Sunday, May 27, 2012

Rice Paper Rolls

After our delicious Thai Peanut salad experience yesterday, I was looking for a way to use up the extra peanut sauce. Luckily, the Whitewater Cooks cookbook offers a recipe for rice paper rolls that uses that same peanut sauce as a dipping sauce. I had been wanting to try to make this kind of spring roll for a while now, so I took the opportunity to make some up!

The rice paper wrapper itself was quite difficult to work with. It's springy and stretchy and rips easily. It took a few tries, but my expert fajita-rolling skillz perfected at McDonalds really came in handy tonight and I think I finally got it by the last one. I think this is pretty much the perfect summer dinner.

Makes 12 rolls, a light lunch for 4 people or enough for 2 hungry people with leftovers


-- 1/2 batch Thai Peanut Dressing (from this recipe)
-- 12 12-inch rice paper wrappers, plus a few more for casualties (the package I got looked like kind of like this)
-- 100 grams (approx. 4 ounces) rice or bean vermicelli (or other thin noodle)
-- 1 package medium firm tofu, julienned
-- spicy sambal olek sauce, 2 T. or to taste (I like things really spicy, you should use as much or little of this sauce as you like)

Vegetable mixture:
-- 2 carrots, juilenned
-- 1 red bell pepper, juilenned
-- 2 cups bean sprouts
-- 1 cucumber, juilenned
-- 1 bunch spring onions, sliced thinly on the diagonal
-- 1 bunch cilantro, chopped
-- 1/2 to 1 cup mint, chopped
-- salt


1) Combine ingredients for vegetable mixture in bowl, salt a little.

2) Soak vermicelli in boiling water for 3-4 minutes or until tender to your liking. Drain and rinse with cold water, chop roughly, and keep handy.

3) Cover your wrapping area with a towel so the rice paper doesn't stick to it.

4) OK here is the difficult part -- the rice wrapper! Get a shallow container such as a lasagne pan out and fill it with boiling water. Let it cool a bit. Soak one rice wrapper in hot water for 10 - 15 seconds or until it becomes pliable. Carefully lift the rice paper roll out and lay it flat on the towel.

5) Lay some tofu and vermicelli in a horizontal 5-inch strip right in the middle of the wrapper. Drizzle on approx. 1 tablespoon of peanut dressing and 1 teaspoon of sambal sauce (if you like things spicy!) Add a big handful of the vegetable mixture.

6) Time to wrap! This is hard to describe without pictures, but the way to do it is to wrap the sides of the wrapper over the filling mound, then take the bottom of the wrapper, wrap it as tightly as you dare over the filling mound, tuck it in, and then carefully, roll, roll, roll, the rest of it up. This takes some practice as if your roll is too loose, everything will fall out, if it is too tight, the wrapper will rip.  (this video shows how to do it, producing smaller rolls though)

7) Serve with additional peanut sauce and/or sambal for dipping.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Excellent Thai Peanut Noodle Salad

I made something like this a while back, and I liked it, but it wasn't as good as it could be. Since then, I've been on the look out for a better version. Finally, I found it, in the Whitewater Cooks with Friends cookbook. It's a lot of chopping but the results are worth it. Below is the recipe with my changes:

Excellent Thai Peanut Noodle Salad


1/2 cup peanut butter, smooth
1 lime, juice and zest of
2 tsp sesame oil
3 tbsp sweet chili sauce
4 tbsp rice vinegar
4 tbsp tamari or soy sauce
1 tbsp maple syrup
4 cloves garlic, halved
2 tbsp fresh ginger, chopped
1 tsp sambal chili paste, or more to taste (I usually use like 1 tbsp but I like things VERY spicy)
1-2 tbsp oil
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped

1/2 16-ounce (454 g) package pad thai rice noodles (rice stick)
1 kettle full of boiling water
1 tsp sesame oil
2 carrots, juilenned
1/2 long english cucumber (or any cucumber) seeded and julienned
1 red pepper, julienned
2 cups bean sprouts
1 bunch green onions, sliced thinly on the diagonal
1/2 cup slivered or sliced almonds
2 tbsp sesame seeds


1) Blend all dressing ingredients except cilantro and oil with a hand blender or food processor
2) Add oil in and mix until incorporated
3) Stir in half the cilantro and set aside

4) Place rice noodles in a large bowl, cover with boiling water and soak for 10 minutes or until tender
5) Drain into colander, rinse with cold water, place back in bowl and toss with sesame oil
6) Add juilenned carrots, cucumbers, red pepper, bean sprouts and green onions to noodles and set aside.

