Sunday, February 19, 2012

Spicy Peanut Noodle Vegetable Salad

Recent familial circumstances have initiated an interest in the notion of a "heart healthy" lifestyle in the Trash Salad kitchen.  I realize I'm very late to the party when it comes to focusing on low-sodium/sat fat foods, but I do so love my salty cheeses and cured pork products.  So it's something I didn't really want to think about until, you know, I had to.  Which by proxy, I do now.

Did you know that February is American Heart Month? I really admire the PR person who came up with this cleverly timed public-awareness opportunity.  The AHA website has lots of interesting and accessible articles about nutrition, exercise, and warning sign recognition as well as a great risk calculator for the scientists among us who need to slap a number on a situation in order for it to become a reality.

Nutritionally, this is going to be an ongoing research product on my part, and something rather new for me since I've only ever paid attention to calorie and fiber counts on nutrition labels (what? I'm still under 30 and more concerned with short term impacts).  From what I can gather so far, salt and animal fats are no bueno, though I'm sure there is more nuanced information to be gleaned here.

The Spicy Peanut Noodle Salad recipe from Serious Eats jumped out at me as a good entry point into vegan heart-healthy cooking since it has a LOT of flavor, little of which is added from salt.  The original recipe as written had such a kick, I needed a box of tissues nearby to plug the nasal faucet.  And this was for someone who finds eggs benedict unsatisfactory without a healthy dose of Sriracha.  So take it easy with the chili sauce at first, and maybe cut back on the hot peppers if you're especially sensitive.

Otherwise I made it a little more ingredient-flexible and you can certainly mix up the vegetables for whatever you have on-hand.  For a full meal, this would be great topped with grilled tofu or chicken. Pretty great actually for my first consciously-vegan effort, and I can't believe I'm actually looking forward to more in the future.

Spicy Peanut Noodle Vegetable Salad
Adapted from Serious Eats

Serves 4-6 as a main (much larger than pictured here), 8-10 as a side
Total time: 30-45 minutes (all active)

  • 8 oz (225g) dried noodles (I used rice noodles here, but you could substitute any including linguini/spaghetti, whole wheat or otherwise) 
  • The dressing:
  • 1/2 cup (135g) chunky natural peanut butter (natural meaning one ingredient, no salt/sugar/fillers added, substitutions include tahini, sunflower seed butter, or any nut butter [just check the ingredients])
  • 3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1-3 tablespoons chili garlic paste (or Sriracha or other chili sauce with one clove of minced garlic, just check the sodium levels), more or less to taste
  • juice from 2 limes (about 2-3 tablespoons) or rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seed oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar, honey, or maple syrup
  • a few tablespoons warm water (optional)
  • The vegetables:
  • 2 large red, orange, or yellow bell peppers, sliced into thin strips
  • 1 large cucumber, sliced into thin half moons
  • 1-2 large handfuls mung bean sprouts
  • 1-2 large handfuls of fresh basil, mint, or cilantro leaves
  • 5-10 scallions, finely chopped
  • 2 jalapeƱo peppers, seeds and ribs removed, minced
  • 1/2 cup (50-80g) roughly chopped nuts for garnish (optional)
While you are chopping the vegetables, cook noodles according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water. Set aside while you make the dressing.

In small bowl, combine peanut butter, soy sauce, chili sauce, lime juice, sesame seed oil, and sugar.  Whisk until homogeneous and add a splash of warm water if the mixture seems too thick.  Taste the sauce and adjust accordingly (depending on how juicy your limes are, you may need to add more sugar here).

Add noodles to a large bowl and pour over the small bowl of sauce.  Add bell peppers, cucumber, bean sprouts, basil leaves, scallions, and jalapeƱos. Toss to combine. Serve topped with chopped nuts, if using.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Winter Veg and Grain Trash Soup

It's pretty rare that I reach for a recipe to cook from twice, especially something as adaptable and forgivable like soup.  A repeat of this Orangette vegetable soup was probably more due to curiosity than anything else - how could something so simple be so delicious?

Fortunately for you all, I'm a regular Poirot and deduced the secret in no time: good stock, fresh herbs, and cubed winter veg.  And by "fresh herbs," all I mean not the dried kind, since I'm still using up my mammoth bunches from Thanksgiving that are having some bronze age discoloration issues (but taste fine).  Otherwise, the recipe lends itself well to tinkering and veg-drawer cleaning, incorporating all of the bits and pieces lying around your fridge into a real snuggie of a stew that you actually want to eat, even though it's incredibly healthy.

So tinker to your heart's desire.  I originally made this with the proper leeks, parsnips, and cabbage, though the second version with turnips, butternut squash, and kale was a little more sweet and bitter. I probably wouldn't do all potatoes since it would be too starchy, but otherwise let your fridge contents be your guide.

Because this time of year we can all use a little redemption, can't we? I, for one, am still recovering from my second annual trip to the Beer, Bourbon, and Barbecue festival.  So stay tuned for lots more on the vegetable front.

Winter Veg and Grain Trash Soup
Inspired by Orangette

Serves 6-8
Total time: 45 min-90 min (Active time 10 minutes)

  • 2 tablespoons fat (olive/vegetable oil and butter are best)
  • 1 large onion, diced (any kind)
  • 3 or 4 ribs of celery, diced (OR the skinny core of the celery bunch, leaves included)
  • 3 skinny carrots, diced
  • 1(ish) pound (450 grams) mixed diced winter veggies, such as:
    • potatoes/sweet potatoes
    • parsnips, peeled
    • turnips/rutabagas
    • winter squash
    • leeks, the white/light green parts rinsed and thinly sliced
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1ish tablespoon fresh hard herbs (rosemary, sage, thyme, or a mix)
  • 1 ½ -2 liters (6-9 cups) low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock (veer towards the low end for a stew)
  • 2 bay leaves (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4-3/4 cup (50-150g) uncooked grains such as (in order of cooking time): 
    • couscous
    • bulgur
    • small pasta
    • quinoa
    • white rice
    • pearled barley (best for chew)
    • farro
    • brown rice
    • wheat berries (will take at least an hour of extra cooking time)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Few handfuls of shredded leaves such as:
    • savoy cabbage
    • brussels sprouts
    • kale
    • chard
    • spinach
  • To serve (optional): grated hard cheese, squirt of Sriracha

Heat the oil/butter in a large pot.  Add the onion, celery, carrots, and other winter veg, and stir to coat. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10-15 minutes, or until softened. Add the garlic, herbs, and a few pinches of salt, and cook for a few minutes more.

Add the stock bay leaves (if using) and bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer.  Stir in whatever grains you're using, and cook as long as indicated on the package (20 minutes for pearl barley [my favorite]), stirring occasionally. 

Finally add your shredded leaves, and simmer for 5 minutes more.   Taste, and add salt as needed. Serve with freshly ground black pepper, or gussy up with Sriracha and shredded cheese.