I have a confession to make, I’ve never really been interested in Asian food. I’m not sure if it’s because grew up on an, albeit, weird amalgam of it. If you’ve ever been to Hawaii, you know exactly what I mean. Teriyaki chicken with macaroni salad and a ball of white rice with, let’s not forget, a blob of mayonnaise on top (although, I admit, mayonnaise and rice was a staple of mine through my early 20’s). Somehow, and sadly, Hawaii has managed to strangle the life out of food. Filipino, Hawaiian, Japanese and Portuguese. Cultures that offer amazing foods, smooshed down to a sodium-laden box lunch.
Or if it’s because Chinese food, at least the Chinese food we get here in the States, is sticky, salty, MSG laden and, well, not very interesting. Not to mention, from what I understand, it’s nothing like real Chinese food.
Or maybe it’s because I don’t like bok choy.
Whatever the reason, Asian cooking has never been a part of my repertoire. But lately, there’s been a shift. I usually skim articles in food magazines that take you to Asia. When Bourdain travels to Indonesia or China, I watch with only half interest. If at all. I’ve never really understood the intense obsession chefs have with the foods of South East Asia and China. Frankly, I always thought they went there for the woman. Who would say no to a gorgeous Thai girl offering you a massage?
But that shift I mentioned? I think I’m beginning to understand why chefs are drawn to the Far East. It’s the challenge. Mediterranean foods, in a way, are easy. Vegetables of the Mediterranean grow fairly successfully in the States. There is no lack of cookbooks on the subject. Cookbooks that take you to a country, to a region, to a village, even to a family in a specific neighborhood in Italy, France or Spain. For many of us, it’s in our blood. We’re drawn to cooking with olive oil and roasted garlic. It’s innate. We’re born craving bruschetta. But mung beans? Water chestnuts? Well, not so much.
Cooking Asian food requires the hunt. Especially if you don’t have a functioning Chinatown nearby. Not even Whole Food’s has more than half an aisle devoted to Asian foods. Even then, it’s generally the stuff we’re all familiar with. Then, of course, there are the tools. And us cooks love any excuse to shop for new kitchen tools. Well if I’m going to cook Chinese food than I need a wok!
But the biggest challenge is the flavors. Bringing together and balancing lemongrass, black sesame seeds, bamboo shoots, chilies that will damn near burn your tongue off, in a way that sings on your palate? Instead of choking you? Now those, my friends, are fighting words.
So, I’m intrigued. Just like that. Maybe it’s because spring is right around the corner and I’m craving lighter foods. Maybe it’s because I’m ready for a challenge. I don’t know, but I sure am excited about it. The other day at Powell’s I bought a Japanese noodle book. Homemade udon noodles from scratch are so on the list.
This recipe was inspired by the lovely Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks. I can always count on Heidi to inspire me with a gloriously healthy and delicious dish.
Adapted from Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson
What you’ll need~
1-package Udon noodles
2 tablespoons coconut oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 leek, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons green curry paste (more or less depending on how spicy you’d like it)
About a pound of a protein of your choice, cut into chunks. I used turkey, Heidi used tofu.
1 can of coconut milk
2 or more cups of chicken or vegetable stock
2 teaspoons ground curry or turmeric
1 handful torn dulse (Heidi used shoyu which I didn’t have on hand)
1-2 stalks of lemongrass, bulb cut off and dry leaves peeled off.
Splash of rice vinegar
1 scant tablespoon natural cane sugar
Juice of 1-2 limes
Handful of sliced almonds
1 shallot, thinly sliced and gently and briefly caramelized
Handful of chopped fresh cilantro
Cook your noodles according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
Warm your coconut oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in garlic, leeks, and turkey. Stir in curry paste. Cook until turkey is no longer pink in the middle.
Pound peeled lemongrass with the back of your knife to release the lemongrass essence (do take a deep breath at this point), then finely slice it. Stir in coconut milk, stock, curry powder or turmeric, dulse, lemongrass, rice vinegar and sugar. Bring to a simmer and let cook for about 5 minutes.
Remove pot from the heat and stir in lime juice and noodles. Noodles might stick together, just use your spoon to gently separate them.
Serve noodles in bowls sprinkled with sliced almonds, shallots and cilantro.