7) Heat up a heavy-bottomed pan on the stove. Add almonds and sesame seeds and toast until golden brown, about 3-4 minutes -- keep an eye on these because they can burn easily!

8) Add approx. 3/4 of dressing to noddles and mix gently together with your hands, tongs, or two wooden spoons.
9) Garnish with remaining cilantro, toasted nuts, and, if you like, a drizzle of extra sauce or spicy chili paste.

If there's any sauce left over you can use it on steamed brocolli or on chicken or in various other delicious ways. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Lemon spaghetti with asparagus

I've known about fiddleheads for a while. As a budding urban forager, I have even considered picking some of the unfurled fern fronds I've seen by the side of some pathways in the spring, but I wasn't sure if they were the kind you eat or not. SO when I saw some for sale at NOWBC, I thought, this is the week we try to eat fiddleheads.

I googled this recipe and cooked it up for us. It was good, if a bit too lemony. The fiddleheads were inoffensive, sort of like a blandish asparagus. The whole recipe was only OK but I thought if I used asparagus instead of fiddleheads, added in a little parmesan, and toned down the lemon a bit, it would be a great springtime recipe. So this is what I want to try next time:

Lemon Spaghetti with Asparagus

Ingredients (for 2 servings):

2 cups asparagus, trimmed into one or two inch chunks
2 large cloves of garlic - diced
1 tsp crushed red pepper 
2 tsp butter
2 tsp olive oil
fresh lemon juice from 1/2 large or 1 small lemon
4 oz pasta (I used spaghetti)
2 tbsp pasta water
1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese
zest of 1 lemon


-- bring a pot of water to a boil on the stove for pasta. cook pasta according to directions.

-- in a medium saute pan over medium-high heat, melt butter and olive oil - add asparagus, garlic and crushed red pepper. saute for 3-5 minutes, testing taste and texture about halfway through cooking. at the half way point add fresh lemon juice.

-- add the cooked pasta to the saute pan with 2 tbsp pasta water, half the parmesan cheese, and half the lemon zest, tossing to coat pasta with the asparagus mixture

-- plate & sprinkle with a generous amount of good coarse salt, remainder of lemon zest and parmesan cheese.


Rapini-Walnut spaghetti

Lately we have been on a spaghetti kick. BUT instead of making a whole box or half-box of spaghetti and gorging until my stomach hurts like I usually do, lately I have tried something I have never done before: measuring the portions. So, for two of us, that's just 4 ounces of uncooked spaghetti, and we will eat it as sort of half a dinner along with something else. This is what I made tonight:

Rapini-Walnut Spaghetti 
based on this recipe from all recipes

  • 1 bunch broccoli rabe (rapini), trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces (mine was a small bunch of baby rabe so it probably counted more like 1/2 bunch, also I didn't need to pre-boil it)
  • 4 ounces uncooked spaghetti
  • 1/3 cup walnuts
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large cloves garlic, sliced
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
  • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese (important to use good parmesan here!)

