up after taking a bite, and nonchalantly said, “oh, you like the chutney?”

So *that’s* what this is, I thought. Now, whenever I read Forster or Kipling and someone mentioned chutney, I knew what they were on about. I far preferred it to jam, because it was sweet and sour and savory and spicy all at once. Later in life I read up a bit on the history of chutney and learned that many of the fruit preparations are not authentic Indian foods, but rather Indian-inspired European concoctions. Anglo-Indians at the time of the British Raj recreated Indian chutneys using English orchard fruits, such as sour cooking apples and rhubarb, and added raisins or other dried fruit.

Even though chutney is very easy to make, it would not have occurred to me to do so if we had not untimely polished off the jar of quince chutney that my friend Nancy makes over at Vermont Quince. If you can order it, you’re in for a treat, and if not, read on, make mango chutney, and be your own hero.

  • 2 ripe and juicy mangoes, chopped into tiny cubes
  • 1/3 red onion, very finely minced
  • 4-5 garlic cloves, very finely minced
  • 1/3 cup Thompson raisins
  • 1/4 cup agave syrup
  • 4 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 splash balsamic vinegar
  • 3-4 square inches ginger, very finely minced
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of cayenne

Mix all this in a small saucepan. Cook on medium-to-low heat for 30 minutes. Done.

I like eating this with cashew cheese on bread, but it goes with lots of things: rice, curries, mashed potatoes, crackers, chips. It keeps well in the fridge if stored in a sealed jar–the agave and vinegar help with preservation, which might be why British soldiers and civil servants carried it around and liked it so much.

Next time I make it, I’ll add toasted spices like cumin seeds, coriander, and nigella.

Nama Shoyu Ginger Sauce (and lovely salad)

When we were in Cambridge, MA, in the fall, one of our favorite places to eat was a joyous hippie joint on Massachusettes Avenue called Life Alive. I loved everything they served–the thoughtfully planned bowls, their amazing miso soup with mushrooms, and their excellent juices and smoothies. What made everything better was that they slathered several of their dishes with an unbelievably tasty sauce. One of my major projects was to try and recreate that sauce in my own kitchen. Thankfully, many people are obsessed with this sauce, and one intrepid food blogger, SarahFit, has the winning formula, so–mission accomplished! Sarah, you have my eternal gratitude. Here it goes:

The salad above consists simply of brown rice noodles (I like this kind, which I ordered in bulk for our household), tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, scallions, cilantro, parsley, and edamame. Cook noodles, rinse with cold water, mix with the vegetables (sliced or shredded to your liking), and slather with a generous amount of the magical sauce.

You can put this sauce on anything: it brightens bowls, asian fusion dishes, roasted vegetables, and even tofu scrambles. Go ahead and double (or quadruple) the recipe. You’re welcome.

Mojo de Ajo and What to Do With It

Since returning from Mexico I’ve been enjoying Jason Wyrick’s book Vegan Mexico, which offers lots of interesting and authentic recipes. One of them is for a very useful item: mojo de ajo – olive oil infused with garlic and citrus. I made a small batch a week ago and have been keeping it in the fridge. I don’t use a lot of oil these days, and usually prefer to cook using vegetable broth, but once in a while it’s a nice change. Here’s the basic recipe, followed by two of many dishes you could use it for:

Mojo de Ajo

1 cup olive oil
1/2 cup peeled whole garlic cloves
1/2 tsp salt
juice from one lime, orange, or lemon

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place olive oil in a baking dish and add garlic and salt. Bake for about 45 minutes. Carefully retrieve from oven and add citrus juice. Bake for another 20 mins or so. Remove from oven, let cool a bit, and, with the back of a wooden spoon, mash the garlic inside the olive oil. Keep in fridge and use where scented olive oil is appropriate.

White Beans, Zucchini, and Tomato

1/2 tsp mojo de ajo
1/2 small white onion, diced
1 medium-sized zucchini, sliced into thin rings
1 medium-sized tomato, diced
1 cup cooked white beans (cannellini, navy, or similar)
big handful of herbs: I like rosemary and oregano for this, but be creative

Heat mojo de ajo in pan. Add vegetables, beans, and herbs, and toss about for 7-10 minutes until fragrant.

Roasted Vegetables

1 tsp mojo de ajo
2-3 sweet potatoes, sliced
1/2 small white onion, diced
3-4 heads bok choy, separated into leaves
6 garlic cloves
1-2 cups assorted mushrooms
big handful of herbs
2 corn cobs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut a piece of parchment paper double the size of your baking sheet. Place the bottom half of the paper on the sheet and rub mojo de ajo on it. Arrange vegetables and herbs on the baking sheet, then fold other side of parchment on top of them and put in oven for approximately 40 minutes.

Marjoram-Pepper Pasta Sauce

At the end of yesterday’s faculty meeting, my colleague Marsha hollered: “Anyone here cook?” I immediately waved my hands and hollered back: “Me me me!” Marsha very graciously gifted me with a big bag of fresh marjoram from her garden. It turns out that the crows eat all her other herbs, but leave the marjoram alone. 🙂

Well, I don’t know about the crows’ taste in herbs, but I *love* marjoram, and its wonderful aroma and flavor are showcased at their best in this recipe – a vegetable-packed, spicy pasta sauce. I served it atop spiralized zucchini, but you can of course substitute the pasta of your choice.

1/4 cup water or vegetable broth
1 cup leeks–green part or mixed
3 garlic cloves
1 can diced tomatoes
2 red bell peppers
1 small eggplant
about 8 green olives, pitted
2 tsp capers
generous handful of fresh marjoram
pinch smoked paprika
optional: tofu cubes or chickpeas

In a wok or skillet, heat up water or broth and add sliced leeks and garlic cloves. Saute until fragrant. Then, add peppers, eggplant, and tofu cubes or chickpeas. Continue cooking for about 5 minutes, then add the diced tomatoes, olives, capers, marjoram, and paprika. Lower the heat and continue cooking until the peppers are soft and the tofu is flavorful. Serve atop the pasta of your choice.