Spicy Szechuan Peanut Noodles

When I shut down the meal delivery service, a few clients asked if I wouldn’t mind sharing a few favorite recipes. I’m a big recipe sharer—I don’t get this whole “secret recipes” thing. I want everyone to be eating delicious animal-free food, so why wouldn’t I share recipes?

Well, it does take some time, and it’s nice to have a photo to accompany a recipe, and those two factors are, to be honest, usually enough of a deterrent to prevent me from pretty much ever posting a recipe. But I’m going to push on in this case, because I so adore my former clients, and because recipes are nice. So, over the next few weeks I’ll be posting a few beloved meal delivery recipes. Let me know how they turn out for you!

The first in this series is spicy peanut noodles, the Szechuan classic also called dan dan mian. (Or: the Sichuan classic called dan dan mien, if you prefer.) Do you have dishes you always order in restaurants, even though they almost never live up to your hopes? Maybe you had a great version the very first time you tried the dish, and that sets you up for a lifetime of disappointment (or maybe you’ve just developed your palate over time? Or become a snob?). Why can’t we stop ordering them? When I see baingan bartha, or fried dumplings, or pad see ew, I have a weird compulsion to order it, even though I know it’s so often a recipe for failure. Sadly, peanut noodles are often in that camp. What’s up with peanut noodles in restaurants? Gummy, greasy, gritty, gloppy, undersalted, underspiced, underflavored, with over- or undercooked noodles, too cold, too old, made with spaghetti (!!)—for such an easy dish, terrible versions abound.

So maybe it’s time to stay in and make them ourselves.

Around my house, the stripped-down version of this dish (minus pretty much everything but the noodles and a sauce made from shoyu, peanut butter, rice vinegar (or lime juice), sesame oil, and chile paste)  is our default 10-minute meal: put water on for the noodles, then make the sauce. When I’m making it on the fly like this, I don’t measure anything, and I make sure I’m not forgetting anything by reminding myself of the building blocks of Southeast Asian cuisine: hot, sour, salty, sweet. Keep tinkering until the sauce tastes balanced, and by the time the noodles are done, the sauce is ready. Any old green thing from the garden is great as a bright burst of grassy flavor on top: chives, scallions, garlic leaves, Thai basil, or a nice steamed green like kale. Done.

But for nights when you want something a bit more complex, here’s the deluxe version of the recipe, a dressed-up quickie meal that’s so great that I used to have a client who would order five quarts of it at a time (“It doesn’t freeze!” I would tell him. Maybe he had a peanut noodle party every time it came on the menu??).

Though this is a Chinese dish, my version puts a bit of a Southeast Asian spin on it, as I’m almost always drawn to the bright, clean flavors of Thai and Vietnamese cuisine. I’ve built in quite a few variations from the traditional dish: fried tempeh stands in for ground pork, and I use peanut butter, though it’s also traditional to make the sauce with sesame paste. (I like both, but since I buy peanut butter by the case, it’s just what I usually reach for.) As well, I almost always cook up udon or soba noodles, though fresh Chinese wheat noodles are more common (breaking with tradition yet again, I serve this dish hot, when usually it’s cold. I love the way the hot sauce melts the noodles a bit.). Overall, a more traditional dan dan mian is a bit soupier and a ton spicier, spiked with preserved mustard leaves and sparked with ground Szechuan peppercorns that make your mouth buzz. Feel free to veer in that direction–this is an endlessly adaptable dish.

Here we go: Continue reading

why I don’t buy vegetarian cookbooks; a vegetarian cookbook I’m madly in love with.

I haven’t eaten an animal product in 17 years, but I try to keep my distance from the vegan world.

It’s mostly a bunch of well-meaning, cute, tattooed people preaching to the choir and cheering each other on. Nothing wrong with that, it’s just not exactly my scene. I’m not into clubs—I pretty much adhere to Groucho Marx’s view of them—and I prefer to market my business more toward those who eat animals, so they can be persuaded to stop or reduce their consumption not by ethical arguments or sad photos but by the sheer delight of how superior vegan food can be.

When I was in college and cooking school, I kept my distance from the vegan world because its food was so dreadful as well, but, happily, veganism has become much tastier in the last decade or so.