  1. Fill a large pot with lightly salted water and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Once the water is boiling, stir in the broccoli rabe, and cook until just tender, about 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, and set aside. 
  2. Return the water to a boil, and stir in the macaroni. Cook the pasta uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the pasta has cooked through, but is still firm to the bite, about 8 minutes. Drain well in a colander set in the sink.
  3. While the pasta is cooking, cook and stir the walnut halves in a skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 5 minutes. 
  4.  Set the walnuts aside, add the olive oil, and reduce heat to low. Stir in the garlic, and cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes. 
  5. Stir in the broccoli rabe, and cook 3 minutes to reheat. Season to taste with salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes, then stir in the drained pasta, walnuts, and half the parmesan. If you want to you can add some pasta water here and cook it up to make a bit of a sauce.
  6. Toss with remaining Parmesan cheese before serving.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Vegetable Udon

This is healthy, quick, and easy to make. It’s kind of like a homemade, healthier version
of chow mein. This is something Mahesh and I used to make a lot, but not so much lately. Today we made it again and decided we should put it back in the rotation!

Vegetable Udon


2 heaping platefuls vegetables, thinly sliced. This is what we might typically include, I have marked the "must haves" everything else is up to you:
-- 1 large onion, chopped in half then thinly sliced (this is a must have)
-- 2 ribs celery, sliced thin on the bias (this is a must have)
-- 1 zucchini, chopped in half lengthwise, then sliced thin on the bias
-- 2 medium carrots, cut in half lengthwise, then thinly sliced on the bias (or
-- 1 green or red pepper, thinly sliced
-- 1/2 to 1 lb. Mushrooms, thinly sliced
-- 1/4 large or 1/2 small cabbage, thinly sliced into strips
-- 1 head brocolli, it’s hard to thinly slice brocolli, but I cut the florets off and
leave those be and then thinly slice the stem
-- 2 cloves garlic, minced (this is a must have)
-- 1 tablespoon ginger, minced (this is a must have)

Flavorings, this can include but not limited to:
-- 2 Tablespoons soy sauce, plus more to taste (a must)
-- 1-2 t. Spicy sauce or dried spicy pepper (or thinly slice a jalapeno and add it to the vegetables)
-- 1 Tablespoon Chinese Black Bean Garlic Sauce, or more to taste (this stuff is really really good in this this recipe)
-- Whatever other spices/sauces you like and have hanging around.

-- 2 Tbs olive oil
-- 1 block medium-firm tofu, cubed (optional)
-- 2 packages Udon noodles. The ones I use are called Nama Udon, or fresh Udon, they are like thick, already cooked spaghetti and come vaccum packed in 7 oz. packets and look sort of like this:

Here are the steps to creating a delicious meal for yourself:

1. Fry up the vegetables and garlic in the olive oil, starting with the ones that will take the longest to cook like carrots or green pepper and ending with the ones that only really need to be heated up like mushrooms or zucchini. They don't have to be fully cooked at this stage, because they will steam for another 5 minutes or so. The order I do mine is: onion, green pepper, garlic, ginger, carrots, brocolli, cabbage, and then I just throw the mushrooms and zucchinni in at the very end.

2. Add in your flavorings and mix it into the veggies good. You will see that the salt in the soy sauce will bring the liquid out of the veggies, especially the mushrooms and zucchinni, you want that to start to happen. 

3. Unwrap and add in the Udon noodles in a chunk straight from the package. Push it underneath all the vegetables so it sits in the liquid on the bottom of the pan. The noodles will be in one chunk, don’t try and break it up yet. If the pan looks too dry add a little water in there too.

4. If you are using tofu, you can pre-fry it in another pan if you want (although we rarely do for this recipe) add it to the veggie mixture at this point.

5. Cover the pan and let everything steam. This is where the real magic happens and the Udon noodles absorb the soy sauce/vegetable juices/flavorings. After 2 minutes open up and check on the Udon noodles, are they turning brownish because they have absorbed the liquid and starting to loosen up? Is there enough liquid in there? Stir a little to mix all the vegetables and Udon up, then cover and steam some more (I usually flip the block of Udon over at this point so the other side is in the liquid). You will know the Udon noodles are done when they mix up with everything easily and feel soft and warm all the way through, maybe 4-5 minutes of steaming total. When the noodles are done the vegetables should be fully cooked through as well.

6. Serve and eat!

This recipe makes plenty for a main meal for 2 hungry people. Enjoy!