Tofu Noodle and Vegetable Salad

Monday, July 29, 2013

Recipe: Modified from "Tofu Noodle and Vegetable Salad (Liang Ban Qian Si)" from "Asian Tofu" by Andrea Nguyen.
Rating: Great. Quick and Easy.
Status: Made once.
Yield: Serves 4 as a side dish

This dish is a popular cold appetizer in Taiwanese restaurants; since it has been made ahead of time, it comes quickly to the table and makes a good dish to snack on while waiting for a meal. The "noodles" are actually firm tofu which as been cut into a noodle shape; they add a bouncy texture to the appetizer and noodle shaped things seem to be almost universally appealing. The vegetables primarily add color. The dish is seasoned simply with just sesame oil, sugar, and salt so the dish tastes mainly like tofu, which is a good thing for those that enjoy tofu.

The last time I used my Benriner Japanese mandoline to make julienne vegetables I cut my finger (it is easy to do), so I bought a new julienne tool, a Kuhn Rikon Julienne Peeler. It is a handheld peeler similar to a vegetable peeler. To use it, I used a fork to stab the top of the vegetable, and slid the tool down the vegetable. I'm very happy with it, since it is quick and safer than a mandoline.

Tofu noodles can be found at well stocked Chinese markets (New May Wah Supermarket in San Francisco has them). Packages for tofu noodles keep for several weeks in the refrigerator. The secret to making the tofu noodles bouncy is to gently separate them and then boil them in light salted water, similarly to pasta, for 45 seconds to 1 minute. Without briefly boiling them, the tofu noodles tend to be brittle, even if you stir fry it; boiling it refreshes, revitalizes, and restores its springiness.

Both the vegetables and the noodles should be cut into strands around 4 inches long, though they don't need to be uniform or exactly this length; just short enough so they are easy to stir and eat.

  • 1 carrot
  • 1 stalk of celery
  • (optional) 1/4 to 1/2 of a red bell pepper
  • 1 8 oz package of tofu noodles
  • 1-1/2 Tbsp sesame oil, plus more to taste
  • 1 tsp sugar, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 tsp salt, plus more to taste
Remove the strands from the celery since the strands can be difficult to chew.

Julienne the carrot, celery stalk, and (if using) bell pepper into thin strands about 4 inches long, similar in thickness to the noodles. If you don't have a julienne peeler or mandonline to julienne the vegetables, then you can use a regular vegetable peeler to make thin vegetable strips.

Loosen the tofu noodles from each other. If they tangle together when you try to lift a clump of noodles, cut the noodles shorter using a pair of scissors to make a few random cuts into the noodles until they don't get tangled together when you lift them up (though they should still be in long noodle strands).

Boil 8 oz of tofu noodles and the julienned vegetables in salted boiling water for 45 seconds to 1 minute. Drain and rinse with cold water. Drain the cold water well and gently squeeze the noodle mixture to help remove additional water.

Place noodles in a bowl. Season to taste with sesame oil, sugar, and salt (start with about 1 1/2 Tbsp sesame oil, 1 tsp sugar, and 1/2 tsp salt). Let sit for 10 minutes. Eat at room temperature; also good eaten cold.

After 10 minutes my noodle mixture had let out some extra liquid; since this is supposed to be a dry dish I poured the extra liquid out, and adjusted the noodles for the lost seasoning. This dish would also probably be nice with a little hot chili oil drizzled in.

Point Bonita Lighthouse in the Marin Headlands in California

Monday, July 22, 2013


Thursday, July 11, 2013

For our fourth of July vacation this year, we went to Germany.

In Munich, we went to beer halls. They pour huge beers (William and I usually shared the liter of beer) and serve large plates of very filling, heavy food (e.g. roasted pork shoulder, pork knuckles, sausage, and grilled mackerel "fish on a stick").

We stayed one night in Rothenburg ob der Tauber (a well-preserved medieval town) and also made a quick stop in Nuremberg the next day.

Finally, we went to Berlin. Berlin has lots of graffiti and street art. There was a mix of old and new buildings and lots of repurposed warehouses decorated with street art.

In modern times, Germain people eat all sorts of cuisines on a regular basis. I suspect that many Germains eat traditional foods as often as Americans eat hot dogs or hamburgers, which is to say that it is probably only eaten on occasion, though some eat it more often than others. However on our trip, we mainly ate traditional Germain foods, since that is what we were most interested in. So we had lots of schnitzel, pork shoulder, bread dumplings, sauerkraut, sausages, simple green side salads with lots of vinegar, and spätzle.

A famous Berlin street food is currywurst, which is a sausage topped with a curry tomato sauce and fries. We tried some from Curry 36.

Berlin has a large Turkish population; doner kebab stands are all over the city. We had doner kebab at a few places (it ended up being one of my favorite foods), including Mustafa's Gemüse Kebap. The line was very long; the doner kebab was good, but I'm not sure it was worth the long wait.