Most of the sad sprout-sandwich restaurants have shuttered, and in their place are vibrant, glorious places cooking up an amazing, and amazingly diverse, variety of food. My favorite restaurant in the universe, Kajitsu, is a completely vegan Japanese shojin ryori (traditional, centuries-old Buddhist temple cuisine, always vegan because of the Buddhist belief in the sanctity of all life) restaurant—the adorable chef, Masato Nishihara, (who I’ve made my BFF by plying him with chocolate boxes every time I visit) serves breathtakingly beautiful multi-course meals, each one a miniature masterpiece on a plate and on the tongue. There are gems like this all over the country, and the world. (Mostly in New York City though, which is why I’m always so happy to live so close by.)

Likewise, the vegan cookbook world has improved tremendously in the past few years. Gone are the bland, 2-color paperback cookbooks with lentil loaves and endless stir-fries (We’ve finally mostly thrown the Moosewood books under the bus, thank heavens.), and in their place is a whole new crop of colorful, mainstream-friendly cookable cookbooks by a new crop of chefs and authors. My favorites are the ones I worked on, of course, the Best of Bloodroot cookbooks, and the lovely Isa Moskowitz’s ever-growing empire of friendly books, whose rise marked a sea change in the vegan cookbook world—she made vegan food look better than its meaty counterparts. Which it is, of course.

However.

To my taste, the veganverse is still way too jammed with vegan versions of crap supermarket birthday cakes overflowing with sickening margarine, artificial colors, and so much sugar even a chocolatier like me can only handle one bite; baby cookbooks with overly simplistic knock-offs of “real” classic dishes (french onion soup without beef broth and miles of cheese cannot be veganized by substituting store-bought vegetable broth and a nutritional yeast-sprinkled crouton); and way more style than substance. Many lovely and well-meaning bloggers who have endless glorious camera techniques up their sleeves but almost no kitchen experience (more savoir-faire than savoir and saveur) are writing fluffy little books with precious little real information.

Wanting, as I do, the entire world to become vegan, this doesn’t really bother me.

I mean, it bothers me in the sense that I am personally only interested in quality work, but how many mediocre non-vegan cookbooks are out there? In a vegan world, we have to prepare ourselves for lots of vegan crap.

Worse, to me, 99% of vegan cookbooks (a number I just made up, but if it’s not accurate it’s only because the actual number is around 99.5%) are written by white people, and contain recipes for food that has traditionally been eaten by white people. I’m just not all that interested in what white people have to say, particularly when it’s about white people’s food. I am a white person, and this is why I know that white people, by and large, eat really boring and stupid food.

All these factors are why I rarely buy vegan cookbooks. I’m a cookbook fiend, but unless I can learn from a cookbook, I don’t want it. When I buy cookbooks, I buy what is usually (and extremely insultingly) called “ethnic” cookbooks—books by people of color from all around the world. My absolute favorite genre of cookbooks, one that doesn’t exactly exist, is books that describe what poor people around the world have eaten for centuries. Poor people have typically eaten little meat, so that’s a bonus, and I like food borne out of ingenuity.

I lugged a giant coffee-table cookbook with me on vacation, and I’m happy I did—I knew from the minute I heard about it that I wanted to savor it slowly, which can only happen on vacation. My sous chef Stephanie (of the amazing Halloween costume, yes) went to dinner at Kajitsu one night and came back with a flier about an event they were having to promote a book called Kansha: Celebrating Japan’s Vegan and Vegetarian Traditions, by Elizabeth Andoh, whose reports from Japan in Gourmet I’d enjoyed over the years.

Um.

THERE WAS AN ENTIRE BOOK ABOUT THE VEGAN FOOD OF JAPAN THAT I HAD MISSED HEARING ABOUT? Me, who is so obsessed with Asian food that my friend Than calls me Lagusta Ye? Me, whose name on Facebook is “Lagusta Umami”? Would it have recipes for nama-fu (a seitan-like protein made with rice flour), for tofu made from sesame (goma-dofu), for sweet red bean desserts, for exquisite soba noodle dishes and the clear soups that I am so obsessed with at Kajitsu? Yes and yes and yes and yes and yes. The next time I was in the city (to go to Kajitsu, coincidentally [not exactly coincidentally, since going to Kajitsu is pretty much the only reason I go to the city these days), I made a beeline for St. Mark’s Bookshop and picked it up. At home, I put it in my suitcase. After a few days spent with it here in Hawaii, I can confirm that it’s every bit as good as I had hoped it would be. What a treat.

It makes me wonder though—why didn’t I hear about this book before? As much as I try to stay my distance, I have a pretty accurate pulse on the digital vegan world, though Facebook and magazines and blogs I quickly skim for trends and news. I hadn’t come across one mention of the book in my daily travels through the digital veganverse, and that right there exemplifies the problem with the state of veganism in 2011.

It’s OK though. I’m a secret elitist (well, as much of an elitist as an anarchist can be), not in that I want to sit around eating gold leaf-covered truffles all day, but in that a fundamental belief of mine is that most good stuff never gets the press it deserves…and the mainstream world is so horrifyingly uninterested in good stuff that this is probably as it should be. It’s up to us, the elites (thanks, Sarah Palin, I’ll wear it proudly) in an intellectual (not class or financial) way, to find our own treasures, those the mainstream (even the vegan mainstream) has ignored.

Kansha means “appreciation.” I’m wildly appreciative and thankful this wonderful book has entered my library, and I can’t wait for its techniques and recipes to enter more of my everyday cooking style.

 

 

Free chocolate! Really great chocolate, too!

This month's Chocolate of the Month: yuzu white chocolate truffles!!!

Hello everyone!

I’m running a little contest over at the Bluestocking Bonbons Facebook page I wanted to tell you about. It’s a two-parter:

1) If we can double our fans in two weeks (to 1338 by January 21), TWO lucky peeps will be picked at random to receive a free 3-month Chocolate of the Month Club Subscription!

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!

2) When you’ve become a fan of our page, tell your friends to write on the Bonbons wall saying “I am a fan because of [your name]” and EVERYONE who recruits 7 or more fans will get a special choco gift in the mail!

A handful of people have already won free chocolate (a few are on their way to referring their second set of seven people and thus getting double the amount!), and it’s really fun meeting all the awesome new fans on the Bonbons page. Come over and say hello, and enter into a world of decadent ethical chocolate the likes of which you’ve never before experienced. (<—- my attempt at writing classy ad-style copy.)

 

the week in photos, November 30 and December 6 deliveries

The very last week of the meal delivery! Nine years, and it all came down to this. As we were also going absolutely bonkers with chocolate orders at this time, we didn’t take very many photos, so I combined these two weeks. The menus are here and here.

Delicata squash.

Taliaferro Farm braising greens

Raspberry-rosewater dressing

Stephanie with a Brussels sprout leg (well, I call them legs.).

Marinated tofu pockets, marinating.

Marinated tofu pockets, pre-marinating.

Korean barbecued tempeh with bok choy and udon.

Korean barbecued tempeh with bok choy and udon.

The last of the local bok choy!

What a beauty.

the week in photos: Thanksgiving!

A pretty week, but a hectic one, so sorta photo-light. The menu is here.

Apples, spiced walnuts, and dried cherries for the creamy salad with apples, spiced walnuts, and dried cherries (what a surprise!).

I always freeze some local currants in July to add to my cranberry-citrus compote. So pretty, even frozen.

Delicata squash with chestnut stuffing.

Delicata squash with chestnut stuffing.

Phyllo triangles with roasted vegetables and garden herbs.

Cabbage rolls with rye bread, dill sauce, caraway, and sauerkraut.

Cabbage rolls for lunch.

This is one of my favorite salads of all time: caramelized cabbage with squash cooked in carrot juice, plus tempeh bacon and cilantro. I know–so weird. But so great.

Apple pie, unbaked.

Pumpkin bourbon tart with walnut streusel.

the week in photos, November 16 delivery

Here’s the menu from this oh-so-long-ago week:

  • Coconut curried tempeh with greens
  • Marinated tofu salad with sesame dressing, sesame seeds, and Chinese cabbage
  • Three bean chili with fresh vegetable toppings
  • Southwestern succotash with fresh chilies, peppers, and corn
  • Seitan and mushroom stroganoff
  • Steamed seasonal vegetables with rose petal-infused sea salt
  • Soup: S’chee (Russian cabbage soup)
  • Salad dressing: Fresh Italian dressing

And here are the photos:

 

Family meal: a salad I made for years at Bloodroot restaurant in CT: marinated tofu with scallions, carrots, cabbage, and lots of greens. I’m not a giant tofu fan, but this salad makes my mouth water. The dressing is lemon + sesame oil + grapeseed oil + shoyu. Perfection.

 

 

Steamed daikon flowers and carrots with rose petal-infused sea salt.

 

 

Making the rose petal-infused sea salt.

 

tofu salad for clients.

 

 

 

 

Stroganoff!

 

 

S'chee, a borscht-like (but, dare I say, better) soup that's bursting with sweet, sour, deep, rich, flavor from cabbages, tomatoes, sauerkraut, caramelized onions, dill, and so much more.

steamy homemade seitan.