We also discovered the wine shop and cafe, Knaack Raum für Geschmack. It was past dinner time in the neighborhood we were walking around in, so many restaurants had closed, and this was one of the few places still open. It was a lucky find! The shop is also a wine importer, specializing in wines from South Tyrol (northern Italian province) and Georgia. I really enjoyed the pinot that we had there since it had a slightly mineral taste, had personality, and was distinctive. We also had some ravioli that I liked a lot. It had a pine nut filling and was dressed with a fruity olive oil and a grated cheese (perhaps pecorino or parmesan)--simple and perfect!

I had the red current tart from the coffee store, Five Elephant, since I had seen the cute berries in many farmer's markets and was wondering what they tasted like (the picture of red currents was taken at the market in Munich). The coffee was good but the pastries were even better. The pastry was just barely sweet and the red current provided a nice sour note. The crurst was especially good because it was very delicate.

William had a blueberry tart from Five Elephant. I liked how they pressed a few oats into the sides of the crust.

There were lots of sausages: in restaurants, beer halls, and even sold on the street.

Thai One Bite Salad (Miang Kam)

Recipe: "Miang Käm (Mouthful of Tidbits Wrapped in a Leaf)" from "It Rains Fishes: Legends, Traditions, and the Joys of Thai Cooking" by Kasma Loha-unchit. More information about this dish is here.
Rating: Good.
Status: Made once.

Miang käm is sometimes referred to as a "one-bite salad", since various small pea-sized flavorings are placed on a leaf with a dab of sauce which is rolled up and eaten in one bite. Since it takes time to assemble each bite, this isn't very filling so it is more of a snack than a salad; it makes a good dish to set out as an appetizer or to snack on every once in a while during the course of a day.

I first became interested in making a miang when I saw pictures of a miang on which use lotus flower petals as the wrapper. The lotus flower petals are very pretty, but since I haven't been able to find them yet, I made a leaf wrapped miang instead.

Kasma's recipe uses a shrimp-flavored sweet sauce (the recipe in her book differs slightly from the one on her webpage, though both have similar flavorings), which was nice, as long as you only use a tiny dab in each leaf. The shrimp flavor comes from roasted gkapi (shrimp paste) and shrimp power. To make the shrimp powder, I soaked dried shrimp in room temperature water for 10 minutes prior to grinding it (as Naomi Duguid specified in her "Dried Shrimp Powder" recipe in "Burma: Rivers of Flavor") because it slightly softens the shrimp and makes grinding easier for the coffee grinder. Dried shrimp fluff up a lot when you pulverize them; 2 Tbsp of lightly packed dried shrimp made slightly more than 1/4 cup of powder. I set out extra shrimp powder instead of dried shrimp on the serving platter, but we didn't use it since the sauce is already shrimpy. See the recipe for the rest of the sauce instructions.

Several ingredients are used as filling: roasted peanuts, roasted shredded coconut, ginger, shallot, small lime slivers with its peel, chili peppers, and cilantro leaves. I left out the pickled garlic since I didn't have any and the dried shrimps. The lime with its peel is my favorite part; it adds a nice kick of acidity.

Traditionally, Miang Käm is made with Bai Cha Plu (wild pepper leaf), although as Kasma explains here, English language sources often incorrectly identify the leaf used in this salad is betel leaf (Bai Plu). The two types of leaves look very similar, so it is easy to get confused. The easiest way to tell them apart is that wild pepper leaves will always be sold attached to a stem (as shown to the right) and are usually bundled in large bunches; betel leaves are sold without the stem, usually as single leaves. In addition, wild pepper leaves are crinkly in between the veins, whereas betel leaves are flat in between the veins. Betel leaf should not be eaten because they are a stimulant; only use wild pepper leaves for this salad.

Wild pepper leaves are hard to find in San Francisco; I was able to get some (at New May Wah Supermarket in San Francisco) and I also bought large bunch spinach, which is a suggested replacement. William thought that the wild pepper leaves tasted best with the salad because they integrated well into the salad, made everything go together, and were easy to wrap around the filling ingredients. However, I found the wild pepper leaves too sturdy and firm to the bite so I preferred the softer and more delicate spinach leaves.
To eat, you put a little of each filling ingredient on a leaf and a dab of sauce, and then wrap the leaf around it and eat it in one bite. See Kasma's site for the recipe.

The cut filling ingredients keeps reasonably well in the refrigerator for a day, though the sauce becomes milder over time. The recipe makes a large quantity of sauce; it was enough for two batches of filling ingredients, each batch is enough for 3 to 4 people or more depending on how much each person eats.

  • Replace the roasted peanuts with roasted cashews.
  • Use fried shallots or fried onions as one of the filling ingredients.

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